1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Williams

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:276-81.



I afterwards met Haydn at Mrs. Billington's at Brompton. The party was large. Shield was present; but the room was disgraced by the appearance of a man named Williams, who was not better known by the assumed designation of Anthony Pasquin. This man was by no means destitute of talents or humour, but was vain, vulgar, insolent, and overbearing. His works are marked by low malignity. He was the terror of the middling and lower order of actors and artists, and would call on them in a morning, ask them if they dined at home, and finding that they did, would impudently order them to get a particular dish, and sometimes bring an acquaintance with him at the appointed hour. This practice he carried on for many years, almost subsisting upon timid painters and performers, musical and theatrical, who were afraid of his attacks in newspapers, or in his abusive verses.

At the dinner which I have mentioned, he sat opposite to Haydn, whom he suddenly addressed in the following manner. "Mr. Haydn, you are the greatest genius that I ever saw," concluding with a very coarse and violent asseveration. Haydn was confused, and the company shocked, not only by this vulgar salutation, but by the general coarseness and obtrusiveness of his manners.

Hearing that Mr. Shield, Dr. Wolcot, and myself, had ordered a coach at night, he watched us, and as we were getting into it, forced himself upon us, alleging that he would pay his portion of the fare. Shield, who was all good nature and kindness, readily assented, but to the horror of Dr. Wolcot, who with great difficulty concealed the disgust which Pasquin had excited. Willing to have a little harmless mischief in the coach, I jogged Shield, who with all his benevolence was fond of fun. I expressed myself highly gratified in being a fellow passenger with two men of great genius, who had both distinguished their poetical powers under fictitious appellations, observing how gratifying it would be to the world if they would unite their powers, and publish a work in conjunction, proposing that they should shake hands together to ratify the undertaking. Pasquin immediately stretched forth his hand, and declared that he should feel great pride in such a literary alliance, and attempted to seize the hand of Wolcot, who felt unwilling to offer it, and held it in such a manner as if he feared contagion in the touch. I resumed the subject, and was beginning to predict some admirable production of their united genius, when Wolcot could no longer restrain his feelings, but accused me, with great warmth, of endeavouring to promote mischief. I appealed to Shield, who enjoyed the joke, whether I had not endeavoured rather to promote harmony between two persons who were before strangers to each other. Finding its effect upon Shield, for whom the doctor had a sincere regard, he began to see that I had nothing but merry mischief in view, and remained silent; still nothing could induce him to turn towards Pasquin, who sat on the same side with him. At length the coach stopped, by order, at St. Paul's, Covent Garden, and the moment the man opened the door, Pasquin bolted out and ran towards the Strand. Wolcot, seeing him run off, imitated his example, and ran the contrary way, with as little ceremony. I however pursued him, but he took hold of the church rails, laughed heartily, saying, "As soon as I saw Gibbet run, I resolved to follow his example." However, he came back to Shield, and readily paid his portion of the fare, not without some reluctance on the part of Shield, who wanted to consider the coach as wholly his own, particularly as he had suffered Pasquin to enter it. We then concluded a pleasant night together.

Among the theatrical performers upon whom this Anthony Pasquin levied contributions was Mrs. Abington, and as this lady had by no means been a votaress of Diana in the earlier part of her life, he exercised a double power over her, for if she rejected his applications for pecuniary assistance, he could not only wound her feelings by alluding to scenes which she of course wished to be buried in oblivion, but could bitterly animadvert upon her theatrical exertions while she remained on the stage. Such was her terror of this predatory financier, that she submitted to all his exactions.

My friend William Cooke, the old barrister, who was really her friend, endeavoured to rescue her from this thraldom, but in vain; Pasquin invited himself to dine with her whenever he pleased, and always reversed the usual order of things, by making her pay him for attending her involuntary invitations.

When my late friend William Gifford published a new edition of his "Baviad and Maeviad," he alluded in some bitter strictures to Anthony, who brought actions against the author, and a considerable number of booksellers who had sold the work. The chief defendant employed Mr. Garrow as his counsel, and in the defence, that gentleman cited so many infamous passages from Pasquin's works, of an offensive description, that he was nonsuited, and obliged to fly to America, to avoid the pressure of the law expenses which he had incurred. In America, he was employed by the proprietor of a newspaper hostile to Cobbett, to attack that writer, but though Anthony had a ready knack at rhyming, he was a bad prose writer, and found Peter Porcupine too formidable an adversary, and the strong pen of that author soon drove him back to England, where he was obliged to live in obscurity for fear of his creditors. He however emerged again, was employed to write for a morning paper, and dragged on a precarious subsistence.

During the time he was in America, there was a report of his death. Mr. Cooke immediately went to Mrs. Abington, and congratulated her on the death of her literary tyrant. Mrs. Abington, who knew the man, and suspected the artifices which he was likely to adopt, far from manifesting the pleasure which Mr. Cooke thought his news was calculated to excite, displayed a painful expression on her features, and earnestly addressing him, said, "Are you sure he is dead?" The event justified her doubt, for after having compromised with his creditors, who wisely reflected on the folly of throwing away money in law upon such a man, they suffered him to subsist upon the depredation of the pen.

His despicable life really ended some years ago at an obscure village not far from London. It was my misfortune to be in early life acquainted with this man, before he was so degraded a character, and he consulted me on the state of his eyes. I lamented the connexion, but bore it with fortitude. I lost his "friendship" unexpectedly. On the day when the late Mr. West, the President of the Royal Academy, first exhibited his large fine picture of Christ Rejected, as I was going to see it I met Pasquin, who was returning from the private view. He told me where he had been, and I asked him what he thought of the picture. He said that there were some beauties and many faults. "Ay," said I, "but you are so kind and liberal-minded, that you will take no notice of the latter." He left me abruptly with a frown, and though we often passed each other afterwards, he never condescended to notice me again.

Worthless and despicable as this man was, I cannot but condemn the manner in which he had been treated on an occasion which developed his character, and doomed him to irremovable disgrace. He had, doubtless under a consciousness of the terrors of his pen, and the boldness of his arrogance, for he affected the character of a hero, uttered something that disgusted the company at a tavern in Bow-street, Covent Garden, and an apology was demanded on his knees, which he refused to give. He was then assailed by persons of more strength than himself, and so severely beaten, that, partly from weakness and partly from fear, he fell on his knees and uttered all that was required, and then sunk to the ground, in which situation he was kicked in the mouth, and his front teeth, which were fine ones, were driven from their sockets. This treatment was cruelty, not just resentment. It would have been surely sufficient to have pulled the lion's skin from the detected ass.