1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Thomas Fitzgerald

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:389-90, 2:396-98.



The Literary Fund naturally leads me to mention my late friend Mr. William Thomas Fitz-Gerald, who was one of the most zealous, strenuous, and persevering friends and supporters of that benevolent institution. During many years he constantly supplied his Parnassian tribute at the annual festivity, and recited it himself with such energy and effect as to render that festivity very attractive. If his health had continued, he would probably have supplied an annual tribute on every return of the celebration. At length his vigour declined, and he was unable to attend the meetings. He died last year, [1829,] and I venerate his memory, for a more honourable man I never knew. He has thought proper to mention me with partial kindness in his volume of poems, and I am proud of having enjoyed the friendship of so worthy a character. He was related to the noble family of Leinster, and was generally allowed to be an accomplished scholar. He enjoyed the friendship of the late Lord Dudley and Ward, one of the most amiable and benevolent of British noblemen, and used to pass much of his time at the hospitable mansion of that nobleman in town, and at his magnificent mansion at Himley. That estimable nobleman died intestate, well knowing that his son and successor would amply fulfil his wishes without the formality of legal distribution. Judging from the present noble lord's conduct towards Mr. Fitz-Gerald, it is obvious that the late nobleman had full reason to rely on his son's filial respect, affection, and duty. Mr. Fitz-Gerald would probably have been highly gratified to have been honoured with notice, and moderately remembered in the late lord's will; but the present lord actually presented to him 5000 as the virtual legacy of his departed father. Nor is this all, for he gave him permission to occupy the house in which he himself resided at Paddington, rent-free, where Mr. Fitz-Gerald died, and where his widow and family doubtless enjoy the same benevolent privilege. "These are imperial works and worthy kings."...

W. T. FITZ-GERALD, Esq. This gentleman, with whom I had the pleasure of being acquainted many years, was a member of a club entitled "Keep the Line," the import of which was to maintain due decorum and respect in society. Never was there a stronger opposition than the implied precept in the designation of the club, and the liberties which the members took with each other in the way of raillery; though, as all passed with good humour and conviviality, no offence was ever taken during the time I was a member; but as the meetings were held on Sundays, for the accommodation of Mr. Lewis, Mr. Holman, and other theatrical gentlemen, and cards were introduced, the club gradually declined, and I sent in my resignation, retaining, however, a sincere friendship with its members in general. The club soon after broke up.

At this club I first became acquainted with Mr. FITZ-GERALD, and our intercourse ripened into a sincere and warm friendship, which only terminated with his lamented death.

Mr. FITZ-GERALD was related to the family of the Duke of Leinster. He was nephew to the Mr. Martin, who wounded Wilkes in a duel, and was afterwards the hero of one of Churchill's poems, entitled The Duellist, not without danger to the poet, for Mr. Martin was a very determined character, and as likely to call out Churchill as Wilkes.

Soon after I became acquainted with Mr. Fitz-Gerald he introduced me to his family, consisting of his sister and the two Misses Martin, his cousins. It was understood that there was a good income among them, which they formed into a common stock, and lived together, by which means they were able to keep a good house in Upper Seymour Street, and to receive their friends with liberal hospitality.

As Mr. FITZ-GERALD was a great lover of the drama, he had frequently dramatic scenes represented at his house in the evening to parties of his friends, some of whom used to take part in the scenic amusements. The late Lady De Crespigny used to attend these parties, and assist in the representations. I remember to have been present when they represented a scene in "The Fair Penitent," in which Mr. FITZ-GERALD supported the part of Horatio, and Lady De Crespigny that of Calista. There was a sententious dignity in Fitz-Gerald's Horatio; and the lady gave great effect to her part, particularly where Calista snatches her letter from Horatio, and destroys "the wicked lying evidence of shame."

Another of these amateur performers was my friend William Boscawen, Esq. a poet and a scholar, and whose translation of Horace is justly admired for correctness and spirit. He presented the work to me, and when I expressed my regret that he had given "The Art of Poetry" in verses of eight syllables, he agreed with me that it ought to have been translated in the heroic measure; and the last time I saw him, which was accidentally in the Strand, he told me that he had made a great progress in a new translation of that poem, in ten syllable verse, as more suited to a didactic subject. He looked, however, so ill, that I could not help foreboding in my mind that he would not live to finish his version. it happened to be the day on which the directors and subscribers to The Literary Fund held their anniversary dinner and when I met him, he was so zealous in the cause of that noble institution, that I am sure severe illness only would have kept him from the celebration. His amiable lady was also one of the voluntary actresses at Mr. Fitz-Gerald's, and supported pathetic characters with great feeling and delicacy.

Mr. FITZ-GERALD, besides his patrimonial inheritance, had a retired pension as one of the officers of the Victualling Office. Before he left the office he was the next claimant, by seniority, to the head of the department in which he was engaged; but he waved his right in favour of an inferior, upon a promise of a hundred a-year. The other succeeded; but, proving a defaulter to a large amount, he absconded to America, and was followed by officers sent by our Government, and frightened into restitution, though, if he had firmly held his ill-attained property, it is said that he would have been supported by the American legislature.

Mr. FITZ-GERALD was a strenuous and persevering supporter of The Literary Fund, to which he annually contributed a laudatory ode, to the number of eighteen, which he recited himself on the anniversary celebrations as long as his health would permit, and the vigorous animation of his manner gave powerful support to the poetical energy of his several compositions.

Mr. FITZ-GERALD fell under the sportive lash of the authors of The Rejected Addresses, chiefly on account of the fervid loyalty which marked his poetry in general, but that poetry is really characterized by so much strength, correctness, and feeling, that it will stand its ground; and I am persuaded that if my ingenious and liberal-minded friends, the authors of those sportive effusions, had known him, the manly character and honourable spirit of Mr. FITZ-GERALD would have exempted him from their humorous hostility. As to the other critical assailants of Mr. FITZ-GERALD, except Lord Byron, they are unworthy of notice.

Before I take leave of Mr. FITZ-GERALD, I will shortly return to Mr. Boscawen. He was the nephew of Admiral Boscawen, one of our former naval heroes; but though the glorious victory of the Nile seems to lessen the triumph of all preceding naval achievements, Mr. Boscawen came forward with an ode in honour of Nelson, expressive of enthusiastic admiration. Mr. Boscawen published a volume of Original Poems, highly creditable to his genius and taste. He also published a separate poem entitled The Progress of Satire, occasioned by a passage which alluded to him in The Pursuits of Literature. It is somewhat curious that the author of this popular poem has never been discovered.

For my part, I consider The Pursuits of Literature as one of the very best of modern poems. It is founded upon the true principles of poetry, politics, and morals, though the late commentator Steevens invidiously said, that "the lines were only pegs to hang the notes upon." To prove the folly of the observation, a small edition of the poem was published without notes, and was powerfully impressive. What modern poet has produced a passage equal to that of "The Bard," in The Pursuits of Literature?

Mr. Mathias presented to me his tract on the subject of the "Rowley Poems," and his arguments on the question of their authenticity appear to me to be decisive. Mr. Mathias is admitted to be a profound scholar, and I have been assured that he writes the Italian language with as much precision and taste as if he were a native of that part of Italy where it is spoken with the greatest purity and elegance. He has long resided at Naples, but wherever he resides he must be considered as the perfect gentleman.

Mr. FITZ-GERALD was for many years upon the most intimate footing with the late amiable Lord Dudley and Ward, a nobleman of the good old school. He was distinguished for the benevolence of his disposition and the urbanity of his manners. His political principles being congenial with those of Mr. Fitz-Gerald, the noble lord was highly gratified with that gentleman's poetical recitations. His lordship, I understand, died intestate, from a conviction that his hereditary successor would dispose of his property according to the parental intentions; but the present Lord Dudley has probably exceeded those intentions.

Mr. FITZ-GERALD had long been afflicted with an asthma, and latterly with a dropsy, which finally destroyed his constitution. He has left an affectionate widow and six children to lament the loss of a kind husband and father, a loyal subject, a polished gentleman, and an excellent member of society.