1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Gifford

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 2:279-81, 374-78.



Fortunately for my reputation, I have the testimony of many in my favour, as I may subsequently show, and among others, the following inscription in a volume entitled "The Beauties of the Anti-Jacobin, or Weekly Examiner," a work instituted by the late Mr. Canning, of which he and my late friend Mr. William Gifford were the chief writers, and the latter was the editor. On the close of The Anti-Jacobin Examiner, Mr. John Gifford, the magistrate, was favoured with all the unprinted manuscripts intended for that work, which was only to last during the pending session of Parliament, and upon those manuscripts Mr. John Gifford founded The Anti-Jacobin Magazine, which he conducted with great vigour on true constitutional principles. He, however, selected and published the beauties of the former work, and the volume which he sent to me contained the following inscription in his own hand-writing.

TO JOHN TAYLOR, ESQ.

From the Editor, with the best wishes that the sincerest friendship can suggest, and the most benevolent of hearts excite.

Mr. John Gifford was the author of A History of France, some admirable Letters to the Earl of Lauderdale during the French revolution, The Life of Mr. Pitt, in six volumes, and many other political works of great merit. In The Anti-Jacobin Review, there appeared a very severe note upon Dr. Wolcot. Not knowing that there were two Mr. Giffords, and confused between The Anti-Jacobin Examiner and The Anti-Jacobin Review, the doctor thought that the bitter note was written by Mr. William Gifford and therefore proceeded with great haste to the shop of Mr. Wright, the bookseller, in Piccadilly, which Mr. W. Gifford was in the habit of frequenting. The doctor on entering, observing Gifford, whose person he had seen before, said, "Are you Mr. Gifford?" and without waiting for an answer, struck him immediately on the head. Gifford was strong in the arm, wrested the weapon from him, and struck him in return; a scuffle ensued, and the doctor lost his hat and wig, which were thrown to him after he had been pushed into the street.

I passed the house soon after this fracas had happened, and saw some drops of blood upon the shop-window, which I was told were the effects of Mr. Gifford's blow. The doctor, however, though he "lost some claret," to use the technical term of the Fancy, received no essential injury. This violent contest induced Mr. Gifford to write his severe poem, addressed to Peter Pindar; and also Dr. Alexander Geddes, a poet and a scholar, to publish a poem, entitled "The Battle of the Bards." Dr. Geddes published a translation, rather of a doggrel kind, of Horace, and a specimen of a translation of the Bible, and in which he introduced some modern phrases, such as that Jeptha's daughter was a "fine girl," and others of an equally familiar description. I afterwards explained to Dr. Wolcot his mistake in confounding the two Giffords, and attacking the wrong one. When the matter was understood by both parties, all enmity was at an end. I succeeded in making them send amicable inquiries as to the health of each other, which I conveyed with pleasure, as I did between Mr. Gifford and Mr. Jerningham, who had written against each other....

WILLIAM GIFFORD, ESQ. Considering my long friendship with this gentleman, which subsisted for upwards of forty years, it would be strange, indeed, if I did not give him a place in the account of my recollections. He has given so interesting and affecting a history of his life, that nothing can be added to that narrative of his early difficulties, and the manner in which they were surmounted.

I was first introduced to him by the Rev. William Peters, R.A. and chaplain to the Royal Academy. Unfortunately a difference arose between these old friends, which was followed by mutual and unappeasable hostility. Mr. Peters, as I have before stated, accused Gifford of having supplanted him in the favour of the late Lord Grosvenor, and as Gifford soon after formed an intimacy with Mr. Hoppner the artist, the cause of enmity was increased by rivalry in the arts. It may he said of Gifford, as of the Earl of Dorset, that he was "The best good man with the worst-natured muse;" and also, as Pope says of himself, that his life was "a long disease," for he had a feeble frame, and it was not well formed.

He was induced to write the affecting narrative of his life in consequence of some poetical attacks upon him by Dr. Wolcot, owing to a mistake, as I have stated in another place. He was a very powerful writer, and I have seen some remarks of his, which indeed passed through my hands when I was connected with The Sun newspaper, in which they were inserted, and which were characterized by what may be styled tremendous energy. These remarks were sent to me while he was at Ramsgate, and related to a political pamphlet written by Mr. Roscoe. Mr. Gifford had no mercy on those who differed with him in political opinions. He was a staunch supporter of Mr. Pitt's administration, and was a firm and intimate friend of Mr. Canning.

I have often thought that, though he might not have equalled Junius in keen sarcasm, he would have been more than a match for him in force of language and cogency of reasoning. He was too apt in his critical comments, like Warburton, to treat others with virulence and contempt, but was a profound judge of literary merit. As he entertained, as all must, a high veneration for the genius of Shakspeare, it is surprising that he did not give an edition of that wonderful bard's works, rather than those of Ben Jonson; but Jonson was a scholar, and Gifford. was strongly prejudiced in his favour on that account. How well he has executed his task as editor of Jonson's Works, need not be told. Yet of late years he assured me that he had a great desire of publishing a new edition of Shakspeare, for which he said there was full room, after all the labour and research of the various commentators. But he said that his advanced time of life and ill health forbade the hope that he should ever be able to accomplish his purpose.

Gifford was a kind master, and of a forgiving nature. He had settled a pension on his housekeeper of a guinea a week for her life, in confidence of her fidelity; but he found that, during a long illness which disabled him from all attention to domestic concerns, instead of paying his tradesmen, &c. for which he had furnished her with the means, she had devoted the money to her own use, had run him in debt to the amount of about 500 and had besides exhausted his wine cellar, which had been amply stored. Notwithstanding her gross ingratitude and delinquency, he merely dismissed her.

The ability with which Gifford conducted The Quarterly Review need not be mentioned, as he rendered it the best work of that nature in Europe, and it still maintains its pre-eminence by the reputation which he conferred on it, and by the abilities of those who have succeeded him in the management. His health evidently declined in his latter years, insomuch that though he always admitted me to see him, and has often written to me, requesting I would call, he was unable to speak more than a few words, desiring that I would talk, and not expect him to answer. In about half an hour after I had been with him, he would generally request that I would go and take tea below, where there were books to amuse me, and then would send down a note to me sometimes, to mention anything that had occurred to him after I left him.

I have a great many of his letters, which are marked with such kindness and friendship that I am rather surprised I had no memorial in his will, as it is said he left property to the amount of about 27,000. But he disposed of it in a manner honourable to his character; for, after a few legacies, he left the bulk of it to the son of his early protector, who had rescued him from hopeless indigence and obscurity, fostered his talents, provided for his education, and enabled him to make a distinguished figure in the literary world.

Gifford had been severe upon the late Mr. Kemble's "foggy throat," in his poem of The Baviad. I introduced Mr. Kemble to him; and soon after in a new edition of that poem he effaced the passage. Mr. Kemble gave him the free use of his dramatic library, while he was preparing his edition of "Ben Jonson;" and Gifford was profuse in his acknowledgments of Kemble's kindness, and in respect for his talents.

Though Gifford had several appointments under government, and, doubtless, a settlement had been made on him by the late Lord Grosvenor, for being tutor to his son the present earl, yet it is difficult to account for his having left so much property, as for some years his infirmities obliged him to keep a carriage. No doubt he was a severe economist, and very temperate in his habits.

During my long connexion with him, I only dined with him once at his own house, with his friend the late Mr. Porden the architect, a man of great literary as well as professional talents, and who had been the intimate friend of Mason the poet. Mr. Porden declared to me his full conviction, that Mason was the author of the celebrated Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers, a work of great poetical merit and humour, but so different from the usual style of Mason, as to render it difficult to conceive that it was the progeny of the same mind. Mr. Porden's youngest daughter, a lady of high poetical genius and knowledge, was married to Captain Franklin, the celebrated navigator, who lost in her death an amiable, intelligent, and accomplished companion. I now take leave of my old friend William Gifford.