1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Chalmers

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 2:338-40.



The name of Chalmers naturally draws my attention to another friend, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for upwards of forty years, and who is still able to contribute to the benefit of the public by his writings, and by his intrinsic merits to the gratification of his numerous friends.

ALEXANDER CHALMERS, ESQ. This gentleman, by his talents, learning, and social character, has attracted a numerous train of friends, and they are such as are connected with him not merely by convivial intercourse, but by congenial powers and attainments. I have heard that he came from Aberdeen, intending to practise, after receiving due qualifications in that city, the profession of a surgeon in London, but finding, as the saying is, that "the market was overstocked," he turned his attention to literary pursuits, and soon became well known as a man of talent and learning. He quickly obtained employment among those essential patrons of literature, the booksellers, and innumerable publications issued from his pen.

He has been long known as the editor of The Biographical Dictionary, in which many of the articles were written by himself. He is also the editor of a collection of the works of the English poets, of most of whom lives are prefixed written by him, but he has modestly introduced all the lives written by Dr. Johnson, though it may truly be said that his own are not less characterised by judgment, certainly more distinguished by industrious research. and perhaps by purer taste and more candid criticism.

The only original work of imagination that I know to have been written by Mr. Alexander Chalmers, is a periodical paper, in three volumes, entitled "The Projector," which first appeared successively in numbers, in that venerable and valuable repository of literature, The Gentleman's Magazine, which Mr. Chalmers afterwards collected and published, but to which, with hardly an excusable diffidence, he has declined to prefix his name. This is a work of great humour and of the purest moral tendency. It abounds with satirical irony, perhaps to an excess, demonstrating an extraordinary talent for that quality, and always rendering it subservient to a moral purpose.

Mr. Chalmers has published a History of the University of Oxford, in which every thing that taste and judgment could discover has been faithfully illustrated and recorded. During the whole of my long friendship with this gentleman, though occasional sparring matches have passed between us, not the slightest tendency to ill-humour ever appeared on either part; and if there had, it was more likely to have arisen on my side, on account of his powers of conversation, supported by various knowledge, and such an abundant store of anecdotes as few possess, and which none can relate with more point and effect.

I look back with pleasure on the time when we were both young and active, and used to take long walks together, dine at some tavern on our road, adjourn for an hour or two to one of the theatres, and finally end the night at the Turk's Head Coffee-house in the Strand, where we were sure to meet with facetious and intelligent friends; among whom were Mr. George Gordon, a Scotch agent, a gentleman of great wit and humour, and with literary talents of no ordinary rate; the learned and rather too convivial Porson; the late Mr. Perry, proprietor of The Morning Chronicle; sometimes the elder Boswell; and "though last, not least" in social humour, the facetious Hewerdine, who possessed talents which, properly directed, would have rendered him a useful and valuable member of society, but who fell in the prime of life, a sacrifice to the uncontrollable indulgence of convivial excesses.