1898 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Francis Hodgson

Rowland E. Prothero, in Byron, Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 1:195-97n.



Francis Hodgson (1781-1852), educated at Eton (1794-99) and at King's College, Cambridge, Scholar (1799), Fellow (1802), hesitated between literature and the bar as his profession. For three years he was a private tutor, for one (1806) a master at Eton. In 1807 he became a resident tutor at King's. It was not till 1812 that he decided to take orders. Two years later he married Miss Tayler, a sister of Mrs. Henry Drury, and took a country curacy. In 1816 he was given the Eton living of Bakewell, in Derbyshire, became Archdeacon of Derby in 1836, and in 1840 Provost of Eton. At Eton he died December 29, 1852.

Hodgson's literary facility was extraordinary. He rhymed with an ease which almost rivals that of Byron, and from 1807 to 1818 he poured out quantities of verse, English and Latin, original and translated, besides writing articles for the Quarterly, the Monthly, and the Critical Reviews. He published his Translation of Juvenal in 1807, in which he was assisted by Drury and Merivale; Lady Jane Grey, a Tale; and other Poems (1809); Sir Edgar, a Tale (1810); Leaves of Laurel (1812); Charlemagne, an Epic Poem (1815), translated from the original of Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino, by S. Butler and Francis Hodgson; The Friends, a Poem in Four Books; Mythology for Versification (1831); A Charge, as Archdeacon of Derby (1837); Sermons (1846); and other works.

His acquaintance with Byron began in 1807, when Byron was meditating British Bards, and Hodgson, provoked by a review of his Juvenal in the Edinburgh Review, was composing his Gentle Alterative prepared for the Reviewers, which appears on pp. 56, 57 of Lady Jane Grey. There are some curious points of resemblance between the two poems, though Hodgson's lines can hardly be compared for force and sting to English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers. Like Byron (see English Bards, etc., line 513, note 7), he makes merry over the blunder of the Edinburgh reviewer, who, in an article on Payne Knight's Principles of Taste, severely criticized some Greek lines which he attributed to Knight, but which, in fact, were by Pindar:—

And when he frown'd on Kn—'s erroneous Greek,
Bad him in Pindar's page that error seek.

Like Byron also, he attributes the blunder to Hallam, and speaks of "Hallam's baffled art." The article was written by Lord Holland's physician, Dr. Allen, who, according to Sydney Smith, had "the creed of a philosopher and the legs of a clergyman." Like Byron also (see English Bards, etc., line 820), he appeals to Gifford, who was an old family friend, to return to the fray:—

Oh! for that voice, whose cadence loud and strong
Drove Della Crusca from the field of song—
And with a force that guiltier fools should feel,
Rack'd a vain butterfly on Satire's wheel.

In a note appended to the words in his satire — "Like clowns detest nobility " — he refers to the Edinburgh's treatment of Byron's verse.

The link thus established between Byron and Hodgson grew stronger for the next few years. Hodgson suppressed Moore's challenge to the author of English Bards; was Byron's guest at Newstead (see page 179, in note); pleaded with him on the subject of religion; translated his lines, "I would I were a careless child," into Latin verse (Lady Jane Grey, p. 94); addressed him in poetry, as, for instance, in the "Lines to a Friend going abroad" (Sir Edgar, p. 173). Byron, on his side, seems to have been sincerely attached to Hodgson, to whom he left, by his first will (1811), one-third of his personal goods, and in 1813 gave 1000 to enable him to marry. Hodgson corresponded with Mrs. Leigh and with Miss Milbanke, afterwards Lady Byron, endeavoured to heal the breach between husband and wife, and was one of the mourners at Hucknall Torkard Church.

In Haydon's Table-Talk (vol. ii. pp. 367-8) is recorded a conversation with Hobhouse on the subject of Hodgson. Haydon's account of Hobhouse's words is confused; but he definitely asserts that Hodgson's life was dissipated, and insinuates that he perverted Byron's character. Part of the explanation is probably this: Hodgson's friend, the Rev. Robert Bland, kept a mistress, described as a woman of great personal and mental attraction. He asked Hodgson, during his absence on the Continent, to visit the lady and send him frequent news of her. Hodgson did so, with the result that, at Bland's return, the lady refused to see him. When Byron came back from his Eastern tour, he received a frantic letter from Bland, telling him that Hodgson had stolen her love. To this Byron refers in his letter to Harness, December 15, 1811, and probably told an embellished story to Hobhouse. But Hodgson himself warmly repudiated the charge; and there is no reason to think that his version of the affair is not the truth.