1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hookham Frere

John Hookham Frere to John Murray, 27 April 1818; Smiles, A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 2:21-23.



Tunbridge Wells, 27th April, 1818.

DEAR MURRAY,

The stanzas which I now send, you have I believe seen before. There are in all upwards of a hundred, including a Whistlecraftian view of the aera of Pericles, Phidias, the Elgin Marbles, and the Peloponnesian War, after which a few stanzas will conclude the siege of the Convent, and bring round the unity of the story; but there are eighty which may be printed by themselves though I should like to divide them differently. What you say of the style, as foreign to our general taste, is perfectly true. The public have no notion of wit or humour without malignity, and put themselves at a loss for a meaning which they conclude must be an ill-natured one; perhaps they will like this better, for it has seemed good to me to gibbet a couple of names en passant and to make a political allusion which is pretty palpable. I was, I confess, mortified at seeing no notice of' Whistlecraft" in the last Quarterly. It might, I think, have occupied the place of "Adams on Cataract." What has the Quarterly to do with cataracts, or catheters, or cataplasms, or with any subjects which are neither of political, national, or literary interest?

With respect to advertising. The advertisements that I see are nothing to the purpose. "Whistlecraft, a National Poem," is nothing; but "Metrical Prospectus and Specimen" gives an intimation of the possibility of good nonsense in the work. If you have a mind to advertise, I will furnish one — e.g. (after the old collar-making advertisement): "This article is confidently recommended to the public from its superior durability, being warranted not to wear out by the most repeated perusals.

First purchase "Whistlecraft," and then
Peruse and re-peruse again,
A dozen times at least, or ten;
The flights of his Stowmarket pen
Require a keen attentive ken,
Soaring above all other men,
As much as hawks surpass the wren.
Let Envy grumble from her Den,
While Pindus yields from Dupham Fen.
CONFUCIUS, Poet-in-Ordinary to Her Majesty's Lottery Office Keepers, Warren's Blacking, &c., &c.

If you have the spirit to put in a longer, I will send you an excellent one, containing the testimonies of posterity in the same manner as they sometimes put in the testimonies of the reviews. "The following testimonies to the merit of this work may be expected to appear early in the ensuing century." But it is too long to write unless you wish to have it, which you may let me know. Your usual prudery about advertising is quite out of place with such a work as this. A man comes into a room with a strange, uncouth foreign uniform. If he looks shy and diffident, he is immediately the last man in the company, and nobody troubles themselves about him. If he puts himself confidently forward, he becomes an object of general notice and curiosity. This is precisely the case with Whistlecraft's title-page. What you say of the opinion of the best judges is very satisfactory in one respect, and might induce me to go on if the work were serious one; but to write a burlesque poem for men of good taste to laugh at in private, is not an object of very exalted ambition. A sober man (Burke says it of himself) may condescend to amuse the populace with innocent buffoonery, but it would not I apprehend become him to go on with his grimaces if the mob look grave. If I should be induced to go on with the work, you will have nothing to apprehend from the shortness of your term in it. My object was to prevent the possibility (as literary history furnishes some examples of quarrels between booksellers and authors) of having the first cantos of a work which I was continuing wholly out of my own hands. I shall rate my present stanzas at two guineas apiece. If you think this too much, I will beg you to return them. I will stand my trial with posterity upon the first cantos, and if you should ultimately be a loser, I will find some way or other of reimbursing you. But for the future I shall require a higher stimulus to withdraw me from playing backgammon of an evening, which has been my main occupation this winter. I was much pleased to find that Lord Byron was pleased with "Whistlecraft," but you do not mean to deny that "Beppo" is W. Rose's. I mean to assert it positively and distinctly. If I had seen it in his handwriting, I could hardly be more convinced of it than I am. It is much better than anything that he has done before, but there are his very phrases, and in some stanzas about the weather a sort of valetudinary tone, which belongs to him. I shall lose my walk if I write any more.

Believe me, sincerely yours,

J. H. FRERE.