1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Henry Brougham, Review of Hogg, Jacobite Relics; Edinburgh Review 34 (August 1820) 148-60.



We gather, from some remarks in the Introduction to this volume, that the undertaking was suggested at a meeting of the Highland Society of London, to which it is dedicated. Nothing can be more praiseworthy than the purpose rescuing from the oblivion to which they were hurrying swiftly, the monuments raised by the poetical genius of our countrymen who had devoted themselves to the exiled family; and he must either be a squeamish politician, or a cold admirer of song, who can suffer the pernicious and absurd principles consecrated in those effusions of the Jacobite muse, to interfere with the wish common to every good Scotchman, that the literary merits of his country, in all ages, should meet with their full share of praise. At the same time, it cannot be denied, that the language held upon this subject by many persons among us in the present times, is peculiarly reprehensible. The controversy between the two families and their partisans is wholly laid at rest, by the course of nature, indeed, as well as of political events; and long ago it ceased to be at all a practical question. Yet do we find a strange sort of spirit lately sprung up — a sort of speculative Jacobitism, not wholly romantic, neither, we are afraid, but connected with the events of the times, and a sort of twin brother to the newfangled doctrine of legitimacy. The praises of the Cavaliers are lavishly chanted; the devotion of the Stuart partisans is consecrated as something more than human; the exiled house is represented in the most false and favourable lights; and the Whigs are vilified in an equal proportion, and with no kind of discrimination. Now the men who show their zeal in this truly preposterous manner, run no risk, much less do they make the smallest sacrifice; yet they seem to exult in the disinterested gallantry and constancy of the old and real Jacobites, as if they belonged themselves to the caste. In a sound skin, they publish what, even half a century ago, would have cost them either ear; and they would fain persuade themselves that they have a right to glory in the romantic purity of their honest zeal for a beaten cause. Now all this is not mere folly and affectation; nor is it all enthusiasm. The persons who indulge in this lofty strain have some things in common with that party whose personal attachment, gallantry, and contempt of danger, they have no pretension to share. Like them, they hate the cause of popular principles; they dislike a free and rational government; they had rather see a king unfettered by a parliament; a judge unchecked by a jury; and a press free to praise only the stronger side, and restrained from palliating all abuses save those of power. To promulgate such doctrines openly, even at this time of day, and large as the strides are which have been made within a few years, might not be altogether safe; and accordingly their advocates are eager in seizing every opportunity of crying up those who were the victims of such principles in a former age, and of stamping with every mark of opprobrium and ridicule the great men to whom we owe the whole blessings of the English constitution.

Mr. Scott's avowed writings are not entirely free from this imputation; and those still more popular works which are so generally ascribed to him, abound with instances of the spirit of which we are speaking. But not only are such things far less reprehensible in works of pure fiction; Mr. Scott is an artist of far greater delicacy than his imitators; and a sly hint, or a joke, or an incidental remark, may be allowed to pass unnoticed, while we turn with disgust from the clumsy matter-of-fact statements of Jacobite doctrine which others have not scrupled to put forth. Of these we know none more deserving of censure than the compiler of the volume before us, and, before touching upon its literary merits, we must be suffered to prefix a word or two upon its politics.

If Mr. Hogg had confined himself to the praises which the poetical merit of the Jacobite poetry so often calls forth with justice; if he had only extolled that side of the question as beyond comparison the most "smit with the love of sacred song;" or if he had contented himself with giving the misguided adherents of the cause their due applause for disinterested valour, no one could have blamed him, even if, like a truly able and successful defender of those bad principles, David Hume, he had contrived to make the worse appear the better reason by dexterity of statements and skilful narrative. But his is not that judicious abstinence, which gains what greediness never can reach, that delicate hand which feels its way, and gains admittance where brute force knocks in vain. See the plain undisguised manner in which he lays down the most offensive propositions, until he scares those who, by more lenient methods, might have been favourably disposed to him. "They (the songs) are the unmasked effusions of a bold and primitive race, who hated and despised the overturning innovations that prevailed in Church and State, and held the abettors of these as dogs, or something worse — drudges in the lowest and foulest paths of perdition — beings too base to be spoken of with any degree of patience and forbearance." (p. viii.) Nor can this writer shelter himself under the pretext that he meant here only to describe the light in which the illustrious founders of English liberty were viewed by their adversaries. Throughout the whole book he identifies himself with them; and, in the Introduction, he even brings forward his principles under a sanction which would excite no little surprise, were there the smallest reason to doubt that he has himself been most grossly deceived. "Had it not," he says, "been rendered necessary for our kings of the House of Brunswick to maintain the sovereignty to which they were called by the prevailing voice of the nation, they seem never to have regarded those the law denominated rebels otherwise than with respect." The absurdity of this passage is sufficiently glaring. George I. and George II., it seems, would have respected the Balmerinos and the had they not been the very persons against whom those worthies rebelled; — but as it was, they testified their respect by the hands of the hangman! But he proceeds to give what he calls proofs of the position, that the princes of the House of Brunswick are at heart Jacobites.

The first is, that Frederick, Prince of Wales, rebuked his wife for throwing some blame upon the lady who harboured the Pretender when he flung himself "upon her protection in the extremity, of peril." "I hope in God," said his Royal Highness, "you would have done so in the same circumstances." Now, to what does this amount, but that even Frederick, perhaps the least magnanimous of all the Brunswick princes, yet felt what every human being must feel on such an occasion, without entering in the least into the merits of the question out of which it arose? We know that the law calls it treason to shelter a traitor; but the man who most abhors the crime, would feel himself almost as unable to resist the sympathy which overwhelmed him, when he suddenly found a fellow-creature's life in his hands, as to perform the last office of the law upon him. This is all that Frederick meant; and we rather marvel that the partialities of his august spouse for a nobleman of known Jacobite tendencies, were not rather cited as evidence that the late king took his jacobitism by descent. However, the author goes on to prove his late Majesty also an adherent of the Stuart family, in preference to the Hanoverian. Not only did he restore the forfeited estates, and afford relief in money, to the distresses of the exiled house, (why was the restoration of the national dress also omitted?) but Mr. Hogg adds, that since his Majesty is "now secluded from his government and people, and we may consider him as a deceased monarch," he will relate "a trait which marked his sentiments of those who stood for the cause of his unfortunate relative." We proceed to give this notable trait in the author's own words — premising, that we verily believe neither he nor any man living would have ventured to publish such a thing, had not the late king been, as he says, in the state of "a deceased monarch." "His Majesty having been told of a gentleman of family and fortune in Perthshire, who had not only refused to take the oath of allegiance to him, but had never permitted him (the king) to be named as king in his presence. 'Carry my compliments to him,' said the king, 'but — what — stop — no; — he may perhaps not receive my compliments as King of England — give him the Elector of Hanover's compliments, and tell him that he respects the steadiness of his principles.'" Now, we will at once take upon us to affirm, from internal evidence, that every one word of this is a pure fabrication, probably of some one who wished to impose on Mr. Hogg's credulity. The late King was no more the man to utter such affected stuff; than Mr. Pitt was the man to die with "Oh my country!" in his mouth, even if he had been at the moment in a state of mind to speak coherently. His Majesty was a plain, rational person, utterly incapable of such nonsense. The folly of it was as much beneath his good sense, as its conceit was beyond his ingenuity. If any person could have ventured to tell him the anecdote on which the tale is founded, it must have been in order to laugh in broad grins at the Highlander to whom it related. If the monarch had taken it at all seriously, he would have begun by showing his displeasure at the rash narrator. That he should send his compliments, or, in Mr. Hogg's words, desire his compliments to be given, implies he must have forgotten both the purity of his language, and the etiquette of his station. But the kind of message — the vile buffoonery and clumsy conceit of it — really evinces a degree of vulgarity and affectation in the inventor which can only be equalled by the profound ignorance which it shows of the King's taste and character.

Not content with this, however, our author must needs put into the mouth of his present Majesty, a speech, which, if not so absurd, is quite in the same taste, and, we will venture to assert, quite as credible as the former. "He was heard (it seems) to express himself one day before a dozen of gentlemen of both nations, with the greatest warmth as follows. — "I have always regarded the attachment of the Scots to the Pretender — I beg your pardon, gentlemen — to prince Charles Stuart I mean — as a lesson to me whom to trust in the hour of need." Really this is too much. Mr. Hogg must have been either grossly gulled, or he has exercised his own fancy. When did any one — much less any one of a family remarkable for knowledge of etiquette, even beyond other royal personages — ever talk of Prince Charles Stuart? We shall next hear, we suppose, of Duke Frederick Guelph. These are not trifles — they demonstrate that some one's fancy has been at work; and, to the eye of a person who knows such matters, they do as incontestably disclose the hand of the fabricator, as false Scotch would betray to a countryman of Mr. Hogg, the imposture of any one who should put into his mouth bad verses fabricated in London. But the present king is charged with a greater indecorum in one respect, than even that imputed to his venerable parent. Why, we desire to know, should he trust those who pertinaciously resisted, endeavoured to destroy, and continued successfully to ridicule his whole family, rather than those who uniformly defended them, and whose attachment was at least as steady, though somewhat more successful, than the hostility of the other party? The King, we again assert, is incapable of such a low species of flattery; and one in which the part is so clumsily overdone, as to apologize to "a dozen gentlemen of both nations" for using the ordinary word Pretender. That he should ever have happened in his whole life to be in such a society (partly English, too, be it observed) as should not make the speech in question a most fulsome and inappropriate compliment, we think quite beyond all probability. After such specimens as those we have now given, the reader will wonder the less at Mr. Hogg's concluding, by making the whole family Jacobites in direct terms. This feat he performs in the following fashion.

"Captain Stuart of Invernahoyle's singular remark was not, it seems, quite without foundation. A gentleman, in a large company, gibed him for holding the king's commission, while, at the same time, he was a professed Jacobite. 'So I well may,' answered he, 'in imitation of my master: the king himself is a Jacobite.' The gentleman shook his head, and remarked, that the thing was impossible. 'By G—,' said Stuart, 'but I tell you he is, and every son that he has. There is not one of them who (if he had lived in my brave father's days) would not to a certainty have been hanged.'" pp. x. xi.

We can excuse the simplicity — the bon-hommie, to use a word not easily translated — which could make this good old Centurion swallow and retail such nonsense. But Mr. Hogg's silliness is of a more dull cast; and it is mixed up with such practical heresies as these — "Now, when the horrors of the Catholic religion have ceased to oppress the minds of men, there is but one way of thinking on the rights of the Stuarts throughout the realm." Whereby he means, if the passage has any sense at all, that the only objection to the family was their religion, or rather the hatred unreasonably felt of it in England, and that their right would now be universally admitted if they were still in the field. Truly this writer knows little of either the past or present state of the country. — Do the despotic principles of the Stuarts go for nothing? Did he never hear of the statutes which proclaim the political delinquencies of the Stuarts, and the Liturgy, in which all England still returns thanks for being secured from arbitrary power as well as from Popery? But to argue with such writers is waste of time; — we only notice their follies, because a fashion seems of late to have been springing up of treating the grievous and unpardonable faults of the Stuarts more gently than is consistent with a due sense of the obligations we owe to the great men who drove them from the country which they had misgoverned. Mr. Hogg carries this a step further, and helps to cast imputations on the memory of those founders of a liberty which he either cannot appreciate, because his principles are slavish, or sets little account upon, because its history — its adventures — will not serve to work up into middling poems, and "Tales" calculated to lengthen and sadden a "Winter's Evening."

The plan of this work, its politicks apart, is an extremely laudable one. Many of the Jacobite Songs are worthy of a better cause; and, indeed, its romantic features were far from being ill adapted to poetry. Certain it is, that if the sound principles lay entirely on one side, the good poetry was exclusively the lot of the other; and more tame and spiritless productions cannot well be conceived than those of the Whig bards, whose effusions have been subjoined by Mr. Hogg to his Jacobite Relics, — for the purpose, it should seem, of showing their inferiority, rather than with the candid intention of hearing both sides. It is not pronouncing too harsh a sentence on these to affirm, that they rise but little above the average merit of the collections frequently made of the squibs in use at contested Elections among our English neighbours — from whose pens, indeed, our national partialities are somewhat soothed to find that all those rhymes have proceeded. "Of all the Whig songs," says the editor, "there is not one that I can trace to be of Scottish original."

The Jacobite muse is very differently endowed; though we will confess that her warblings have somewhat disappointed us. Not that we deny the merit of many of them; but because the proportion of insipid, middling, and positively bad is far greater than we had expected. This may no doubt be owing to the compiler's taste, which is evidently of a coarse and vulgar description. He has certainly had the means of discovering all the relics of value which exist; and few have probably perished in the short period that has elapsed since they were composed. Voluminous collections were open to his researches in the hands of all good Jacobites: Besides innumerable contributors of detached songs, he mentions eleven of those stores; and, at length, they poured in upon him so profusely that he "actually grew terrified when he heard of a MS. volume." It adds greatly the value of the collection, that the musick of each air is given; and copious notes are subjoined, containing remarks and extracts — the former not always very happy or very elegant — the latter generally from books in common use; but, upon the whole, conveying a great deal of the information requisite to illustrate the text. These notes are, in bulk, exactly equal to the text; and the Appendix, beside the Whig effusions already mentioned, gives a number of Jacobite songs, the airs of which he could not discover. This class is inferior in merit, generally speaking, to the other, and comprises several English songs.

The first song in the volume is that famous one, "The King shall enjoy his own again," which is said to have produced such marvellous effects in favour of the Royal cause during half of the seventeenth century, — and, during a great part of the eighteenth, to have animated their falling hopes. It is altogether English; and possesses no kind of poetical merit. Probably the words of the burthen, and the air, may have been the cause of its success. In the notes upon it, Mr. Hogg makes mention of a Dr Walker who "happened to be overseer of the market at Ipswich in Suffolk, on account of giving false evidence at an assize held there." (p. 155.) In other words, he stood in the pillory for perjury. Now, if Mr. Hogg thinks to make himself popular by imitating some of the bad and bald jokes of Walter Scott's notes, we must whisper to him that it was in spite, and not in consequence, of such things that the Minstrel's fame waxed great. The third and fourth songs are in ridicule and vituperation of Leslie's Marches — to Scotland and to Marston Moor. Of the former, Mr. Hogg says, "It is the most perfect thing of the kind to be found in that or any other age; and, wild as some of the expressions are, must be viewed as a great curiosity. It is the very essence of sarcasm and derision, and possesses a spirit and energy for which we may look in vain in any other song existing." Sure we are, these remarks are any thing rather than either perfect, or spirited, or even "a curiosity" — except it be for containing at once a specimen of the bathos and the hyperbole. A good notion of the taste of the editor may however be gathered from it. We therefore subjoin two verses of the piece he thus extols — premising that the second is so much coarser than even these, as to preclude our inserting it; — for, of the Jacobite muse, it may he said, as was once observed "of her Jacobin sister — though she may have the 'mille ornatus,' the 'mille decenter habet' is quite another matter."

March! — march! — pinks of election,
Why the devil don't you march onward in order?
March! — march! — dogs of redemption,
Ere the blue bonnets come over the Border.
You shall preach, you shall pray,
You shall teach night and day,
You shall prevail o'er the kirk gone awhoring;
Dance in blood to the knees,
Blood of God's enemies!
The daughters of Scotland shall sing you to snoring.

March! — march! — scourges of heresy!
Down with the kirk and its whilliebaleery!
March! — march! — down with supremacy
And the kist fu' & whistles, that maks sic a cleary;
Fife-men and pipers braw,
Merry deils, tak them a',
Gown, lace, and livery — lickpot and ladle;
Jockey shall wear the hood, Jenny the sark of God—
For codpiece and petticoat, dishclout and daidle. pp. 5-7.

This extract has brought us at once to the cardinal defect of Mr. Hogg, as the editor of a selection. He praises almost indiscriminately, and he wants delicacy almost entirely. Thus he describes, in one note, a poem on George the First's arrival in England, and public entry into his capital, as having "more humour of the kind than any thing he ever saw;" as "being a high treat;" an "old poem of sterling rough humour," and so forth; yet, from the six or seven pages of it which he gives as a sample, we should be disposed to think it one of those rough diamonds (as they are termed), the roughness of which is admitted — the value uncertain; a remark applicable to the men, as well as the verses, which are frequently so designated. It is dull, flat, and extremely indelicate. Of the coarseness we dare not give specimens; let these lines suffice to show forth its other merits.

Next these a Presbyterian Shot-man,
In state affairs a very hot man,
Advanc'd among the 'prentice boys
And prick-ear'd saints, those sons of noise,
Who seldom in such pomp appear
Elated, but when danger's near.
This rank republican, and great
Reformer of the church and state,
Although he's rich, yet made his father
His porter, or his packhorse rather,
And threaten'd oft, as some have heard him,
In case he grumbled, to discard him;
Yet every Tuesday cramm'd a crew,
Of pantile parsons, God knows who,
Whilst his poor father, now at ease,
Was glad to feed on bread and cheese:
For which, and other things as bad,
Returning from the cavalcade,
His courser gave him such a cant,
That broke the noddle of the saint,
And would have given his brains a bruise,
But that he'd none to hurt or lose. p. 277.

We should fatigue our readers, were we only to make references to the instances of this editor's gross and coarse taste, with which this volume abounds. Some songs and prose quotations seem, indeed, selected for no other merits than their vulgar ribaldry. Why else, for instance, is the passage from the mock funeral oration on Hugh Peters given at p. 257? Not surely to display the editor's acquaintance with history, which is so great that he stops to inform his readers who Hugh Peters was, and speaks of him as a person wholly unknown.

But another principle of selection is much more apparent throughout the book. The text is filled with songs, and the notes with extracts, the only merit of which is their virulent abuse of the Hanoverian or Constitutional party, or, as they are generally denominated, the Whigs. And, as the old Whigs of the Covenant are vilified under the same name, Mr. Hogg manifestly indulges in the insertion of attacks upon them, with the hope that the great body of persons now known by that denomination may share the odium or the ridicule scattered by those obsolete lampoons. We must pass over the vile and filthy attacks upon George I. and his favourites, because we cannot, without offence to all propriety, cite them; but, as a specimen of the rancour which dictates Mr. Hogg's selections, we would refer to the several songs against Bishop Burnet, which are utterly destitute of either poetry or wit, and do not even pretend to be of Scotch origin. In scurrility and barefaced falsehood, however, they make ample amends for all their other defects; whereof take one instance. The Bishop is not only represented as having had "a spice of every vice," but his greediness of gold is particularly specified. In the notes on these pieces, Mr. Hogg says not a word to contradict this notorious untruth; though, with singular, ignorance of the subject, he does say that he "was always a moderate man." Dr. King, in his Memoirs (and he was a staunch Jacobite), while he truly represents him as "a furious party man, and easily imposed upon," adds, that "he was a better pastor than any man who is now seated on the bench of bishops;" and praises him for his exemplary disinterestedness and carelessness of gain, which was so great that he only left his children their mother's fortune, deeming it criminal to save a farthing of his Episcopal revenues. After this the reader will be the less surprised to learn, that the Duke of Marlborough is represented in one song, as as difficult to be rescued from hell as the Bishop; and that King William is celebrated in another for his cowardice in battle. One "excellent song" is dedicated to the abuse of the celebrated Archibald, Earl of Argyle, who fell a victim, in 1685, to the most atrocious and perfidious tyranny that ever cursed any modern nation. The following is the concluding stanza.

Thus having yielded up baith his sword and durk,
These bonny boys convey'd him to Edinburg;
Where with a train he enters the Watergate,
The hangman walking before him in muckle state,
With a hemp garter,
The martyr
To quarter,
And by the lugs to cut the loon shorter.
The same fate ever wait
To crown the rebel's pate,
And all such traitors as dare oppose the state. p. 177.

Not a syllable is added by Mr. Hogg on the vile and dull scurrility of this "excellent Scotch song," as he is pleased to term it — not a word upon the detestable oppression here dignified with the name of "the state;" and to oppose which is held so foul a crime. Yet it relates to the man of whom Mr. Fox, in his History, has closed the biography in these memorable words — "Such were the last hours, and such the final close of this great man's life. May the like happy serenity, in such dreadful circumstances, and a death equally glorious, be the lot of all whom tyranny, of whatever denomination and description, shall in my age or country call to expiate their virtues on the scaffold!" p. 211. And with reference to whom, as if with a prophetic knowledge of the sort of persons who were likely to join in crying down so illustrious a martyr to liberty, he afterwards remarks, that our "disgust is turned into something like compassion for that very foolish class of men whom the world calls wise in their generation."

One of these songs, professing to give the character of a Whig, we are told by the critic, was a great favourite with "the Tory clubs of Scotland daring the late war, in detestation of those who deprecated the principles of Pitt;" and he observes, that it is "the most violent of all the party songs, hitter as they are." For this reason alone is it here inserted; for its dulness is at least equal to its violence. Of its correct application to the Whigs of our day, the reader may judge, when he is told that it begins with describing them as saintly hypocrites. All this, however, suits Mr. Hogg's nice and cleanly palate mightily; and that we may have enough of of good a thing, he subjoins the prose character of a Whig, "drawn by the celebrated Butler," and which sets out with stating him to be "the spawn of a regicide, hammered out of a rank Anabaptist hypocrite;" and forthwith becomes too indecent to be further transcribed. We will here just mention, for the edification of Mr. Hogg, that the "celebrated Butler," who, among many other vituperations, compares a Whig to the nettle, because "the more gently you handle him, the more he is apt to hurt you," is well known to those who know any thing of literary history, to have lived in the family, supported by the bounty, of Sir S. Luke, one of Cromwell's captains, at the very time he planned his Hudibras, of which he was pleased to make his kind and hospitable patron the hero. Now we defy the history of Whiggism to match this anecdote, — or to produce so choice a specimen of the human nettle.

That we may not close this article without a specimen of the good songs which the book contains, we shall extract the one which, for sly characteristic Scotch humour, seems to us the best; though we doubt if any of our English readers will relish it.

Donald's gane up the hill hard and hungry;
Donald comes down the hill wild and angry;
Donald will clear the gouk's nest cleverly.
Here's to the king and Donald Macgillavry.
Come like a weigh-bauk, Donald Macgillavry,
Come like a weigh-bauk, Donald Macgillavry;
Balance them fair, and balance them cleverly:
Off wi' the counterfeit, Donald Macgillavry.

Donald's run o'er the hill but his tether, man,
As he were wud, or stang'd wi' an ether, man;
When he comes back, there's some will look merrily:
Here's to King James and Donald Macgillavry.
Come like a weaver, Donald Macgillavry,
Come like a weaver, Donald Macgillavry,
Pack on your hack, and elwand sae cleverly;
Gie them full measure, my Donald Macgillavry.

Donald has foughten wi' rief and roguery;
Donald has dinner'd wi' banes and beggary:
Better it were for Whigs and Whiggery
Meeting the Devil than Donald Macgillavry.
Come like a tailor, Donald Macgillavry,
Come like a tailor, Donald Macgillavry;
Push about, in and out, thimble them cleverly.
Here's to King James and Donald Macgiliavry!

Donald's the callan that brooks nae tangleness;
Whigging, and prigging, and a' newfangleness,
They maun be gane: he winna be baukit, man;
He maun hae justice, or faith he'll tak it, man.
Come like a cobler, Donald Macgillavry,
Come like a cobler, Donald Macgillavry;
Beat them, and bore them, and lingel them cleverly.
Up wi' King James and Donald Macgillavry!

Donald was mumpit wi' mirds and mockery;
Donald was blinded wi' blads o' property;
Arles ran high, but makings were naething, man:
Lord, how Donald is flyting and fretting, man!
Come like the devil, Donald Macgillavry,
Come like the devil, Donald Macgillavry;
Skelp them and scaud them that prov'd sae unbritherly.
Up wi' King James and Donald Macgillavry! p. 100-102.