1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gibson Lockhart

John Wilson Croker to John Gibson Lockhart, 17 August 1834; The Croker Papers, ed. Louis J. Jennings (1884) 2:31-33.



Molesey Grove, August 17, 1834.

MY DEAR LOCKHART,

Murray well knows that I never was a friend to making the Review a political engine; for twenty years that I wrote in it — from 1809 to 1829 — I never gave, I believe, one purely political article; not one, certainly, in which party politics predominated.

Nor, even latterly, did I, of my own free will, write political articles. I did what was desired to do; and what I was told was advantageous to the Review. I insist upon this, that you and Murray may be perfectly aware — as Murray must have been for twenty years — that I am not a friend to a merely political review. To yourself I have more than once hinted that neither politics nor trifles can make a sufficient substratum and foundation — solid literature and science must be the substance — the rest is "leather and prunella." In short, a review should be a review, and a review of the higher order of literature rather than the ordinary run of the topics and publications of the idle day.

The Quarterly has a great name, and has always maintained a rank of composition and information which the fry can neither attain, nor, if they for a moment caught them, could maintain. Murray may say to them, as the lion to the hare, "Tis true, you produce a litter, and I produce but one: but mine is a lion!" After all, the main question is the sale. I have stated why that cannot be expected to be kept in its "palmy state" when the party and principles which the Review professes, and on which it has thriven for twenty-five years, are in sackcloth and ashes. Murray, therefore, I think, should be prepared for defalcations; and you, if I may venture my advice, should endeavour to counteract that operation by giving the Review a higher and more varied scope of general literature. You should embrace all subjects, and lookout for new hands. We grow old. "Our candles burn dim in their sockets." Try to find some link boys with great flambeaux fitter for the dark time in which we live. I am ready to retire whenever you or Murray think that I twaddle, as, if I don't already, I soon must; and, in the meanwhile, I am willing never to write a line of politics, — but, beware; your sale declines; don't be too sure that "post" is "propter." It declines with politics; where would you have been without them?

As for myself, I am, as long as I may continue in the connection, willing to do what maybe considered most useful, and shall always, as you know I have hitherto done, endeavour to do what is wished for; and, above all, when nobody else will. I have of late done some things which were thought desirable, but for which I considered myself as unfit, only because those who were able were not willing. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and you cannot make a Southey, nor a Blomfield, nor a Canning out of me.

As to your hint about a series of biographies, I never, I am sure, gave any encouragement to the idea that I would or could undertake them; it is essentially against the principle I hold as to the well-doing of a review. If they come in naturally — that is, if they arise out of a work under consideration, well and good; but a premeditated series of biography would be, I fear, detestable. Who, nowadays, cares about Castlereagh or Perceval? Murray, it seems, objects to the politics of the day; what would those biographies be but the politics of yesterday — stale fish!

If I were to advise, I should say the first change you should make would be to say to all your friends without exception that you would, on no subject, nor under any pressure or pretence, suffer any article to exceed two sheets, and of such articles there should not be above two, or three at most, in a number; trifling subjects should never exceed one sheet. There should be never less than a dozen, and more generally about fourteen or fifteen articles in each number, and they should embrace the whole circle of literature — "quicquid scribunt homines" — instead of being a collection of ethical or political essays, very clever, very comprehensive, but having as little to do with the business of the day as Seneca's Maxims or Cicero's Offices.

Yours ever sincerely,

J. W. CROKER.