Our first impressions of this work were favourable. The plan, as opened in the preface, is plausible: — first the editor proposes to exhibit in one view the eminent men who have flourished in the reigns of the four Georges, which he designates as the Georgian Era, in contradistinction, as he says, to the eras of Elizabeth or Anne; — in the next place, abandoning the alphabetical form of the Biographical Dictionaries, he classes his subjects under the separate heads of the Royal Family — the Senate — the Church — the Army — the Navy — Science — Literature — Painting, — Sculpture — Architecture — Music — and the Stage; and he ranges the individuals of each class in the chronological order of their births. By "entirely re-writing" all the lives, and adjusting them in a consecutive series, he escapes from the necessity of repeating the same public transactions where many individuals bore a share — which, in common biographical dictionaries, cannot be avoided, and which tends to increase the size without adding to the substance of such works. He also professes to have consulted the original materials, and says:—
"Every possible exertion has been made, both on the part of the Editor and his assistants, to elucidate doubtful points, to reconcile conflicting authorities, and to rectify the errors of preceding writers. No public event, or private anecdote of interest or importance, has been either negligently omitted or wilfully concealed; so that, it is hoped, the volumes may be said to form at once a work of entertainment and reference. Reliance has never been placed on any single biography; various authorities have invariably been consulted, and existing memoirs of contemporary characters have been corrected by careful comparison with each other. A judicious use has also been made of the valuable diaries, autobiographies, and original letters of eminent persons, which have recently been brought to light. Wherever information was suspected to lurk, there it has been diligently sought; in addition to the more grave and obvious sources, anecdotal, miscellaneous, and periodical works, — even fugitive pieces, and foreign literature, — have been adventurously explored. In many cases, reference has been made, with material advantage, to the existing relatives of departed worthies; and, in some, an inspection of important family papers has been obtained. The Editor fearlessly asserts an unimpeachable claim to strict impartiality; in summing up the characters, he has acted under no influence but that of his own judgment. Not only has he spurned any truckling to party feeling, but that lamentable transmission of error, as well with regard to opinion as matter of fact, from generation to generation, which arises from the ready faith reposed in the statements of distinguished authors, he has, in numerous cases, successfully checked. Laurels, originally awarded by private friendship, bigoted admiration, or political partisanship, are, in the present work, torn from the brows of the undeserving, and transferred to those of such meritorious individuals as have been visited with obloquy, either through ignorance of their merits, personal pique, public clamour, or party bitterness. Many persons of great abilities have met with no literary advocates; while others, of doubtful claims, have had had their 'nothings monstered' by adulatory biographers, although treated with apathetic indifference by those who were most competent to judge of their qualities; — an attempt has been made to remedy such evils in these volumes; the judgment pronounced on each individual being, it is sincerely hoped, commensurate with his merits, however it may differ from his standard reputation." — Preface, pp. 5, 6.
To these — not very modest — pretensions we must add that the typographical execution of the work is exceedingly neat, and that so much care in the mechanical part afforded us a reasonable expectation that not only would great and substantial mistakes be avoided, but that we should not have had to complain of the minor errors of transcription and of the press, which so generally impair the utility of works of this nature; and on the whole we hoped that we had here, in a light and luminous form, a combination of history and biography, — for public events, personal anecdotes, and impartial criticism — of a period, taken altogether, the most illustrious of our annals! We regret to say, that all these expectations have been most grievously, most utterly disappointed; the plan of the work turns out to be, in some important points, impracticable; — and the execution exhibits such a mass of ignorance, vulgarity, negligence, and falsehood of all kinds, as the genius of Grub-street never before, we believe, collected into the same compass.
First let us consider the general design. The author begins by distinguishing the Georgian Era from that of Anne; but his list of Georgian "worthies," as he calls them, comprises every name (almost without exception) of those who have conferred on the reign of Anne the title of the "AUGUSTAN" age of England, — Tennison, Burnet, Atterbury, Berkeley, South, Bentley, Harley, Bolingbroke, Wyndham, Marlborough, Peterborough, Somers, Harcourt, Newton, Radcliffe, Halley, Arbuthnot, Garth, Pope, Swift, Addison, Steele, Prior, Gay, Sheffield, Kneller, Gibbons, Wren, Vanburgh, &c. To be sure, these all died after the accession of the House of Hanover, and some of them acquired new laurels subsequently to that event, — but if they were not the worthies of Queen Anne's reign, we should like to know to whom our author would give that title? and if they were, we ask what becomes of his distinction between the reign of Queen Anne and the Georgian era? We, however, do not complain of this, — the distinction made in his preface is frivolous — that's all — and as these eminent men all died within the limit of his era, he had a perfect right to include them. But mark his consistency: when he comes to the other end of his tether, he reckons not by the death but by the birth, and a great portion of the work is occupied by persons — who being alive and merry at the demise of George IV. — should, according to the principle on which he set out, be reserved for the era, — the Reform Era, or whatever it may be hereafter called, — which commenced on the death of the late king. Of this incongruity, again, we do not complain but we perceive that the author himself was so sensible of it, that he hit on a most amusing expedient for palliating the error. His whole show is suddenly stopped at the very moment of the death of George IV. — fifteen minutes past three o'clock of the morning of the 26th of June, 1830: — and like some pantomime that we have seen, all his dramatis personae stand petrified — motionless and lifeless — in the same positions, attitudes, and habiliments in which they happened to be at that fatal hour. His Majesty King William is congealed as Duke of Clarence; the Duke of Wellington remains the immovable Prime Minister; Lord Chief Justice Tenterden still dispenses law in the King's Bench; the last line of the article on Mr. Brougham leaves him and the reader in a state of most painful suspense for the health of that gentleman's daughter,
"who is said to be in a state which gives her father, who is extremely fond of her, much uneasiness." — vol. ii. p. 358.
And, what is not more ludicrous than literally true, Lord Grey is "left speaking" in defence of his "ORDER," — and Lord John Russell is in the act of uttering a conservative speech against Mr. O'Connell's wild projects of Parliamentary Reform:—
"His lordship's last important speech in parliament previously to the demise of George IV., was in opposition to Mr. O'Connell's motion for universal suffrage, declaring that he was no friend to sweeping measures, but an advocate ONLY for moderate reform." — vol. i., p. 420.
Those readers, therefore, who put their sole trust in the Georgian Era must wait till another age shall produce a continuation of the work, before their feelings can be gratified, or their wonder excited, by hearing that Miss Brougham grew up to be a fine young woman, — that Lord Grey became hand and glove with Mr. Carpue and Mr. Place, — and that Lord John Russell turned out so sweeping a reformer as to throw even Hunt and Cobbett far into the rear!
Such inconsistencies and imperfections are inseparable from the awkward jumble of the dead and the living in one biographical work, — of which we believe this to be nearly the first specimen, as we are fully sure it will be the last. We have had some biographies of living men, and our neighbours the French have many; and very useful manuals they are; but they are essentially of a temporary nature, and should never be mingled with general biography; because works of reference, particularly when costly and voluminous, should be perfect in themselves, and not liable to be turned into waste paper — (as the Georgian Era will assuredly be) — by the lapse of a very few years. But again — what can be more absurd than to assign to any work, which treats of the general current of human affairs, limits so purely accidental as the name of the prince on the throne.
What's in a name? That which we call a George
By any other name had reigned as well.
If Frederick Prince of Wales had outlived George II., and so intervened, as the course of nature seemed to promise, between his father and his son, we should never have heard of the "Georgian Era," — though all the persons recorded in this "Georgian Era" would have equally written, spoken, fought, pleaded and acted. Yet upon this mere accident of a name, this work is founded, and we verily believe that the book was made for the title, and not the title for the book.
But passing over these objections, which are inherent in the scheme itself, we revert to the advantage promised by the plan of placing the lives in classes and chronological order — which, however, the editor has contrived to defeat, — first, by an erroneous principle of arrangement, and secondly, by the most bungling and unpardonable negligence in the execution of that principle.
Although he includes many persons born as far back as the reign of Charles I., because they died under George I., he assumes, as the general basis of his chronological order, not the deaths but the births: this — having once committed the mistake of introducing living men into his catacombs — we admit that he could not avoid; but it seems to us that, for such a work as this affects to be, the arrangement by the order of deaths would be the most convenient, as best preserving the continuity of history. The busy and important time of men's lives is, generally speaking, nearer their deaths than their births, and, by continuing the story from the death of one eminent person in any walk of life, to the death of another, you carry on, without confusion or repetition, the general narrative. Let us take, for instance, four consecutive prime ministers, in whose history we read that of the nation for a most important period — Walpole, Pelham, the Duke of Newcastle, George Grenville. The order of their deaths was the same as that of their administrations, and the relation would, if they had been thus arranged, have naturally proceeded from one to the other; but, placed, as they are, in the Georgian Era, by order of birth, when we part from Walpole, in 1744, we jump to Newcastle's administration, in 1754; we follow that to its close, in 1761; we then fall back upon Pelham, in 1743, and then spring forward twenty years to Mr. Grenville, in 1763. Derangements of this kind are, we are well aware, not to be altogether avoided, in any attempt to combine history with biography, but we are confident they would be less frequent and less serious, if the order of death was followed rather than that of birth.
We have thrown out these observations only for the consideration of those who may now or hereafter be engaged in such works; for as to the editor before us, though he affects to proceed by the order of birth, he has ingeniously contrived to keep no order at all. It may seem rather difficult to go astray in so plain a matter, but he has happily accomplished it; for when you have read through about three-fourths of every volume, and finished, as you think, all the classes it contains, you arrive at a page inscribed with the word Appendix, and then you begin again with another series of names arranged in similar order and under the same classes. This whimsical departure from the author's avowed principle is thus accounted for, in the preface to the first volume:—
"A few memoirs of eminent persons, accidentally omitted in the body of the work, are located in Appendices to the respective classes, at the end of each volume, among summary sketches of those who have been mere satellites to their more illustrious contemporaries." — p. v.
This excuse, which appeared in the preface to the first volume, dated January, 1832, might be admitted for a hasty work, of which the materials were scattered and difficult of access, and in which it might be of little importance whether a particular piece of information was to be found in the body of the book or in the appendix; but for a work got up with so much apparent care — nine-tenths of the materials of which were already in print, and professing, as its special distinction, that every name was carefully arranged in chronological order — the apology is obviously insufficient. But what shall be said when we find the second volume, published at the interval of a year, with an advertisement stating that the delay had been occasioned by the editor's "great anxiety for correctness" — what shall be said, when we find this volume also disfigured by a wen of appendix larger than the first — and when we find the third and fourth volumes, also published after another year's interval, each with appendices still more enormous — equivalent on the whole, in bulk, to not less than one-fifth of the entire work?
But these appendices contain, we are told, only "a few eminent names accidentally omitted," and their "satellites." The editor and we might differ, perhaps, as to who should be called eminent and who satellites; but let us take, for example, a class in which eminence may be tolerably well measured, by tests on which there can be little dispute — the class of the Law. The text contains 50 lawyers, the Appendix no fewer than 53. Of these numbers — chancellors or chief judges of their respective courts, the text has 27, the Appendix 26; of puisne judges, the text has 7, the Appendix 8; and of eminent barristers, who had not attained the bench, the text has 16, and the Appendix 19. This affords, we think, a tolerable contradiction to the apologetical paragraph of the preface; and we need not pursue this part of the subject further than to state that, having taken the trouble of reckoning up all the articles in the text and the appendices respectively, we were astonished, as no doubt our readers will be, to find that the whole body of the work has but 844 names, while the few, omitted by accident, in the Appendix are no less than 1005!!! Verily the editor's veracity is quite equal to his modesty and diligence.
But all this inconsistency and confusion in the arrangement of the work, serious as they are, fade into nothing, before, as we stated in the outset, the incredible negligence, stupidity, arrogance, and ignorance with which the editor has put his materials together. He says he has "rewritten all the articles;" if by this is meant that he has not borrowed and copied from the published biographies, the assertion is utterly untrue: he has borrowed and copied wholesale and retail; but if it only means to say that there are few of the lives in which he has not left indubitable traces of his own exquisite handywork, we admit the fact, and shall proceed to amuse our readers with some specimens of such "adventurous exploring," "judicious' selection," "unimpeachable impartiality," and "laborious anxiety to secure the utmost possible correctness," as they most assuredly have never met with before.
We will not waste time in complaining of what may — by any possibility — be supposed to be mere errors of the press, such as the confusion of dates — 1764 for 1754, 1770 for 1768 — even though of events so important as the death of prime ministers, — or the disfiguring of names, as Hough for Slough, Trenor twice over for Trevor, Hinchcliffe six times for Hinchliffe — " daughter of Jarius" — Buckingham administration for Rockingham administration — Jesuits' college at Lorraine for Louvain — Locheink for Loch Erroch. Such mistakes, always vexatious, become really serious in works professedly biographical, to which one is in the habit of appealing for accuracy in names and dates; and they were certainly least to be expected, and are least pardonable, in a work of such extraordinary typographical neatness as these pages exhibit. We shall, however, not further notice this inferior, though not unimportant, class of errors, but shall proceed to, we were about to say graver, but we should rather call them more ridiculous, though less excusable blunders.
We have not heard, nor have we the least guess, who or what "the editor" and "his assistants" are; we can see obvious traces of a variety of hands, though there is certainly one master-blunderer, whose genius pervades the whole work — "omne tetigit, nihil quod tetigit non ornavit." Till we had proceeded a little way in his book, we really had no conception that any one not indebted — according to honest Dogberry's hypothesis — to nature alone for his reading and writing, could have been so entirely ignorant of the very rudiments of our national history, and of our vernacular literature. The compiler of the "Lives of the Kit-Cat Club," reviewed in our Twenty-sixth volume, p. 424, "was a very pretty fellow in his way," and made as good a hash as any one could do, of two or three dozen of names; but our present author has taken a larger field, and with a more than proportionate success — his work being fifty times more extensive, and an hundred tunes more erroneous and absurd. In selecting for our readers' amazement and amusement some specimens of this portentous mass of blunders, we hardly know where to begin, or how to present, in any thing like order, the disorderly profusion of the man's ignorance. We shall commence, however, with his chronology. The book being, in its substance and foundation, chronological, and professing to be a work of reference, we might expect that, at least, some slight attention had been paid to this point, particularly in cases where no "adventurous exploring" was necessary, and where the editor had only to make "a judicious use" of his eyes and fingers, in selecting from the learned stores of the Biographical Dictionary, and the recondite tomes of the Gentleman's Magazine. Nor shall the editor have to complain that we arraign him for small mistakes about obscure persons, for errors in lives before unwritten, or for distortion of anecdotes recently brought to light. Our examples shall be derived from well-known anecdotes of well-known men.
For instance, this editor states that the success of Sir Richard Blackmore's Prince Arthur, published in 1695,
"raised the animosity of Dryden, Pope, and in fact of almost all the literati of the age, who exerted their utmost talents to decry it," — vol. iii. p. 243.
Pope tells us that "he lisped in numbers," but he must have done something still more wonderful in this instance, for he was but seven years old when our author represents him as thus leaguing with Dryden to decry "Prince Arthur." Equally precocious was his malignity against Bentley, for we are told (vol. iii. p. 253) that, at the breaking out of the Phalaris controversy, Pope entered into "a confederacy with Swift" and others to ridicule the great critic, Pope being at this time un unknown schoolboy about nine years old.
"Dr. Delany became, at a proper age, a sizar of Trinity College, Dublin, where he formed a strict intimacy with Swift, who is said to have been much attached to him, on account of his playful disposition." — vol. i. p. 496.
Our ingenious editor here gives us to understand, that the proper age for entering Dublin College is under TWO years, — for he had just stated that Delany was born in 1686, and Swift left Dublin in 1688. No wonder that Swift should have been amused by such a playful little academic.
"About the year 1759, Burke obtained an introduction to Mr. Gerard Hamilton, whose celebrated single speech was attributed to the powerful pen of Burke; but no good reason has been offered against the prima facie presumption of its having been composed by the man who delivered it." — vol. i. p. 320.
A most judicious observation — which we are delighted to corroborate, by stating that the said celebrated speech was delivered in 1755 — years, by his own statement, before Hamilton and Burke were even acquainted.
The editor seems to give credit to Thomas Hollis for great sagacity, in having "prophesied, in 1764, the promotion of Mr. Pitt (Lord Chatham) to be Secretary of State." — vol. iii. p. 24. Mr. Pitt had already been Secretary of State in 1756, and never resumed that office.
Our Editor seems incapable even of researches so little "adventurous" as the "exploring" Hansard's Parliamentary Debates. He tells us that Lord Grenville obtained the auditorship of the Exchequer "when Mr. Pitt returned to power" in 1804 — (vol. i. p. 393) — his Lordship's being auditor of the Exchequer made a considerable noise in 1806; but he had held the office ever since 1794. We are also told, that Henry the present Marquis of Lansdowne "seldom engaged in those violent debates which were occasioned by the French Revolution" — (vol. i. p. 416) — very naturally — he did not become Marquis of Lansdowne till 1809, and was not even in the House of Commons till after Mr. Pitt's death in 1805; — so that he was rather late for the debates occasioned by the French Revolution. We should have been willing to suspect a misprint, when it is said that Lord Grey, "in 1811, charged Lord Eldon with having set the great seal to a commission for the opening of parliament in 1789, while the king was under medical advice" (vol. i., p. 396).
We supposed that even this editor must have known that Lord Eldon did not hold the great seal till twelve years after the alleged abuse; — but the context and a reference to the parliamentary debates for what Lord Grey did say oblige its to conclude that our author really believed that Lord Eldon was Chancellor in 1789.
Whenever he mentions Ireland, his blunders are "ipsis Hibernis Hiberniores." After stating Mr. Grattan's great popularity for his services in effecting the independence of Ireland in 1782, and Mr. Flood's opinion that Mr. Grattan had betrayed the national dignity, by contenting himself with the simple repeal of the obnoxious acts, he proceeds:—
"The Irish people eagerly adopted Flood's opinion, and Grattan soon found that his popularity was on the wane — the rival orators, during the political contest, descended to the most debasing scurrility and abuse. While Grattan animadverted on the broken beak and disastrous countenance of his opponent, Flood broadly insinuated that Grattan had betrayed his country for gold, and for prompt payment had sold himself to the minister. Lord Chancellor Clare denounced him as an infernal demagogue; the corporation of Dublin tore down his portrait with which they had previously adorned their hail, and indignantly expelled him from their body. He was, at length, by common consent, stigmatized as a traitor to liberty; and to complete the climax, the corporation of Cork decided 'that the street which had been named Grattan Street, should in future be called Duncan Street.' In 1785, Grattan successfully opposed the propositions of a Mr. Ord," &c. — vol. i. p. 362.
This really is marvellous! The disgraceful squabble between Flood and Grattan took place on the 28th Oct., 1783, and Mr. Grattan's popularity was certainly for some months impaired, though it was soon revived to its full extent by his opposition to the propositions produced in the House of Commons, in 1785, by Mr. Secretary Ord — (a Mr. Ord!). But the invective of Lord Clare — the censures of the corporations of Dublin and Cork, and the public disapprobation, by this writer attributed to the simple repeal question in 1783, were, in fact, the consequence of Mr. Grattan's indiscreet political conduct previous to and during the Irish rebellion of 1798, — the Georgian Era has only transposed the events fifteen years. If the editor was ignorant of all the Irish part of the story, we wonder that he should not have recollected that Duncan's victory, after which Grattan Street received its new name, was not achieved till 1797.
The life of Mr. Curran had been written by his son, but it has been "re-written" in a very original style by one of the authors of the Georgian Era.
"Mr. Curran's professional career was chiefly distinguished by his defence of the leaders of the rebellion in 1798. His most celebrated speeches were in defence of Patrick Finney, Oliver Bond, the brothers Sheares, Theobald Wolfe Tone, and Major Rowan." — vol. ii., p. 309.
Now the order here assigned to these "celebrated speeches" is, in every instance, inaccurate — nay, the very last was the very first — and no one who knew anything of the history of the times would have confounded the speech for Mr. Hamilton Rowan in 1794 with those pronounced on the trials for the rebellion in 1798. Next comes an anecdote of Curran's visiting the Count d'Artois (Charles X.) in Paris in 1802!!! (vol. II,, p. 310.) We should have passed this by as an error of the press for 1814 or 1816 — but the context most carefully determines the circumstance to have occurred in Curran's SECOND visit to Paris, and that second visit to have been in 1802, and, expressly, previous to his celebrated speech in defence of Kirwan in 1803! — so that, beyond all doubt, the editor of the Georgian Era believes that the Count d'Artois passed the summer of 1802 in Paris! — and, with an equal attention to modern history, he, in another place (vol. ii. p. 236), states, and involves the assertion in elaborate details, that Buonaparte returned from Elba in 1813. But the conclusion of the article on Mr. Curran is a perfect specimen of the style of reasoning as well as of the facts of this wonderful book. After having stated that Curran died in 1817, at the not very immature age of sixty-eight, of a combination of "hypochondriasis — rapid decline, paralysis, and apoplexy" — he winds up with the following passage:
"His death is supposed to have been HASTENED by the mortification he felt on being obliged, through the enmity of Lord Clare, to abandon his practice at the chancery bar." — vol. ii., p. 313.
Now it had been just before stated that Curran's difference with Lord Clare, and consequent retirement from the chancery bar, took place about 1789 — eight-and-twenty years before Curran's death, who himself survived Lord Clare sixteen years: — this is truly an Irish mode of hastening a man's death. Of this strange ignorance about Irish statesmen and Irish politics, we shall add but one more instance. He gravely tells us of Mr. Toler, afterwards Lord Norbury of facetious memory, that—
"his Tory principles procured him the patronage of Lord Castlereagh, &c., through whose influence he obtained, in 1789, the office of Irish Solicitor-General." — vol. ii. p. 301.
Mr. Robert Stewart, afterwards Lord Castlereagh, did not enter parliament till 1791, when he was barely of age, and so far from being of Tory principles, was for many years a violent Whig, and in decided opposition to the government of which Mr. Toler was a member, with whose promotion Lord Castlereagh had just as much to do as with that of Cardinal Wolsey.
But there is another class of anachronisms equally wonderful, but rather more deliberately erroneous, which pervert not merely dates and facts, but sometimes confound the personal identity of very different parties.
The college friendship which the editor creates (i. 402) between Mr. Canning and the "first" Lord Liverpool, who had left college near twenty years before Canning was born, might be a slip of the pen of first for "second," but such blunders as the following must be those of ignorance prepense. He confounds John Methuen, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who died in 1706, with his son, Sir Paul Methuen, Knight of the Bath, who died in 1757 — (i. 533.) He confounds the elder Craggs — the Postmaster General — with his son, the Secretary of State — (i. 536.) He confounds (i. 220) Chief Justice Foster, who died about 1720, with Mr. Foster, last Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, who died in 1828. We are aware, that into this last error he was led by a former biographer; but he had undertaken "to rectify the errors of preceding writers," — instead of which, he has in almost every case repeated and enhanced them.
On the trial of Lord Lovat (1747), "Lord Chancellor Talbot" is represented as pronouncing a high panegyric on Lord Mansfield, then Mr. Murray, one of the managers of the prosecution — (ii. 280.) Of all the compliments ever paid to Lord Mansfield, and no one has received more, this was certainly the greatest, for Lord Chancellor Talbot must have risen from the dead to pronounce it. We regret, for the sake of Lord Mansfield's fame, to be obliged to explain, that the observation in question was made by the son of Lord Chancellor Talbot, some ten years after his father's decease.
"Before proceeding to Constantinople, Lady M. Wortley Montague made an experiment on her own children of inoculation for the small pox, a practice which she first introduced into London." — vol. iii. p. 12.
Whether the editor supposed that Lady Mary inoculated her child (not children) before she left England, or only while on her way to Constantinople, we know not; but either supposition would be equally an error, though not of the same magnitude; for we have it under Lady Mary's own hand, that she inoculated her son after her arrival at Constantinople, in her country-house near that city: — what shall we think of an historian of the Georgian Era who has not read Lady Mary's Letters? Lady Mary was, he admits, an extraordinary woman, so much so that "Mrs. Montague, her mother-in-law, used to describe her as one who neither thought, spoke, nor acted like any one else." — vol. i., p. 13.
The Mrs. Montague who said this was also an extraordinary woman, but we do not see how she could have managed to be the mother of Lady Mary's husband, who was at least thirty years older than herself. Here the editor has been led by his good nature into a slight mistake, and, because the Biographical Dictionary calls Mrs. Montague "Lady Mary's amiable relative," he thought, in "entirely rewriting the lives," it might conduce to the honour of both parties, and could do no harm to any one, to represent her as her mother-in-law.
In the same style, "Henry Bathurst, the present Bishop of Norwich," — (who, by the way, is introduced into this collection of "eminent persons" with the strange observation "that he has no pretensions to eminence")—
"is the son of the Right Honourable Bragge Bathurst, and was born in I748." — vol. i., p. 516.
Now here are no obscure persons — a cabinet minister, but lately deceased, and a living bishop — but, so far from being father and son as is stated, they were not even paternally of the same name or family; Mr. Charles Bragge having only, in 1804, assumed the name of Bathurst on the death of a maternal uncle's widow.
The minute accuracy with which Dr. Johnson's life is known, does not save even him from the Editor's omnipotent ignorance. He states, that in 1770, Doctors Stinton and Porteus, afterwards Bishop of London, published Archbishop Secker's Lectures,
"with a Memoir of the Author's Life, written entirely by Porteus; which, on being reprinted separately, with additions, in 1798, is said to have been honoured with the approbation of Dr. Samuel Johnson." — vol. i. p. 249.
Every one else knows that Dr. "Samuel" Johnson, as our editor so accurately designates him, died in 1784, fourteen years before the separate publication of Porteus's Life of Secker; and what the Doctor did say, on the appearance of the original work, was not so much in approbation of Porteus's Memoir as of Archbishop Secker's life. "It is a life well written, and which deserves to be recorded." — Croker's Boswell, iv. 261.
We can conceive how the preceding mistake was made; but we cannot imagine how such complicated blunders as the following could have been invented.
"HENRY KETT published the 'Elements of General Knowledge,' a book of which Johnson said that the tutor would be deficient in his duty who neglected to put it into the hands of his pupils." — vol. i., p. 522.
Johnson has confessed that he was willing to believe in the second sight — but here we find that he actually possessed it, for he, who died in December, 1784, had, it seems, a distinct vision of Kett's "Elements of General Knowledge," which were not published till 1802.
But if our poor friend Kett was thus honoured by anticipated praise, we find — as all things in this world seem to be distributed on a system of compensation — that he was, equally unexpectedly, visited by some posthumous ridicule, for our author informs us, that Kett having "in 1793 published a volume of poems which he afterwards took great pains to suppress, as they were calculated, in the opinion of his friend, to injure rather than enhance his literary reputation — in allusion to this circumstance, his fellow-collegian, Thomas Warton, wrote the following epigram, the point of which turns on a nasal peculiarity of Kett—
Our Kett not a poet! — why how can you say so,
For if he's no Ovid, I'm sure he's a Naso! — vol. i., p. 522.
Here can be, at least, no error of the press, for Kett's "Juvenile Poems" were certainly published in 1793; while Thomas Warton — we have never heard of more than one poet of that name — died, as even the "Georgian Era" states (vol. iii., p. 350), in 1790. But our author is sadly at sea about these Wartons — as indeed he is about everybody — for he describes Joseph Warton — whom he places in the Appendix amongst "the satellites" — as "the son of the Rev. Thomas Warton, Professor of Poetry at Oxford" — (vol. iii., p. 542). Joseph was born, he adds, in 1722; yet he had told us a few pages before that his father aforesaid "Thomas, Professor of Poetry," was born in 1728, six years after his imputed son. We, and all the rest of the world, had hitherto supposed that Thomas was the younger brother of Joseph. We have in our notes a hundred similar instances of anachronism, but our limits warn us to proceed to specimens of some other classes of our editor's merits, and we shall begin with exhibiting his acquaintance with English literature, as evinced in his version of some of the most notorious and commonplace facts of our literary history.
In the account of Sir Richard Steele's life and works, he states, "that the Guardian succeeded the Tatler in 1713," — ignorant, it appears, that the Spectator intervened, nay — incredible as it may seem — ignorant that Steele had anything to do with the Spectator, to which — his best title to fame — the only allusion made in his biography is
"that in the play of the 'Tender Husband,' which appeared in 1704, Steele was materially assisted by the author of the Spectator!" — vol. iii., p. 59.
But who the author of the Spectator was (except that he was not Steele), and why that anonymous person should be so called seven years before the "Spectator" began, we are not informed! But our author proceeds to tell us that Steele (after having been expelled) returned to parliament in 1714, which it is notorious that he did not do, and could not have done, till the general election in 1715, "after which," adds our judicious author, and "up to 1717, he continued to write pamphlets in favour of King WILLIAM!!!"
In another passage (to which we have mislaid our reference) concerning "the celebrated Athenian Letters published by Lord Hardwicke in (we think) 1792," it was clear to us, as we read the passage, that he had not the slightest idea of the history and nature of "the Athenian Letters;" and in a subsequent article he states that "Charles Yorke wrote a small portion of the Athenian Letters published by his brother Philip" — (vol. ii., p. 537). Everything that is stated about the Athenian Letters is erroneous. They were not published, as is twice over alleged, by Philip, second Earl of Hardwicke; a few copies were printed originally in 1741, and again in 1784, for distribution among the authors and their private friends, but the work was not published till after the death of Philip — nor was he in any sense the mere publisher; nor did Charles write only a small portion. Philip and Charles were the authors of the work as much as Addison and Steele were the authors of the Spectator. While youths at college, they planned and, with some contributions from their fellow-academics, executed these ingenious and elegant letters; the total number of which is 179, of which Philip Yorke wrote 72, Charles 46, ten other contributors 60, and Dr. Heberden — who alone of all the minor contributors is mentioned by the Georgian Era (vol. ii., p. 383) as having "written some of the Athenian Letters," — wrote one! Thus the principal author becomes only the publisher — the second is stated to have been a small contributor — and the only other person mentioned as having written some of these letters wrote but one. But ignorance about the Athenian Letters, however blameable in such a work as this, is less startling than the finding Phillips's "Splendid Shilling" attributed (vol. iii., p. 536) to Somerville — Fielding's "Tom Thumb" to Mr. Kane O'Hara (vol. iii., p. 531) — and the satirical poem of "All the Talents," which made some noise in 1807, to Mr. Canning. Did our readers believe that there was a grocer's apprentice in London who did not know the authors of the "Splendid Shilling" and "Tom Thumb?"
In the account of Lord Treasurer Oxford, it is stated that he was an author himself, having published three polemical pamphlets, and "A Letter to Swift for correcting and improving the English Language." — vol. i. p. 267. Harley never wrote any polemical pamphlet; three political ones are, indeed, attributed to him. But our readers will wonder what is meant by Lord, Oxford's publishing "A Letter to Swift for correcting and improving the Language." We think we can explain the enigma. It happens that the "Biographical Dictionary," In giving the titles of Lord Oxford's pamphlets, adds, as a further proof of his literary taste, that Swift addressed to him "A Letter, &c." Our editor, in his mode of "re-writing all these lives from original materials," glanced his eye over the passage in the "Dictionary," and finding, amidst Oxford's productions, mention of "A Letter for correcting, &c." and having unfortunately never heard of the matter before, he boldly enrols Swift's Essay among the works of the Earl of Oxford! Much in the same way, having found in the same "Biographical Dictionary" that Lord Oxford had been a patron and governor of the South Sea Company, he sagaciously observes,
"that Harley's 'famous project' of the South Sea Company, which he fondly imagined would have relieved the nation from her difficulties, proves that he was not a wise man." — vol. i., p. 267.
Thus confounding the South Sea "bubble" — which, many years after Harley had left public life, was concocted by some of his most virulent political opponents — with the institution of the Company which exists to this hour in the manner and for the purposes for which it was incorporated in 1710.
He talks of Dean Swift's "work on the Trinity," — the Dean's work is only one sermon — an admirable one indeed — printed in the general collection of his works.
In the life of Warburton, he tells us—
"that his next GREAT work (after the 'Divine Legation') was, 'A Dissertation on the Origin of Books of Chivalry,' relative to which, Pope, in a letter to the author, used the following expression, 'I had not read two clauses before I cried out Aut Erasmus aut Diabolus.'" — vol. i. p. 230.
If the editor had looked at the passage he quotes from Pope, he would have found that this great work of Bishop Warburton's was only a sheet added to Jervis's Preface to Don Quixote. — See Pope's Letter, 28th Dec. 1742.
A still more wonderful blunder is the following:—
"Gilbert Wakefield next (after 1795) published a first volume of an edition of Pope, but being anticipated by Warburton, proceeded no farther." — vol. iii. p. 408.
Anticipated indeed! — why, Warburton's edition was published before Wakefield was born!
If there be any man of whom ignorance is more unpardonable than another, it is Horace Walpole. He is the oracle of literary gossip, and not to know him argues oneself not merely unknown, but unworthy to be known. We have still amongst us the intimates of Horace Walpole: his profusion of letters have rendered even the internal details of his life familiar to every one. The writers in the Georgian Era alone know nothing about him, though they affect to re-write his life, and on twenty occasions to quote or copy him. We really almost doubt whether some of the hands knew who he was. For instance, it is said "that the following story is related by Lord Orford in the Works of Walpole." (ii. 286.) This writer seems not to know that Orford and Walpole were the same person; but if he did, the bibliographical mistake would be as great as the biographical one, for it does so happen that the story was not related by him as Lord Orford, but as Horace Walpole; and the Works, when published, were not called those of Horace Walpole, but very properly by his last designation of Lord Orford. Small as this matter may seem, it required no small ingenuity to involve it in so great a confusion.
"A most important era of his (Horace Walpole's) life was the purchase of his villa at Strawberry Hill in 1747: here he occupied himself in the collection of paintings and curiosities; and having adorned and extended the size of his house, it became a very fashionable resort for the literati of the metropolis, to whom every summer he gave a daily conversazione." — vol. iii. p. 333.
Now if there was any one thing which Walpole professed more than another to hate, it was the literati of the metropolis; and as to treating them with a daily conversazione in summer, he would much rather have kept a daily academy of dancing dogs, or have burned down Strawberry Hill. His absurdity on this point was extreme and ridiculous: what must be the absurdity of those who attribute to him a practice so entirely opposite to all his tastes and feelings? But to proceed:—
"In his habits he was somewhat effeminate and luxurious. When his friends used to smile at the care he took of his person, he would say, 'My back is the same with my face, and my neck is like my nose.'" — vol. iii. p. 335.
The unintelligible nonsense of this passage is attributable not to Walpole but to the writer, who has taken the story by the wrong end, and blundered it into the very reverse of what was meant. Walpole was indeed effeminate in his air and manners, but he was in some personal respects very hardy, and when his friends, seeing him walk about in all weathers without a hat and sit in drafts of air that would have given ordinary folks colds and rheumatisms, would notice his hardihood, he would say, "My back is the same as my face, and my neck is like my nose:" meaning that, by a constant habit of exposure, his back and neck were no more obnoxious to cold than his nose or face. Again: Walpole's indignation at the publication in a newspaper of extracts from his "Mysterious Mother,"
"seems to have been a piece of hypocrisy and affectation, as he had at that time printed the tragedy in the first volume of his collected works." — Ib.
Walpole printed a few copies of this tragedy for his private friends, and no doubt meant that it should be re-published after his decease in his collected works; but is this any proof that his reluctance to see pilfered extracts published during his life, in a newspaper, was "affectation" and "hypocrisy"? Walpole certainly was affected and may have been a hypocrite, but undoubtedly Malagrida himself might be sincere in deprecating such a style of publication of one of his works, and the more sincere if he meditated an authentic, ungarbled publication. Then, the editor characterises Walpole's letter to Woodfall on this occasion, by the contradictory epithets of "contemptuous and indignant." On the contrary, any one who will look into the "Biographical Dictionary," whence the Georgian Era has transferred and transformed the whole anecdote, will see that it was, as it is there stated, characteristic of Walpole's anxiety to be and not to be known as an author — but assuredly nothing like an expression of either contempt or indignation. In short, the writer in the Georgian Era knows just as much about the Earl of Orford s he does of the Earl of Oxford.
His acquaintance with the most common persons and most ordinary facts of our political history is equally admirable. He writes the life of Mr. Henry Pelham (vol. i. p. 295) without having discovered, and of course without revealing, that important secret, that Mr. Pelham was prime minister of the empire for near eleven years (1744-1754).
He says that on the accession of George II., Sir Robert Walpole, as an act of kindness, drew up the king's speech for Sir Spencer Compton, the intended minister (vol. i. p. 275) — a misstatement of Horace Walpole's anecdote, that Compton's having asked Walpole to do it afforded the latter (on the suggestion of the queen) the opportunity — not of helping Compton, but — of taking the government for himself, while Compton was put on the shelf with the title of Wilmington.
He imagines that the proper designation of Lord Anson is Lord George Anson, as if that "faber fortunae suae" had been the son of a duke or marquis of the patronymic of Anson; and that this is not an error of the press is proved by its being repeated everywhere, — in the title to the life — in the life itself — in the particular index — and in the general index. With historical information quite equal to his heraldic lore, he tells us that Lord George Anson "quitted his post at the Admiralty in November, 1756, owing to some strictures which had been made on his conduct relating to the loss of Minorca. He was, however, honourably acquitted." — vol. iii. p. 16.
Who would not suppose that Lord Anson had been forced to resign on personal charges, and, after trial, honourably acquitted? The truth is, that Lord Anson resigned on the general change of ministry in November, 1756 — was never acquitted, because he never was tried — nor tried, because he was not accused and, on another ministerial change, he next year resumed his seat at the head of the Admiralty Board. It is no surprise to us to find this writer repeating the old story, that the ministry of 1757 were such monsters as to execute Byng to cover their own delinquency — (vol. ii. p. 169.) The ministry, in which Lord Anson was first Lord of the Admiralty, and whose delinquency was in question, went out of office, as we have just stated, in November, 1756, and the trial and execution of Byng took place under their successors and political opponents. No event, assuredly, could be less attributable to party vengeance than Byng's death, for he was accused by one set of ministers, and tried and executed by another.
He tells us that the impeachment of Lord Macclesfield originated in the malice of the Prince of Wales, whom he had offended, (vol. ii. p. 275,) though he had just before stated that the charges were true, and confessed that Macclesfield was found guilty without a dissenting voice. He says of the celebrated Lord Bute that "he succeeded his father, as Marquis of Bute, in the ninth year of his age," yet he adds that he "rose to rank" by unworthy means — (vol. i. p. 309.) Lord Bute's father was not a Marquis, — Lord Bute himself was not a Marquis, and he died in the rank to which he was born!
Though not in general favourable to Episcopacy,
Even in a bishop he can see desert;
and he has the candour to praise Wilson, Bishop of Soder and Man, for having always declined to take his seat in the House of Lords, "because, as he said, Christ's kingdom not being of this world, he thought the Church should have nothing to do with the State" — (vol. i. p. 489.) This exalted instance of self-denial, however, loses some of its value when we recollect that the Bishop of Soder and Man has no seat in the House of Lords.
But it is not as to public men of the last century only that our editor shows such amazing ignorance — he is equally or indeed more astonishing as to his own contemporaries. He acquaints us
"that Sir George Murray was gazetted Secretary of State on the 21st June, 1828; but that on the 17th September of the same year he became a Commissioner for the affairs of India; and on the 28th October following was elected a Fellow of the Medico-Botanical Society." — vol. ii. p. 114.
The anti-climax is charming:—
Dalhousie, the great god of war,
Lieutenant-General to the Earl of Mar,
was promotion compared to this heavy descent, — from being Secretary of State — to the India Board — and thence to the Medico-Botanical Society! but that is not the best of it. Sir George Murray, by being Secretary of State, became, ipso facto, one of the Commissioners for the affairs of India, in June, 1828; and the said Gazette of 17th September, though it recited his name with that of all the other ex officio members, was the notification not of Sir George Murray's but of Lord Ellenborough's appointment to that Board. Ridiculous as this blunder is, another of the same kind, but still more absurd, is made in a more notorious matter, and with regard to a still greater personage.
"On the 10th April, 1830, the Duke of Wellington was gazetted as one of the Commissioners for executing the office of Treasurer of the Exchequer of Great Britain, and Lord High Treasurer of England." — vol. ii. p. 138.
The Duke of Wellington had been, as everybody — even the writer of the Georgian Era — knows, gazetted as First Lord of the Treasury in January, 1828, above two years before. The person gazetted as a Lord of the Treasury on the 10th April, 1830, was not the Duke of Wellington, but George Bankes, Esq.: on this gentleman's being put into the commission, the names of all his fellow-commissioners, of course, were repeated, and thus this accurate historian was led to confound the Duke of Wellington with Mr. George Bankes, and to perplex his readers by a statement that his Grace became First Lord of the Treasury in April, 1830, though he had held that office ever since January, 1828. We do not here complain of the poor purblind style in which the whole life of the Duke is pilfered from better authorities, and which affords a remarkable instance of the writer's incapacity even to copy with decent resemblance what is before him; we at present are only exhibiting his mode of treating notorious facts. We add another blunder of this class, so extravagant as almost to defy belief.
"In 1807 Sir Arthur Wellesley accompanied the Duke of Richmond to Ireland as Chief Secretary. During his official residence in Ireland he advocated Catholic emancipation." — vol. ii. p. 116.
The article on Mr. Tierney (i. 378) is very short; and it is well it is so, for it contains a blunder in every sentence: "George Tierney was born in the year 1756," — George Tierney was born, according to better authority, in 1761. "In the duel between him and Mr. Pitt, after discharging their pistols with a lucky perversity of aim, the parties shook hands in the harmless smoke they had created:" — the parties fired twice, Mr. Pitt firing his second shot in the air; and they did not shake hands. "While in office, Tierney procured for his wife a pension of £4000 a year:" — he did not procure his wife a pension of £4000 a year, or of any other sum. After his death, the Duke of Wellington, to whom Tierney had been always opposed in politics, procured that respectable lady a pension of £400 on the Civil List, a just and generous tribute to the public services of her husband. "Until within two or three years of his death he assiduously filled his senatorial duties," — it was within two or three years of his decease that he became a cabinet minister, and he attended the House of Commons to the last. "In the month of March, 1830, he was found dead in his library chair:" — It was on the 25th of January, and a new writ for his vacancy was moved on the 5th of February.
Of his legal subjects the editor seems equally uninformed. Of Fearne, the author of an Essay on Contingent Remainders, he says that
"it is almost incredible that a man dying at the age of forty-five should have left behind him such a profound and elaborate work as his Essay on Contingent Remainders." — vol. ii. p. 544.
We cannot see why it should be almost incredible that a man dying at the age of forty-five should have left behind him one very small volume, however clever it may be. But the wonder, if there be any, is much understated, for the book was not left behind, but published in 1772, when, according to the Georgian Era's reckoning, the author was but twenty-three years of age; but according to better, and on every account, more credible authorities, Fearne was seven years older, and was near thirty when he published his Contingent Remainders, and fifty-two at the time of his death; so that there is nothing "almost incredible" in the whole affair, but the absurdity of the new biographer.
"ARTHUR PIGOT attracted the notice of Lord North, who procured him (prior to 1784) a seat in parliament, and a silk gown. In 1802, on the death of Lord North, he became a follower of Mr. Fox. As a senator, he distinguished himself particularly on the impeachment of Warren Hastings." — vol. ii. p. 544.
Lord North never procured Pigot a seat in Parliament, — he was, we believe, never in Parliament till 1806, fourteen years after Lord North's death, which occurred in 1792, and not in 1802 as here stated. It is unnecessary to add that neither could Pigot have distinguished himself as a senator on Hastings's trial, for he was not a senator till eleven years after the conclusion of that tedious process.
Of Sir Lancelot Shadwell, the editor states—
"that he is by no means so distinguished a Vice-Chancellor as many of his predecessors," — vol. ii. 552.
being clearly ignorant that the office is of recent creation, and that Sir Lancelot has had but two predecessors.
The following blunder has the merit of being droll. In enumerating the literary publications of the late Right Hon. George Rose, the editor, very characteristically, includes in the list of Mr. Rose's works
"thirty-seven volumes of the Journals of the House of Lords!" — vol. i. p. 350.
He who rests his own claims to literary merit on such a compilation as the Georgian Era, must look with admiration and envy on the AUTHOR of thirty-seven volumes of Journals of the House of Lords. One serious difference, however, there is between these works — Mr. Rose's thirty-seven volumes are models of accuracy, while we doubt whether there be one single important article in the Georgian Era which is not disfigured by some flagrant error.
We have, we fear, trespassed upon the patience of our readers but there is one short topic more on which we think it necessary to say two or three words — the scholarship to which the editor occasionally makes no inconsiderable pretensions.
We have already said that we should not deal with errors which could by possibility be attributed solely to the printer; neither would we impeach our author's learning upon the mere misspelling of a Latin word; but when we find, in a work so neatly printed, so many Latin quotations miserably mangled, we must suspect such prominent and repeated errors to belong to the editor: for instance, "Nunquam antia," i. 483 — "Fuge omnes medicos atque omnimoda Medicamenta," i. 500 — "omnnimoda" being clearly, in this writer's judgment, an adjective agreeing with "medicamenta." He talks of Lye's edition of "Junius Etymologicon," i. 292; and of Archbishop Potter's Alexandra, i. 212, — meaning, as we guess, his edition of Clemens Alexandrinus; and amongst Dr. Dodd's voluminous publications he enumerates "Synopsis Compendaria; H. Grotii de Jure belli et pacis; S. Clarkii de Dei Existentia et Attributis; et J. Lockii de Intellectu Humano." — vol. i. p. 247.
There is, however, one passage which we think conclusively proves that we might safely attribute these blunders to sheer ignorance. It is stated in the Biographical Dictionary, that Tindal the sceptic "went to Oxford, as boys too often do, a 'rasa tabula'" — that is, with his mind a blank, and liable to be marked with the first impressions it should receive. When this passage was copied out for our learned editor, it seems to have sorely perplexed him: and, indeed, as he read it, "a vasa tabula," would have puzzled Cicero himself. The meaning, of course, our editor never attained, but, on turning to his dictionary, he found that "a" in Latin meant "from," and that in this sense it should have a grave accent over it — thus "a." He also found that the ablative case following a should be marked with a circumflex, thus, "vasa tabula;" and accordingly he so marked it; and then, printing his fabricated Latin in a beautiful italic type, he triumphantly exhibits the passage thus — "coming, as boys do, 'a vasa tabula,' to the university," &c. — iii. 245. which, it may be expedient to acquaint our female readers, is neither more nor less than utter nonsense.
It is now time to conclude — certainly not from lack of matter. We have on our notes above two hundred similar instances of negligence or ignorance, and have no doubt that we could produce three, or four, or five times as many; but we think it enough to have made a selection — from all classes and periods comprised in the work — of blunders in chronology, history, politics, and literature, which we believe are quite unparalleled in any other publication. We have been obliged to select our instances, not merely with regard to the intrinsic importance of the individual mistake quoted, but also with reference to its brevity and to its notoriety. In such an abundance it was necessary to select the shortest and most intelligible examples; but even in the most apparently insigiuificant articles which we have quoted, our readers will, upon consideration, detect a principle (if we use the expression) of ignorance and absurdity, more decisive of the character of the work than errors of greater apparent importance might be: for instance, the mistakes about the "gazetting" the Treasury and India Boards, prove the editor to know nothing whatsoever of political history, of official forms, or of the practical working of our government.
We have neither time, nor space, nor inclination, to examine the truth and tone of the remarks, criticisms, and judgments which the editor has interspersed on books and men. It would be wasting our pages and insulting our readers to examine the superstructure of so rotten a foundation. One single calumny we think it worth while to contradict, as it is stated on pretended authority. It is insinuated that Mr. Pitt was guilty of such habitual intemperance as to have hastened his death; and, it is added, that "wine at length ceased to afford the necessary excitement, and he had recourse to laudanum, of which, an eminent physician has assured us, he sometimes took 200 drops at a dose!" (i. 386.) We boldly pronounce all this to be an infamous falsehood — and we dare and defy the editor to produce any physician, eminent or otherwise, who will state that Mr. Pitt ever took one drop of laudanum for the purpose of excitement. As to all the rest of his calumnies and misrepresentations, suffice it to say, that his judgment and credibility are quite on a par with his editorial accuracy. His observations are trite and vulgar, when they are not false or foolish — his anecdotes, childish; his temper seems to be sour; his principles, sectarian; and his language a mixture of meagre tautology and muddy bombast. He has a great reluctance to speak well of any noble, eminent, or distinguished person, but joyfully expatiates in praise of mediocrity, vulgarity, and vice.
It will not much alter the opinions which our readers have, probably, already conceived of this writer's truth and taste, to be told that he calls Dean Swift a villain (iii. 362) — thinks that, "stripped of its ornaments, the sentiments of Pope's Essay on Man are commonplace, and the diction bombastic" (iii. 289) — that the Duke of Wellington "looks pale and cold like an aristocrat" (ii. 104) — a word, by the way, used throughout the whole book in an opprobrious sense — that Lord Castlereagh's appearance was "dull" and "inelegant" (i. 400) — that King George IV.'s corpulency diminished as he advanced in years, but that at the middle period of his life "he had been so enormously fat, that four life-guardsmen could not without difficulty lift him on horseback" (i. 124) — that an admiral had been engaged in several "successful victories," — that a satirist was "tremendously bitter" — that one man was "averse towards riding in a coach" — that another "dressed foppish" — that a third "committed an act of generosity" — that a certain lawyer was "presented with a silk gown" — that "an artist's manners were boorish, but not unpleasantly so" — that a poem on a Plate-warmer "is more witty than sublime." Every page teems with similar proprieties of sentiment and beauties of language.
It would, however, be unjust to the great number of characters which he grossly mistakes and disparages, if we did not give a few instances of his panegyric and applause:—
"Mr. Hazlitt was one of the most judicious able, and powerful writers of his time. He is in his peculiar walk of literature unrivalled, and in the very first rank of philosophical critics. His essays are full of wisdom." — vol. iii. p. 397.
To match this unrivalled critic and philosopher, he has a still more transcendant poet.
"As a poet, Shelley has never been surpassed; and we could point out many passages which are without their equal, even if we looked for their parallel in Shakspeare and Milton!!" — iii. 454.
A lady (whose name we need not mention, for we really hope and believe that the poor woman was mad) is celebrated for "a trembling delicacy of sentiment" — and for "a character which, though not affording a safe model for general imitation, yet merits our admiration," — and for conduct which did "certainly not originate in any indelicacy of mind" — (vol. iii. p. 418.) Yet we had been previously informed that this delicate spinster had, at the mature age of thirty-three, produced a bastard child (whether her first is not stated) — that she attempted to drown herself because she found that one of her lovers kept a mistress; and that being picked out of the Thames she returned to their common lodgings, and modestly consented that the lover, the new mistress, and herself should all live amicably together. "Trembling sensibility!" "worthy of admiration!" but still not quite "a safe model for general imitation!"
Of a certain officer — we shall not mention the man's name, for he may be still living — he says
"No British soldier was ever more eminent for activity and intrepidity, and it is to be regretted that government should have so ill rewarded the services of one who contributed not a little to the success of the British arms in the Eastern campaigns of his time." — vol. ii. p. 496.
This hero was a private soldier, who having been for his courage, and to his misfortune, promoted to a commission, was obliged by excessive imprudence to sell it, and again enlisted as a private, and being again raised to his former rank, again lost it by misconduct, and was dismissed the service by a court-martial — and the ingratitude of the government was, that it twice over promoted this man, and twice over allowed him to sell commissions which he had not bought, and which he had neither character nor conduct to keep.
One person he distinguishes by the praise of being
"a man of peculiarly FINE sensibility, and universally respected for his amiability and integrity." — iv. 431.
This being of exquisite sensibility was Grimaldi the clown.
Another special favourite, upon whom indeed is bestowed nearly the highest eulogium in the whole work—
"As a tender parent, an affectionate husband, with a mind capable of the most friendly sentiments — a favourite with George III. and Queen Charlotte — and beloved, respected, and regretted, in a manner superior to the dignity of a TITLE," — iv. 215—
was one Ryland, an engraver, who was HANGED for forgery in 1783!!
By way of affording another and final measure of our author's judgment, we may adduce the relative importance which he assigns to various individuals the soldier we have just mentioned has a more copious notice than Lord Lynedock, Lord Combermere, or Lord William Bentinck — Grimaldi the clown has about as long an article as Kemble — and a painter of the name of Robson a longer one than Sir Thomas Lawrence — Mr. Tierney is despatched in less time than either Alderman Waithman or Madame Vestris — Mr. Oxberry the player occupies an equal space with Lords Holland and Ripon united — Major Cartwright outweighs Lord Howe, General Wolfe, and Sir Ralph Abercrombie — Owen of Lanark extends over as many pages as Bishops Hoadly, Sherlock, Butler, and Newton — and Mr. Kean occupies a larger share of the Georgian Era than Lord Somers, Lord Townshend, and Lord Rodney, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Dr. James, Dr. Arbuthuot, Horace Walpole, Gray and Crabbe, all put together, it is well for those who have been hitherto called illustrious, that they had established their reputation prior to the new weights and measures of the "Georgian Era."
We have given this silly and impudent production much more space and attention than it intrinsically deserves; but if a work of this pretension, dealing with so many existing persons, were not contradicted and exposed at the moment, it might hereafter obtain a kind of authority, and the silence of contempt might be misconstrued into assent and confirmation.