Mr. Blackwood, however, was too wise a man to build his faith solely upon two supporters, even so loyal and with such almost incredible power of production as that possessed by Lockhart and Wilson: indeed the record of these early years of the Magazine is one continued strain of effort on his part to collect around him, and to secure for his undertaking, the assistance of every man of note whom he happened to come across. It is a fact which a young writer finds it very difficult to understand, that publishers and editors, those dreaded dispensers of literary patronage, door-keepers of the temple of fame, are often just as anxiously on the outlook for new workmen as these workmen are for their favour. But Mr. Blackwood left no one in doubt on that subject. It was one of what we may call the family jests current in the saloon at Princes Street that the publisher asked everybody whom he encountered to contribute to "my Magazine." Not a man who had ever strung two lines together escaped this genial invitation; and the delightful faith which made him believe that "Maga" could not fail to inspire every one devoted to her service was in itself inspiring, — so much so, that many a first article enthusiastically received, appears under a name that may rarely occur again, the Founder's warm conviction that whatever was sent him must be good being combined with too much strong sense to survive the contact with practical mediocrity. When William Maginn, a man who began with all the dash and brilliancy which then were supposed to be almost inalienable from the name of an Irishman, came across Blackwood's horizon, the Magazine was firmly established, and had already become a power in the political world. The new recruit came with no introduction, and not even a name. Out of the unknown, out of Cork, a place more associated with pigs and salted provisions than with literature, there suddenly stepped this joyous, reckless figure, full of power, full of spirit and fun, and a gay and careless readiness for anything which suited the tone of the Magazine and the liking of its two literary guides. He must evidently have sent some contribution which took both publisher and writers at once by storm, and gained him the warmest and most immediate of welcomes. Before he had ceased to be R. T. S., and completely unknown, he was deep in all their secrets, and taking up their jests, their allusions, their most local pleasantries, as one to the manner born. We are by no means proud of the part Maginn took in the Magazine, nor of himself or the connection so speedily formed, and to place him immediately after the Great Twin Brethren who formed it is too honourable a place. But there was no one of the contributors who had for a number of years so much to do with "Maga," or who wore her colours with more apparent devotion: and his history, never written at any length or deserving to be so, is full of the tragic contrast — so often, alas! to be found in the lives of self-ruined men of brilliant and careless youth and a maturity miserable and shameful. He was turned, indeed, into Captain Shandon, a picture in some respects too good for him, by Thackeray; and Lockhart for one had a lingering affection for him all through, and wrote him a tragico-jesting epitaph. But he has never had any justice, as who of his kind ever has? He was not a bad man: he was full of generous and friendly impulses, wit, and sometimes wisdom: but so spoilt and hampered by other qualities that every promise ended in the mean and squalid misery of a nature fallen, fallen, fallen from its high estate. Such a man cannot have justice from the world, scarcely even pity. It is almost immoral to be sorry for him, or to remember that once he was young and an emblem of all that was joyous, delightful, and gay.
Among so many flitting figures that come and go, there was no one who, for at least a few years, was so much in the foreground, mingling in everything that was going on, and frankly adopted into the closest brotherhood of "Maga's" original leaders, as Maginn, the rollicking O'Doherty of the Magazine, the writer of half the articles and most of the verses, the bosom friend even of so serious a man as Blackwood, who welcomed him with the utmost cordiality to his house, and confided to him all its secrets. Maginn brought much Irish wit, and an extraordinary power of adapting himself to the requirements of a world so different from his own: but he also brought what was more extraordinary still — the humours of his natural sphere along with him, and performed almost a greater feat than that by which Wilson and Lockhart managed to make the local feuds of Edinburgh familiar to the world, by doing single-handed almost the same thing for the literary quarrels and struggles of Dublin: though Ireland had no connection whatever with the Magazine, and the eccentricities of Trinity College, Dublin, could be interesting to the smallest possible class of readers. He had begun life as a schoolmaster in Cork, and was a man of considerable learning as well as much wit, ready as his countrymen have always been in felicitous speech, and full of the boundless fun and frolic with which they have been credited, whether justly or not, since light literature began. He was indeed one of the best specimens of the typical Irishman, the crystallised Paddy, ready to jest and sing, to speechify, to fight, to flatter, to make promises and to break them, with all the unstable charm of a being beyond rule, guided by his impulses and following them to much enjoyment and renown for a time, but soon into ruin and dismay. He seems to have dropped into the Blackwood band in 1819 as accidentally as he did most other things, without, as we have said, either introduction or guarantee, without even a name or local habitation, a mere collocation of initials, dating from a public news-room. The initials were not even his own, for it was to R. T. S. that Mr. Blackwood wrote the many and long letters which we find in his letter-books. The correspondence begins on the 1st February 1820, with a letter signed C. North
"C. North to R. T. S., Minerva Booms, Cork.
It has for a long time been my great ambition to secure an Irish Correspondent, and though I am under great obligations to one gentleman for occasional favours, I have never as yet been able to acquire anything of the kind regularly.
"The short things you have had the kindness to send afford sufficient proof that your talents and accomplishments are great and varied. Your ways of thinking, too, on all important subjects, seem to harmonise as well as possible with that, in the spirit of which the greater part of the Magazine always has been written. In short, there is no question you can, if you choose, be of more use to me, and it, than any one with whom we have casually become acquainted. If you should wish to establish any regular system of co-operation with us, you have a thousand fields on which you may enter along with the friends whose assistance we already enjoy, and one great field, the condition of your own Ireland, literary and political, &c., which you have entirely to yourself to do with as you will: and you need not fear our admitting anything that would interfere with your views in regard to Ireland, were we honoured with your aid as to that most interesting subject.
"In the meantime, of all the articles you allude to, even the mathematical on Leslie, there is not one that I shall not be very proud to receive 'quam primum.' I earnestly hope they may pave the way for a more close connection with a gentleman for whose talents, acquirements, and principles I entertain the highest respect."
A postscript adds that did the unknown feel disposed to intrust his name to the discretion of his correspondent, there might be means found of conducting their communications post free; but that, in any case, "no matter how large the packet or what the postage may be," it would always be welcome. An amusing commentary on this is found in a note enclosed from Mr. J. W. Croker a month or two later, during which time the new Irish Correspondent does not seem to have shown the desired faith in Christopher's discretion. It also throws a side-light in passing upon the curious system of franking, almost forgotten in our day, by which persons possessing any official connections were able to moderate the severity of the heavy postages of the time.
"ADMIRALTY, April 25, 1820.
Mr. Croker has received from Edinburgh a packet addressed R. T. S., Minerva Rooms, Cork. As Mr. Croker does not wish to continue to frank letters of so large a size and addressed in so extraordinary a way, he requests Mr. Blackwood's correspondent will communicate to Mr. B. some name under which his letters may be forwarded."
Not even this appeal, however, succeeded in calling Maginn forth from his incognito. Curiously enough he had begun by calling himself Ralph Tuckett Scott, for what fantastic reason I know not; then, no doubt for some further purpose of mystification, by the initials alone. To satisfy Mr. Croker, whose official position enabled him to frank the packets, a matter of so much importance in these days, he selected the name of Mr. James Higginson.
The extraordinary felicity and facility with which Maginn took up the tone, and even the local colour, of the Magazine is very curious. "You will be surprised when I tell you that the Tete-a-tete in this number is by a stranger to Edinburgh and every one in it except what he has picked up from the Magazine," Mr. Blackwood says to one of his correspondents. It is difficult to say whether this adoption of the special interests of his new friends, or his introduction bodily, and with great applause, of the still more restricted local interests and gossip of Dublin, and even of the booksellers' shops and clubs of Cork, is more surprising. A little of the confusion of a stranger groping in the unknown to identify the figures still indistinct to him is in the following. He had taken fright lest something said in an article of his might be in any way offensive to Sir Walter Scott, and begged that it should be struck out:—
"R. T. S. to W. Blackwood.
If I do not mistake, Mr. North is connected somewhat more closely with the Ariosto of the North than he was at the time I wrote last. If I be right, albeit unknown, I wish him joy with all my heart. Apropos, we have a son of Sir Walter's here, a good-looking young Hessian enough. He is a poet, though not quite in the manner of his father. He publishes little pieces of poetry occasionally in our newspapers, well enough for such a vehicle. I shall send you some if you like, to regale his father."
In answering this letter, Mr. Blackwood says:—
"The Editor is not surprised at the mistake you have fallen into by giving his office to Mr. Lockhart, who has certainly been one of our most efficient supporters. He showed your letter to Mr. L., who was as much amused with it as we were. He had heard of the verses in your Cork papers, which it seems have annoyed young Walter sadly. They are written by a corporal in the troop, whose name is William Simpson, and the initials being the same, the sin of these execrable verses is all laid to poor Walter's door."
It was not for some time after that Maginn's name was known, notwithstanding that he made himself instantly remarkable as bringing Mr. Blackwood into a libel case while still he had scarcely settled into his seat as one of the staff of the Magazine, — the article on Professor Leslie, referred to in the letter nominally from Christopher North, and one of the first of any importance contributed by him, having plunged the Magazine once more into legal difficulties.
None of the previous threats of this kind had, so far as I am aware, ever been carried into court, except that of Mr. J. G. Dalyell; and the culprits in these cases were at all events well-known men, old friends and powerful supporters. R. T. S. was at the very outset of his career, and known to nobody; but he too sheltered behind the steady personality of the publisher, without even a word of reproach from that much-tried man. So early an alarm might well have broken the newly formed bond, but there is nothing but the warmest cordiality in Mr. Blackwood's first letter on the subject to the veiled prophet of Cork:
"W. Blackwood to R. T. S.
EDINBURGH, 22nd March 1820.
I look forward with pleasure to the happiness of seeing you here, and I can only say that you will meet with friends who appreciate your talents, and will be proud to welcome you to Auld Reekie.
"I was much amused to-day on meeting my old friend Leslie for the first time since your attack on him appeared. He tried to look smiling, but it was evidently a strong effort, and he asked me if we were to have another attack on him next month. I told him I rather thought not at present, but he would see the number on Saturday. I am sure he expects something, and I hope you will send us the article on the Professor's mathematical attainments.
"I received the Cork paper, and saw at once to whom we were indebted for the very elegant and favourable notice of the Magazine. It has been copied into most of our Edinburgh and several of the London papers. As a small return to the Printer of the paper, I would be obliged to you to desire him to insert the enclosed advertisement twice; but not to do it until he finds that copies of this number have arrived for sale in Cork."
Before the end of the year 1820, however, the criticism, so lightly thought of, by which the Magazine had harked back, though by a new hand, to the old reckless polemics of her youth, had become a serious matter, and all the machinery of the law was set to work by the victim, with the effect, half alarming, half exciting, to which Princes Street was not altogether unaccustomed. Mr. Blackwood informs his contributor of the fact in the following letter. We must remember that the man who had thus led the Magazine and its stout-hearted Publisher into renewed trouble was still, whatever guess might have been formed of his personality, no more to them than R. T. S. at the Minerva Rooms:—
EDINBURGH, 6 Dec. 1820.
You will not be a little surprised when you open this letter to find a summons (as it is called here) which was served upon me on Monday night at the instance of Professor Leslie. I am not much afraid of it, for my legal advisers think it a most groundless action, and that the Professor will only render himself more ridiculous. At the same time, one must be as well prepared as possible to make out strong and complete defences. For this purpose I hope you will without delay write me, largely and fully, everything that occurs to you that will prove or illustrate what is said in the different articles. You can do this better than any one, and the sooner you are able to write the better.
"What most annoys me in this vile business is, the worthy Professor has, as you will observe in the summons, raised his action also against my friend Mr. Lockhart. Nothing can be more absurd than this, for Mr. L. is not, and never was, my Editor. He has supported the Magazine, like other friends here; but the Professor might just as well have charged any other of my contributors with being my Editor. Most fortunately, too, he has had no part whatever in any of these articles against Leslie, so that, as for him, whenever the action does come, it must instantly fall to the ground. In the meantime, however, as it may be a considerable period before the action does come on, it is most unpleasant to Mr. Lockhart himself and to me, as well as to all his friends, that his name should be bandied about by these cursed Whigs in a matter in which he has no concern. Being a lawyer, too, makes the thing still more unpleasant and disagreeable. I would wish, therefore, to do anything which would at once withdraw Mr. L.'s name from the process. I am sure you will feel exactly as I do, and I trust to your own honourable feelings as to the most advisable course which ought to be taken in order to show decidedly and distinctly that Mr. L. is not the author of any of these articles. Another very strong reason I have for getting this at once accomplished is, that Sir Walter Scott feels very sore at seeing Mr. L.'s name mentioned in this way, as he thinks it is so hurtful to a young lawyer. You can hardly conceive the distress that this thing gives me, for the whole plot and drift of the party here is to persecute and torment any one whom they suppose friendly to me; and if they could only by any means whatever disgust Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Lockhart, Professor Wilson, and others of my friends, so as to make them tired of the Magazine, then they think they would at once ruin both me and it. To accomplish this, there is no kind of trick or falsehood they will not have recourse to. Leslie, in this case, is a mere tool in their hands.... All they want is to annoy me or any of my friends. For myself I have no fears; but I confess it unnerves me a little to think even of the possibility of this vile crew, by these continued attacks, making it unpleasant to any one of my friends to lend me his aid. I trust in God they never will obtain such a victory, and I flatter myself that these base attacks will in the end have the contrary effect, and only rally my friends more closely around me.
"I shall expect most anxiously a letter from you. Indeed, if you were nearer at hand, and the season favourable, I would offer you a visit; but at present this is out of the question. What would not I give to have the pleasure of seeing you here, for I have so much to say to you!"
Dr. Maginn's reply has much of the coolness of the man who, being entirely out of harm's way, and free from any possibility of even social annoyance, keeps his head, and perceives all that is excessive in the agitation of his friend who is in the middle of the fray:
"R. T. S. to W. Blackwood.
Dec. 12, 1820.
I am truly concerned that you should be engaged in so unpleasant a business as the action of Prof. Leslie against you; but I am quite sure that if your Scottish courts of law be regulated according to the principles that actuate ours in England and Ireland, you are in no danger whatever. Every point in the summons is trivial or justifiable, and in this country the man who would undertake such an action would be the butt of ridicule from one end of the Island to the other. There are some legal friends of mine who would expose the unfortunate Plaintiff worse than if they had him grinning through a pillory. I have only received your letter of the 6th this moment, so that I have not time to point out what would seem to me the proper line of defence, as I am afraid you would be anxious to hear from me at once; but to-morrow I shall send you ample materials.
"Why Mr. Lockhart's name has been introduced I know not, and I am still less able to divine how such a thing can be an injury to him. His known connection with the Magazine has of course drawn on him many such suspicions, but they cannot hurt him. It will be besides very easy for him, I should imagine, to clear himself from being the author of these letters. How you do it in Scotland I cannot say, but here we should laugh at a charge of the kind unless the plaintiff possessed ample means of proving, not by suspicion but fact, that the defendant was bona fide connected with the alleged libel. That Sir Walter Scott — for whom, though I never saw him, I have the highest reverence, and whose feelings I should be as unwilling to hurt as those of my dearest friend — has felt angry on the occasion, I confess vexes me. He, however, must know that his son-in-law is most unwarrantably brought into the summons; and it does not take much sagacity to see that if he can get this calumny off his shoulders (as of course he triumphantly can), it will rather be of use than disadvantage to him. But Sir W. must be aware that not a sentence I said about Leslie was untrue. How would he think of Tom Paine if he brought an action against Watson for his Apology for the Bible?
"What do you wish me to do? I do not like innuendoes: say fairly what you think would be fair, and that I shall consider of, and give you my answer openly without evasion.
"As for your fear of your friends deserting you on this occasion, or of their being scared away by such attacks as these, I do not think so ill of them. If the articles were bad and malicious, or if they so thought them, they should not have continued for a moment in connection with a work so disgraced. If they think them justifiable (as they are), it would be pitiful to leave you because angry opponents thought proper to intimidate you by law, or abuse you through the press. Above all, fear not that your Magazine is in danger of sinking. If every known supporter you have were to quit you, you would suffer the loss of men of great talents, but I trust there are within the land five hundred as good as they. There is many a man whom you know not ready to fill your places.
"In fine, I believe, there can be no danger if you have a rational law of libel in Scotland. Everything said about Leslie is true. I am much mistaken if he does not repent this step to the day of his death. I hope you have able advisers. Tomorrow you may expect a letter from me.
"P.S. — As to your wishing to see me, believe me that if you were here I should be very happy to show you that I was glad to give you an Irish welcome; but I suppose that is an improbable supposition. I could not do you much service, however, in the present case."
Maginn does not seem to see that his Irish welcome was a gratification which would have done Mr. Blackwood little good; but that his true name, whether, as the newspapers say, for publication or otherwise, would have given at least a certain consolation. It is curious that in the face of the danger, pecuniary and other, which Blackwood was thus involved in by his act, the active agent of the mischief remains discreetly behind his shield, too prudent to sign himself as anything more distinct than R. T. S. The most reckless even of gay Irishmen can be reticent when need is.
Mr. Blackwood's next letter on this subject informs Maginn that Lockhart's name has been withdrawn from the prosecution, Leslie's agent at the same time calling upon himself "to give up the name of the author or editor," and so save himself personally from any consequences of the action. "The whole object of this letter to me," he adds, "is merely that it may be produced in process to plead from it that my refusal to give up the name of the writer aggravates the offence. For," continues the publisher with fine force, "Leslie knows me too well to believe for one moment that I would give up the name of any writer who did not himself wish to come forward."
This delicate shaft, however, did not any more than the others pierce the defensive armour of R. T. S., who replied only by a long letter pointing out the foundation upon which his strictures on Leslie were grounded. As the trial itself has been already discussed, it is unnecessary to enter into details, and we may close our account of this vexatious matter with a letter of eighteen months later, when the trial was about to take place, and when Maginn had already revealed himself in person:—
"June 9, 1822 (Sunday).
I just this moment have received your letter of the 3rd instant. As to your complaints of my not writing for 'Maga' — believe it, it is my necessity, not my will, that hinders me; for I am pretty busily occupied from six or seven in the morning until five in the evening, so that I have little leisure, and even this little is curtailed by a thousand things in which I have intertwisted myself — in general, very foolishly. Therefore it is almost impossible for me to give you, or even to think of giving you, a long or a serious article.
"Do you really think I should be of the slightest use to you on the trial of Leslie v. B.? If so, I shall certainly be with you. I have a little business to do in Trinity College on the 1st July, which will be over about three o'clock; so that if you want me I can be in Edinburgh on the 3rd somewhere about one or two in the day — i.e., God willing. But I do not think I should be a pinsworth of service to you; I am sure I could suggest no point to your lawyers of which they are not already aware. However, if you are decidedly of opinion that my being there would be any good, write by return of post to say so. Why I wish to go to London you know, but do not let that weigh with you. It would not occasion any alteration in my arrangements, for I have not made any, and I am as ready to start for Bengal as for Bandon, and as far as my personal feelings are concerned, quite indifferent for which; so give me your opinion candidly, without delay."
But the new contributor not only broke new ground, as in the onslaught upon Leslie, but took up all the previous sins of the brotherhood with the heartiest relish. Their assault upon Keats, to which undue importance has been given, and their incessant reviling of the "Cockney School," were seized upon and echoed with even greater and still less refined vehemence; though, on this point at least, a certain compunction is visible when the news of the victim's death, though not "by an article," struck the satirist, still pen in hand:
April 10, 1821.
I have just this moment heard of poor Keats's death. We are unlucky in our butts. It would appear very cruel if any jokes now appeared on the pharmacopolical part of 'Endymion.' And indeed when I heard that the poor devil was in a consumption, I was something sorry that I annoyed him at all of late. If I were able I should write a dirge over him, as a kind of 'amende honorable;' but my Muse, I am afraid, does not run in the mournful.
If you print my hymn strike out the hemistich concerning him, substituting anything you like — such as "Pale is the cheek of Leigh Hunt, the tea-drinking king of the Cockneys." I hope I am in time, for it would annoy me if it appeared that we were attacking any one who had it not in his power to reply — particularly an old enemy after his death."
Mr. Blackwood, as will be seen from the following letters, did all that was possible to draw his contributor from dangerous paths, and to turn his special attention to his own particular sphere, his own country, then in the throes of one of its hottest battles, that on the subject of Catholic Emancipation, which made the true state of feeling in Ireland so full of the greatest interest to every reader.
EDINBURGH, 24th July 1820.
I still think that you and your friends could give a great deal which would interest Irishmen, while it would be entirely new to us on this side of the Channel. What can be better indeed than your last communication, 'Daniel O'Rorke'? The poem itself is excellent, and you need not for a moment think that we have enough here of such articles. I hope you will urge all your friends, and do whatever you can in this poetical way. The prose is admirable. Now nothing can be better fitted for the Magazine than spirited letters of this kind, and I am sure you could throw them off by the dozen. The letters we have had of the Pringle Family have been much liked. I am confident you and your friends could do something infinitely better. I merely throw out this hint, for you are the best judge yourself, and whatever you choose to do in any way or at any time, I shall always feel deeply indebted to you for.
"We have had so much on Jeffrey in the Magazine that we are afraid people would not relish so much your witty article from Davenant. It is a serious mortification to us not to insert an article of yours, but we know it would be a greater one to you, if we did not use the liberty you have so kindly given us. It is a liberty, however, that we will, I am sure, very seldom be obliged to take.
"On Thursday I sent you a newspaper containing the account of my friend Mr. Wilson's election to the Moral Philosophy Chair. This was a glorious triumph indeed. Never did the Whig gang so exert themselves, for this chair has been their stronghold. There was no kind of falsehood, misrepresentation, and blackguardism which they had not recourse to. For the last two months we have been kept in continual fever and bustle. Thank God, it is now happily over. Mr. Wilson has been a grand and most powerful supporter of the Magazine; but he will now have so much to do for some months to come that I cannot look for much of his assistance. My other friends, however, will not be the less mindful of 'Maga.'
"I wish I had it in my power to show you in any way how deeply I and my friends feel indebted to you. I have no wish you should give up your incognito unless you find it perfectly agreeable to do so; but I hope you some day will, or at all events that you will point out to me how I can make you any return for all your kindnesses. It is not merely that it would give me satisfaction were you to allow me to offer you the remuneration we make to our ordinary contributors; but the hearty goodwill with which you enter into the very spirit of 'Maga' lays me under a weight of obligation which I cannot repay you. Have you wholly given up your intention of paying us a visit? I still hope you will make a run over...."
EDIN, 20 Sep. 1820.
We are sorry the critique on the Irish Peasantry did not meet your views; but the fact is, we are utterly ignorant here as to the real state of Ireland. You may rest assured that it was from no feeling towards the publishers of the pamphlet that it was so favourably spoken of; indeed this is the very thing I am always most jealous of, for I would rather see any publication of mine, or of any of my friends, cut to pieces in the Magazine than that there should be the slightest appearance of favour or partiality — for this is perfect destruction to 'Maga,' and would render her no better than a petty bookselling job. We are most anxious, therefore, that you should give full vent to your feelings on any subject of this kind: we care not though any article you wrote should even injure us with a portion of your population, for what we want is fair and free discussion, as we are confident this will be best in the end. Violent partisans on both sides may fly off, but in the end truth and talent will prevail.
"You will see that our friend Christopher has addressed Oehlenschlaeger's letter to Mr. David Laing. He is a young bibliopole here who was in Denmark last year with Mr. James Wilson (a brother of the Professor's), and saw a number of the Copenhagen libraries. And what makes the thing more complete, there happens to be just now a Mr. Feldborg whom he got very intimate with at Copenhagen: his name, therefore, is inserted, as he is a very particular friend of Oehlenschlaeger's. This, however, was not thought of till nearly 1000 copies were thrown off. However, the joke of it was equally good, as Feldborg is quite delighted with it. Christopher, you will also see, has made some alterations of names which, from local circumstances, were necessary: I hope you will approve of them. The article is one of the most effective and amusing we have ever had in the Magazine. Christopher says it is quite astonishing how you enter so completely into the very spirit and essence of 'Maga,' just as if you had all along been seated with us at Ambrose's, where the highest of our fun was concocted."
EDIN., 18th Oct. 1820.
I know Washington Irving well, and when he was here two or three years ago, he promised to me to contribute regularly. The last time I saw him in London he repeated his promises; but he said, when he looked at our 'audaciously original Magazine,' he did not think he could give anything that could appear to advantage in it. These, of course, were mere phrases; but I do think he has perhaps been rather overestimated. He is a man of an amiable elegant mind, and what he does do is well conceived and finely polished, but I rather think he is not a person of great originality or strength."
EDIN., 23 Nov. 1820.
I cannot say how much I owe you for your most effectual assistance. Your contributions have been so numerous and so valuable, in the truest sense of the word, that I trust you will allow me to return you some acknowledgment, for I cannot repay you for the kind and valuable aid you have given us. If you will not accept money, I trust you will allow me to send you books, and you would do me a singular favour if you would send me a list of those that would be acceptable to you. It is very awkward of me to ask you to do this; but ignorant as I am of what you possess, or what you would most prize, I would not like to send you books you did not want, and I must therefore beg of you to send me a good long list."
"EDIN., 26th Feb. 1821.
I am not at all afraid of Tom Campbell and Master Colburn. Campbell is certainly a man of genius, and besides being a poet is an elegant prose writer. He is, however, indolent and uncertain. The two numbers that have appeared do not strike me as very wonderful: they are respectable certainly, but not overwhelming. I am much mistaken if some of our poetical critiques, and articles on the Ancient English Drama, do not show a deeper feeling of the beauties and the true spirit of poetry than even Campbell's lectures, upon which the character of 'Colburn's Magazine' so much depends. Campbell's name will do a great deal in getting clever men to write for it."
"EDIN., 28th Feb. 1821.
From seeing the 'Examiner' to-day, I am glad we did not insert your article against Hunt in this number. It would have looked so cruel, appearing just at the time of John Hunt's trial and conviction — and to give the devil his due, he has really shown both good sense and good taste in never noticing this dispute with Scott. In his paper to-day he says: 'Duel. — On Friday week a duel took place at Chalk Farm between Mr. John Scott and Mr. Christie, at 9 o'clock at night, by the light of the moon. The parties fired twice, Mr. C. having the first time fired his pistol in the air according to one account, and not having aimed at Mr. Scott according to all. Mr. Scott received a ball in the lower part of his body, which remained there for some days and kept him in a dangerous state.'
"Now this is one of the fairest accounts that has been published, and as the Cockney has shown so much forbearance in alluding to the Magazine, surely we owe him something in return. I understand, too, that the article in Egan's book was not written by him but by Hazlitt.
"I am quite vexed at the idea of such a capital article not being used, and more particularly just now when we stand so much in need of something spirited and humorous. Perhaps, however, you will be able to alter or adapt it in some other way that it would answer better.
"I need not say how very anxious I am that you may have leisure to send me something or other for next month. It is a most critical period of the magazine just now, and I am leaving no stone unturned in order to have our next and some following numbers strong and powerful."
The confidential terms upon which the publisher had by this time got with his still unknown contributor is proved by the very amusing letter I here quote:—
"W. Blackwood to Ralph Tuckett Scott.
EDIN., 19th June 1821.
As to your blarney of my being able to do this (i.e., write article for 'Maga' on John Bull's letter to Lord Byron) myself, it is really too much for me to swallow. I am vain enough of having suggested from time to time to my friends subject-matter for prime articles, but truly as to anything else I have no pretensions to it. Your idea as to how the thing should be done is admirable, and I wish to God you had time to fill up your sketch. I do most cordially agree with you that I deserve quizzing for refusing to sell 'Don Juan,' and should not be spared in the article. The only apology I have to offer to you is this, that it proceeded partly from pique and partly from principle. When the book was published by Murray, I was just on the point of breaking with him. I had not had a letter from him for some months. He sent me copies of the book per mail, without either letter or invoice, so that when I received them I was not disposed to read it with a favourable eye. I did read it, and I declare solemnly to you, much as I admired the talent and genius displayed in it, I never in my life was so filled with utter disgust. It was not the grossness or blackguardism which struck me, but it was the vile, heartless, and cold-blooded way in which this fiend attempted to degrade every tender and sacred feeling of the human heart. I felt such a revolting at the whole book after I had finished it, that I was glad of the excuse I had, from Mr. Murray not writing me, for refusing to sell it. I was terribly laughed at by my friends here, and I daresay you will laugh as much still at my prudery and pique."
The following letters show that Mr. Blackwood's advice as to Irish articles was occasionally taken; and as the details, by dint of being so old, will be new to many readers, we quote them, at the risk even of giving too much of Maginn:—
R. T. S. to W. Blackwood.
May 9, 1821.
You may have seen in the last literary Gazette an advertisement extracted from a Cork paper, announcing a course of lectures from Carter, the pugilist, who, with Sutton and Reynolds, is campaigning in Cork. It does not require much tact to perceive that the whole affair is a quiz, got up for the annoyance of our Scientific Society, which usually supplies us with butts. The gentleman who last year supplied you with Dowden's speech for the Luctus is writing an opening lecture on Antemundane pugilism, which I believe eventually goes to you. But by publishing a letter of mine in which I mentioned a paper of his on Dowden's madness, which by the way he actually wrote, you have sadly frightened him, for he is one of the thin-skinned generation.
"I do not like to write anti-Catholic articles for you; but you are wrong in taking the other side: it obliges none of your friends, and disobliges us. The question, in fact, ought to be avoided altogether; for divided as ministerial men are on the subject, when they begin to dispute they only abuse one another for the diversion of the common enemy. For instance, was not Canning's attack in the House on Ellis of Dublin — one of the staunchest Government men in the kingdom — very ill judged, and just exactly what the opposition faction in Ireland desired? And to descend to ourselves, why need the Reviewer of 'Lafontaine' (Croker) step out of his way to revile a system of laws upheld by some of the most loyal men in the empire? or why should I waste my time in answering or exposing the ignorance of that Reviewer, when I agree with him in the leading features of policy, while we both have enemies enough, who hate not merely the system of penal laws, but every system calculated to give strength to Church and State? This in brief is my principal objection to your introducing the question at all. Of this be sure: the Protestants of Ireland are, with the trifling exceptions of those swayed by faction or interest, decidedly hostile to any further concession to the Papists. In Cork, for example, the Protestant population of which is about 17 or 18,000, a Protestant petition in favour of emancipation was got up; and it received exactly 89 signatures. If you were in Ireland you would not wonder at our hostility. I never knew a traveller from the sister island, even were he bitten by the 'Edinburgh Review,' — a work with which I should be sorry to see you in any point whatever cooperating, — who did not leave Ireland with the same feeling. However, Protestants and R. Catholics live here together in the greatest jollity — some of my most intimate acquaintances being of the latter religion. An impartial spectator would laugh at the unanimity of disapprobation with which all parties received the measures proposed by Mr. Plunkett, and the staunch co-operation of the most violent leaders on both sides, in devising methods of resistance."
"Feb. 25, 1822.
We have had a special commission here, at which no less than 32 were sentenced to be hanged: these exhibit to-day at Church-tower — a place where they burnt four policemen. Our county magistrates at a meeting of more than 100 voted the Insurrection out for the entire county, which is a strong measure when you consider that this county contains more than a third of the population of all Scotland. It will certainly put down this silly Jacquerie. Plunkett has been here, but did not display his usual eloquence, and seemed rather out of place as Attorney-General. The Marquis of Wellesley is puffed — and detested — by all parties, and I understand is not a little tired already of his place....
"As for me, you may tell any CORK man anything you like, true or untrue, about me; for I am known by everybody gentle and simple in the city, and they are ready to believe anything good or bad about my affairs. So if you think fit, write to Croker informing him that his guess was right. But to people un-Corcagian I have no desire to be notorious at all."
It was in the summer of 1821, and no doubt in answer to Blackwood's desire that he should present himself in person, that Maginn appeared in Edinburgh, casting aside all the fictions of anonymity. Mrs. Gordon, in her life of Professor Wilson, quotes from the "Dublin University Magazine" an account said to have been written by D. M. Moir of the characteristic manner in which Maginn first appeared in Princes Street, which he did in the character of an angry Irishman, offended by strictures in the Magazine, and demanding the name of the writer. Blackwood, alas! not unaccustomed to such a demand, replied in his usual way, and finally declined to give any information on the subject. "If you don't know him, then," cried the visitor, "perhaps you know your own handwriting," at the same time producing a packet of letters. "You need not deny your correspondence with that gentleman: I am that gentleman." It was very like Maginn to make his entrance upon the scene in this way; and he was received with acclamation into the very bosom of the lively society which formed the bodyguard of "Maga," and of which he had become already, though in the mists of distance and anonymity, so complete a member, entering into all their jests, and adding both fun and thunder of his own without scruple or hindrance. Probably so complete a union never was formed without any personal knowledge. He outdid them all, which was saying a great deal, in the recklessness of his jesting and of the facile pen which ran away with him. He had, I presume, the charm of Irish frankness, or apparent frankness, the abandon of manner which is not always the abandon of the heart; and he was received with open arms, and without, it would seem, the most momentary hesitation. He who had entered into the very atmosphere of this unknown place, the dashing Irishman, taking up the very tone of these gay and reckless Scots with a curious confusion of traditionary national sentiment, became more and more one with them after personal acquaintance, — a union which was quite unchecked by the fact that Blackwood had presently £100 of damages to pay for one of the first freaks of the new contributor. With all the differences of age and temperament, and such a practical hindrance as this, it is very interesting to see how the Publisher, who had so much trouble already in holding in these wild wits, took this new and wildest wit of all into his heart, and, until the serious stress of years and the deteriorating influences of an irregular literary life had broken down all the trust which the most romantic friendship could have in him, was faithful to the gay and witty Irishman, to whom he wrote long letters for several years, and whose correspondence in return — "your lively and friendly letters" — he looked for with so much pleasant anticipation.
Were it not that Maginn had already formed the resolution to throw himself into literary life in London, we might imagine that this visit determined him to do so, for never was reception of a new combatant more hearty and joyous. The household in Salisbury Road was overflowing with children, some of whom had already reached the most appreciative age of youth, and the charm of his Irish gaiety and freedom seems to have taken instant possession of the family. His letters afterwards are always rounded by a message to the young people, — "compliments to Mrs. Blackwood, and love to all the other fellows — male and female," he says. In one of these early letters, written some months after leaving Edinburgh, is the following note, which, remembering the gentle and genial personage alluded to, the kind "Major" of later days [author's note: Major William Blackwood, third son of the publisher, who came into the business in 1849, after many years' service in the Indian army], most benign of all the brethren, we copy with pleasure:—
"W. Maginn to W. Blackwood.
Will you let me put in a word connected with my profession? Educate our namesake Will — he is the making of a clever fellow. I don't mean to disparage your elder sons, but I suppose you have disposed of them already. But let Will show his face in a University."
The advice was given too late, for the second William Blackwood was already devoted to the service of his country in another way. A kind friend (it was the formula of these kinder days) had noted on a visit "your fine family of boys," and inquired, which was also a kind formula, what the father meant to do with them, with friendly impulses of help going through the mind. In this case it was, I think, Mrs. Hughes, the wife of a Canon of St Paul's, a frequent visitor to Scotland, a friend of Sir Walter, and finally, as the height of perfection, the grandmother, I believe, of our beloved Tom Brown of Rugby and Oxford, Judge Hughes of the present day — who asked the question; and probably on hearing that the boy's inclinations pointed towards the army, this lady, on her return to London, exerted herself to get a cadetship for the young Willie. In another chapter we shall see with what anxious love his father watched over the early career of this boy. His University was the old strange world of India, the long monotony of the career so unlike that of the present day, when a young man thinks nothing of skipping over land and sea for a holiday of six weeks with his people. Young William did not return for more than twenty years, and never saw his father again.
The following letter was written after Maginn's return to Cork, and gives a glimpse of the more serious studies by which he meant to secure a blaze of reputation for his formal entry upon the world. His scholarship of the more usual kind was already the admiration of his Scottish friends
"Dr. Maginn to W. Blackwood.
Nov. 12, 1821.
The accounts of the disturbances in the South of Ireland are in general much exaggerated, and the comments of the English editors are dictated by a profound ignorance of our affairs. This county, with the exception of a small district about 30 miles north from the city, which, from its proximity to Limerick, has been a little disturbed, is perfectly quiet. Limerick is the main scene of action. The number of rioters does not appear to be very great; but they, by intimidation, compel the peaceably inclined peasantry very often to swell their ranks. Arms are demanded and nothing else; and they are under such good discipline that plate, money, &c., are quite safe, and, what is more extraordinary when you consider the habits of our lower orders, liquor of all kinds is scrupulously abstained from, even if offered. I know several persons who have come in contact with them and their leader, Captain Rock, a name as authentic as that of another leader, Mr. North. He is a polite, well-dressed, and gentleman-like fellow, strange as it may appear to you. In general, there are no personal injuries inflicted. Will Purcell of Albamira beat off a party of them from before his house last week, with the assistance only of a single man; and this has raised the valour of our gentry. If they imitate the example, as I am pretty sure they will, the thing will be over in a month. We blame Mr. Grant for the whole. He has been bitten with the silly mania of affecting liberality, conciliation, and other Lillabulleros of that kind; which, of course, is regarded as cowardice or want of power. Peel, our favourite, kept Ireland quiet from North to South by a contrary conduct. When I get 'John Bull,' I shall write you an article on the subject, not blaming Grant of course; but venting all manner of indignation on the 'vile instruments of faction' and 'the base Whigs.'...
"I must again ask you to find out for me what are the latest and best Syriac, Chaldee, and Samaritan grammars. Now, write to Cadell and Davies to learn; if they themselves cannot tell, they will easily learn from Valpy. It would do me incalculable service if I could compile a work on the subject, for Dr Kyle would put it into the course of Trinity College; and, it is highly probable, it would be puffed by some excellent article in that department. Besides, it would give me a grand air with the public to make my appearance ringed round with the venerable forms of the outlandish alphabets of the East."
Maginn did not leave Cork till 1823, and in the meantime he continued occasionally his expositions of Irish affairs, as well as a running thread of suggestions, criticisms, and advices, not always approved, for the conduct of the Magazine. This lively commentator, however, was in no way discouraged by any rebuff, but flowed on as cheerfully as ever, discouraged by nothing, not even by the occasional refusal of his articles. "You much mistake if you think I care about the non-insertion of any article of mine: such things trouble me but little," he says, and to all appearance he refused steadily all payment for his contributions, except in the form of Syriac grammars, &c., for two or three years after his connection — with "Maga" began — as long, indeed, as he remained in Ireland, and had not committed himself to the precarious life of the press. Many evidences of the hasty and headlong spirit, and the mind which it is to be feared considered a literary lie as a good joke, will be seen through all these. He had written, for instance, a sarcastic article about Southey's "Vision of Judgment," that most universally abused of all compositions; but for various reasons changed his mind, and bids his friend destroy it. "I must say I agree with 'John Bull' in thinking that the spirit of the 'Quarterly' is barbarous, and that I think some strong decisive straight-ahead puff should be given to Southey. The 'Vision of Judgment,' which everybody abuses, would be a fit thing enough to panegyrise." "I have promised an article to little Crofty Croker about his book," he says again, "but have neglected doing it. Write to me to say that you have a great press of matter which prevented my article, for the little man is a very great friend of yours. It is he who franks my packets," says the ungrateful and graceless critic. And he is continually suggesting renewed attacks upon "Little Jeff," upon Hazlitt, and others. Of Hazlitt he says, "You have called him pimpled, affected, ignorant, a Cockney scribbler, &c., but what is that to what he has said of the most brilliant men of the age? Hook-nosed Wellington, vulture-beaked Southey, hanging-browed Croker, down-looking Jack Murray, and Mudford fat as fleecy-hosiery." Certainly there was no grace of elocution lost among these wranglers. The following about the state of Ireland is interesting, and throws a light unsuspected on Protestant grievances:—
CORK, 4th Feb. 1823.
As for us, we are on the verge of a civil war. Cork has always been distinguished for moderation, but Dublin is in a flame. If the Marquis be continued to misgovern us, I do not see how things can be at all accommodated. You would be perfectly amazed at the rabid fury of both parties, — for, accustomed as I have always been to outrageous contests, I confess I am a trifle flabbergasted. N'importe. If there be a civil war I can lose nothing but my head, which is of use to no one but the owner — and may pick up something in the scramble. Old habits of authority have made it a fixed persuasion in Ireland among the Protestants that one Protestant could beat five Papists, and of course I have no fear for the result. Really, without jest, we are woefully insulted. I don't mean as to that buffoonery about the Italians, which you know I disapproved: but our clergy are reviled and personally abused; our very private parties spied; our toasts controlled by authority; our churches polluted; the priests domineering, swaggering, and libelling our faith, our conduct, and our principles; and, worst of all, if we dare to say a word in reply to the most atrocious calumnies or downright insults, we are denounced as not conciliatory. If you had a drop of the old wranglesome Antiburgher blood in your veins, it would boil if you were treated as we are. Look at a playhouse riot construed into high treason; or a conspiracy of the Protestants (a body of men as numerous as the population of Jutland) to murder, with a huge quart bottle, as a Cork newspaper called it, the representative of our most gracious king. Plunkett is hunting down those dreadfully oppressed men, whom he has attacked with the venom of a bloodhound, but he has missed his quarry. I hope his turn will come some time or other; if we fight, many a bullet is at his service. In a word, the question is now narrowed to this — Is the Protestant religion to be tolerated in Ireland? And the end will be that England will have to conquer the country again, which consummation I hope most devoutly to witness. But what is this long mess of Irish politics to you? Not a pinsworth; but all men's minds here are so full of the posture of affairs that we can scarce dream of anything else."
And here is a piece of sage advice which must have come well from a comparatively new man. It refers to a supposed quarrel with Galt, in which Maginn opines with complimentary censure that Blackwood must be in the wrong — "for you are a man of sense and he a blockhead, with whom a man of sense should never quarrel."
"It is probable that in a tradesman point of view you will lose little by not publishing 'Ringan Gilhaize,' for G. is writing too fast. Even Waverley himself is going it too strong on us, and he is a leetle better trump than Galt. However, do not let anything ever so little harsh appear against it in 'Maga.' I shall review it for you, if you like, praising it and extracting the greatest trash to be found in it as specimens to bear out my panegyric. G. will swallow it. In one thing you were decidedly wrong; you ought not to have allowed him to get so thorough an insight into the method of managing the Magazine. Henceforward admit no other partner into the concern. With W. there is no chance of differing, — and L. is capricious perhaps, but after all sure. As for me, there being no probability of my turning author of anything beyond a spelling-book, you may be sure of my continuing a fashioner of articles such as they are. Keep your other hands in subordination. Authors will always have bickerings and jealousies of their own, which renders them dangerous managers of such an affair as 'Maga.'... Cadell's affair is rather more serious. If he be bullied by that vagabond Hazlitt, would it be impossible for you to heal the old wounds between you and Murray? Believe me, it would be worth trying, and Croker is a fine channel. What I principally write to you about is this. As you cannot go soon enough to London yourself to superintend the details of this affair, would it be possible for you to get Cadell to hold over his determination of giving up 'Maga' till the end of next month. If so, I offer myself as your plenipotentiary, for, God willing, I shall be in London about the 27th of June. I think I should be able to show the true state of the case to Cadell, and to palaver him out of sticking to Hazlitt. There are few who know so exactly the history, &c., of 'Maga' as I do, or who are so thoroughly [instructed] on the subject of Whig libels. If you think this a good plan, write to C. that circumstances, &c., prevent you or any of your intimate friends from immediately having a personal interview with him, which could alone satisfactorily explain affairs; but that if he suspends his judgment for five or six weeks, one will call on him who is up to all the business, and is moreover a most worthy Christian: give him my name, of course. I flatter myself I should carry you through swimmingly, striking dumb the bibliopole of London town. The devil is in the dice if I should not mystify him famously as to who the author of the libels, &c., of 'Maga' are, for I'd tell him, after swearing him not to disclose a word of it, that Galt was the man principally engaged, then Hogg — that W. & L. were the most innocent people in the world. Write me word what you think of this idea. I had rather that you would not say anything at all about it to anybody, even to L. I anticipate some sport in London, particularly as I would not give the end of a fig for all its sights and humdrum diversions. I'll take famous care that you shall be puffed during my stay in all quarters, for I have got considerable influence in that valuable corps, the gentlemen of the press — some of whom I have obliged, and others libelled. Either gives a man a sort of claim to civility. You may tell L., as he is anxious on this head, that a provincial paper here — the 'Advertiser' — for which I write a great deal, is to come before God and its country for telling the truth of a priest. There is an immense tumult expected, which I am happy to think of. I, however, am not the writer of the alleged libel. The business has created a sensation throughout all Ireland."
The idea of Maginn's interference, either to heal the wounds of John Murray or to smooth down Cadell, does not appear to have been taken advantage of; but there were occasions when his help was called for, and most readily given — especially during the terrible crisis in the life of Wilson which has been already related, the threatened action of Martin, when our Professor showed but the heart of a mouse in his big bosom. It will give the reader a kind thought of the wild and disorderly Irishman if we here quote the two letters which bear upon that unpleasant story. They are more like him, we think, than the picture of Captain Shandon, who was too refined and gentlemanlike in his debtor's prison, and at the same time too cynical, for our unfortunate man of letters. This little apologue shows how he met another Irishman like himself, wild for bloodshed and damages and a trial for libel, and with native instinct, the profound knowledge of a fellow-countryman, plucked the sting out of him, and smoothed him down — or at least for the moment was supposed to have done so. The account of the transaction is written to Mr. Blackwood, who was, as usual, the person left to bear the brunt, as he had done for Maginn himself in the Leslie trial, and generally for his friends in turn. Maginn begins by a regret that he is the only Irishman on the spot to tackle his angry compatriot:—
LONDON, 20 Sept. 1825.
It is unlucky that this should have happened just now, when all the Irish are out of town, else I should have found some Galway acquaintance of Martin's. For myself, I don't care to have it insinuated as broadly as possible that I am the author, and shall certainly try to get the thing off Wilson: but his style is too marked to have it much believed. Dunlop, for instance, knew it at once, and that's very like a publication. If you give me carte blanche to act as I think fit, I may pull you through. If I can get introduced to Martin, we Irish know how to talk to each other, and we might settle it amicably. Let me say that the thing was a warm joke, no doubt; that it was, however, only suited for the warmer persons who uttered it, and that an apology both serious and jocular shall be given in the Magazine; that you are personally very sorry for it, — and I think that may do.
"I shall promise that his Society (his greatest failing) shall be praised to the stars in the Magazine. If you can rely on W.'s discretion, I should recommend him to come up to London. M. is a gentleman who could be most safely trusted with a secret given to him by a gentleman, and I daresay could be made to laugh at the whole story. If W., however, is not to be trusted, I shall take it all on my own shoulders."
It will be remembered that Wilson was not at all to be trusted — so little that he had declared with anguish that if he was made to go to London it would be to throw himself into the Thames. He was indeed quite hysterical, and had altogether lost his self-control, so that on Maginn's shoulders the burden had to rest. The manner in which he acted
for his friend is exceedingly amusing. A week later we find the following letter:—
"27 Sept. 1825.
I have, I believe, settled your business for you. The best way in all these cases is to take the bull by the horns, and accordingly, although I had no acquaintance with Col. Martin, yet I called on him in his lodgings on Friday. He was not at home. He lives at 16 Manchester Buildings. So I went across to the Admiralty and wrote a hasty note, which I sent to him. I said I was commissioned by you to call on him to offer additional explanations to your letter of the 20th inst., and as I had not the good luck of meeting him, I concluded by asking him to dine with me next day. This, of course, I did in a jocular manner, apologising in a laughing way for the liberty. I appointed the Somerset as the place of meeting, and accordingly at six yesterday I found him there waiting for me. I introduced myself at once, and immediately went to business.
"I was under some embarrassment at first, in consequence of his not having got your letter or Magazine; but by mere chance I had your letter to me in my pocket, and I read him the copy you sent me. He was very angry at first, but I outtalked him. I shall make you laugh, I think, when I see you, at our conversation; but it would be no good to detail it. He was anxious that I should tell him the name of the writer; and I wish W. would let me. It would be quite safe in every respect with the Colonel; for queer as his manner undoubtedly is, he is in every way a gentleman. This, of course, is for the Prof. to consider. He will hear it from some channel; and it would be handsome, I think, if he had it from us.
"He is savage against the 'Chronicle,' and particularly so against Adolphus. There will be no action against you if he can do without it, and I got him to agree with me that it was not requisite to his cause against Clement to prosecute you. As dinner progressed he got into greater good-humour with me, and said that on my account he would be quite lenient with you. On going away he said, as his final determination, that he would wait till the next Magazine, and if what was said there was as described in the copy of your letter (which I gave him), there was an end of his proceedings against you. He said he understood you were a d—d decent man, but that you ought to take care of what you got your people to write (true enough, 'entre nous'). I excused you, 'inter alia,' by saying that your corporation affairs occupied your attention sadly — Duke of Brunswick, Marquis of Hastings, &c. "Well," said he, "like enough. The Scotch never lose an opportunity of rubbing themselves to quality; but, by God! he could not take a worse way of obliging Hastings than by abusing me." I hope the article in the forthcoming Mag. will please him. At all events, I have made him promise that he will not annoy Cadell at all.
"I am to see Martin again in the course of the week. I have promised to introduce Crowe to him, which will be amusing. I shall write to Wilson to ask his leave to mention his name 'sub rosa,' and I hope he will grant it.
"I think I did a good job for you. As I cannot offer to give people champagne at my own expense, I charge you the bill, which, like Falstaff's, is rather heavier in the drinking than in the eating. It amounts in all to £3, 7s., with which I debit you."
The matter did not end there unfortunately, and we fear that the publisher's pocket was once more mulcted, though privately. But Maginn's good offices are worth recording. His outset on life in London had various amusing incidents connected with it, some of which we may add here. Colburn was the first publisher, or among the first, who systematically gave himself to the production of fashionable novels and the lightest of light literature. He had not long before set up the 'New Monthly Magazine' under the editorship of Campbell the poet, was supposed to be the inventor of an extraordinary new system of puffery, and was the butt of all the wits. His reign lasted a long time as a publisher of novels. He was, as we have all understood, one of the celebrated firm of Bacon & Bungay in "Pendennis." Maginn's first meeting with this potentate is described as follows:
"Dr Maginn to W. Blackwood.
June 25, '23.
I saw Colburn. He attended on me at his shop — spoke of the weather — the news — the newspapers — the periodicals — the 'New Monthly' — 'Blackwood's Mag.' — Blackwood himself (very kindly) — his being in town — at the Somerset: was not I at the Somerset? I knew Blackwood? — his contributors? his Irish contributors? — and in the end, after about an hour's conversation, he took me into his sanctum under pretence of showing me some old books, and making me a low bow, said he was happy to see Mr. O'Doherty in person. I laughed at him — said it was fudge — that he was bammed by somebody, &c. But he stuck to it. Complained of my ill treatment of him, particularly in accusing him of employing old Dictionary Watkins to draw up a life of Lord Byron — that he did no such thing, but bought the book honestly, without knowing anything about it. By Jupiter! this is odd, for it was I who wrote the article, out of Alaric's notes. I of course denied everything plump. Never wrote anything for anybody. Would be sorry to abuse so respectable a person as Mr. C., or so valuable a book as the 'New M.' But I was talking to an incredulous auditor. He asked me to dine with him for to-morrow, which I declined: he shook hands at parting, quite cordial, and he whispered to me as I went away, "Thirty guineas a sheet." I laughed at him, and drove off. I have not time to give you the particulars more minutely, but I will draw up a minute of everything he said, for I have picked up some strange information about Hazlitt, Patmore, B. Cornwall, C. Redding, &c. Observe, however, that not a word goes into print, for that would be treachery with a vengeance."
We add various criticisms, &c., from the same unscrupulous but generally entertaining hand:—
"The faults of 'Maga ' — I am entitled to speak of them for various reasons — are, first, too much locality of allusion: I know a 'quantum suff.' of such things is of great use in spreading a sale, but there is a limit. Secondly, occasional coarseness, which annoys the Englishman. Thirdly, the attempts of minor correspondents to imitate the audacious puffery of the Magazine, which can be done by W. only. To correct the three faults, let every number henceforward be written exclusively for London, forgetting that there is such a city in the world as Edinburgh. The 'Noctes' will be sufficient for locality.
"With respect to Gifford, I never have seen him; but I know that his conversation, particularly since his health began to decline, is excessively splenetic. He is a fanatical Ministerialist, and retains even now his old hatred of the Jacobins, Della Cruscans, &c. His information on all points is prodigious, and he pours it forth very freely. I am told he dislikes all his associates — Croker, J. Murray, &c. — but I do not know how true that is. He would be a hard card to manage in a dialogue.
"I of course heard an immensity of your Mag.; in London you are blamed for attacking obscure Londoners, most particularly Hazlitt. He is really too insignificant an animal. Make it a rule that his name be never mentioned by any of your friends; I for one will keep it. Croly is quite shocked at Tickler's attack on the gentlemen of the press, little suspecting that he was giving me a rap over the knuckles. He evidently has a vast veneration for the power of that company, and takes great credit to himself for suppressing the squib of B.'s blackguards. God help us! I dined with him in company with an insufferable wretch of the name of —, who knows everything of "Maga" that Croly knows, and who boasts of enjoying the confidence of L. I hope this is impossible, for the creature conducts some unheard-of paper in London, and is one of the press gang. He told me many other things, that he knew L. to be Z., for he had it from his own lips. Surely L. could not be such a spoony. I denied it flatly, saying that I had good reason to know that the gentleman who wrote Z. is now in Germany. He knew something about me, picked up among the pressmen, particularly my rumpus with Conway. The man is a cursed bore. I put your friends on their guard against him. He speaks of Scott as if they had been pickpockets together at Calder Fair.
"I gave your correspondent Titus a puff in the last 'Bull,' because the man deserves encouragement. Puffing any of ourselves would be praise thrown away. Murray sent me word that he wished me to review any friend of mine in any way I liked in the 'Quarterly'; and as he understood I was a man of classical, &c., knowledge, would feel much obliged if I took up that line regularly for the 'Quarterly.' This I believe I shall do, as my name is rather bad in London, and wants to be bolstered up with larning.
"I have received two letters from Croker this week. In a tete-a-tete conversation which we had, I spoke quite freely of what he wrote or was supposed to have written, and he answered me as freely. I told him that I had purchased for L. thirty odd shillings' worth of little books attributed to him a couple of years ago, and told him their names, as well as I could remember them. This appeared to annoy him considerably, and he pointedly denied the imputation. I got a note next day, directly asserting that he had in Ireland written only the familiar epistles, 'The Sketch of Ireland, Past and Present,' and the 'Intercepted Letter,' and nothing else. He begged me to communicate this to L. I told him in reply that I should of course do so, but feared the incredulity of the world was such that my denying anything to L. would just confirm it. I said at the same time that Mahon, of Dublin, had informed me that he and Sir W. Smyth (a Baron of the Irish Exchequer, a man of splendid abilities) had conducted a periodical called the 'Anonymous' together. This produced another note, part of which I shall copy for your edification in the last page of this letter. His opinion of 'Maga' is high; but he is absurdly sore about the abuse of the 'Quarterly' and of Murray. 'If you knew him,' said he, 'you would not speak of him as you do.' I assured him I had nothing to do with abusing Murray, but spoke openly about what I thought was the pitiful conduct of this 'Quarterly' towards 'Maga.' He made no reply whatever. I asked him why L.'s ballads had not been reviewed, according to promise to Sir W. S. He said that he never heard of any such promise, but would speak to Murray about it. In fact, he added, he did not know anybody who was 'au fait' enough at Spanish literature to give a suitable review. That, I told him, could be easily remedied, for I would venture to do one myself. To this I got no answer. Now, I have not the knowledge to do a fit review, but do you get me a learned one, discursive on Spanish literature, antiquities, &c., and I shall send it in my own handwriting right ahead to C. with a proper letter. The devil is in the dice if he can get out of that. Would L. have any objection to do it himself? I assure him on honour I should do it if I had the knowledge, but I have not — I mean knowledge enough to make a good appearance in the 'Quarterly.' If he does it, let him show 'savoir faire' enough to completely overlook the strictures on him in the 'London Magazine' by Bowring — it would be spoony to pretend to have seen them. C. was quite amused by Lord Fife's patronage of Mag.: he said it was quite right-if he was a Thane he would do the same. The Mag. was 'un peu polisson' (these were his words), but really an original feature in our literature. His opinion of Edinburgh society is very low — comically so, I assure you. Hook — will do nothing for you. Why he puffs Jackass Smyth is more than I can tell, but S. is a good deal about town. I wish you could get a Balaamitical song from him, for he sings everywhere his own excrement. Do you know that H. is publishing a book with Colburn — a book of tales? I take it to be a great secret, for C. denied it to me, and H. blushed up to the ears when I mentioned it. If it be a secret, do not you say anything about it as coming from me. I dined on Tuesday with H., and had an immensity of talk; but, unfortunately, we did not dine until eight o'clock, and at ten a Mr. Goodsir, a great friend of H.'s, sloped in. As for 'Bull,' I have carte blanche to do as I like. But puffs in the inner page must not exceed a quarter, or at most half, a column. Croker does not write for 'Bull,' depend on that. Hook, he, and a clergyman of the name of Cannon, a prime contributor, who has written many songs, wrote the song of 'Hunting the Hare' a couple of years ago, but nothing else came from him. Canning, they believe, wrote a famous article about Lambton's reform motion. Blair wrote the Anticatholic articles, and Sir A. Boswell some Scotch affairs. Cadell did not ask me to his house, but was very civil; so were the Underwoods and Richardson, who wanted me to go down to Dover with him. Colburn has no information whatever about your Magazine — is evidently quite vexed with Campbell's timidity: after all, it may be, he says, for the best, for it keeps him out of scrapes — the 'N. M.' is at the top of the tree now, &c., &c. Hazlitt, he says, is a fool, John Hunt a rogue, L. Hunt a puppy, Patmore a bad young man (his very words). He hates Croker — and Croker hates him. Lady Morgan's book that is forthcoming is a Salvator Rosa: he thinks it will be a good one. 'Italy,' says he, 'without humbug, sold well.'
Now have the honesty to burn this letter after reading it, for it contains what never was written before, and there is no knowing what accident may do. It would be a pretty 'bonne bouche' for Cockaigne. So commit 'quam primum' to the flames.
The rush and helter-skelter of this beginning did not argue well for future life. Maginn plunged into London, as he might have done into the great ocean, with the careless impulse of a sea-side bather, thinking that light inspiration enough. He was ready to engage in any and every kind of work — to negotiate between the publishers, to puff the books, to take the reproach of every unruly movement upon himself if necessary. "If you want to mystify Cadell about the Hunts, I don't care a rap if you do it at my expense," he says. "W. would most likely not be willing to come forward with any of the tribe; but I do not value the vagabond the tenth part of a cabbage stump, and would just as soon get into a row regular with them as empty a can of punch. So if you wish for a bullying match, I shall support the honour of my country in that important department." "As for puffing," he adds, "I shall stir the army of the Press. Irish puffing is not worth a rap." Both in this point, and in the reverse fault of abuse, to which Maginn was more addicted, Blackwood did what he could to restrain the too reckless wit, as the following letter will show:
"W. Blackwood to Dr Maginn.
23 Feb. 1825.
You are disappointed and displeased that your puff direct of 'Sayings and Doings' was not inserted. Had it been received in time it could have been cut down and made some use of along with the other articles; but you should know by this time that such a professed panegyric, coupled with a personal defence of the author, could do no good to the book itself, and would most certainly do no good to my Magazine. In writing these things, however desirable it is to puff a friend, this is not the effectual way to do it, and you should also think a little how far it would be of use to the Magazine. The article on the former series was not what it ought to have been in either respect, but had it not been cut down, corrected, and improved, it would have been as miserable a concern as the critique which appeared in the 'New Monthly.' I need not tell you how sensible I am of what you have done for my Magazine, and you can do for it; but what I would beg of you is to consider what will be of use to it, — things that may be very good jokes among ourselves, may often be very much the reverse when given to the public. Indeed the Magazine can only be injured by itself, not by its enemies, whose attacks serve merely to excite curiosity. Above all, when you write to me I would entreat of you to do it not in the 'poco curante' way, but as you know I would do it to you, seriously and kindly. With regard to Lord John Russell's book, I hope you will do it as it should be done. Though a Whig and a prig he is an English gentleman, and should be treated accordingly."
LONDON, Aug. 22, 1825.
Even if I had read this earlier I am not sure if it would have been either proper or prudent to have printed the charge against the Marquis of Hastings, however true it may be. It is rather serious to state so broadly that he furnished Tommy Moore with libels against the king. Nothing would delight the Whigs and their worthy ally, the Chief Commissioner, so much as getting me into the jury court again. This is an expense I would not be fond of encountering again. I am as little fearful as most people, but I would really beg of you to weigh consequences when you are cutting right and left....
"The attack upon Roscoe is most just and carefully done; but for two reasons I would leave it to yourself to say would it be prudent for me to publish it. In the first place, he is a very old friend of the Professor's, and he would feel it very sore if Roscoe were to be attacked, as Mrs. Wilson's relations are very much connected with him: this has saved Roscoe oftener than once. Now the Professor is getting into better spirits and is giving me articles, therefore you will see that it is necessary to avoid any annoyance to him. But in the second place, such an article would absolutely horrify my poor friend Cadell, who is at present about to bring out a new edition of some of Roscoe's books, and had a large interest in his edition of Pope. Now whatever Roscoe may be, is it worth while to flay him in this way, when there is a chance of it being hurtful to me individually? I would always hope you would place yourself somewhat in my situation, though I would never expect you for one moment to write merely for my personal objects."
The following note, however, will show how Maginn was trusted and depended upon, notwithstanding all his faults, as long as trust was possible:—
"W. Blackwood to Dr. Maginn.
'Maga' has been much injured by the coarse and reckless vein in which many things have been written. Anything approaching to grossness or profane feeling make it a sealed book to many families, and every little slip is magnified into a mighty offence. I am as watchful as I can be in respect to this, and entreat you to avoid everything of the sort. You and L. are apt to get into this strain; and then the work is often so much to my taste, that I do not perceive the wretchedness till it is too late.
"I feel much indebted to you for what you say about the articles we ought to avoid or leave for 'Maga.' It is in this way that you can be of the most invaluable service to me. You are on the spot, and know how the pulse of the public beats. All depends upon catching the thing at the right moment. Here I am out of the world almost; and at times I am sick to death, not knowing which hand to turn to, from disappointments or botherations as to whether I should print or reject articles good enough in themselves, but not the kind of thing they ought to be."
I may add here, though a little out of date, the special charm which Blackwood and his contributors found in Maginn's style, which is whimsical enough, considering that both Wilson and Lockhart were no inconsiderable masters of language:—
"There is one peculiar excellence in this writer which strikes us Scotsmen, his easy idiomatic English. No Scotsman, however practised as a writer, is master of the English tongue so as to be able to write in this way. Sir Walter in his novels writes the Scotch with the most delightful naivete. But I am attempting the small critic myself, which is very foreign to my metier."
"Yours," he says to another anonymous contributor, "was the only striking article in the last number, and gave great satisfaction to our Scotch readers, being in fact written with that elegance and simplicity which Scotsmen can admire without being able to imitate."
No amount of good counsel, however, had any effect on Maginn. He went on, after many years' experience, in the same reckless way, and even led Lockhart astray, as has been seen, into a return to the wild fun of the 'Noctes,' after both should have learned wisdom. Maginn's career in London was neither happy nor respectable. He wrote for the "John Bull" and other papers, selling his praise or his censure as it might be wanted, until both ceased to be of any value. He became a hurried, irregular, and harassed journalist, irregular in life as well as in his profession, carrying the light-hearted satire and fun of his youth into servility and miserable personal abuse. He became the great prop of "Fraser's Magazine" when established, and there set up an imitated "Noctes" and Symposia of various kinds, written with ease and ever a more reckless and flying pen, and less regard (he had never shown much) to decency and good manners. Maginn was the one among that joyous band who paid the penalty of the follies which they all more or less committed. He was the one to whom these follies were not the wild oats of youth, but the tares that choked all the good seed. Who can formulate any moral from such a sad history, or say he was more to blame than his peers? He had all the gracious qualities — a man lovable, generous, kind. But that dismal deterioration, which is a more dreadful consequence than even the inevitable ruin of life which attends such a headlong career, at last separated from him almost all his friends, whose correspondence is full of regretful notes of the gradually accomplished downfall. In the letters of the younger Blackwoods during the forties, he appears as a melancholy ghost coming and going about the office in Pall Mall, an apparition filling the young men with speechless horror and pity.
Yet "Fraser's Magazine" made him for a time the centre of a new group, and might have given him another chance; and here he formed an acquaintance with young Thackeray, who, I find, was munificent in his generosity and kindness to the unfortunate writer, and took him, as has been already noted, for the original of his Captain Shandon in "Pendennis" — though I cannot but think the portrait is more flattering in some points and darker in others than it might have been. He died in 1842, under fifty, leaving only a lamentable memory behind him — his mirth, his wit, his gay heart, his generous impulses and kind actions all "writ in water" and forgotten. Yet Lockhart continued as long as he lived to be serviceable to his wife and children, and found some careless yet touching verses to say over his grave:—
Here early to bed lies kind William Maginn,
Who with genius, wit, learning, life's trophies to win,
Had neither great lord nor rich cit of his kin,
Nor discretion to set himself up as to tin.
So his portion soon spent, like the poor heir of Lynn,
He turned author while yet was no beard on his chin.
And whoever was out or whoever was in,
For your Tories his fine Irish brains he would spin,
Who received rhyme and prose with a promising grin:
"Go ahead, you queer fish, and more power to your fin!"
But to save from starvation stirred never a pin.
Light for long was his heart though his breeches were thin;
But at last he was beat, and sought help from the bin
(All the same to the Doctor, from claret to gin),
Which led swiftly to gaol, with consumption within:
It was much, when the bones rattled loose in his skin,
He got leave to die here, out of Babylon's din.
Barring drink and the girls, I ne'er heard of a sin:
Many worse, better few, than bright broken Maginn.