1897 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Doubleday

Margaret Oliphant, in William Blackwood and his Sons (1897) 1:489-93.



Another of the contributors of this period appears with a very curious label in the museums of biography, considering that he was a regular and very useful aid in the composition of a high Tory periodical in days when political distinctions were so much more urgent than now, — "Thomas Doubleday, poet, dramatist, biographer, Radical politician," is the description appended to his name in the same valuable work which we have already quoted. How his assiduous work for the Magazine was consistent with this it is difficult to understand. His aspect in his letters, which, like those of the two clergymen, are too voluminous, and at the same time too little individual, to quote at any length, throws a good deal of light upon a character not very uncommon in his day, whatever may be the case now — that of a really accomplished and highly educated man of letters in the heart of a great provincial town, engaged in active business, and yet pursuing, in the midst of this uncongenial life, the double occupation of a writer, without apparently either contact or connection between the one part and the other of so curiously divided an existence. Such men were to be found in almost every great centre of commercial activity, curiously out of place one would imagine in their surroundings, sometimes writing books, carrying on a considerable connection with magazines and newspapers of a superior kind, collecting pictures, yet not forsaking the native home or the paternal business in which their external life is passed. We doubt whether they flourish in an equal degree in the present time. The occasional notes on the reception of books by the public around him, which Doubleday gives incidentally, show that Newcastle, his place of birth and residence, possessed enough of literary opinion, at least, to count among the intelligent audience for whom every author sighs. There are few more pleasant glimpses into the great landscape, which, when hidden in the smoke of Trade, and deafened with its clamours, seems to a cursory glance to afford so few centres of a better light.

Doubleday speaks of the requirements of "the shipping season" as delaying his contributions, and of the attention he is called upon to bestow on the business of which his father is the head, with the air of a man actively engaged in these occupations; but the stream of papers on every subject which flowed forth to Edinburgh for many years would not have disgraced a writer whose implement was the pen alone, and who was bound to no other care. It may be remembered that Wilson and Lockhart both refer to his productions as sometimes too aggressive and sometimes too lengthy, on subjects of political economy and politics, but there is not a trace of divergence in point of political opinion. A great many letters are taken up with descriptions and reports of progress in his poem of "Diocletian," about which he wrote with great confidence to the publisher, who was (almost) always so much pleased with his articles — a confidence which came to sad and sudden downfall when the completed poem came back to him from these usually so kind and receptive hands, and the resigned, yet aggrieved, astonishment of the poet is almost too much for words. The following short extracts, though of no great importance in his correspondence, give a glimpse at once of his literary opinions and unceasing industry. It was still the Byronic period, when the air was full of the life and acts as well as the utterances of the noble poet who was so deeply interesting to his time. In a previous letter Doubleday had made an assault on Lady Byron, characterising her as one of Miss Edgeworth's heroines, too coldly good for sympathy, and fitted only to exasperate any husband: which was, we think, the general view of the Magazine, always hot for the rights of genius, and though extremely chivalrous to women, confining that sentiment to those who knew their own place and held the proper helpless and dependent attitude which was the ideal of the time. Mr. Doubleday, however, was not chivalrous, but stated his opinion broadly that no man could find anything ideal in a woman to whom he had been married for a few years.

"T. Doubleday to W. Blackwood.

NEWCASTLE, November 26, 1826.

I don't know what you will think of the 'Letter to Moore' which I now send; but this I know, that if I had not been aware how well used you must be to all manner of queer, out-of-the-way, eccentric articles, I should hardly have sent it. Tommy's writing the life, after burning the original, is certainly something akin to cool impudence. You will see I have mixed my ill nature with as much fun and queerness as I could, so that, excepting the last paragraph, the whole seems only half in earnest. If you think it 'too bad' you must just make an auto-da-fe of it; for if 'Maga' will not venture, it is clear nobody else will have the courage: mind I mean that for a compliment.

"I shall next, I think, go on with the dialogues on Music, and after that with the article on the Analogies. I am going slowly on with a dramatic poem — for whether the public will read it or not I will write poetry; and seeing what a laudable prose man I am, I think I have a right to a hobbyhorse of my own now and then."

In a following letter a paragraph is added to be appended to "the plain-spoken article" above referred to, the letter to Moore, which is characteristic as coming from so libellous an age. The critic found it very hard to forgive the destruction of Byron's manuscript, especially for such a cause.

"No man, you will tell me, is bound to publish what may be deemed libellous; but this is a reason for delaying, not destroying. Libels are things of a lifetime, and like harsh wine grow mild by keeping: the lapse of a few years takes out their sting. Even the death-doing gum of the Mexican Indians grows harmless in a twelvemonth or two. The character of Justice Shallow, when written, was a bitter libel upon that worthy knight Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote Park, near Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire (whom by the way it has immortalised). But would that have been a valid reason for burning 'Henry the Fourth' and the 'Merry Wives of Windsor'? The author of the 'Twopenny Postbag' will surely never say that. What! Burn Shallow and Slender and Bardolph and Pistol, and Dr. Caius and Sir Hugh Evans, and Ford and Page and Poins and Dame Quickly, and Doll and Prince Hal — burn Falstaff and 'all his company along with him'? No, not for all the Lucies from Adam downwards."