1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hazlitt

John Gibson Lockhart and John Wilson to John Murray, September 1818; Margaret Oliphant, William Blackwood and his Sons (1897) 1:164-67.



Mr. Wilson and I have read your letter to Mr. Blackwood with much regret, for we are well aware how much it must be against your feelings and interests as well as our own that the Magazine should expose those concerned in it to such troubles as you have now described. We are willing to take your opinion on the matter as decisive, and admit that something out of the common order has been done, and that something of an outcry does exist, and that, therefore, independently of all argument, it is the duty of all that some change should take place.

The next thing to be considered is whether this outcry has not been somewhat exaggerated to you by your own imagination — to ascertain, in short, to what extent it is truth. This may probably be best accomplished by tracing the outcry to its elements, by discovering what the combustibles have been that can have raised the fire. We know of nothing but the Chaldee MS., the verses on the Booksellers, the attacks on the Cockneys, and those on the "Edinburgh Review." Let it be granted, then, that in each and all of these indiscretion and violence have been used. But is this enough to have given a general bad name to a book wherein all these things taken together form a very, very small item of contents — where they are outbalanced by such a preponderance of good calm feeling and principle? Our own opinion is that, notwithstanding all the outcry you have heard, and which has distressed abundantly us as well as you, were the voice of the whole town and country taken, the odium excited is neither so general nor so terrific as you apprehend. It is the nature of whatever is new to astonish. People must have time given them to come to their wits. In different parts of the country where we have been, we have found that among two great classes of our own countrymen, the religious and the ministerial people, the sensation excited by the Magazine has been decidedly a very encouraging one, although these people, and those from whom they most differ, have indeed found faults and blamed them. This applies of course to a limited circle and experience; but perhaps your town circle and experience may also be in their way limited — i.e., you may have conversed too exclusively with literary men, who have fears, hopes, and opinions peculiar to themselves, not partaken except reflexly and weakly by the main body of English readers, in whose minds we have no doubt the general good feeling and principle of the Magazine, were that work once fairly put into their hands, must infinitely outweigh all the defects with which we admit it to be deformed. Look at the last two numbers alone and examine what it is you are afraid of. In August, with the exception of "Hazlitt Cross-questioned" (of which anon), there is not one word to be ashamed of. In September we can perceive nothing that can give rational offence. The article on M'Vey is confined entirely to his literary pretensions; and that on Playfair is, we conceive, not only merited and unanswerable, but so written as no gentleman need be ashamed to have signed it. That both of these will give offence to some friends of the parties who doubts? and what severe articles, either in your Review or Jeffrey's, do not give offence in the same manner? Must not you have exaggerated things when you talk of wishing not to have published numbers containing these articles of offence alone. Take them, read them over, and say if, with the exception of Hazlitt, there is one page that might not have appeared in any work — in so far at least as the spirit is concerned? I have pressed this on you, not that I think you are giving unfounded statements, but that I think you have overcharged a true outline.

With respect to Hazlitt there is no doubt that your observations are just. There is a seeming ferocity in the tone that must disgust many, and on reflection disgusts us. With those to whom Hazlitt is an utter stranger such an article must have seemed execrable. To those who know the truth of the worst things that can be said of him, the principal fault of the article will appear to be confined to its manner and expressions. We quite agree with you that the same thing might have been said in a different, in a very much better way; and rest assured that of this execrable style no further specimen shall appear. However, doubt not that the frenzy and wrath of Hunt, Hazlitt, &c., are the true keys to all these fierce paragraphs in the papers, and much of what has distressed you in conversation.

On this part of the subject allow me to remark that, with the exception of this last article on Hazlitt, the articles on the Cockney School are little if at all more severe than those in the "Quarterly Review," and that they gave more offence to the objects of their severity only on account of their superior keenness — above all, that happy name which you and all the reviews are now borrowing, the Cockney School. Hazlitt and Hunt conceived that they could crush an infant work, and knew that they were powerless against the "Quarterly." Therefore against us did they pour their hottest phials. Give yourself no uneasiness about this, however, as if the action is brought at all, it will be brought here. But do not condescend for a moment to think of giving Hazlitt either answer or satisfaction of any kind. Let him fret on; in the end he will do nothing. And ultimately, at the very worst, without doubt your innocence can be established, were it possible that it should be called in question. Be satisfied that if you were to show any sign of condescension or apprehension you would be taking the most effectual means for encouraging him.

Henceforward nothing reprehensible shall appear. We must take care that nothing dull appears, for that were still more hurtful. We both are much obliged to you for the full manner in which you have written: at all times continue to act in the same way.

The name of the Magazine was chosen without our advice, and we always disliked it. Whether the advantages or the disadvantages of alteration would predominate it is your [the publishers'] province to determine. We cannot help thinking that the outcry would gather strength from the confession such a measure would seem to imply; and Mr. Blackwood, we suspect, would feel great repugnance to seeing his own name sacrificed, as it were, as a peace-offering. Settle this, however, among yourselves, and do nothing rashly. Let not any uncomfortable feelings, which are probably of a momentary nature, be allowed to do permanent injury to your work. Mr. Wilson and I stand entirely neuter. If you think seriously of alteration, consult your most judicious friends (Scott for instance); at all events you must not throw away the number in existence, which we fear would be the case should you start a third time as No. I. At all issues consult Scott, and let him communicate with Blackwood, and to save yourself any further trouble let his decision be final.