1848 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Scott

John Forster, in Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith (1848; 1871) 2:68-71 &n.



To establish such a system as this, had cost the many public scandals of the last seven years; the disgraces of eminent men, the disruptions of useful friendships, the violations of private as of public honour. For this, the country had been deluged with libels; and men of station had put forth against their quondam associates, lampoons unapproachable in scurrile violence by the lowest gazetteers of Grub-street or the Fleet. Nor was that part of the mischief to end with the mischief it helped to create. The poisoned chalice was to have its ingredients commended to other lips; and already had significant indication been given that the lesson of libellous instruction would be taught to a wider school. One of Lord Sandwich's hired and paid libellers, parson Scott, had by the pungent slang of his letters (signed Anti-Sejanus) raised the sale of the Public Advertiser from fifteen hundred to three thousand a day; but letters of higher as well as more piquant strain had succeeded his in that respectable journal, and seemed to threaten no quiet possession to the power so lately seized. This new writer had as yet taken no settled signature, nor were his compositions so finished or powerful as those which made memorable the signature he took some twelve months later; but there was something in his writing, even now, which marked it out from the class it belonged to. There was a strong individual grasp of the matters on which he wrote, a familiar scorn of the men he talked about, and a special hatred of the junto of King's-friends. His fervent abuse of the statesmen, such as Chatham, whom he afterwards exalted, has not been sufficiently referred to their existing relations with that faction which he hated with a private as well as public hatred; and which also at this time as bitterly arrayed against Chatham the brothers-in-law with whom he afterwards so cordially acted. It was as clear, from the first three letters of this writer, that he knew the "atoms" and their "original creating cause," and that in the thick of "its own webs" he had seen "the venomous spider;" as it seems to me now to be proved, if the strongest circumstantial as well as internal evidence can be held to prove anything, that he was throughout all his correspondence employed in the War-office, under that model King's friend Lord Barrington himself. But be this as it might, his letters, variously and oddly signed, had thus early excited attention; and would sufficiently, with other indications, have foretold the coming storm, even if the arch-priest of mischief had not suddenly himself arrived. Coolly, as if no outlawry existed, Wilkes crossed over to London; and his first careless business was to send an exquisite French letter to Garrick addressed as to Master Kitely, to ask him how he felt since his reconciliation with his wife. But none knew better than his quondam friend Sandwich what other business he was likely to have in hand. Though he had declined during the summer a "genteel letter" from Paoli, offering him a regiment in Corsica to advance the cause of liberty, he had put himself in motion at the first reasonable prospect of another campaign for liberty (and Wilkes) at home. No one could doubt that the struggle would be a sharp one, and the first care of ministers was directed to the press.

Excellent reasons existed therefore, as I have thus attempted to explain, for the great stress and storm which was now making itself felt in Downing-street. A necessity had unexpectedly appeared for better writers than the ordinary party hacks; the new and formidable pen in the Public Advertiser was piercing the sides of ministers from week to week; and the question naturally occurred to those ingenious gentlemen whether they might not, after all, become patrons of literature very serviceably to themselves. And hence it is that I am to introduce no less a person than a minister of the church, and chaplain to a minister of state, on a visit to the Temple to pay his respects to Goldsmith on his return from Canonbury-tower.

Parson Scott, Sandwich's chaplain, was now busily going about to negotiate for writers; and a great many years afterwards, when he was a rich old Doctor of Divinity, related an anecdote which was to illustrate the folly of men who are ignorant of the world, and the particular and egregious folly of the author of the Traveller. He describes himself applying to Goldsmith, among others, to induce him to write in favour of the administration. "I found him," he said, "in a miserable set of chambers in the Temple. I told him my authority; I told him that I was empowered to pay most liberally for his exertions; and, would you believe it! he was so absurd as to say, 'I can earn as much as will supply my wants without writing for any party; the assistance you offer is therefore unnecessary to me.' And so I left him," added the Rev. Dr. Scott indignantly, "in his garret."

* The late Mr. Basil Montagu heard this statement from Dr. Scott himself. "A few months before the death of Dr. Scott, author of Anti-Sejanus and other political tracts in support of Lord North's administration, I happened to dine with him in company with my friend Sir George Tuthill, who was the Doctor's physician. After dinner Dr. Scott mentioned, as matter of astonishment and a proof of the folly of men who are according to common opinion ignorant of the world, that he was once sent with a carte blanche from the ministry to Oliver Goldsmith to induce him to write in favour of the administration, &c. &c." That the ministers at this time made such the condition of any favour granted by them to literary men, I could give many proofs. Poor Hugh Kelly will hereafter be seen to lose what little popularity he had acquired with audiences at the theatre, because he had so to work for a ministerial pittance; and even Johnson himself complained to Gerard Hamilton that "his pension having been given to him as a literary character, he had been applied to by the administration to write political pamphlets; and he was even so much irritated, that he declared his resolution to resign his pension. His friend showed him the impropriety of such a measure, and he afterwards expressed his gratitude, and said he had received good advice." Boswell, v. 255.