1780 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hughes

John Nichols, in Select Collection of Poems (1780-84) 4:301-02n.



This Poet's Life has employed the pleasing pen of Dr. Johnson, who has given the character of his genius from Pope; but I am sorry to say that our English Homer appears to have acted in this case with duplicity. In a letter to Mr. Hughes, just before his death, he thus expresses himself: "Would to God you might live as long as, I am sure, the reputation of your Tragedy must!" Letters from Eminent Persons, Lett. 290. In one to his brother, just after his death, with other eulogiums, "I am as glad of an occasion to give you, under my hand, this testimony both how excellent I think this work to be, and how excellent I thought the author." Ibid. I. 197. And, which is still more to the purpose, this last "testimony of his real regard (as he styles it) for Mr. Hughes," being given after his death, the editor of his Works was allowed by Mr. Pope to publish, as "a greater instance of the sincerity with which it was given." Ibid. I. 205. These are his words. And now which is most deserving of credit, a testimony thus solemnly given to the world, or the echo, as it were, of his peevish friend, whom he was afraid to contradict, in a letter which he little thought would have been preserved and printed; and which, with his others to Swift, he wanted to recall? At every tribunal, a witness who contradicts himself is disbelieved; if such an opinion is not allowed to establish, much less should it be allowed to traduce a character: and, on the whole, the passage which Dr. Johnson has thus quoted can, with the considerate, only degrade and condemn the author of it, though "what HE wanted as an honest man, he made made up as a genius." I transcribe this passage from a writer in "The Gentleman's Magazine, 1779," p. 457, who appears to be well informed. — Dr Johnson having observed that, "though Mr. Hughes's advances in literature are in the Biographia very ostentatiously displayed, the name of his master is somewhat ungratefully concealed;" the Reviewer in The Gentleman's Magazine, 1779, p. 549, exculpates Dr. Campbell by observing, "that it does not appear, or is likely, that he knew it; and all that can be known is, that Hughes was a fellow-student in logic and philosophy with Dr. Watts and Mr. Say, perhaps under Mr. Thomas Rowe." — It must be owned, however, that concealing a master's name is a venial fault. If it is always to be mentioned, how often must the masters of Eton and Westminster be named, though perhaps they have contributed little! A lad may leave school before he comes under them; or even if he does, all the five or six previous ushers ought to have their proportionate share of praise.