1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Jortin

Samuel Parr?, in Tracts by Dr. Warburton and a Warburtonian; European Magazine 15 (February 1789) 101-02.



As to Jortin, whether I look back to his verse, or to his prose, to his critical, or to his theological works, there are few Authors to whom I am so much indebted for rational entertainment, or for solid instruction. Learned he was, without pedantry. He was ingenious, without the affectation of singularity. He was a lover of truth, without hovering over the gloomy abyss of scepticism; and a friend to free-enquiry, without roving into the dreary and pathless wilds of latitudinarianism. He had a heart, which never disgraced the powers of his understanding. With a lively imagination, an elegant taste, and a judgement most masculine and most correct, he united the artless and amiable negligence of a school-boy. Wit without ill-nature, and sense without effort, he could, at will, scatter upon every subject; and in every book, the writer presents us with a near and distinct view of the real man.

—ut omnis
Votiva pateat tanquam descripta tabell:
Vita Senis. — Hor. Sat. I. Lib. 2.

His style, though inartificial, is sometimes elevated; though familiar, it is never mean; and though employed upon various topics of theology, ethics, and criticism, it is not arrayed in any delusive resemblance, either of solemnity, from fanatical cant, or profoundness, from scholastic jargon, of precision, from the crabbed formalities of cloudy philologists, or of resentment, from the technical babble of frivolous Connoisseurs.

At the shadowy and fleeting reputation which is sometimes gained by the petty frolics of literary vanity, or the mischievous struggles of controversial rage, Jortin never grasped. Truth, which some men are ambitious of seizing by surprize in the trackless and dark recess, he was content to overtake in the broad and beaten path: and in the pursuit of it, if he does not excite our astonishment by the rapidity of his strides, he, at least, secures our confidence by the firmness of his step. To the examination of positions advanced by other men, he always brought a mind, which neither prepossession has seduced, nor malevolence polluted. He imposed not his own conjectures as infallible and irresistible truths, nor endeavoured to give an air of importance to trifles, by dogmatical vehemence. He could support his more serious opinions, without the versatility of a sophist, the fierceness of a disputant, or the impertinence of a buffoon: — more than this — he could relinquish or correct them with the calm and steady dignity of a writer, who, while he yielded something to the arguments of his antagonists, was conscious of retaining enough to command their respect. He had too much discernment to confound difference of opinion with malignity or dullness, and too much candour to insult where he could not persuade. Though his sensibilities were neither coarse nor sluggish, he yet was exempt from those fickle humours, those rankling jealousies, and that restless waywardness, which men of the brightest talents are too prone to indulge. He carried with him, into every station in which he was placed, and every subject which he explored, a solid greatness of soul, which could spare an inferior, though in the offensive form of an adversary, and endure an equal with, or without, the sacred name of friend. The importance of commendation, as well to him who bestows as to him who claims it, he estimated not only with justice, but with delicacy, and, therefore, he neither wantonly lavished it, nor withheld it austerely. But invective he neither provoked nor feared; and, as to the severities of contempt, he reserved them for occasions where alone thy could be employed with propriety, and where, by himself, they always were employed with effect — for the chastisement of arrogant dunces, of censorious sciolists, of intolerant bigots in every sect, and unprincipled impostors in every profession. Distinguished in various forms of literary composition, engaged in various duties of his ecclesiastical profession, and blessed with a long and honourable life, he nobly exemplified that rare and illustrious virtue of charity, which Leland, in his reply to the Letter-writer, thus eloquently describes. "CHARITY never misrepresents; never ascribes obnoxious principles or mistaken opinions to an opponent, which he himself disavows; is not so earnest in refuting, as to fancy positions never asserted, and to extend its censure to opinions, which 'will perhaps' be delivered. CHARITY is utterly averse to SNEERING, the most despicable species of ridicule, that most despicable subterfuge of an impotent objector. CHARITY never supposes, that all sense and knowlege are confined to a particular circle, to a district, or to a COUNTRY. CHARITY never condemns and embraces principles in the same breath; never professes to confute what it acknowledges to be just; never presumes to bear down an adversary with confident assertions. CHARITY does not call dissent insolence, or the want of implicit submission a want of common respect."

This, I cannot help exclaiming in the words of the R. R. Remarker — "This is the solution of a Philosopher indeed; clear, simple, manly, rational, and striking conviction in every word, unlike the refined and fantastic nonsense of a writer of paradoxes."

The esteem, the affection, the reverence, which I feel for so profound a scholar, and so honest a man, as Dr. Jortin, make me wholly indifferent to the praise and censure of those who vilify, without reading his writings, or read them without finding some incentive to study, some proficiency in knowledge, or some improvement in virtue.