1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. John Wolcot

William Jerdan, in Autobiography of William Jerdan (1852-53) 1:142-43.



Peter Pindar was a comical animal, and not easily to be over-reached, however clever he might be in the way of over-reaching; of which a notable instance is related when he "took in" all the astute combination of publishers. A meeting was convened (as I have heard described), at which Dr. Wolcot was to treat for the sale of his copyrights to this united body, which in those days acted in concert with regard to important new publications, and the joint purchase of established publications. This was "the Trade;" a name of wealth and might. The Doctor has previously been unwell, but the booksellers had received no intimation how extremely ill he was. They were almost shocked to negotiate with a person who had one foot, if not both, in the grave. Peter was pale and worn, and afflicted with a cough so dry and hollow that it went to the heart to hear it. It was of little consequence to him what bargain was struck; in his dying condition he would prefer a considerable sum down at once, to dispose of as he thought proper: on the other side an annuity was suggested, they hoped he would speedily recover, and enjoy it for many years to come in ease and independence. Peter had no idea of what possible value an annuity could be to him; but, to cut the business short, after a good deal of haggling and a great deal more of fearful coughing, which threatened to choke him on the spot and put and end to the treaty, he consented to take an annual allowance more apportioned to his evanescent state, than to the real worth of the wares he sold. The contract was engrossed and signed, and the forlorn recipient no sooner put it in his pocket, than he wiped the chalk off his face, dropt all practice of his hectic and killing cough, and in a lively manner wished his customers good bye, as he danced out of the room, laughing at the success with which he had gulled them. Tom Campbell used to say, he greatly admired Buonaparte because he had shot a bookseller (the heroic and unfortunate Palm): had he been here in the same ironical mood, he must have worshipped PIndar.

He escaped, poor old gentleman, as well out of his famous crim-con case, where it was endeavoured to entrap him into damages, for doing nothing but teach the wife of his lodging-house host to spout tragedy, as he assured her she would be as great as Mrs. Siddons on the stage. To bare her breast, and throw about her arms, let down her disheveled hair, were the natural parts of this dramatic tuition, and so the jury thought, and found a verdict for the defendant.

Of his negotiations with government I can give an authentic account, which for the sake of all poets, I am sorry to remark did not redound to the credit of the satirist. His writings had a wide range, and great popular effect; and his absurd pictures of the King, tended to make nearly the whole country believe that his Majesty was little better than a simpleton or a fool. Some of these squibs annoyed the monarch, or at any rate his family, and most attached and loyal servants; and when it pleased god to visit him with the sore affliction of wandering reason, his ministers felt a laudable anxiety to guard against any chance of vexation from the venomous pen of this modern Thersites. I was interested enough to inquire into this matter, and the explanation I received from the most authentic source was as follows:—

"All I can recollect of the point to which you refer is that the gentleman in question (P. P.) proposed through a friend to lend his literary assistance in support of the measures of government, at the time referred to, with the expectation of some reward for such services. He did nothing, and then claimed a remuneration for silence, and for not having continued those attacks which he had been in the habit of making. This claim was, of course, rejected, and he took his line accordingly, ridiculing and slandering as before."