1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Huddlestone Wynne

W. Mitchell, "Anecdotes of the late J. Huddlestone Wynne" New Monthly Magazine 1 (July 1814) 524-25.



Seeing in your publication of last month an extract from the unfinished poem of Hengist, written by the late J. Huddleston Wynne, it brought to my recollection an incident relative thereto, that I know to be founded on fact, which, though trifling in its nature, yet as connected with the life of a literary character of no inconsiderable merit, you may deem not unworthy of record in your repository of useful information.

This ingenious writer had for some time obtained a decent income by writing for different periodical publications; but, as his economy, like that of most men gifted with literary endowments, bore no proportion to his genius, it barely supplied the necessities of the moment. In the leisure afforded by his other avocations, he constructed the plan of Hengist, and proceeded in its execution till he had finished the first book. This he presented to the late Mr. Dodsley, who, after having had it examined and approved by some of his literary friends, offered Mr. W. one hundred guineas for the copyright on finishing the work agreeably to the plan. Our adventurous bard was disappointed in his expectations; his object was to procure occasional supplies while the work was in progress; and he laconically asked the bookseller "what he was to do for subsistence in the mean time?" To this humble question he received no satisfactory answer, and hence the poem was never finished agreeably to the author's intention.

Mr. Wynne was brought up a printer, and worked as a compositor for some time on the General Evening Post, in which situation he gave frequent proofs of the versatility of his genius, and the promptness of his poetic fancy. The master, who well knew the merit of his man, contracted with him to supply a small piece of poetry for every day's publication, at a very small sum. One day, having literally forgot this part of his engagement till reminded of it by a fellow workman, and the day being then too far advanced to have it deliberately written out and made ready in proper time, he obtained the assistance of another compositor, and thus, on the spur of the moment, while he himself composed the first six lines impromptu, dictated the last six to his coadjutor; by which readiness of conception he saved his credit and secured his rewards.

At an early period of his life Mr. W. published a poem called the Prostitute, with his name prefixed as the author. This was certainly his first avowed production, and its commencing lines strongly justify the conjecture:

As yet unknown to fortune and to fame,
Without a patron and without a name,
An humble bard—

It contained many good sentiments and moral reflections; but its title was supposed to operate against its success, and whatever honour its merit might gain for the author, the sale produced little reward for his labour.

At the time when the Morning Post first commenced, under the auspices of Dr. Trusler, the Rev. Henry Bate, and John Bell, the newspapers were conducted in a manner widely different from those of the present day. It was necessary for them to have various essay writers; for essays were the rage of that time. Hence, the diurnal publications were vehicles for the lucubrations of the most distinguished literary characters. Being then, as he himself expresses it, "without a name," Mr. Wynne was engaged as one of the minor writers in the Morning Post, to furnish moral essays at the rate of 6s. 6d. each, the quantity not to be less than half a column. Many of these, in imitation of his great prototype Henry Fielding, were written on pieces of tobacco papers, in the box of some public house contiguous to the newspaper office, and he became so perfect an adept in giving exact measure, that in the technical phrase of the profession, "he could cast off copy to a line." He continued in this employment but a short time, sickened by the servility of his situation, and the contumely of his task-master.