1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Maurice

Leigh Hunt, in Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1828) 385-87.



Among those with whom my book [Juvenilia] made me acquainted, was the late Rev. Mr. Maurice, of the British Museum, author of Indian Antiquities. I mention him more particularly, as I do others, because he had a character of his own, and makes a portrait. I had seen an engraving of him, representing a slender, prim-eyed, enamel-faced person, very tightly dressed and particular, with no expression but that of propriety, and born to be an archbishop. What was my surprise, when I beheld a short, chubby, good-humoured companion, with boyish features, and a lax dress and manner, heartily glad to see you, and tender over his wine! He was a sort of clerical Horace: he might, by some freak of the minister, have been made a bishop; and he thought he deserved it for having proved the identity of the Hindoo with the Christian Trinity, which was the object of his book! But he began to despond on that point, when I knew him; and he drank as much wine for sorrow, as he would, had been made a bishop, for joy. He was a man of a social and overflowing nature; more fit, in truth, to set an example of charity than faith, and would have made an excellent Bramin of the Rama-Deeva worship. His Hymns to the deities of India, were as good as Sir William Jones's, and his attention to the amatory theology of the country (allowing for his deficiency in the language) as close. He was not so fortunate as Sir William in retaining a wife whom he loved. I have heard him lament, in very genuine terms, his widowed condition, and the task of finishing the grat manuscript catalogue of the Museum books, to which his office had bound him. This must have been a torture, physical as well as moral; for he had weak eyes, and wrote with a magnifying glass as big round as the palm of his hand. With this, in a tall thick handwriting, as if painting a set of rails, he was to finish the folio catalogues, and had produced the seven volumes of Indian Antiquities! Nevertheless, he seemed to lament his destiny, rather in order to accommodate the weakness of his lachrymal organs, than out of any internal uneasiness; for with the aspect he had the spirits of a boy; and his laughter would follow his tears with a happy incontinence. He was always catching cold, and getting well of it after dinner. Many a roast fowl and bottle of wine have I enjoyed with him in his rooms at the British Museum; and if I thought the reader, as well as myself, had not a regard for him, I would not have thus opened their doors. They consisted of the first floor in the turret nearest Museum-street. I never pass them, without remembering how he used to lay down his magnifying glass, take both my hands, and condescend to anticipate the pleasant chat we should have about authors and books over his wine; — I say, condescend, because, though he did not affect any thing of that sort, it was a remarkable instance of his good-nature, and his freedom from pride, to place himself on a level in this manner with a youth in his teens, and pretend that I brought him as much amusement as he gave. Owing to the exclusive notions I entertained of friendship, I mystified him by answering the "Dear Sirs" of his letters in a more formal manner. I fear it induced him to make unfavourable comparisons of my real disposition with my behaviour at table; and it must be allowed, that having no explanation on the subject, he had a right to be mystified. Somehow or other, (I believe it was because a new Dulcinea called me elsewhere,) the acquaintance dropped, and I did not see him for many years. He died, notwithstanding his wine and his catarrhs, at a good old age, writing verses to the last, and showing what a young heart he retained by his admiration of nature: and undoubtedly this it was that enabled him to live so long; for, though the unfeeling are apt to outlast the sensitive during a sophisticate and perplexing state of society, it is astonishing how long a cordial pulse will keep playing, if allowed reasonably to have its way. Were the lives of mankind as natural as they should be, and their duties made as cheerful, the Maurices and Horaces would outlast all the formalists buttoned up in denial, as surely as the earth spins round, and the pillars fall.

I wish I could relate half the stories Mr. Maurice told me. He told them well, and I should have been glad to repeat them in his own words. I recollect but one, which I shall tell for his sake, though it is not without a jest. I hope it is not old. He said there was a gentleman, not very robust, but an enthusiast for nature and good health, who entertained a prodigious notion of the effects of smelling to fresh earth. Accordingly, not to go too nicely about the matter, but to do it like a man, he used to walk every morning to Primrose-Hill; and, digging a hole of a good depth in the ground, prostrate himself, and put his head in it. The longer he kept his head immersed, the more benefit he thought he derived; so that he would lie for several minutes, and look like a Persian worshipping the sun. One day some thieves set upon him, and, retaining his head under that salutary restriction, picked his pockets.

Mr. Maurice got me permission to read in the Museum; which I did regularly for some time. It was there I began to learn Italian.