1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Gifford

Walter Scott, 17-18 January 1827; The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, 1825-32 (1891) 340-42.



I observe in the papers my old friend Gifford's funeral. He was a man of rare attainments and many excellent qualities. The translation of Juvenal is one of the best versions ever made of a classical author, and his satire of the Baviad and Maeviad squabashed at one blow a set of coxcombs who might have humbugged the world long enough. As a commentator he was capital, could he but have suppressed his rancours against those who had preceded him in the task; but a misconstruction or a misinterpretation, nay, the misplacing of a comma, was, in Gifford's eyes, a crime worthy of the most severe animadversion. The same fault of extreme severity went though his critical labours, and in general he flagellated with so little pity, that people lost their sense of the criminal's guilt in dislike of the savage pleasure which the executioner seemed to take in inflicting punishment. This lack of temper probably arose from indifferent health....

Gifford was a little man, dumpled up together, and so ill-made as to seem almost deformed, but with a singular expression of talent in his countenance. Though so little of an athlete, he nevertheless beat off Dr. Wolcot, when that celebrated person, the most unsparing calumniator of his time, chose to be offended with Gifford for satirizing him in his turn. Peter Pindar made a most vehement attack, but Gifford had the best of the affray, and remained, I think, in triumphant possession of the field of action, and of the assailant's cane. Gifford had one singular custom. He used always to have a duenna of a housekeeper to sit in his study with him while he wrote. This female companion died when I was in London, and his distress was extreme. I afterwards heard he got her place supplied. I believe there was no scandal in all this.