1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gibson Lockhart

John Murray to William Blackwood, 27 October 1818; Smiles, A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 1:488-89.



Oct. 27th, 1818.

MY DEAR BLACKWOOD,

I really can recollect no parallel to the palpable absurdity of your two friends [John Wilson and Lockhart]. If they had planned the most complete triumph to their adversaries, nothing could have been so successfully effective. They have actually given up their names, as the authors of the offences charged upon them, by implication only, in the pamphlet.* How they could possibly conceive that the writer of the pamphlet would be such an idiot as to quit his stronghold of concealment, and allow his head to be chopped off by exposure, I am at a loss to conceive. Their only course was to have affected, and indeed to have felt, the most perfect indifference, and to have laughed at the rage which dictated so much scurrility; slyly watching to discover the author, whom, without appearing to know as such, they should have annoyed in every possible way. Their exposure now is complete, and they must be prepared for attacks themselves in every shape. Their adversaries are acting with the most judicious effect in sending their letters to every person they know. I received one by post. The means thus put into the hands of Hunt, Hazlitt, &c., are enormous, and they will now turn the tables upon them.

I declare to God that had I known what I had so incautiously engaged in, I would not have undertaken what I have done, or have suffered what I have in my feelings and character — which no man had hitherto to slightest cause for assailing — I would not have done so for any sum. But, being in, I am determined to go through with you, and if our friends will only act with redoubled discretion, we may get the better of this check, and yet gain a victory. They should be a masterly effort pluck the thing out of their minds: it is done; but how in the name of wonder they could act with such an utter disregard of all and almost daily experience, I am too much vexed and disappointed to conceive. The only course to be taken now is to redouble every effort for the improvement of the magazine. Let us take public estimation by assault; by the irresistible effect of talent employed by subjects that are interesting; and above all, I say, to collect information on passing events. Our editors are totally mistaken in thinking that this consists in laborious essays. These are very good as accessories, but the flesh and blood and bones is information. That will make the public eager to get us at the end of the month; and, by the way, the tone of every article should be gentlemanly; ... and, I repeat, if you wish to be universally read, the magazine should be conciliatory, so as to make it open for all mankind to read and to contribute. For such a mammoth of a work every month you will find must consume all the means that you can collect from all quarters.

What you must suffer from this must be inconceivably annoying; but, seeing how THEY feel under the first touch of "personality," you will be the better able to conceive the sensations of others, and resolve never to insert anything of the kind again. Even the article on Thomas Moore was unnecessary and unkind, and, as Mr. C[roker] told me, cannot fail of giving him pain and making yourselves more enemies. In the name of God, why do you seem to think it indispensable that each each number must give pain to some one or other. Why not think of giving pleasure to all? This should be the real object of a magazine. Pray let me hear from you instantly as to the effect of the injudicious matter, and tell me if they propose to take any further step. The answer to W[ilson] and L[ockhart] is obviously written by talent much superior to that displayed in the pamphlet, and it is written with triumph, not with irritation. I am so vexed at this business that I cannot write about any other matters until to-morrow.

Yours ever,

J. M.

[*Samuel Smiles: "Hypocrisy Unveiled" was a lampoon of a scurrilous and commonplace character, in which the leading contributors to and the publishers of the magazine were violently attacked. Both Murray and Blackwood, who were abused openly, by name, resolved to take no notice of it; but Lockhart and Wilson, who were mentioned under the thin disguise of "the Scorpion" and "the Leopard," were so nettled by the remarks on themselves, that they, in October 1818, both sent challenges to the anonymous author, through the publisher of the pamphlet. This most injudicious step not only increased their discomfiture, as the unknown writer not only refused to proclaim his identity, but published and circulated the challenges, together with a further attack on Lockhart and Wilson.]