1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges

Harry Random, "To the Ruminator" Censura Literaria 5 (1807) 214-18.



Here, Sir, have I been ruminating for these three mornings to produce a paper for you, and not one sentence up to this very moment have I advanced. As thinking, I find, does no good, I will see how I can get on without thinking; and thus, Sir, will I have at you. A random shot, perhaps, may kill the most game. And game enough, no doubt, there is in the field of literature. I am sure the Edinburgh Reviewers find enough; and kill enough too! But they are excellent shot, and nobody will accuse them of not taking aim. Why, Sir, they never miss; and when they do not kill, they are sure to mangle! There is another Review too, which they say, has tried to catch their knack; yet, at present, it is reported, it is but a bungler; but there is little doubt it will soon earn it; for the art is not half so difficult as some folks think it.

Let us see! What must come next? Why, as I do not possess All The Talents, (though I hope I am a little better off than the man who celebrates them,) I am in a little bit of a quandary; but as stopping to think does harm, I must rush on again, and I dare say I shall drop upon something. Ah! it just comes into my head to ask you, why you suppose a book, that was good for nothing two hundred years ago, becomes good for a great deal now; for what every body will allow a great deal — a great deal of money! You seem, Sir, not a little infected with this mania yourself. I do not know whether you give great prices, but I am certain you give a great many pages to extracts, which were very base ore at the time they were written; and I defy the power of time to transmute them into genuine metal. Somebody, however, whispers me, that they shew the progress of language, and the state of manners; and I do not know how to answer that: indeed, I am not bound to stay to answer any body. If I stop for one moment, I shall be fixed, and never move again.

To come then, Sir, to your lives, and essays — I confess, I wish they had a little more fun in them! Cannot you write "currente calamo," as I do; and then I think you would now and then catch a jest by the bye. It would even fix itself in spite of you; and you would not have time to strike it off with your pen. For my own part, I always thought the world was a jest and that jesting therefore was the best mode of treating every thing that belongs to it. But you have told us, that you hate jests; and, therefore, I am determined to try your impartiality by sending you this. I know that your enemies (and you have many) will triumph, and enjoy the laugh. But never mind; it will prove that you can keep your temper, and are not to be put aside from your purpose by a joke.

But your lives, Sir, are too panegyrical. Your heroes and heroines are inspired with nothing but genius and virtue — you are the very milk of human kindness; and your heart seems to glow with continued admiration. Why, Sir, I had heard a very different character of you that you was bitter and censorious; difficultly pleased; ingenious in finding fault; and fertile in the language of satire. I had heard that you had written a novel full of severity and sarcasm, that had made a Lord Mayor take the Attorney General's opinion whether he might challenge you; a Lady Mayoress fret herself sick; and a country Baronet never speak for a month! What is become of all this gall? I wish you would put a little of it into your modern biography. What! be all benevolence and respect to a poor devil of a poet, and hate a Lord Mayor, and his fashionable wife, regardless of all the sprigs of fashion belonging to her; and expose to cruel ridicule a man of fortune and title! For shame, Mr. Ruminator! I must request you to turn the tables upon these people.

And now for your essays! They are to be sure as grave as a sermon. — But I am not quite so much surprised about them; for I once heard that celebrated nomenclator, Mr. Tyson, speak of your Spanish gravity; and it seems he was right with a vengeance. Is it not possible for you to strike out a casual spark of vivacity? You are even more solemn than The Rambler, of which old Will. Duncombe, that runner to the wits, used to complain so much, when it was first published; but I hope, if you hereafter make an attempt to gambol a little, you will not be as awkward in your gambols as the Doctor was. Perhaps, however, I am very mischievous in urging you to that, in which you will probably fail. I doubt if you can be merry; and I am sure you cannot be witty: bitter I know you can be; a little spice of it would give a zest to your future ruminations.

Do you not think a few caustic touches on some of your cotemporaries would be as interesting as the nauseating sweets of perpetual praise? Some variety I know you are capable of. — Grave as is your present morality, I remember, not more than fifteen years ago, you could produce a love-tale, over which young girls and lovesick swains have ever since hung enamoured! Try another chord of your many-stringed harp; and prove, whether you cannot sound the notes of censure and shame!

Has every writer of verses merit? And are literati always wise and good? Savage, and Boyse, and Dermody, and perhaps Chatterton, will exhibit a different story. If Johnson could cover over with the thin disguise of apologies the profligate habits, and boisterous temper of Savage, you must not! But I am growing serious like yourself. Let me proceed upon my rambles.

Cannot you cut up poor Beattie like some of your brother critics, and prove that he was a very vapid and mediocre poet, and a very weak philosopher? That he was stained with the crime of corresponding with learned bishops, and learned ladies, and still more with the audacious guilt of despising the metaphysics of David Hume? Cannot you convict him of flattering a Duchess, and from the recluse habits of an academic life and a shy temper, of being not a little dazzled with her rank? Cannot you shew Roscoe to be a bookmaking drudge, and Hayley a man incapable of elegant and instructive composition? Mrs. Carter vastly learned, but vastly dull; and Tom Warton a diligent antiquary, but totally incapable of making a luminous use of his materials?

You may hence, if you will, turn to politics, and shew Pitt to have been a rash, ignorant, and despicable statesman; and Lord Henry Petty the greatest of financiers. But be sure you do not abuse his worthy successor Spencer Perceval, who has learned so perfectly how to calculate for our pockets by his adroitness in crown-prosecutions; and can terrify his adversaries into instant silence by a threat of the secrets he acquired in his late office of Attorney General. And do not reproach Canning for his apostacy from the Muses, or for his disrespect to those qualities, on which his own claims to notice were founded: make some allowances for the frailties of poor human nature, and yield something to the fumes of sudden elevation! Be respectful to birth and rank; touch not the foibles of a worn-out nobility; tear not off the ancient mantle, that covers a Howard; and let the bright ermine of a new Peer continue to hide his history and his origin!

Proceed, good Sir; fly along the surface, as I do, scratching some, wounding others; and you will be infinitely more entertaining to many, as well as to your humble servant, and constant reader,

HARRY RANDOM.

June 4, 1807.