1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hookham Frere

Margaret Oliphant, in The Literary History of England (1882) 2:48-49.



Canning's coadjutor in this work [The Anti-Jacobin], as in the Eton journal, was John Hookham Frere, the son of a Suffolk family of long-established gentry, with ancestors both learned and remarkable, and all the advantages an English gentleman with good connections, wealth, and reputation could desire. He belonged to the highest class of social life, and lived among statesmen and diplomatists from the beginning of his days — a circumstance which, by some curious law of compensation, makes the record of his life far more commonplace than if he had been a poor lad on the roadside of existence, or a Blue-coat boy about the London streets. Perhaps, however, had they been born on the less exalted level, Hookham Frere would never have developed into anything higher than a witty citizen, or Canning been much greater than a brilliant Deputy or Common Council man. The lives which are swallowed up in political movement, with nothing but scanty glimpses of society to make up for their lack of human interest, are sadly flat in the recounting. Frere was so closely connected with his still more distinguished friend, that even the "Knife-Grinder" is presented indifferently in the collections of both their works, and nobody now can tell which lines came from one pen and which from the other. His chief independent production was the satirical poem known as Whistlecraft, in the lively and vigorous metre afterwards adopted and made popular by Byron in Don Juan, and Beppo, for which, indeed, Byron owned some obligation to Frere, though he afterwards preferred to describe himself as taking his inspiration from the Italian of Pulci. Frere, no doubt, found his model there; and his poem in many parts reads like the livelier and lighter portions of Don Juan. Another piece of work for which his reputation is still high among scholars is his translation of the Birds and Acharnians of Aristophanes, one of the few translations which are said to render the spirit and life of the original. He was the holder of various diplomatic offices, and lived at Malta during the later part of his life, the friend of all distinguished persons whom Providence wafted that way.