1877 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Croly

Bryan Waller Procter, in Procter: An Autobiographical Fragment (1877) 132-36.



It was in the year 1816 or 1817, I think, that I began to know men of letters generally. First, I was introduced to Mr. John Howard Payne, who had previously been upon the stage, and was known by the title of "The American Roscius." ... By means of Howard Payne I became acquainted with Mr. Jerdan, editor of the Literary Gazette, with the Rev. George Croly (afterwards Dr. Croly), with Mr. Young and Mr. Farren, the actors, and others. I was subsequently a frequent visitor at the lodgings of Mr. Croly, in Frith Street, Soho, where he and his mother and sisters received company on one day in the week, and where some French and English and a good many Irish visitors used to assemble. Mr. Croly was then theatrical critic for the New Times, and he also wrote for Blackwood's Magazine. He had a large and not prepossessing, person, and a dashing and somewhat imperious manner; held violent Tory opinions; expressed them very energetically; and played not unpleasantly on the violin. He was author of a poem, in the Spenserian stanza, entitled Paris in 1815, which had a tolerable circulation. Amongst the various gentlemen (Mr. W. Curran, Mr. Wallace, etc.) who visited at Mr. Croly's house, was a Mr. William Read, who had published a poem, founded on an Irish legend, called The Hill of Caves. This gentleman introduced myself and Mr. Croly to Mr. Leigh Hunt, with whom I soon became intimate. Mr. Croly, however, did not cultivate Mr. Hunt's society.

The author of Paris in 1815 had great admirers amongst his Irish friends. His sisters — who were naturally proud of his talent — were persuaded, as they said, that George was destined "to push Lord Byron from his throne." They repeatedly asserted this, very frankly; but I never heard that Lord Byron's equilibrium was at all disturbed.

I had previously taken great interest in the fame of Lord Byron (with whom I had been at school, at Harrow), and I resented these prophecies, which, however, need not have annoyed me, for Lord Byron was incontestably a very powerful writer, and in 1818 was the most popular poet of his day. I had not seen him since about 1800, when he was a scholar in Dr. Drury's house, with an iron cramp on one of his feet, with loose corduroy trousers plentifully relieved by ink, and with finger-nails bitten to the quick. He was then a rough, curly-headed boy, and apparently nothing more. In 1817 he had passed through various gradations of refinement; was a dandy, a handsome polished travelled man of the world, and was surmounted by a reputation outshining that of every contemporary poet.

This is not the place to obtrude any opinion upon Lord Byron's poems, which indeed have already been more than sufficiently criticised.

I cannot, however, refrain from adding my small testimony to that of some of the former critics, by saying that, in my opinion, the poem of Don Juan could not have been written by any other author of the present century. The jests and turns which have, been stigmatised as so many blots and sins of the author, are essentially portions of the poem, of its nature and character, and could not have been omitted or destroyed, except by radically damaging the poem itself.

In regard to Dr. Croly's poems, which, were to supersede those of Lord Byron, Hazlitt has said of them (in his Plain Speaker), "A dull, pompous, and obscure writer has been heard to exclaim, 'That dunce, Wordsworth.'"

"This was an effusion of spleen and impatience," says, Hazlitt, "at the idea, that there should be any who preferred Wordsworth's descriptions to his (Croly's) auctioneer-poetry about curtains, and palls, and sceptres, and precious, stones." On the name of the writer being asked by Northcote, and the answer being that it was, "Croly, one of the Royal Society of Authors," Northcote replies, "I never heard of him."