1835 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ebenezer Elliott

Barbara Hofland, 1835 ca.; Thomas Ramsay, Life and Literary Remains of Barbara Hofland (1849) 131-32.



Very false ideas have gone forth in the world respecting the education and situation of Mr. Elliott; the lovers of the wonderful having chosen to describe him as being devoid of the former, and very low in the latter. They are, happily for himself and his connexions, entirely wrong; he was as well educated as other sons of tradesmen were, and are, in general in that part of the country which he inhabits, and he has been long in possession of an excellent business which he attends to with diligence and prosecutes with spirit; so that although the father of a large family of sons, he is well able to support them all, and further their views of life in the manner of a truly affectionate father and most attached husband would desire. His business is carried on in the town, but his dwelling-house is one of the prettiest suburban villas in the neighbourhood, surrounded by a large and beautiful garden, of which he is very fond, and where doubtless his mind frequently broods over "those sweet and bitter fancies" which emanate in his poetry.

Mr. Elliott's countenance bespeaks deep thought and an enthusiastic temperament — his overhanging brow is stern to awfulness, but the lower part of his face indicates mildness and benevolence, and his voice is gentle, yet full and sonorous. Undoubtedly he speaks well in public, for he has great command of words, and abundant imagery, to aid his rapid and eloquent delivery; but I am told that in the intenseness of his prejudices, he becomes so subject to violent denunciation and groundless abuse, as to deteriorate the effect of his declamations surprisingly.

In mixed company he is calm and agreeable, and in those moments when tete-a-tete was practicable, I found his conversation profoundly interesting, for he was suffering as a father about to lose a dear and promising, but long-declining, son. It is a remarkable fact, and one that speaks volumes for the domestic character of this poet, that none of his seven sons could be induced to leave the paternal mansion until lately that one has become a student at Cambridge; since then he has determined to go into the Church, to which his father does not object, severely as he reprobates priests and nobles in general.

Would that some benevolent fairy could charm down the political asperities, the undiscriminating zeal, of a heart betrayed even by its benevolence into false conclusions and unmerited anger — so would the kindlier feelings of nature be as apparent to the world as they evidently are to those near connexions who can appreciate them most justly.