1847 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Barron Field

Horace Smith, "A Graybeard's Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance" New Monthly Magazine 81 (1847) 420-21.



With none of the Sydenham associates of my early life did I maintain so long and so intimate a friendship as with Barron Field, our intercourse being constant while he remained at the Bar in England, and our correspondence being uninterrupted during the many years that he resided abroad in the exercise of his judicial functions. Honourable and upright in the discharge of his public duties, steadfast and cordial in his attachments, this kind-hearted and intelligent man occasionally impaired the effect of his many good qualities by a certain dogmatism, the natural superiority both of rank and information, justified, and perhaps necessitated, some assumption of superiority, and some imperiousness of manner. In this instance, as in several others, I have noticed that a lengthened expatriation, tending to place a man in the position of a foreigner, not only leaves him in ignorance of much that has recently occupied public attention, and so far disqualifies him for general observation, but renders an adaptation to the different tone of social manners in England exceedingly difficult, by engendering a colonial rusticity, if the phrase may be allowed, which does not easily harmonise with metropolitan urbanity. My friend's claims to be enrolled among my literary acquaintance were not very extensive. He prepared and edited the Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, a notorious London thief, whose adventures, related by himself, formed a very interesting, and by no means uninstructive, narrative. In the year 1825 were published, Geographical Memoirs of New South Wales, containing a valuable body of statistical and general information, part of which was supplied, and the whole edited, by Barron Field. In 1843 he printed, for private distribution, a few pieces in verse, entitled, Spanish Sketches, suggested by his travels in that country; and as truth is my friend, even more than Plato, I must confess my regret, that he did not suppress them, for the gods had not made him poetical, his ear appearing to have been absolutely insensible to the requisite rhythm of verse. When I add that he was an enthusiastic admirer of Shakspeare and Wordsworth, it will be seen that a man may possess a pure taste and ardent love, without a particle of genius for poetry. So profound was his admiration of Wordsworth, that for many years he had diligently prepared materials for his literary life, and as I know that the manuscript had been revised and corrected by the laureate himself, I trust that so valuable and authentic a memoir will have been preserved. He himself was a careful, though not very discriminating hoarder of manuscripts, for at his death it was found that he had garnered up a mass of my letters, extending over more than a quarter of a century, which his executor, at my request, kindly committed to the flames.