1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Barnes

Leigh Hunt, in Autobiography (New York, 1850) 1:119-20, 1:295.



Barnes, who stood next me on the Deputy-Grecian form [at Christ's Hospital], and who was afterwards identified with the sudden and striking increase of the Times newspaper in fame and influence. He was very handsome when young, with a profile of Grecian regularity; and was famous among us for a certain dispassionate humor, for his admiration of the works of Fielding, and for his delight, nevertheless, in pushing a narrative to its utmost, and drawing upon his stores of fancy for intensifying it; an amusement for which he possessed an understood privilege. It was painful in after-life to see his good looks swallowed up in corpulency, and his once handsome mouth thrusting its lip out, and panting with asthma. I believe he was originally so well constituted, in point of health and bodily feeling, that he fancied he could go on all his life without taking any of the usual methods to preserve his comfort. The editorship of the Times, which turned his night into day, and would have been a trying burden to any man, completed the bad consequences of his negligence; and he died painfully before he was old. Barnes wrote elegant Latin verse, a classical English style, and might assuredly have made himself a name, in wit and literature, had he cared much for anything beyond his glass of wine and his Fielding....

My friends were allowed to be with me [in prison] till ten o'clock at night, when the under-turnkey, a young man with his lantern, and much ambitious gentility of deportment, came to see them out. I believe we scattered an urbanity, about the prison, till then unknown. Even William Hazlitt, who there first did me the honor of a visit, would stand interchanging amenities at the threshold, which I had great difficulty in making him pass. I know not which kept his hat off with the greater pertinacity of deference. I to the diffident cutter-up of Tory dukes and kings, or he to the amazing prisoner and invalid who issued out of a bower of roses. There came my old friends and school-fellows, Pitman, whose wit and animal spirits still keep him alive; Mitchell, who translated Aristophanes; and Barnes, who always reminded me of Fielding. It was he that introduced me to the late Mr. Thomas Alsager, the kindest of neighbors, a man of business, who contrived to be a scholar and a musician. He loved his leisure, and yet would start up at a moment's notice to do the least of a prisoner's biddings.