1854 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Cunningham

Katherine Byerley Thomson, in Recollections of Literary Characters (1854) 2:230-31.



Do not mistake me: I mean not that Allan Cunningham did not grace the drawing-room — he did. Amid all that was frivolous, much that seemed like heartlessness, much that was over-fine, much that was tame, his calm countenance and imposing stature rose in wholesome contrast. It reminded you that something there was stable — that all was not folly. It was like viewing an ancient, well-built tower, that had stood the work of time, and could stand the brunt of future ages, amid a crowd of gimcrack villas, every angle of which announced premature decay. In deportment, Allan was staid, dignified, and not without condescension. His was the manly bearing of conscious intellect. There was no assumption; there was not subserviency. I defy any man to have insulted, or looked him down, — any woman, even though she be of the half-aristocratic breed, which is ever insolent, to have said a pert thing to him. Nature had ennobled him: he was not merely a gentleman; at her bidding he was something more. I have seen him in the crowds of Kensington Palace, where the Duke of Sussex lent his royal grace to charm and enliven even the dull and proud, stand like an isolated oak amid a thicket of saplings. I have detected the littleness of passing as a mere acquaintance the helpmate of Chantrey; but he was not long isolated. "Come here, Allan," said the Duke to him one evening, passing his arm through that of the poet: the crowd drew back — the Prince of the Blood and the son of the stone-cutter passed on: but Allan's calm and innate dignity received no shock. His eye glistened, as it ever did when a kind thing was said or done; but his Covenanter-looking head could carry the intoxicating draught of royal favour, and feel no ill effects.