1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wilson

John Scott, in "The Mohock Magazine" London Magazine 2 (December 1820) 673-74.



In our last, we affirmed that one of the principal writers in Blackwood had both libelled and eulogized Mr. Wordsworth — to which we now add, that this was done in articles planned coetaneously, and intended the one to be followed by the other! The attack on Mr. Wordsworth appeared in the third number of Blackwood, when that work was under the management of Mr. Pringle and another gentleman: — it was known by Mr. Pringle, at the time, whose composition it was, — though the real author suggested that it had come from Liverpool, and was probably the production of one of the Roscoe family! This person, under his offensive signature of "Observer," remarks of Mr. Wordsworth, that he writes "miserable doggrel," — that he has "made a fool of himself," that he has "the voice and countenance of a maniac," and drops "the drivelling slaver of his impotent rage on the cover of the Edinburgh Review." Under his defensive signature of "N," he accuses Observer (himself) of having "a heart full of spite and rancour towards Mr. Wordsworth," — of having "committed gross violations of veracity," — and being guilty of "every kind of misrepresentation, impertinence, and falsehood!" We regret to have observed, that an Edinburgh Newspaper has publicly and uncontradictably, charged Mr. John Wilson, the new Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, with having written both those Articles, — the one for, and the other against Mr. Wordsworth, which appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, — and has added that he is strongly suspected of being the author of a third attack on Mr. Wordsworth, which appeared in Blackwood No. 8. — Is it possible that this can be true! Mr. Wilson was Mr. Wordsworth's intimate friend; he called him "My Wordsworth!" — He wrote to him, the other day, for "a character," — which the author of the Lyrical Ballads gave in Mr. Wilson's favour, so far as talent goes — adding, that, as he did not know what PECULIAR QUALITIES were thought necessary, in SCOTLAND, to adorn the chair of MORAL PHILOSOPHY, he could give NO OPINION on the FITNESS the applicant for the situation which he was understood to covet. Mr. Wilson, certainly, from the commencement of Blackwood's Magazine, has been one of its principal writers: but however that work is calculated to throw discredit on all belonging to it, it is universally admitted that Mr. W. is an amiable individual — that is to say, in comparison with his colleague, the Doctor. He once, in a wild whim, enlisted in a gang of gipsies; and we have heard of a journey from Oxford to Edinburgh, — part of which he performed as gipsey, part as strolling-player, part as common beggar. We are not stating this adventure as objectionable in itself, but merely as furnishing a grotesque contrast to his recent appointment to the chair of moral philosophy. It is true, — "One man, in his time, plays many parts," but few, we believe, have been so successful as Mr. Wilson in making extremes well meet. He has played both Hamlet and the cock. He is now engaged in wrestling with the German philosophers in metaphysics; and it is not long ago since he was "shaking falls" with the highlanders, and exciting their astonishment by his aptitude to their nectar! He is the author of the Isle of Palms, a poem overflowing with the phraseology of Methodism; and is, or was, the convivial president of the dilettanti club, — in which capacity he was justly admired for his ludicrous imitations of popular preachers, and his ready knack of parodying the psalms. Hearing that some of the freedoms of the president had got wind, and might impede the success of the professor, he waited upon a very worthy member of the town council of Edinburgh, and requested his permission to go over the four Evangelists with him — which he did, not only in an orthodox manner, but in a style of devout eloquence which persuaded the deacon he had partaken of the "gift of tongues." This, to be sure, was long after his return from a tryst he had with Hogg, to meet on the side of a certain loch, — which he (Wilson) did not keep, by reason of his falling in with a set of jumping highlanders, whom he beat at every leap, and afterwards left unable even to stagger. He is no common man who can do all this; — but although we might be inclined to regard such a character with interest and indulgence, as the result of a wild temperament, combined with powerful faculties, surely society ought to have some security against such of its pranks as are more treacherous than pleasant. — Mr. Wilson was well known as a whig in politics: he urged Mr. Pringle, who preceded him in Blackwood's Magazine, to attack and demolish the author of a particular pamphlet, because he was "a horrible tory;" yet Mr. Wilson is now the known writer of violent tory articles, and these have got him his place in the University! The abuse of the whigs, in Blackwood's Magazine, like all the rest of its abuse, is violent and deadly: we do not charge it all against Mr. Wilson, — but we charge him with being accessory to it, and we affirm that there is every presumption against his sincerity in so acting. His having profited by this conduct renders it a matter of public concern; for of all the bad and mischievous examples that can be given to the world, we know of none so poisonous as that of success in life attained by such means. It is spectacles of this nature that beget misanthropy and vindictive feelings in noble breasts; which sometimes we see becoming unjust, in their very indignation against injustice. Take away the simple quality of hypocrisy from the person we have been describing, and Mr. Wilson would at once lose his moral professorship, and regain his moral character.