1825 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Steevens

Joseph Cradock, 1825 ca.; Literary and Miscellaneous Memoirs (1828) 4:141-43.



At my kind friend Mr. [Archibald] Hamilton's, Mr. Steevens was accustomed to correct his proof-sheets, and receive accounts of various ancient lore, that had been explored for him by different agents, and to buy, burn, or bind up, according to the peculiar merits of each; after which he visited several literary friends, Dr. Johnson in particular; and then conveyed home with him to Hampstead his different treasures for more accurate perusal; this was his general routine. Steevens was then considered to possess one of the most valuable private classical libraries.

A friend of mine assured me that Mr. Hamilton was a Scotch baronet; but he never assumed the title.

Dr. Dibdin mentions collections of Shakspeare's Plays and Poems, of Steevens, Kemble, and Mr. Jennings of Gopsal (see vol. I. p. 124), and afterwards well quotes from Burke, "what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue;" yet it may well be seen from some letters I possess (from Mr. Hetherington, who resided at Gopsal), what fatal consequences were feared to the last-named gentleman, a man of large fortune, and exceedingly irritable. Mr. Steevens's violent attacks upon him in various publications occasioned me to take a journey to London, and I stated to Steevens the particulars. These constant attacks were made on an edition, I think, of King Lear, which was about to be published by Mr. Jennings; this was encouraged, I recollect, by all that party of correspondents who were friends to Mr. Shenstone. One of these gentlemen, Mr. Iago, frequently played and sung to Mr. Jennings's organ, which was built under the direction of Handel, with his portrait in front of it. The following letter alludes to the attacks above mentioned.

"Ormond-street, Feb. 19, 1771.

DEAR SIR,

I was honoured with your letter of the 16th inst. Your answer to Philovetulus, signed Independent, was published in the Public Advertiser of the 14th, which, I hope, you have seen before this reaches you. Mr. Jennings has been very uncivilly treated by a parcel of writers to whom he is an entire stranger. He desires me to present his service, and acquaint you, that he not only thinks your answer a full refutation of all their assertions, but thinks himself singularly obliged to you in taking up your pen in his defence against so infamous a set of scribblers. I hope your lady is well, to whom I desire respectfully to be remembered.

And am, dear Sir, yours, &c.

JOHN HETHERINGTON."

From meeting Steevens at Farmer's and Hamilton's, and receiving constant kindnesses from him, I was not aware of him till his cruel treatment of Mr. Jennings; and I am sorry to say that afterwards I perceived he was continually throwing stones, and might exclaim, "Am I not in sport?" but his sport to one or two was almost death. Yet speaking of myself, perhaps, through Dr. Askew, Hamilton, and Farmer, he was not only civil, but I still hold myself under obligations to him; he was so great a favourite that I was always ready to give him any assistance in my power, and on my application he instantly stopped all further ridicule of Mr. Jennings. Whenever I spoke so loudly in praise of Steevens, neither Johnson nor any one seemed to second me.