1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Neele

H. B., "Recollections of Henry Neele" The Literary Chronicle NS 10 (8 March 1828) 157.



It was either in the latter part of July, or early in August, 1822, that I accidentally met Neele at the Hotel de Londres, Rue de l'Echiquier. We met together at breakfast, in company with several other Englishmen who had taken up[ their abode at the same hotel. During the week or ten days that I had been there, myself and others had been in the habit of forming parties of pleasure to different places. Some to Versailles, some to St. Denis, St. Germains, &c. My first excursion with Neele was to Versailles, and a very pleasant day we had of it. We went in one of the two-or-three-francs-a-head vehicles, which may be engaged by a party. Our party, I believe, consisted of six or seven. After having seen the different lions of the place, we dined, toute a la francaise, at one of the restaurants in the town. I do not remember, particularly, any remarks Neele made to me about our excursion, except that he seemed much pleased with the English garden of le Petit Trianon. He was also pleased with the palace itself, though he seemed to be somewhat disappointed in it. A day or two after, we went to Vincennes, as also to the prison of La Force, the Luxembourg, Louvre, &c. With the two latter he was particularly struck; he appeared to be not only fond of painting and sculpture, but selected his subjects for praise with much taste. Although I had read many pieces of Neele's in various periodicals of the day, up to this period I was not aware that I had been peregrinating with their author.

As we were both of us subscribers to Galignani's reading rooms in, I believe, la Rue Vivienne, we met there continually, or went there together as various engagements prevented us so doing or not. It was there that Neele first attracted my attention to his name. I believe I had asked his opinions upon some lines in the European Magazine, when, upon his inquiring if I was fond of poetry, and finding that I was so, he pointed to some critical remarks upon the second edition of his Odes, which had just then appeared, and was attracting considerable attention. I happened to have with me my poem of the Origin of the Dimple, which I showed him, and I may date our intimacy chiefly from that period. Whilst at Paris we went, of course, to see Talma. As a French tragedian, we were both equally struck with him, and equally pleased. We saw him first in the role de Regulus, in Arnault's play of that name. We agreed also as to the bad taste of the French in writing their tragedies in rhyme, as the ear is thereby often caught, without the least impression being made on the feelings. During the following morning, Neele wrote out a critical analysis with translated extracts. I brought it with me to London, and it was printed in one of the monthlies of the day. I think I have a copy of it by me, at least I had. We went also together to see Marius and Sylla. Sylla, I fancy, was considered Talma's chef-d'oeuvre, and it was indeed fine.

Neele was much pleased with my Picture of Paris, which I wrote while he was engaged with Regulus. Recognising his H. N. in The News of Literature, I sent it to the editor, and it accordingly made its first appearance there. As I had previously done his verses, so he immediately recognised mine, and finding he was a frequent contributor to the work, I was induced to become so too, and hence it occurred, that so much of my poetry appeared in its columns. I remember a sweet translation by him, of a sweet French chanson, but by whom I forgot. I think it began, "Allons, chantons, chers enfans;" but I am not certain. It was remarked by me to him that he had made "wound" the preterite of to "wind a horn," which is incorrect. He admitted the criticism, but I do not know if it was corrected. When his dramatic scenes came out, he asked me which I liked most; I said, David Rizzio. He said, he preferred, himself, the Secret Bridal. I believe he added that Dr. Drake sided with me, in preferring Rizzio. I considered it more dramatic than the Bridal; though, as far as poetry was concerned, they both contained beautiful specimens of that. From the published poems of Neele, one would hardly suppose that he could wield the pen of a satiric as well as that of a lyric poet, but I have, or had, by me, a specimen of his abilities in that way, which would not have done discredit to him. It was never published, nor intended so to be; about one or two hundred copies, if so many, were printed for friends, one copy of which he sent to me. It was occasioned by some uncalled-for remarks, from an architect of the day, upon some lines by which Neele had illustrated a painting, some years since, in the Suffolk Street Gallery.

In person, Mr. Neele was short, not handsome as to face, being marked with the small-pocks; his hair was of a dark brown, and inclined to curl; he generally wore it rather long. His eye was sparkling and bright, and his every feature betokened good temper and a gaiety of spirits one would hardly suspect to have belonged to the author of the Odes — gloomy and mournful as many of them are. I remember some remarks which he made to me one day at Paris, whilst upon the subject of the Morgue, and the frequent suicides. Little thought I then, little too thought he, of the late fatal coincidence of feeling. Not that I would be here understood to say that he viewed it in any other light than that of horror, though he concluded by saying, "may it not, however, be considered, after all, rather as a political than a moral crime?" or words to that effect. As to his temporary insanity, there can scarcely be a doubt. I have heard that his family are dissenters, but I do not know whether such is the case or not. I believe him to have been most moral and conscientious, doing harm to no one, unless in self-defence. He was a most entertaining and pleasant companion; and though whilst at Paris, often, and once or twice in London, we partook of the after-dinner conviviality together, I never saw him indulge too freely in the bottle. Of this I speak only as far as my own observation goes. Of his Romance of History, enough has been said by the critics of the day to establish his fame as a prose writer. I advised him to take France next, and then Wales, and possibly Scotland. I named Scotland last, in consequence of hearing that Sir Walter Scott was occupied with a series of similar tales. If there is any fault to be found with Neele's last work, it is a want of character and costume suited to each particular reign. What I mean to say is this; that, put fictitious names to the actors in any one of the tales, and mention not the name of the king in whose reign the events took place, and you could not guess from dress, warlike habiliments, &c. within one or two centuries, as to time. In fact, Neele had not the knowledge of a Mills or a Meyrick. Of all the tales, that of The Rings pleased me most. It is to be hoped that his fugitive poems will be collected, and added to his former volumes. As a lyrical poet, I question whether he has left a superior behind him.

H.B.

Temple, Feb. 1828.