1823
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ultra-Crepidarius. A Satire on William Gifford.

Ultra-Crepidarius. A Satire on William Gifford.

Leigh Hunt


Leigh Hunt takes aim at the infamous editor of the Quarterly Review in a Varonnian satire: the conclusion announces a new age of Dunces led in by George IV and his pensioners. Spenser is not mentioned, though the the poet uses the occasion to criticize many who had criticized Hunt and his neo-Spenserian school of poets. William Gifford had worked as an apprentice shoemaker. Not seen.

The Examiner: "The Satire on the Editor of the Quarterly Review, which has been for some time announced, was published yesterday. It is what the Author alluded to in the third number of the Liberal, as having been composed five years ago. That it has not appeared before, he attributes to his deficiency in his duties as 'a good hater'.... The machinery of Ultra-Crepidarius in a small degree resembles that of The Feast of the Poets. Mercury, rising one morning, misses one of his winged shoes, which Venus, with whom he was at that time domesticated, had dispatched to Ashburton, to bespeak a similar pair for herself. Not returning, the God and Goddess agree to go in search of it, and scarcely alight before they stumble on a Shoe, which behaves with the greatest disrespect to everything light, airy, beautiful, or winged; until, exasperated, Mercury translates him into the good-natured Aristarchus of the Quarterly" (14 December 1823) 806.

Blackwood's Magazine: "This is a very pretty precocious performance, and proves young Master Hunt to be a promising plant of the Cockney nursery-ground. 'Heigh Johnny Nonny,' as his papa called him in short metre some four or five years ago, cannot, we think, have done much more than finished his digits. Now, a copy of verses as this is most creditable to a boy of ten years, and this small smart smattering satirist of an air-haparent, as he is pronounced in Cockaigne, really seems to smack of his sire, almost as racily as that mischievous urchin the Duke of Reichstadt does of Napoleon the Great. Joking apart, this is one of the cleverest puerile productions that have been published of late years by fond and doting fathers. The author writes like a scholar and a schoolboy, and at whatever academy he may be receiving his education, we suspect it would puzzle the Pedant who for years has whipped his posteriors, to pen such a capital and crack copy of long jinglers. Master Hunt, no doubt apes his daddy, and the Cockney-chick crows so like the old cock, that, but for a certain ludicrous tenuity in the stutter of his unformed scraigh, we could at times have believed that we absolutely heard the old bantam. His comb and wattles, too, are distinctly visible; the germ of a spur is noticeable upon either feathered leggikin; he drops a wing, too, with a swaling and graceful amorousness — quite 'with such an air' when any smooth pullet picks up a worm near his turned-out toes; and if you only so much as hold out your foraging-cap at him, why the fierce little fumbling fellow attacks it tooth and nail, as jealous as an Othello, and then goes vapouring off in sidelong triumph, cackling as at an ovation" 15 (January 1824) 86.

Samuel Smiles: "Gifford took no notice of the ferocious attacks made upon him by Hunt and Hazlitt. Holding, as he did, that inviolable secrecy was one of the prime functions of an editor — though the practice has since become very different — he never attempted to vindicate himself, or to reveal the secret as to the writers of the reviews. In accordance with his plan of secrecy, he desired Dr. Ireland, his executor, to destroy all confidential letters, especially those relating to the Review, so that the names of the authors, as well as the prices paid for each article, might never be known" A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 2:14.



'Tis now fifty or sixty years since,
(The date of a charming old boy of a Prince)
Since the feathered god Mercury happened to lose
A thing no less precious than one of his shoes:
I say no less precious, because in the mention
The artist has made of this very invention,
(Old Homer, who furnished the gods with such things)
He says, 'twas immortal, of gold, and had wings.
The latter indeed are as famous as Love's,
And they rivalled in hue even Venus's doves;
For at every fresh turn, and least touch into light,
Which the clear God of Eloquence took in his flight,
They varied their colours in fifty directions,
And perfectly dazzled with brilliant reflections.

'I wonder,' said Mercury, — putting his head
One rosy-faced morning from Venus's bed,—
'I wonder, my dear Cytherea, — don't you?—
What can have become of that rogue of a shoe.
I've searched every corner to make myself certain,
And lifted, I'm sure, ev'ry possible curtain,
And how I'm to manage, by Jove, I don't know,
For manage I must, and to earth I must go.
'Tis now a whole week since I lost it; and here,
Like a dove whom your urchin has crippled, my dear,
Have I loitered, and fluttered, and looked in those eyes,
While Juno keeps venting her crabbed surprise;
And Apollo, with all that fine faith in his air,
Asks me daily accounts of Rousseau and Voltaire,
And Jove (whom it's awkward to risk such a thing with)
Has not enough thunder to frighten a king with.
So — there then — now don't look so kind, I beseech you,
Or else I shall stay a week longer, you witch you—
I can't ask the gods; but I'll search once again
For this fugitive shoe, and if still it's in vain,
I must try to make something a while of sheer leather,
And match with a mortal my fair widowed feather.'

So saying, the God put a leg out of bed,
And summoned his winged cap on to his head;
And the widow in question flew smack round his foot,
And up he was getting to end his pursuit,
When Venus said softly (so softly, that he
Turned about on his elbow) — 'What! go without me?'

Now the fact was, that Venus, who always would please a
Fine wit, had been reading the New Eloisa,
And having prodigiously felt and admired it,
Couldn't but say so to him who inspired it.
Therefore, to take the due steps for expressing
Her sense of such very well-worded caressing,
She had sent down to earth this same Shoe with an errand
To get a new pair at Ashburton for her, and
Not think of returning without what it went for,
Unless by its master especially sent for.
The Shoe made a scrape; and concluding the thing
Had been settled 'twixt her and his master, took wing;
And never ceased beating through sunshine and rain,
Now clasped in a cloud, and now loosened again,
Till it came to Ashburton, where something so odd
Seemed to strike it, it could not help saying, 'My God!'

I know not precisely how much of this matter
Was mentioned, when Mercury sparkled round at her;
But Venus proposed, that as one Shoe was fled,
Her good easy virtue should help him instead
'You know, love,' said she, ''tis as light as a feather;
And so I'll be guide, and we'll go down together.'

I leave you to fancy how little he checked her:
They chalked out their journey, got up, took their nectar;
And then, with his arm round her waist, and his eyes
Looking thanks upon hers, came away from the skies.
I cannot, I own, say he came much the faster,
How earnest soever he looked and embraced her;
But never before, though a God of much grace,
Had he come with such fine overlooking of face;
And as she travelled seldom herself in this style,
With a lover beside her, and clasped all the while,
'Tis said that the earth was remarkably moved:
Even marriers for money imagined they loved:
Yes, inanimate things fell exchanging caresses,
Till Princes embraced their own legal Princesses:
Not one pair of birds or respectable brutes,
Nay, not one of gloves, but, they say, followed suits,
And the bishops but walked in the steps of their boots.

All felt but one Shoe. — O ye gods from above,
Who descended that day with your wit and your love,
Assist now my theme, which grows dark at the touch,
That I neither may honour nor hate it too much!
Yes, all but one Shoe: not the shoe that was missing,
For that one, as much as lay in it, loved kissing;
But one which as Venus and Mercury put up
Somewhere at Ashburton, nigh tripped her sweet foot up.

The kind Goddess (one of whose charmingest qualities
'Tis, at a small thing, to reckon how small it is)
Laughed, and said, 'Well, who'd have thought this of you,
With that drag in your aspect, my poor little Shoe?
Here, come kiss my foot, as a proof we agree:'
But the Shoe huffed, — as who should say, 'Don't talk to me'
'It wants comprehension,' said Mercury, 'surely,
And yet there seems life in it, though it looks poorly.
Int'rest, I dare say, will make something of it:
My strange little friend, don't you know your own profit?'
'Aye, aye, well enough,' said the Shoe in a tone
Of uneasy contempt, 'twixt a creak and a groan
'I was made for a Squire; and my instinct has told me,
That if through the dirt with discretion I hold me
My service, some day, will be under an Earl,
Which I think's something higher than you and your girl.'

At this, the two Deities set up a shout,
Which made all the neighbours leap up and look out:
For they thought 'twas the players with music at least,
Or that London, or Heaven, was come from the east.
But the Shoe, deaf and blind to all beautiful things,
Scarce showed more emotion than if 'twere a king's:
It did, indeed, slightly perk up its two straps,
Like the ears of an ass, when he's sulky, and snaps.

The lovers perceived that it knew not their rank,
Or 'twould no more have spurned 'em than kicked at the bank
'Twas this that amused 'em. 'But pray, Sir,' said they,
'What induced your high Heel-tap to get in our way?'

'Why, I can't bear,' returned this most cross-grained of leathers,
'To look at your shoe there, tricked out in such feathers.
Why need any shoe be more gifted than I?
There was just such another' — (here Venus looked sly,
And Hermes guessed all she'd omitted to say)—
'Here was just such another came mincing this way,
And would fain have come in for some shoes for a Lady;
But no, no; I trod on his toes with a 'Hey-day!'
On which the fop gave me a cuff with his quill,
And whisked away laughing; but I'll pity him still.'

'You had better be quiet,' said Hermes, 'for stuff,
Such as yours, can no more wage war with his cuff
Than the monster with Perseus, who fell on him, plumed.'
'I know,' said the Shoe, as it fretted and fumed.
'You do?' said the God; 'then with such an example
How monsters should treat the fair sex, would you trample
Or offer to do it (for so it now seems)
On a foot which surpasses a lover's best dreams?'

'I hate your surpassings, and loves, and all that,'
Cried the Shoe, screaming weak like a leather-toed bat;
'And since you will have it, I tell you, you fop,
That I'd kick the best shoe ever stepped into shop.'

But now the God, angered, shot into that leather
A terrible sense of who stood there together,
And while it slunk, shaking, half into itself,
Denounced it in words, that shall die on no shelf:—

'Vile Soul of a Shoe, — that with decent self-knowledge
Had honoured the good man that made thee at college,
And walked through the world, if with not many graces,
At least in good steps and calm classical places,
My very stray slipper that passed thee, and hit,
Might have done thee some good, for it brushed thee with wit;
But every thing, even Adversity fails,
To refine the grain in thee: the calf-skin prevails.
Attend then my curse, while thou shrinkest into thee,
And let the ambition thou spoilest, undo thee.

'As soon as I finish my words, thou shalt be,
Not a man, for thou canst not, but human to see:
Thy appearance at least shall be taken for human,
However perplexing to painter or woman.
In ev'ry thing else, thou shalt be as thou art,
A thing made for dirty ways, hollow at heart.
Serve an Earl, as thou say'st; and, in playing the shoe.
Let the stories told of thee, malicious or true,
Only lead thee hereafter to scandalize too.
But let not an Earl stop thy progress; go higher,
And at every new step show addition of mire,
Like one, who, in climbing a loose-moulded hill,
Finds his foot growing heavier and dirtier still,
Strain after all those, who ascend to the crown;
But all who are falling, assist to kick down:
Then getting at top, gape with sycophant joy,
And poking about for becoming employ,
Make signs thou art ready, with pliable span,
To clasp any foot, that would trample on mail.
But despair of those nobler ascents, which thou'lt see
Stretching far overhead with the Delphian tree,—
Holy ground, to climb up to whose least laurelled shelf
Thou would'st have to change natures, and put off thyself.
Stop, and strain at the base; yet, to ease thy despair,
Do thy best to obstruct all the feet that come there,
Especially younger ones, winged like mine
Till bright, up above thee, they soar and they shine.'
Should even the graves, such as lie near the spot,
Of critics and note-makers, help thee a jot
Be sure to pretend that the heap's of no use
And repay those who gave thee a lift with abuse.
Dig into their errors, their merits conceal
And then shudder to think that the dead can not feel.
All things, in short, petty and fit, say and do
Becoming a man with the soul of a shoe.
Boast thy origin once, because good common-place
Has pronounced such behaviour a merit and grace;
But after that once, be consistent, and show
A great horror of lowness, because it is low:
Pick out for thy path, through the region of letters,
The very worst tracks that dishonoured thy betters;
Like boys, who to get a sensation and splutter,
Prefer, to the pavement, a kick through the gutter:
Thus, edit no authors but such as unite
With their talents a good deal of dirt or of spite;
Ben Jonson, because he was beastly and bluff;
And Massinger, — mince through his loathsomer stuff
And Persius,—"let him be writ down" Imitated
And say to poor Juvenal, "Thou art translated."
These Latins will help too thy fondest of penchants,
And swell thy large hate with the hates of the ancients.
But as for such writers as Shakespear and others,—
Low fellows, who treated all men as their brothers,
Base panders, whose heads ran on love and a wood,
Blasphemers, who thought the great Jupiter good,
Who had right to be naked, and yet not ashamed,—
Be sure to inform us, that they may be damned.
I hear some one say, "Murrain take him, the ape!"
And so Murrain shall, in a bookseller's shape;
An evil-eyed elf, in a down-looking flurry,
Who'd fain be a coxcomb, and calls himself Murray.
Adorn thou his door, like the sign of the Shoe
For court-understrappers to congregate to
For Southey to come, in his dearth of invention,
And eat his own words for mock-praise and a pension;
For Croker to lurk with his spider-like limb in,
And stock his lean bag with way-laying the women;
And Jove only knows for what creatures beside
To shelter their envy and dust-licking pride,
And feed on corruption, like bats, who at nights
In the dark take their shuffles, which they call their flights.
Be these the Court-critics, and vamp a Review;
And by a poor figure, and therefore a true,
For it suits with thy nature, both shoe-like and slaughterly,
Be its hue leathern, and title the Quarterly.
Much misconduct it, and see that the others
Misdeem, and misconstrue, like miscreant brothers;
Misquote, and misplace, and mislead, and misstate,
Misapply, misinterpret, misreckon, misdate,
Misinform, misconjecture, misargue in short,
Miss all that is good, that ye miss not the Court.
Count the worth of a mind, not from what it produces,
But what it will take to fall in with abuses.
Is any one ardent, sincere, independent?
What distancing virtue! Pray try make an end on't.
Does any discover what you never could?
Pretend it's a trifle no gentleman would.
Does a true taste appear for the authors you edit?
Take pains, by your scorn, to show you never had it.
In short, be the true Representative Tool
Of a whole "Court of Coblers" got up into rule.
Alas for the country of Harley and Prior!
But office shall then be a shop so entire
For any dull fellow to keep that can serve,
While Britons, turned beggars, are told to go starve,
That a whole set of dunces, — yes, Pope, thine own band,
Thy Dunciad itself, shall rule over the land!
As gutters dive down to re-issue in ditches,
Thy divers for pay shall emerge with new riches.
Then quality's fools, long be-libelled in vain,
In the Stuarts, the Georges, and "Jenkies" shall reign:
Then Cymons (not Greek, nor yet mended by Cupid)
Shall lord it with faces triumphant as stupid:
Happy Page shall be Best, well aware of his fury,
Concanen be Croker, and Lintot be Murray:
In Southey poor Blackmore, beginning to doat,
Shall not only turn a new stave, but his coat:
The Wards and the Welsteds shall pamper their spleens,
And club in Scotch papers and Scotch Magazines:
And finally, thou, my old soul of the tritical,
Noting, translating, high slavish, hot critical,
Quarterly-scutcheoned, great heir to each dunce,
Be Tibbald, Cook, Arnall, and Dennis at once."
In one thing alone display nothing in common
With dunce any more than with genius, — hate woman.'
(Here Venus entreated, and fain would have gone,
But the God only clasped her the more, and went on:)
'Hate woman, thou block in the path of fair feet;
If Fate want a hand to distress them, thing be it;
When the Great, and their flourishing vices, are mentioned,
Say people "impute" 'em, and show thou art pensioned;
But meet with a Prince's old mistress discarded,
And then let the world see how vice is rewarded.'

He said. The poor Shoe, turning restless and wan,
Gave a groan, and began struggling up into man.
First the straps, falling stiffly, and thrusting the ground,
Became arms, by whose help it arose, turning round;
Then the toe split in two, and increasing in size,
Undertook to support him as legs and as thighs;
And lastly from out of the quartering there looked
A face at once lachrymose rude, and rebuked.
Such a face! Such a spirit! For what is a face,
But what the soul makes it, for worth or disgrace?

Like a rogue from a regiment be-drummered and fifered,
It slunk out of doors, and men called the thing GIFFORD.

[Milford (1923) 161-67]