The Luminous Historian; or Learning in Love.

Eccentricities for Edinburgh: containing Poems... by George Colman, the Younger.

George Colman the Younger

30 Spenserians following an introduction in couplets. Colman the Younger's portrait of the amours of Edward Gibbon is equally amusing and cruel. Since Edward Gibbon was a friend of the poet's father, this unflattering portrait may be said to be taken from life. The volume reproduces the silhouette of Gibbon by Mrs. Brown (looking "like an erect, black tadpole, taking snuff"), from Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works.

Preface: "If, on reflection, I venture to publish this Trifle, let me hope (should I have been wrong) that it will be attributed to want of Taste, and not to deficiency of Respect; — but I cannot think that any existing Friend of the erudite Hero of my Song can be seriously angry at my repeating, in rhyme, an idle Tale, which has often been printed in prose; — or that a commonplace laugh, at the exterior of a Great Man, implies any aim to detract from his numerous virtues, and mental superiority" p. 64.

Literary Gazette: "The most agreeable of his 'Eccentricities,' is The Luminous Historian — a story founded on Gibbon's amorous visit to a young damsel up an Alpine hill.... The stately stanza of Spencer, made fashionable again by Childe Harold, has a happy effect in this poem. The grotesque figures of Colman never danced better than to the dead march of Byron. We cannot, however, conclude, without entering our decided protest against those indelicacies and indecencies which deform the volume" (1 February 1817) 21.

British Lady's Magazine: "an indecorous parody of a silly story told of the historian Gibbon; namely, that, when once he fell down on his knees to a lady, supposed to be the fair Swiss who was afterwards Madame Neckar, and the mother of the celebrated Madame de Stael, that he could not get up again. The grotesque form of this mentally-accomplished man is well known; but there is a respect due to eminent intellectuality, which makes all joking on mere bodily infirmity a species of profanation. Besides, there is not a word of truth in the tale, as Mr. Colman acknowledges; and he might therefore have applied it to some nonentity, and have left genius and learning alone" 5 (March 1817) 170-71.

Blackwood's Magazine: "Mr. Colman is now an old man — and ought to be otherwise occupied than in writing doggerel verses for the vulgar and the vile" 1 (July 1817) 417.

La Belle Assemblee: "We do not hesitate to affirm that Colman's Eccentricities for Edinburgh contain far more repulsive passages than the 'satanic' Don Juan.... Lord Byron, who, though the greatest poet of our day, is certainly the greatest plagiarist, has servilely imitated our author's style throughout his Juan. The same droll and frequent use of the parenthesis, the same hasty variation from serious to comic, characterize the style of both writers. It is not the least praise to the subject of this article to say, that the noble peer has deigned to become and imitator of him" "George Colman the Younger" NS 28 (December 1823) 263, 264.

Edmond Malone: "When [Gibbon] was introduced to a blind French lady, the servant happening to stretch out her mistress's hand to lay hold of the historian's cheek, she thought, upon feeling its rounded contour, that some trick was being played upon her with the 'sitting' part of a child, and exclaimed, 'Fidonc!'" circa 1787; Maloniana, in Sir James Prior, Life of Edmond Malone (1860) 382.

Samuel Rogers: "Gibbon took very little exercise. He had been staying some time with Lord Sheffield in the country; and when he was about to go away, the servants could not find his hat. "Bless me," said Gibbon, "I certainly left it in the hall on my arrival here." He had not stirred out of doors during the whole of the visit" Table Talk (1856) 115.

Of Spenser Gibbon had written, "The nobility of the Spencers has been illustrated and enriched by the trophies of Marlborough; but I exhort them to consider the Faery Queen as the most precious jewel of their coronet 'Nor less praise-worthy are the ladies three | The honour of that noble familie | Of which I meanest boast myself to be'" Memoirs of My Life and Writings (1793) ed. Bonnard (1966) 4-5.

From Childhood's e'en to Age's mental dreams,
Those twilights of the soul in Life's extremes,
That lead young drivellers from the cradle's gloom,
Or old ones to the darkness of a tomb,
How Nature, in our scanty day of breath,
Divides the progress to the night of death!
Prescribes the series when to pule, to play,
Love, act, reflect, then doze the world away,
Till weak mortality's mechanic powers
Have once run round their narrow ring of hours.

"Once round!" exclaim a gay and thoughtless host;
"Rounds after rounds of hours we all can boast."
To scout so dry a fact would be to mock
Saint Dunstan's Strikers or an eight-day clock;
But in a human Time-piece, no device
Can course the Dial of Existence twice;
And, when the failing nerves and worn-out brain
Have circle'd into Infancy again,
Who shall rotation's earlier force restore,
Or wind up works prepar'd to move no more?

Much, then, has each to do, before he dies,
While all his action in a nutshell lies.
Yet is the nutshell, upon reason's plan,
Sufficient for the mighty maggot, Man;
For though his Drama, in it's little range,
Be fraught with many an important change;
Though, to each Mortal, various parts we find,
In his own tragi-comedy, assigned,—
E'en (if the curtain do not drop too soon,)
From Babe to "lean and slippered Pantaloon,"—
Still Nature's lineations plainly tell
There's room, and time enough, to act them well;
Well as the Bard, to whom Her lines were known,
Draws them, in four-and-twenty of his own."

Yet, easy as the task appears, how few
Keep their successive Ages full in view!
Most, in all periods, heedless of their date,
Prone to be this, or that, too soon or late,
Evince, as passions, or conceits, may rule,
'Tis ne'er too soon, nor late, to play the fool.

Along the path of Life, while to and fro,
Like lap-dogs airing, Vice and Folly go,
Old curs and puppies jostling in the track,
Now scampering forward, and now running back,
'Tis sad the silly animals to see
Reversing points at which they ought to be!
To see what idle war with Time they wage,
Enfeebling Youth, and turning boys in Age;—
To see worn One and Twenty writhe with gout,
Groaning beneath whole vintages drank out;
Green Puberty fast rotting to it's fall,
While Dotage dyes his eyebrows, for a Ball!

If, then, the sillier Actors of their day
Transpose the scenes of blossom and decay,
No wonder that the wisest, now and then,
Forget their cast of character, as men;
Throw off the habits of their life, by starts,
And prove the best imperfect in their parts.—
Statesmen have shewn that, in affairs of State,
Sedateness cannot always be sedate;
Zeno, perhaps, might be from books beguil'd,
To play a game at marbles with a child;
Nay, stick a pin into a Parson's rump,
The strict Divine may bawl out "damme," plump.—
But what if Statesman, Stoick, or Divine,
Deviate, by chance, thus slightly from their line?
If Statesman, Stoick, or Divine, do so,
Does this call out for reprobation? — no:
But still 'tis laughable; — for, in a word,
The grave man's nonsense is the most absurd;
And, when his casual folly stands confest,
We own his merits, but enjoy the jest.

While the pure pen of a Historick Sage
Distils it's beauties over every page,
That mirth may chuckle at his clumsy Love,
A Tale, which late tradition yields, may prove.

A Man I sing whom Memory reveres;
Hallow'd the spot where now he lies in earth;
Learning and Genius, there, may mingle tears,
With Virtue, weeping over moral worth.
Clio, the first of Muses, hail'd his birth;
But Momus, ever flouting, laugh'd outright,
To think that, when to manhood grown, what mirth
Would be provok'd by so grotesque a wight
So oddly formed as He, who was EUDOXUS hight.

And, when adult, with Erudition's store
His early taste, and judgment, were supplied;
He drain'd the sources of historick lore,
Then pour'd them back, through Europe, purified:
Majestick, deep, yet smooth, and clear the tide;
And Elegance, obedient to his call,
Sail'd down his flow of words in Swan-like pride;—
But, oh! how wondrous the DECLINE and FALL,
To "look upon his face," and, then, "forget it all!"

Like a carved Pumpkin was his classick jole;
Flesh had the Solo of his chin encor'd;
Puffed were his cheeks, — his mouth a little hole,
Just in the centre of his visage bor'd:
His nose should to a Pug have been restor'd.
A Dame, whose blindness was a piteous case,
And whose soft hand his countenance explor'd,
No features in so fat a mass could trace,
But said it was a thing below the human face.

His person look'd as funnily obese
As if a Pagod, growing large as Man,
Had, rashly, waddle'd off its chimney-piece,
To visit a Chinese upon a fan.
Such his exterior; — curious 'twas to scan!
And, oft, he rapped his snuff-box, cock'd his snout,
And, ere his polish'd periods he began,
Bent forwards, stretching his fore-finger out,
And talk'd in phrase as round as He was round about.

Oh! kindly PEER! who hand his likeness down,
Through Partiality's mistaken zeal,
Why did you tempt ingenious Mrs Brown,
And make her for her pocket-scissars feel,
To cut his SHADE out with her ruthless stool?
(His posthumous Memoirs were quite enough,)
Why stick it up, on either long, long heel,
And in a Frontispiece the carcass stuff,
To look like an erect, black tadpole, taking snuff?

'Tis not, my Lord, an uncouth Shape nor Head,
That should surviving tenderness control
To hide the outlines of the mighty dead,
But 'tis a grave man's ugliness that's droll;
The face, and body, then, burlesque the soul;—
Sir Joshua's flattery would scarcely do
To screen from laughter the Historian's poll;
To place him in derision's broadest view,
Was left to Mrs Brown, to Friendship, and to YOU!

Yet, trust me, peer, I mean not to offend;
Affection warm as your's the Muse respects;
For who could ever so expose a friend
Till fondly purblind to that friend's defects?
Your sense was dazzle'd by his intellects:—
The wrapt Enthusiast, seldom seeing clear,
A charming Author with his Book connects;
You saw him in his graceful style appear,
And fancied Punch had grown Apollo Belvedere.

Cramped in finances, weary of the Town,
Through well-earn'd fame with new ambition fire'd,
And deck'd with Literature's laurel crown,
Eudoxus to Helvetia's clime retire'd;
There competence was wealth, — there Health respire'd.
Amid the Alps, high towering to the Skies,
(Types of his mind!) fresh vigour he acquire'd,
In wider scope Rome's Annals to comprise,
And, on an Empire's fall, still brilliantly to rise.

From thy romantick scenery, Lausanne!
Soon as his labours reach'd their destine'd home,
The rumour round the big-wig circles ran,
Till, eagerly, the World grasp'd ev'ry Tome!
Reviewing wasps, about the honey-comb
Stung where they could, at a most stingless rate,
While Cadell, fattening, in the Strand, on Rome,
Proudly exclaim'd, in bibliotheck state,
"Who sells great Authors' works must, sure, himself be great."

Yet poring Authors relaxation need,
And must, Apollo-like, the bow unbend;
Must walk, — or else, when very fat indeed,
Their sitting brings them to their latter end.
Eudoxus could, on foot, a hill descend,
And so, if he had tried, could Doctor Slop;
But climb an Alpine steep! "oh, heaven defend!
That tugging project he resolve'd to drop,
Though Nature's richest charms invited to the top."

Expression, oft, beyond a meaning goes;
And, when Eudoxus talk'd of Nature's charms,
Alas, good man! he only thought of those
Which please our eyes, but never fill our arms.
Mere child in love, he dreamt not of alarms
The Child of Venus gives, pernicious elf!
Rome's loves, — nay, rapes, (those worst of amorous harms,)
Those he recorded, for the Student's shelf,
But knew not how to love, nor ravish, for himself.

His whole construction seem'd to blunt, and turn,
The arrows that from Cupid's quiver skim;
So cold, he never could for Woman burn,
So ugly, Woman could not burn for him.—
Still, Cupid sent him, in a wicked whim,
A philosophick Blonde, a Charmer wise,
Studious, and plump, now languishing, now prim,
Who, skill'd most temptingly to syllogize,
Chopp'd logick with a pair of large, blue, melting eyes.

'Twas in Lausanne, where crowded parties chat,
And take their tea, ere London Fashion dines,
Nosing Eudoxus, blue-ey'd AGNES sat,
And talk'd of Trojan and the Antonines;—
Dwelt much on Roman risings, and declines;
And murmur'd, while they huddled knee to knee,
"What things Voluptuousness undermines!"
Eudoxus felt a glow; — but knew not, he,
Whether 'twas love, the crowd, philosophy, or tea.

Whene'er she utter'd, breathing like the South,
As o'er a bank of violets it blows,
He curl'd the smirking hole he call'd a mouth,
And fed with snuff the knob he term'd a nose:
His bosom's fat heave'd with unwonted throes,
And still she talk'd, and still he listen'd, — still
Fresh beauties in her countenance arose;—
He ask'd her dwelling-place; — sad news, and chill!
"Skirting Lausanne," she said — "upon the next high hill."

High HILL! — alas! he ne'er on horseback rode;
Eternal visits, in a carriage, there,
So near Lausanne as Agnes's abode
Might scandalize the philosophick Fair:—
Then, walk, — or not — 'twas either way despair!
Bore through the Alps — on foot! — so pursy too!
At length, he mentally pronounced, "I swear
What Hannibal with vinegar could do,
To venture, dearest Maid! with all my oil, for You!

That night, on which Eudoxus Agnes met
Neglected Wisdom had his pillow flown,
While She retire'd, half prude and half coquette,
To bed with Vanity, as cold as stone.
The Sage as an Adonis would be known,
His Venus wish'd for a Scavante to pass;
Each saw each other's foible, not their own;
He smile'd at Science in- a lovely lass,
She at a Sapient Squab, who turn'd philandering Ass.

Thus both, it seems, their natural play mistook,
Though Agnes had the better of the game;
For studious Beauties can enjoy a Book,
When ugly Scholars can't enjoy a Dame.—
A learned Dangler often stamps the name
O Blue-Stocking on her he ne'er embrace'd:
The Lady's object, now, was classick fame,
His passion, therefore, though by far less chaste,
Portended an amour in the Platonick taste.

Yet her enticing charms, his weight of thought,
Had fix'd their commerce, in a comick hour;
Thus is our Planet to it's centre brought
By Gravity's, and by Attraction's power.—
The morning blushed; — but, soon, — a soaking shower!
Eudoxus pause'd, between his love and rain;
He breakfasted, — he sigh'd, — it cease'd to lower,—
He wish'd the surface of the Globe one plane,
Call'd for his thickest shoes, and groan'd and sigh'd again.

"Alas!" he cried, "pedestrious I depart,
To scale Olympus, and a goddess find:
Not seeing her will almost break my heart,
And getting at her almost break my wind.
Never did body trifle so with mind!
So raise it's projects and so knock them flat!
Never was amorous lump of human-kind
So self-suspended, between this and that;
So goaded by the flesh, — so hinder'd by the fat!

"Why, cruel Cupid! make me clambering go,
And, like the Chamois, skip on heights immense?
Why not the Goat's ability bestow,
Or spare me from the Goat's concupiscence?
Each, each, or neither, quality dispense!
Or, cruel Cupid! since both you and I
Are pictured puffy, chubby-cheek'd, and dense,
Give me your emblems all, or all deny!
Oh! draw your arrow back, or send your wings to fly!"

He reached the Hill; it's winding foot-path found,
And buckle'd to the task;— but now, alack!
With recent rain so greasy was the ground,
That, as he labour'd up the slippery track,
At each three steps, he slid one back.—
A well-fed Maggot, thus, when friend and friend
Their jokes, their bottles, and their filberds crack,
In some deep fruit-plate heaves, from snout to end,
And works, and slips, and writhes, and waggles to ascend.

Though mortal enterprises arduous be,
What will not Time, and Perseverance, do?
And, while Eudoxus lost one step in three,
Still, losing one in three advance'd him two.
An open casement, now, was full in view,
Where Agnes stood, his ardent wish to crown;
She bow'd, as near the drooping Lover drew;—
"She'll let me in!" he groan'd, "and should she frown,
Love's bliss is lost; — but oh! — what rapture to sit down!"

Guard, Virgins! guard your snug sequester'd bowers,
When wily Strephons come to twirl the pin!
For Rumour swiftly round the village scours,
When silly Maids have let a Lover in:—
Then Gossips groan, and Ribalds grossly grin.
Or, if a Swain his entrance must achieve,
Choose some Eudoxus, with a double chin,
With whom Suspicion's self could ne'er conceive
Your ruin's brink was touch'd, before he took his leave.

Fair Agnes fear'd not that censorious talk
Could ever, by Eudoxus, be inspire'd;
He look'd a Lamb, before he took a walk,
And dead as Mutton, weary, and bemire'd.
Yet, in her jacket, a la Suisse, attire'd,
So plump and tempting was the blue-eye'd Maid,
A Hermit's frigid breast she might have fire'd!—
Beneath a plain straw hat her ringlets play'd,
And a short petticoat her well-turn'd leg betray'd.

Eudoxus, squatting in a cushion'd chair,
Gave her that interesting glance which owns
A double feeling, — and would fain declare
The heart is full of love, the shoes of stones.
His tender sighs, inflating into groans,
Were debts, as in a partnership concern,
Due, jointly, both to Bosom and to Bones;
And seemed to say, "Sweet Lady! let me learn
Whether in vain I ache, and pant, and grunt, and burn!"

In vain they questioned; — for the Fair pursue'd
Her prattle, which on literature flow'd;
Now change'd her author, now her attitude,
And much more symmetry than learning show'd.
Eudoxus watch'd her features, while they glow'd,
Till passion burst his puffy bosom's bound;
And, rescuing his cushion from it's load,
Flounce'd on his knees, appearing like a round
Large fillet of hot veal, just tumble'd on the ground.

Could such a Lover be with scorn repulse'd?
Oh no! — disdain befitted not the case;
And Agnes, at the sight, was so convulse'd,
That tears of laughter trickle'd down her face.
Eudoxus felt his folly, and disgrace;—
Look'd sheepish, — nettle'd, — wish'd himself away;—
And, thrice, he tried to quit his kneeling-place;
But Fate, and Corpulency, seem'd to say,
Here's a Petitioner that must for ever pray!

"Mon dieu!" said Agnes, "what absurd distress!
How long must you maintain this posture here?"
"Ah! that," he sighed, "depends on the success
Of your endeavours, more than mine, I fear.
Get up I cannot, by myself, 'tis clear:—
But though my poor pretensions you despise,
Full many a man is living, Lady dear!
Whose talent, as a Lover, rather lies
In readiness to kneel, than readiness to rise."

Again he strain'd, again he stuck live wax,
While Agnes tugg'd at him, in various ways;
But he was heavier than the Income Tax,
And twenty times more difficult to raise.
She fear'd that Scandal would the story blaze;
Yet, hopeless, rang the bell; — the Servant came,
And eye'd the prostrate Lover with amaze;
Then heave'd upon his legs the Man whose name
Is lifted up so high by never-dying Fame.

Eudoxus, fretted with the morn's romance,
Opine'd, while he was waddling to the plain,
Himself no wiser than that King of France
Who march'd up hill, and then march'd down again
He found that he had striven against the grain;
That suffering Love within his breast to lurk
Brought "labour," which by no means "physick'd pain;"
That Beauties, who on eminences perk,
Make Courtship, for the Fat, a very Up-hill Work.

[pp. 67-91]