The Editor, the Bookseller, and the Critic. An Eclogue.

Morning Chronicle (11, 17 December 1799).

George Hardinge

A political eclogue, not signed, published as the eleventh and twelfth installments of the Morning Chronicle's "Chalmeriana" series (which had been running since the beginning of September). George Chalmers, the Scottish political economist and antiquary, had defended the authenticity of William Henry Ireland's Shakespeare forgeries (which come in for much ridicule here). Chalmers is targeted as a pamphleteer for the government, which the Morning Chronicle is accusing of corruption in connection with the French wars. The chief speakers in the dialogue are two booksellers, John Egerton and Thomas Becket; Chalmers is apparently in search of a publisher to continue his hopeless defense of the Shakespeare forgeries against the critical onslaughts of Edmond Malone. His "leaden mace" was the invention of Thomas James Matthias in a note to Pursuits of Literature (1798), an anonymous satire which is here attributed to the bookseller Becket.

The Argument: "Mr. Ireland, the Editor of the Shakspeare Papers; Mr. Egerton, and Mr. Becket, the one a Military, the other a Civil Bookseller, met at Mr. Stockdale's shop in Piccadilly on the day after the intelligence arrived of the new Revolution in the Government of France, under the Tri-Consular Power in the persons of Ducos, Sieyes, and Buonaparte. Mr. Chalmers happened to be there at the time, with various Gentlemen who had been the subject of much public discussion and conversation. Mr. Stockdale, who always observes propriety in whatever he does or proposes to do, was suddenly seized with a desire that an Arcadian Conversazione should take place between Mr. Ireland, Mr. Egerton, and Mr. Becket; and, having previously whispered his intention to them, moved that a select party should retire for the purpose into his parlour. The ingenious Editor and the amiable Booksellers consented on this condition, that Mr. Chalmers should take the Chair as President. Mr. Chalmers, with his usual courtesy, candour, and politeness, smiled, and seated himself. THE LEADEN MACE being placed on the Table, he nodded to Mr. Egerton, and Mr. Egerton first addressed Mr. Ireland."

The poem is illustrated with extensive notes in the style of Scriblerus, one of which explains the identity of "Ralpho": "The entire failure of the Expedition to Holland has been attributed by the best and most candid judges (and not by Mr. Becket alone) to Mr. Egerton's unfortunate refusal of General Sir Ralph Abercrombie's offer, on the part of Government, to take the whole impression, 'ad valorem,' of Mr. Chalmers's Supplemental Apology and Postscript en masse, to be shipped and used as sheet-lead against the French and Dutch. The minute account of this transaction was related in the Chalmeriana No. III. It was notorious to the whole kingdom that Mr. Chalmers's LEAD would have done ten times the execution that any other species would: but such is the respect in this Country for private property, that the Minister, though repeatedly urged, could not be persuaded on to put it in the State Requisition. Hence the failure of the whole Expedition, and hence the indignation of the Poetical Bookseller against his Military brother."

O Thou, by Nature form'd, or happier Art
To trace the windings of Man's easy Heart,
And prove, tho' oft unwelcome beams intrude,
All love delusion, or themselves delude;
Begin, my IRELAND, for 'tis thine to cope
With proud MALONE, and more presumptuous POPE.
See JERNY'S "younglings are but just awake,"
And Cuddy PYE the Tritons tease and shake;
See there, the tender, simple-minded Swain,
BOSCAWEN, ambling on the Sabine plain;
FITZGERALD, SOTHEBY, Poets of the Nile,
Provoke the sneer, and make e'en NELSON smile:
Yet, what are all their feats, their classic claim,
Their jinglings, jugglings — to thy Sovran claim,
Where Thames' and Avon's kindred waters meet—
A mingled Current, fast by Norfolk-street?
What time in saffron sock PARR bless'd the day,
And WARTON chanted soft the Spousal Lay;
The Owl of Somerset, the Soland Goose,
And the Bat flitted o'er th' auspicious noose;
While Art diffus'd around thy magic room
From Stars of yellow Glass a GOLDEN GLOOM,
And bade th' entranced visitant survey
Thy pure Mosaic, and thy rich Inlay,
The dusky Parchment, and the nicer Stain
Dy'd on the page in Stratford's antique grain.
Hail! and the Rod of SHAKSPEARE wield alone:
See thy own CHALMERS Champion of thy Throne!

How sweet, my EGERTON, thy rap'trous voice!—
Clear is thy head, and CHALMERS is thy choice.
'Twas mine to dive in Earth with step profound
For PROSPER'S Staff, and bid my Plummet sound
The depths where, buried, slept his Wizard Roll,
And Common Truth and Common Sense control;
No Giant task, "weak masters as they are,"
Their nerves all-pliant and their semblance fair;
Well sung the Knight, that "Pleasure is as great
Of being cheated deftly, as to cheat."

Avaunt! — nor hope from me endearing sounds,
Nor tongue light-tripping o'er these Fairy grounds:
No, miserable Pair! — with scorn I view
Your Scrip Arcadian, and your Stockings Blue.
Have ye not heard, when o'er the trembling Foe
My loud Auruncian Trump on high 'gan blow,
How Sophists, Poetasters, Atheists fled,
And e'en some Ministers would droop the head—
Imposters, Hirelings, Dastards, all stood mute,
Abash'd, confounded, in MY fam'd PURSUIT?
IRELAND, from thee I turn: thy views are known,
Left to the boards of Drury and MALONE.
But THOMAS, thou base Bookseller, retire
To CURL, and MIST, or modern DUTTON'S Choir:—
See DILLY frowns, with RICHARD by his side;
And NICHOLL, of Pall-mall the prop and pride—
Chief of that sprightly Band, whose mirth and peace
Nor can admit, nor yet desire increase;
Botantic WHITE rejects thee, solemn PAYNE,
And splendid EDWARDS with Morocco train;
And Lydian ROBINSON, whose purse and press
Nor WALPOLE could affright nor JONES distress;
And RIVINGTON, to whom e'en Bishops bow,
ELMSLEY the shrewd, and dark-brown BREMNER'S brow;
He too, whose orb with smiles alternate greet
The Sons of Cam and Nymphs of Oxford-street,
Accommodating LUNN, whose rise and fall
VINCE best descries o'er Granta's learn'd ball.
See LACKINGTON, at whom the Muses stare,
Bound in their Temple fast by Munroe's-square;
At thee e'en JOHNSON starts, and either BELL
(One mourns his Monk, and one rings Crusca's knell),
Repentent RIDGWAY, PHILIPS from the Seine,
The Pamphlet Tribes, dull, selfish, low and vain,
With the strange, motley, Gallic-German crew,
Who feast and starve by turns with KOTZEBUE;
All, all disdain thee in this social age!—
But, wherefore waste my Bibliopolish rage?—
Nor Bookseller art thou, nor Books thy care;
Camps are thy Shops — thyself a Man of War!
Hence to yon Guards, where WINDHAM'S palace nice
On Cestrian parings feeds his Clerks, like Mice;
Where LEWIS smiles at SHERIDAN and Wit,
BURKE and Reform, and Eloquence and PITT;
There plead with trumpet-tongue thy crimson trade,
Tactics and Triggers, Breechings and Brigade;
There mount thy Austrian Cock and Austrian Tail,
And turn the Fencibles of Pindus pale!

Yet boast not thou, vain Renegado Knight,
Thy Patriot Soul, and ardour in the fight;
Seest thou those mournful Bands, and prudent YORK,
Those Samnite trenches, and that Caudine fork?
Ah, more than Traitor to thy Country's Laws;
Thou friend of BRUNE, and DAENDEL'S best Ally,
Hence, and my deep-aim'd, righteous vengeance fly!
By thee BRITANNIA first was taught to crouch:—
If e'er short slumbers ease thy guilty Couch,
Thee, Caitiff, shall Sir RALPH, the Soldier's Friend,
And gallant MOORE, and hapless MORRIS rend,
And curse with me — with all, that fatal day
When thou couldst, empty, send Sir RALPH away,
(Thou shame and scorn of Martin's gallant train,
With plumbean Auster heavy on thy brain),
And dare prefer, to Patriot feelings cold,
Chalmerian Lead to RALPHO'S proffer'd gold.
CHALMERS had lock'd the Dutch in endless sleep,
Nor left DUNDAS and PITT to wake and weep;
Sad Ministry! — yet righteous sure their aim,
Just ev'ry plan, and thine alone the blame.

Hence — in thy dream may Gallia's Chief ascend,
The Star of JULIUS beaming on his end;
May Harpies rise, and Gorgons fierce invade,
And the dread form of THE TRICORPOREAL SHADE!
The God of Sleep abhors thy visage pale—
Nor e'en the Lead of CHALMERS shall avail!...

Loud words, good Sir, the sense alone offend:
But Authors shake, when Booksellers contend;
Anger like thine is madness in degree:
This truth from HORACE take — or learn of ME.
Ah, think of LINTOT, think of CIBBER'S fame,
Who gently took all that ungently came;
In FULLER, too, this homely proverb see—
"Two of the self-same trade can ne'er agree."
When CHREMES-like I heard a Brother speak,
I thought, my BECKET, thy discourse was Greek!
Thou know'st I ever as companions chose
Thy various Verse and many-languag'd Prose;
Thine is the Critic's, thine the Poet's wreath,
And down thy Mall Cremona's gales shall breathe!
Thou know'st how gentle by the Coaly Shore
My Arms, my Lists, my Faculties I bore;
How in yon Mews I took my fearless stand,
And cock'd my piece at valiant CRAIG'S command.
But, though by WINDHAM'S dialectics prest,
I still denied Sir RALPHO'S high request,
Think not my heart can Gallic phrenzy feel,
Or I regardless of my Country's weal.
No! — then to English might DUNDAS pretend,
Or PITT receive ONE POET for his friend;
Gout yield to Metals or Magnetic touch;
Or PORTLAND gabble Demarara Dutch;
Of Worms and Pills Sir ARCHY cease to sing,
Or CARLISLE echo back the praise of CHING!
No! — my ideas, from sensation sprung
And strong reflection, high my fancy strung,
Taught me to prize o'er all domestic peace,
And in the germ bid Factious Scions cease.
Better, when Sugars fell and Taxes rose,
Merchants and Traders should o'er Income doze;
Better their senses in oblivion steep,
That all who bear not arms might sink in sleep;
Better at home might drizzling CHALMERS rain
Drops Paregoric on the public brain;
For sure I deem'd, misled by vulgar fame,
Lethean Lakes and Belgian Dykes the same!
[Line cropped]
Hadst thou, profound APOLOGIST been torn
By Patriot Arms from my reluctant side,
Thy Leaves of Lead, without thy person, tried;
Helder had still in proud defiance stood,
And Holland felt old England's Walls of Wood;
No Russ' denounc'd our tardy steps to PAUL;
No BRUNE exclaim'd — "Capitulate, or fall;"
Pardon this home-felt truth, thou man of weight!—
I bow to YORK, Sir RALPHO, and the State.

Ah! thus deform'd can Booksellers appear,
One pale with rage, and haggard one with fear?
But who shall e'er, when wordy storms rage high,
To BECKET or to CAPANEUS reply?
What, like DARIUS at my utmost need,
Must I without a friend deserted bleed?
To thee, thou patron, daemon of my book,
The Scot exclaims, "Where got'st thou that goose-look?"
No warrior thou: a low, mean, hireling Spy,
In SHAKSPEARE'S camp, like DOLON, sent to pry:
Thee from my vengeful arm, thus basely sold,
Nor MARTIN shall protect, nor RALPHO'S gold.
Yet though too plain these pages must pretend
THOU wert my guide, my bookseller and friend;
Think not this wounded spirit e'er shall call,

No: to thee, IRELAND, for relief I turn,
For thee and SHAKSPEARE with like ardour burn:
'Tis all vain impotence; to pigmy bulk
MALONE shall shrink, and dastard STEEVENS skulk.
See'st thou this POSTSCRIPT? Shall it e'er be said,
"My saws were toothless, and my hatchet lead?"
Did ever Indian with more brutal knife,
Scalp, yet preserve the quivering strings of life?
Did ever Priest, in MOLOCH'S gloomy fane,
More grimly pleas'd with blood his idol stain?
Curse on my star! I hear AUGUSTUS cry,
Forbear; MARCELLUS shall not, cannot die.
To SATURN'S orb my dusky flight I'll wing,
And sail incumbent o'er his sullen ring;
BECKET shall howl beneath, remote from Jove,
Nor in the fields of Mars that Recreant rove,
But each with groans mephitic air shall draw,
"Embrac'd by Scorpion with contracted claw."

He foam'd and paus'd; then with a blasting look,
THE PONDEROUS SCEPTRE from the table took;
One stroke he aim'd at each devoted Elf,
But felt reflected vengeance on himself;
Saturnian vapours from his Mace ascend,
His words, his strength, his wrath in slumbers end;
The Parlour own'd one universal nap,
And STOCKDALE yawn'd, and sunk on CHAUCHARD'S Map.