English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Reviewers, Magazinists And Minor Poets Of The First Period
Women Writers Of The First Period
Summary Of The Pre-victorian Literature
Second Or Early Victorian Period—1837-1870
Earle Lytton Bulwer
Captain Frederick Marryat
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
Reviewers, Magazinists And Minor Poets Of The First Period
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The judicious Scotch lawyer and the witty English clergyman who gave the chief impulse to the "Edinburgh Review" in its first quarter of a century, deserve a little further notice. Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850) was a struggling barrister when he, with some hesitation, accepted the editorship. It was his sterling honesty and resolute independence which made the Review respected. Though his politics were Liberal, his literary principles were of the old school, and his censure even of his friends' departure from the established ways, were emphatic. Hence his impartial condemnation of Byron and Wordsworth, Scott and Southey, Leigh Hunt and Keats. His judgment of poetry has been reversed by time, but in all other respects his control of the Review was admirable. In 1829, when he had become the acknowledged leader of the Scottish bar, he resigned his editorship and was made Lord Advocate. After a brief experience in Parliament, he was made a judge, and thenceforward, according to Scotch practice, was known as Lord Jeffrey.
Sydney Smith (1771-1845) who, by accident, was stranded in Edinburgh for five years, though he constantly quizzed the national foibles of his Liberal friends, did them the great favor of uniting their abilities in the Review. He soon left the Scotch capital for a church in London, where he achieved success as a preacher and lecturer. In 1806, when his political friends got into power, he was presented with a living in Yorkshire. Though it was a practical banishment from congenial society, he showed his wonted cheerfulness in his new circumstances and won the hearts of his rustic parishioners. He continued to write for the "Edinburgh" for a quarter of a century. His range of subjects was wide, including educational and geographical topics, as well as political and ecclesiastical, enlivening all of them with unexpected fun without departing from instructive and orderly exposition. Though he attacked grave social questions with lively wit and humorous exaggeration, he never indulged in mere buffoonery. When he made his reader laugh it was at something observed in the arguments or position he was attacking. In "Peter Plymley's Letters" he ridiculed the opposition of the country clergy to Catholic emancipation. His reputation as a wit unfortunately prevented his being made a bishop, but he was made a canon of Bristol Cathedral in 1828, and a prebend of St. Paul's in 1832. In his "Letters to Archdeacon Singleton" (1837) he defended, in his usual witty manner, the arrangements of cathedrals, which it had been proposed to alter. In private life he was a mirthful companion, as specimens of his table-talk, which have been preserved, abundantly testify.
Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) has been pronounced by many poets, from Coleridge and Shelley to Swinburne and Lowell, to have been a great poet, and by excellent critics to have been an exquisite prose writer. He set himself to be an artist in language, but he is too coldly intellectual ever to win the hearts of the people.
His epic poem, "Gebir," is an Oriental story of no great interest, but it has many passages of magnificent beauty. It has been declared to have "Tennyson's finish, Arnold's objectivity and the romance of Keats and Morris." Landor was a most eccentric, ungovernable person, married in haste, quarreled with his wife, and went to Italy. Aristocratic in tastes, he was a republican in principle, and gave vent to explosions of wrath against Kings, critics and cooks, who were all in the wrong. His most valuable work is "Imaginary Conversations," in the several volumes of which he reports discussions of important subjects by noted historic personages. He had returned to England some years before 1858, where he published caustic epigrams and satires, under the title "Dry Sticks Fagoted." This overwhelmed him with libel suits, from which he fled again to Italy, there to die in exile at the age of eighty-nine.
As "Christopher North," the versatile editor of "Blackwood's Magazine," John Wilson (1785-1834 )has already been mentioned, but his career deserves more notice. He was born at Paisley, Scotland, and graduated at Glasgow University in 1803 and at Oxford in 1807. He had become proficient in pugilism and pedestrianism, and was prominent in the "town and gown" fights, without neglecting the classics. His wealth allowed him to devote himself to athletics on his estate of Elleray on Lake Windemere. His love of literature was shown in "The Isle of Palms," a volume of poems bearing evidence of Wordsworth's influence. In 1811 Wilson married Jane Penny, and spent four more happy years at Elleray. Then, most of his fortune being lost in his uncle's speculations, he removed to Edinburgh and became a lawyer. Jeffrey, observing his ability, had solicited his contributions for the "Edinburgh Review," but men of such opposite temperament could not long agree. In 1817, when "Blackwood's Magazine" was started, Wilson was called to assist, and soon became its controlling spirit. Its red-hot Toryism and general vehemence put vigor in its partisans. In 182o the chair of moral philosophy in the University of Edinburgh became vacant and Sir Walter Scott and other Tories urged the town-council to appoint Wilson. They were successful, and Wilson honored their choice by his masterly conduct of his classes for thirty years. Having sufficient leisure for literary work, he devoted himself with ardor to the interests of "Maga." His pathetic powers were shown in "Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life," published under a pseudonym in 1822, and in later tales. He treated subjects of all kinds from athletic sports to classical criticism in a lively, exuberant style, varying from intense enthusiasm to wild burlesque, and making abundant use of italics, capitals, dashes and exclamation points. Several volumes of these articles have been collected, but his most famous work is "Noctes Ambrosianae," unrivaled as convivial table-talk, full of life, humor and dramatic force. In 1835 Wilson suffered a severe blow in the loss of his wife, but did not give up his writing until stricken with paralysis in 1851. He died at Edinburgh in 1854.
Closely associated with "Christopher North" in "Black-wood's Magazine" was the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg (1770-1835). His ancestors had been sheep-farmers in Selkirkshire for generations, and he was thus employed when Sir Walter Scott was collecting ballads for the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border." Hogg, who had learned to read after reaching manhood, astonished Scott by his poetic talent and his wealth of ballad lore. The Ettrick Shepherd was introduced to the literary circles of Edinburgh, where his racy speech, rustic humor and poetic inspiration soon made him a favorite. He was one of the projectors of "Blackvvood's Magazine" and suggested "The Chaldee Manuscript," its earliest explosive. "Christopher North" made Hogg a prominent interlocutor in the "Noctes Ambrosianae," heightening his foibles and peculiarities, yet doing justice to his genius. Though Hogg in prose and verse received advice and help from his better educated associates, he preserved a unique originality. His best songs, such as "Donald Macdonald," "The Village of Balmawhapple," rank close with those of Burns; in his "Jacobite Relics" he interspersed some clever forgeries. His long poems, "The Queen's Wake," "The Pilgrims of the Sun," "The Mountain Bard," are plainly imitations of Scott, yet not unworthy of comparison with the master's work; the fairy poem of "Kilmeny" is perhaps his best. In his novels, also, he followed the author of "Waverley," but with unequal steps. Though perfectly acquainted with Scotch life, he was deficient in construction of stories. "The Brownie of Bodsbeck," "The Three Perils of Man," "The Three Perils of Woman" are his most successful attempts.
A stranger genius, who gave to "Blackwood's" part of its striking character, was William Maginn (1793-1842), an Irish wit, noted for his extensive scholarship, and still more for his reckless bohemianism. He composed Anacreontics in Greek and Latin, and wrote gay ballads in thieves' slang. He appears in the "Noctes Ambrosiana" as "Morgan O'Doherty." He afterwards went to London and, after service on various Tory journals, he was one of the projectors of "Fraser's Magazine." In it appeared his "Homeric Ballads" and "Shakespeare Papers." His irregular habits caused his connection with it to be broken off, and reduced him to extreme poverty.
The "London Magazine," founded soon after "Black-wood's," was marked by certain English peculiarities; it was more inclined to Liberalism, though it had some Tory contributors. Charles Lamb, Thomas DeQuincey, and William Hazlitt were among its noted writers. The personal history of Charles Lamb (1775-1834) is an affecting tragedy, brightened by his genial character. He was educated at the famous Blue-coat School, and at an early age became a clerk in the East India House, where he remained for thirty years. The cloud on his life was the fact that his elder sister, Mary, was liable to fits of in-sanity, and that in one of these she stabbed her mother to the heart. For a time she was confined in an asylum, and when her sanity returned Charles was permitted to take her home. Mary was never made aware of her desperate deed, but afterwards when she felt the trouble recurring, she cheerfully accompanied Charles to the asylum. While she was in mental health, they lived happily "in double singleness," and had weekly gatherings of literary friends. The gentle Charles, precluded from marriage, was a diligent student of early English writers, while Mary amused herself with the current literature. Charles wrote a tragedy, "John Woodvil," in the antique style, but it was severely scored in the "Edinburgh Review." His farce, "Mr. H—," failed at Drury Lane. Then he issued "Specimens of the Old English Dramatists," with excellent brief introductions, and with the aid of his sister, prepared for children, "Tales from Shakespeare." But the "London Magazine" opened for the literary clerk the proper field for his peculiar powers. Taking the pseudonym "Elia," he poured forth his fanciful observations and crotchets with-out restraint. He was essentially a Londoner, and told of curious characters and incidents he had remarked on its streets. He was also a lover of curious half-forgotten lore, and he delighted to recall it for entertainment of a new generation. His quiet merriment and genuine pathos are set off by his quaint, old-fashioned style. His conversation abounded in puns, the effect of which was heightened by his stuttering. His "Letters," which have been carefully edited, are written in the same vein as the more finished essays, and prove that habit of thought to have been natural. At times he soars in the realms of the imagination, but generally he keeps close to the familiar earth. His "Dissertation on Roast Pig" is a classical piece of fun; "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers" is full of humorous kindness; his "Dream-Children" and "The Child-Angel" reveal the tender heart of the writer. He describes his sister fondly under the name of "Bridget Elia," and tells of his bachelor's life and mental oddities with playful frankness. The essays, written simply to entertain his friends, were a recreation after his daily drudgery at office work. One stroke more must be added to the tragedy of his life. Ten years younger than his unfortunate sister, he died thirteen years before her. His friend Talfourd wrote his biography without mentioning the central tragedy in order to spare her feelings, but after her death revised the narrative.
Another writer in the "London Magazine" who had considerable influence in this direction was William Hazlitt (1778-1830). He has been pronounced by competent judges the greatest of English critics. He was the son of a Unitarian preacher, and in early manhood, coming in contact with Coleridge, was powerfully affected by him. His inclination was to art, and for a time he practiced painting, but he was drawn into newspaper work in Lon-don. He became a critic of art and the drama, lectured on literature, and wrote essays. His variable temper made him difficult to get along with. His severity was shown not only to his political opponents, but to those who tried to be his friends. He quarreled with his first wife, who had brought him some property, and was discreditably divorced from her. Then came a violent passion for the daughter of a lodging-house keeper, and when she jilted. him he told the whole story without reserve in his "Liber Amoris." He married a second wife, but she left him in a few years. Hazlitt was a man of wider experience of life, more robust and more fluent as a writer than gentle Charles Lamb. His miscellaneous essays are not so uniformly excellent, but they comprise many admirable sketches, as "Merry England," "Going a Journey," "The Indian Jugglers." But his most valuable work is seen in his literary criticism, in "The Characters of Shakespeare," "The Elizabethan Dramatists," "The English Poets," and "The English Comic Writers." His strong personality caused him to have intense prejudices, so that his opinions need to be watched, but whenever he is really judicial, he exhibits the highest excellence of criticism proper and adequate estimate of the authors considered.
Among the papers which gave high literary value to the "London Magazine," none were more remarkable than "The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater," which appeared in 1821. The author, Thomas DeQuincey (1785-1859) was born at Manchester and educated at Oxford, but being under no restraint, he wandered at times to Dublin, London, and elsewhere. He also acquired the opium habit, and after he settled in 1809 at Grasmere, in the Lake district, in a house formerly occupied by Wordsworth, the use of opium, or rather laudanum, grew upon him. He was at this time wealthy, and was admitted at once to intimacy with the families of the poets already domiciled there. He had previously bestowed, through a friend, £300 on Coleridge, as an acknowledgment of some slight favor shown him. Gradually his fortune was wasted, and the strange genius had to resort to his pen for a living. In his "Confessions," and still more in his portrayal of scenes from his dreams, DeQuincey used an elaborate semi-poetical style. It was partly founded on his study of music, and is seen in "Our Ladies of Sorrow" and "The English Mail-Coach." Although he did not begin to write for publication till he was thirty-six, once started he kept it up vigorously to the end of his life. It comprised critical, narrative, biographical and autobiographic sketches, in some of which he has been charged with falsifying facts, and excused on the plea that to him dreams and realities were often interchangeable. For these and other reasons, there remains much mystery about the curious little man. He removed to Edinburgh in 183o, and made that his chief place of residence for the rest of his life. But his habits were uncertain; he was fond of night rambles, and appeared and disappeared without notice. As a writer, when at his best, he has seldom been excelled in strength or brilliancy. At times he indulged in a peculiar, grotesque humor, and often he marred the effect of his writing by excessive argumentation, wearisome trifling, or endless digressions. Apart from the collection of his Essays, made to various magazines, his few books have little value. VVhen the enterprise of an American publisher had first put his essays in book form, the grateful author issued a revised edition, which forms an enduring monument to his memory.