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[John Galt]
On the Personalities of the Whigs.
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine  Vol. 10  No. 54  (September 1821)  217-21.
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No. LIV. SEPTEMBER, 1821. Vol. X.

Familiar Epistles to Christopher North,
From an old Friend with a new Face.

Letter III.

On the Personalities of the Whigs,—and the Outcry against Maga.

My Dear Kit.

Before leaving England, I must have a few words with yourself. I do not understand why you submit thus tamely to the misrepresentations, not of foes, but of friends. That you should laugh at the outcry of those “poor, weak, and despised old” creatures the Whigs, and treat with contempt the savage whoop and howl of the Radicals, does not surprise me; but that you endure so patiently “that dreadful pother” about personalities, with which some of “those who should be ours” so effectually back the enemy, is, I confess, beyond my comprehension. It is full time that you should let these pluckless Tories know the truth; and that what their feeble and deluded senses have been taught to consider as personalities, are nothing more than the unavoidable effect of ridicule, cleverly and justly applied.

I wish also to set you and these faint-hearted gentry right in other respects. Those who call themselves the Tories, have but little merit in that universal exposure of Whig pretensions and practices, which has executed justice so completely on the party. As to the discomfiture of their literary expectants, you have fought the battle, especially in Edinburgh, where the reviewers have been driven from the field, and the Review itself sent a-begging among the drivellers of Cockaigne. But, with regard to the party in general, the merit of their degradation, after their own bankruptcy of character, is greatly due to Cobbet and the Radicals. It was his rotten eggs, and their brick-bats, which reduced them to the shivering and shattered plight that has rendered them now almost objects of compassion,—if compassion, or indeed any sentiment of pity, could possibly be felt towards fraternity which exulted at every occurrence of national distress, in our greatest peril, and triumphed at the miseries which they themselves so largely contributed to inflict on individuals. Still, however, though they have been hissed and hooted from common-halls and hustings,—though they have been pelted out of Palace-Yard, coughed down in Parliament, cuffed and kicked, and sent yelping and yelling from every place of seditious exhortation,— there are particular personages among them that verily have not yet received their reward. I allude to those who first set the example of personal attacks, and who now so bitterly weep and wail, and go about wringing their hands, at finding their own weapons turned with such energy against themselves. I allude particularly to the early writers in the Edinburgh Review, and to the correspondents of the Morning Chronicle.—Of course I do not mean to say, that Messrs Jeffrey and Perry are themselves dealers in detraction; but were I in your shoes, knowing what I know,—how these pretty behaved gentlemen turn aside their heads, and spread out their hands in horror and aversion at the very sight of the Magazine, I would “tickle their catastrophes,”—I would lay any eight volumes of “the blue and yellow calamity” under contribution, and take any four or five files of the Chronicle for the last thirty years, and with page, and day and date, dare them to match from your pages the base and merciless ribaldry with which these virulent journals have assailed every political opponent who, either by office or title-page, could be pointed out as an object of derision.

But “two blacks will never make a white,” say your pluckless friends, those pouncet boxes of the Court, who affect such delicate feelings of honour,—such a skinless sensibility to every thing personal; “and, therefore, Mr North, we dislike the freedom you have taken with private characters. It is very wrong, and very coarse,—we cannot approve of you in that respect.” O dear!—who the devil cares whether such feeble and ineffectual fractions of intellect and spirit as they are, either approve or disapprove of your avenging career? Let them he thankful that they are allowed to follow in the wake of your course; and let them know, that merely on account of their moral insignificance, they are permitted so to do. It is necessary, and indeed unavoidable, that to all parties
218Familiar Epistle from an old Friend with a new Face
there should be attached a multitude of silly creatures. The Whigs have many such, and the Radicals out-number them a thousand fold; but neither the “Master Slenders” of the one, nor the “Bottoms” of the other, are in any degree so truly contemptible as a Tory of the Polonius kind, especially when he declaims about personalities. Why, the poor things themselves live by personalities,—there is not a neighbour’s character or qualities unspared by their little malice. They cannot indeed sting like scorpions; but the fault is nature’s that made them so harmless. They only defile what they can neither wound nor destroy. A Tory of this class, is indeed a being infinitely contemptible, even as a man. He is, or rather it is generally, about the age of three-score, with an endeavour to be youthy and elegant, an endeavour which its lean shanks and faultering joints partly assist. It has the smallest possible ideas on every subject of public opinion.—It shuns the adversaries of its party, as if they were hydras and chimeras.—It becomes nervous and irritable at the slightest indication of opposition to its sentiments with regard to matters of taste. In all its habits it is petty and puerile. Like Justice Shallow, it boasts of the imbecile pranks and brawls of its youth, and the revellers it would set in the stocks, or those who grow riotous with ale, instead of champaign and claret. Is it, Christopher, by such beings as this that you submit to be lectured? Up with your crutch, and knock him down. The fact is, that such creatures belong to no party; they have happened to attach themselves to yours, because they thought it the genteelest; for they have no conception of what is great or honourable, but only of what is genteel. Perhaps, however, your silence with respect to them, proceeds from your contempt for their influence and understandings? Be it so,—but then declare the fact. Do not allow it to be any longer imagined, that you are disposed to abate one jot of your wonted antipathy to pretension and insolence, on account of the cry which the Whigs make against your retaliation for their personalities. Above all, do not allow those feeble and shaking headed Tories to believe that you value their good or ill opinion one stiver. What indeed is the worth of their opinion at any time, but more especially in your case, when it is well known they are utterly ignorant of the true nature of the things at which they affect to be so disturbed? The nerveless creatures are afraid to look into your pages, which they strangely conceive spare neither the infirmities nor the appearance of age or sex, and of course what they say is as ridiculous as it is unfounded. Private personalities you have ever avoided; but to be accused of such paltry tattling, by those who practise nothing else, when you have so studiously confined yourself to public conduct and character, is perhaps one of the things to which, from the beginning, you considered yourself as necessarily exposed. But these poor souls are the deluded and unconscious tools of the Whigs, who know so well the effect of clamour and outcry; and who, from a sinister principle, never read any thing written against themselves, that they may be able, as it were, with a clear conscience, to declare with some shew of truth, but virtually in effect with falsehood, that the matter and manner of the attack is such, that it would be unworthy—honourable men—even to notice, far less to answer it.

Let me, however, not be misunderstood. I do not advise you to imitate the Whigs in abusing the talents and characters of your political adversaries, and, after you have provoked their resentment, to supplicate and implore the by-slanders to assist you in defending yourself. Nor would I at all recommend that you should drag into notoriety any of those poor genteel retainers of your own party, merely because they have been shocked at the fists and attitudes which you have sometimes shewn to the rabble rout of your promiscuous assailants,—I only wish that, in the first place, you would shew from the Whig writers, the sort of personalities in which they have themselves dealt for the last thirty years; and, in the second place, that you should contrast with their libellous and systematic misrepresentations, the temperance of the retribution you have administered.

I only wish you to compare the quiet progress of your own garden chair,— the gentle turns that you take among your flowers, raising here the modest and drooping blossom, and pruning there, with a discreet and skilful hand, the overgrown briar, that chokes the growth of useful herbs, and, with its
Familiar Epistle from an old Friend with a new Face219
rank and noisome luxuriance, cumbers and exhausts the ground. In a word, to compare the progress of “
The Magazine” with “The Review,” where, as in a rattling and raging chariot, the whole genius of the Whigs, like a many headed Hindoo idol, careered for a time so triumphantly. From afar the periodical coming forth of this literary Jauggernaut was hailed with amazement and worship. The infidel votaries of philosophy, and taste, and “science, falsely so called,” rushed like fanatics, and sacrificed themselves beneath the wheels. But its oracles and its predictions, in every instance falsified, gradually begot suspicions of the pretensions of the priesthood, whose tricks and devices were discovered through the veil and vapour of the incense, which the shallow, the heartless, and the interested burned in adulation of the god. A demand arose for the vouchers of their miraculous pretensions. It could not be answered. A clamorous multitude beset the temple. The servitors trembled and secretly betook themselves, one by one, to other avocations. The high-priest attempted more than once to fly the sanctuary, but the golden chain was as often strengthened to bind him faster than ever to the altar. At last the brazen doors were burst open, the profane vulgar rushed in, and beheld, with open-mouthed astonishment, that the divinity to which they had offered up the sacrifices of their understandings, and implored the acceptance of their hearts and heads, was in reality but a senseless image set up for sinister purposes, adorned and augmented for a political end, by many who were perfectly well aware of the mean and insignificant materials of which it had been constructed.

At the publication of the “Chaldee MS.” the cunning spirit of the Whigs saw that perhaps, by a dextrous management of the affections and prejudices of the very class whom they had so reviled and insulted, the tables might he turned against you. They knew that among the friends of the Magazine were many highly respectable characters, persons of great private worth, who possessed by their virtues an extensive influence in society, and who, without any literary predilections, and uninformed with respect to the free and sportive humour of the age, entertained that profound and due veneration for the language and imagery of the Bible, which the friends of religion ever wish to cherish. The language and imagery of the “Chaldee MS.” furnished the Whigs with an opportunity to irritate the pious feelings of this respectable class; and accordingly, while they were obliged to acknowledge the ability displayed in the article, they insinuated that it was conceived in a spirit of derogatory profaneness. This was mighty well on the part of those who had been for years sneering, not merely at the forms of devotional expression, but at religion itself. The bait, however, took; and immediately a number of those who would otherwise perhaps never have thought at all upon the subject, were seized with a pious horror, at the idea of the language of Scripture being perverted. This was not all;—in the “Chaldee MS.” several descriptive touches of personal defects and infirmities had unfortunately been introduced. These were perhaps in some cases necessary, to make out characters which had no features or qualities by which they could be otherwise distinguished. The offence was harmless, and the jocular spirit in which the whole article was written, ought to have protected it from the charge of malice or ill nature. But the Whigs availed themselves of those few playful strictures on appearance, and still more vehemently than they could venture to do on the parody of Scripture language (for they were conscious of the liberties they had themselves taken with religion) and they declaimed against them, as examples of an unheard of licentiousness, just as if the world had never seen the Whig caricatures of the bodily peculiarities of some of the greatest men of the age. Thus, in two things of themselves really insignificant, the structure of the language in which the story of the “Chaldee MS.” was told, and the incidental allusion to two or three personal peculiarities—a foundation was laid with one class of the friends of good order, to condemn the tendency of the whole Magazine, and with another, to blame the course it had chosen as ungentlemanly. But, now when the feelings thus fomented have subsided, it must be allowed that the “Chaldee MS.” contains nothing to offend any principle, or excite any sentiment at variance with good-humoured hilarity and banter. This at the time the
220Familiar Epistle from an old Friend with a new Face
Whigs perfectly well knew; but they saw in the Number which contained the “Chaldee MS.” a mustering of strength against them, which in the fumes and intoxication of their own success, they never once apprehended had any existence. They felt that there was a spirit abroad, greater than the demon which they themselves served, and they were smitten with dismay, and trembled for the overthrow of his superiority. They trembled justly, for it has been accomplished.

Having succeeded in poisoning the minds of the pious with an idea of the profane character of a work, expressly set on foot to counteract their own infidel practices, and having also induced several meek gentlemanly minds to disapprove of those allusions to personal infirmities, which were in a great measure almost unavoidable, it was not difficult to increase the outcry against your personalities, and this was done as often as you ventured to question the learning or the abilities of the different public writers whom you were professionally required to notice. It was the privilege, forsooth, of the Edinburgh Review, the Morning Chronicle, and certain other publications after their kind, to treat with contumely the sentiments and the writings of the political opponents of their faction, but it was libel and slander when the same thing was done by others, and particularly so when it was done by you.

Not content with retaliating on the Whigs for their scandalous violation of the limits of fair literary criticism, you provoked another class of enemies. I do not mean the Radicals, who to a man are necessarily and naturally against you, but the obscene brood of Cockaigne; and yet what writers have ever been so personal as the Cockneys? How many of them are judicially convicted libellers? Look at all the varieties of their publications, from that paradise of dainty devices, the Examiner, down to Wooler’s Gazette. When or where were ever such liberties taken with character?—and yet they too complain of your personalities.—Why do you permit this? Why do you not at once shew that your animadversions have been ever confined to those points in which individuals present themselves towards the public?

The rage, however, of the Whigs, the delusion into which they have betrayed better men, and the chattering spite of the Cockneys, have not been so detrimental to the fair and just character of your strictures, as the conduct of the timid Tories, who imagine that party controversies can be maintained without giving offence. They might as well expect the battles of war to be fought without wounds—A party controversy, such as you have embarked in, and in which they have always professed themselves to be auxiliaries, is a hostile conflict.—You are contending for an ascendancy over public opinion. The Whig writers have for a time pretended that they possessed it, and perhaps in some degree it may be said they did. Your object is to destroy their dominion, and to vindicate those venerable and constitutional principles, in politics, religion, and literature, which they have so strenuously endeavoured to subvert. But are you to be denied the use of ridicule and satire?—weapons which your adversaries have ever employed with great effect? The very idea is absurd, and in your situation impossible, for an important part of your duty consists in exposing pretensions; and can the mask be torn from the face of any species of hypocrisy without producing disagreeable feelings?—It is no less your duty to repress party arrogance, and mortify factious pride. Can this be done without disturbing the self-complacency of certain individuals remarkable for both, and who are your declared and most virulent enemies? Why, then, do you permit the cowardly malcontents of your own side still to rank themselves with you, although they are constantly in the habit of wondering that you should employ the means with which you have been invested by God and nature, for the overthrow of your own and of their adversaries? Perhaps, however, you think these fastidious friends too numerous to be posted individually, or that it would be bad taste to post any of them.—I shall not question the correctness of the opinion; but, describe the class,—let us know what they are,—give them a name,—paint their lineaments,—point them out to the scorn of all parties, till the very children in the streets are able to say, “There goes one of the pluckless Tories!—Look at the poor sneaking sordid creature, how it crawls
Familiar Epistle from an old Friend with a new Face221
in silk stockings, with its meagre tottering limbs, to solicit some place or pension from the very masters that it hesitates to support in the most necessary of all their great undertakings—the chastisement of invidious and personal foes.” Till you do this, you have done but half your duty,—till you have convinced those who affect to be the friends of British principles, that it is an essential part of their own obligations, to deride the subverters of these principles, you have failed in some degree to fulfil one of the noblest objects of your original design.

Before concluding, I would also remind you of another heavy charge under which you allow your fame to suffer. You are accused of maliciously exposing names to the public, that were almost never heard of beyond the narrow bounds of their domestic circles, and of making free with private characters in the most offensive and impertinent manner. The accusation is undoubtedly entirely false; but it is made, and you ought to vindicate yourself. I am well aware, that you have touched with your crutch the elbows of a few borough demagogues, and that you have mode some of the Radicals and Whiglets, both of Glasgow and Edinburgh, feel, that if they pursue the same course as their masters in the metropolis, they must expect to participate in their punishment. But are you to endure, that this is to be called dragging private persons before the public, to the great injury of their comfort in life? I should be glad, indeed, that you would tell me, if the fellow who gets up after dinner in a tavern, and shews the confusion of his head, and the badness of his grammar, to a numerous assemblage of equal worthies, is not quite as much a public man, as the solitary student, who meekly and diffidently publishes his little lucubrations; and is such a fellow to be allowed, with impunity, to vent his spleen and personalities unrebuked, merely because he has not actually, in his own handwriting, sent his crude and immethodicol nonsense to the newspapers, which report the proceedings? It is very well for demagogues of this description to cry out at the switching you have occasionally given them, and it is natural that their associates, who have not yet spoken at these periodical orgies, should also endeavour to raise the town against you, in order to secure impunity for their own meditated exploits of the tongue. But is it for you to endure their scurrility, and give no explanation to the world of the motives and characters of those sort of private persons who affect to be so mightily aggrieved?

You are also charged with making free with persons truly, in the emphatical sense of the term, private; men who never trouble themselves either with literature, politics, or Whig dinners, but perform the duties of their profession and station with prudence, integrity, and care. Is not this a lie? and yet you allow it to circulate uncontradicted—Why do you not compel the slanderers to shew one single instance in which you have ever done so? You have certainly mentioned private individuals of the description alluded to, and spoken of their peculiarities; but, in every instance, with good humour, or in a style which implied praise, though expressed as banter; and this is a freedom that authors in every age have taken with their personal friends. Some of the happiest effusions of the greatest wits have been harmless familiarities with the characters of those whom they most esteemed; and are you, Kit, to be denied the privilege of cracking a joke with your cousins and cronies? I have heard, indeed, that all have not endured your humour so happily as “our fat friend,” the Doctor; but I do believe, that in every case where offence has been taken, it will be found that the party who supposed himself offended, was in the first instance amused with your jibes; and that he never imagined any malice in your jocularity till he had been wrought upon by some disturbed spirit, infected with the Whig or Radical distemper. But I must make an end; and with the best wishes for the continuation of all that vigour, and that particular kind of “ill nature,” which has given so much offence to the arrogant, the vain, and the petulant, I remain truly your

Old Friend with a new Face.

Gordon’s Hotel, Albemarle Street,
12th September, 1821.