LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[James Grahame]
Two Letters.
 (Edinburgh:  John Fairbairn,  1817)
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“Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away.” 1. Corinth. ix. 27.



It is suggested by Horace, as a consolation for the overcrowded and impoverished state of the republic of letters in the age which he adorned, that the empire, at least, of honour and humanity, was enlarged by every accession to the ranks of authorship; and that even those scholars who could not improve the literature of their country, were themselves improved by it, and formed a valuable addition to the living depositary of elevation of sentiment and refinement of morality. The cultivator of letters, (says he,) is at least exempt from covetousness, and supe-
rior to the mean passions and artifices engendered by gross pursuits; non fraudem socio incogitat;
Torquet ab obsocenis jam nunc sermonibus aurem;
Asperitatis et invidiæ corrector et irae;
Recte facta refert.
If Horace could have forseen such a redundance of literary population, and such a perplexing multiplicity of literary productions as the present aera has exhibited, it might perhaps have occurred to him that there are limits to the consolation which he has so beautifully suggested; that the refined and liberal sentiment which he considers the corporate spirit of scholars, will be diluted and weakened by extreme diffusion; and that when the pursuits of literature, like any other avenue to public favour and emolument, are so crowded as to make advancement difficult to all, and dissappointment the portion of the majority, some of the competitors will endeavour to get forward by jostling the rest, and some will forsake the high road of honour and fair play, and seek mean bye-paths and tricking short cuts to their object. There was indeed a period in the literary history of this
country, when letters either adorned their votaries or derived a lustre from them; when the arms they supplied were never hired for unworthy warfare; and when a famished quack would no more have dream’t of using the press to blacken his enemies by scurrility, and exalt himself by lying affidavits, than Thersites would have dared to steal and wear the armour of Achilles. But this aera, I fear, has forever gone by; and letters are now prostituted to uses as vile as the grossest of those to which the paper they consume is ever applied.

I have been induced to address you, Sir, on the present occasion, by considerations which will be apparent from the conclusion of this letter. But even the foregoing preliminary reflections, I venture to think, are with propriety addressed to you, who have sustained in its highest purity the character of a man of letters, and dignified the labours of the scholar, by demonstrating and realizing their subservience to the interests of piety and the honour of God.

You, Sir, are aware, and the public by this time have been pretty generally informed,
Mr Blackwood, the bookseller of this place, has declared war on the publishers of the new series of the Scots Magazine, for presuming to improve their own property. Their and his Magazines are candidates for the favour of the public; but it has already been apparent that they are not to be equally successful in their suit. And as the great Packwood (of razor-strop celebrity), kept a poet in his back shop to write down the razor-strops of his competitors, so Mr Blackwood has hired a hackney writer to sing his praises, and to compile jokes, and manufacture lampoons on the publishers of the rival Magazine, and on every man of letters whom he suspects of having contributed to its sale and celebrity. The first sally of this literary Swiss is entitled, “Translation of an Ancient Chaldee Manuscript,” and appears in the first number, recently published, of “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine;”—a name of which the distinctive part is well chosen, for such a publication as this promises to be.

On the literary or controversial merit, the taste or the candour, displayed by this lam-
poon, called a “
Translation from an Ancient Chaldee Manuscript,” I do not mean to trouble you with many observations. Its deficiency in these points is the most respectable (or, to speak more properly, the least disreputable) feature in its composition. The author frankly enough confesses the sterility of his invention, by his desperate excursions in quest of merriment beyond the bounds of religion and decency, and by his faithful abjuration of wit in any other shape than that which men of genius despise for its vulgarity, and men of worth detest for its impiety. If his teeth be too unsound to bite keenly, the same cause enables him to atone for this controversial defect, and to annoy his opponents by the qualities of his breath. His judgment and his wit seem to be much on a par: he worships a fly, and to this worthless idol he sacrifices an ox. He makes indecent jeers at his Creator, and turns the most awful language and images of revealed religion into a source of mirth and a vehicle of blackguardism, for the laughter of the senseless, and the approbation of the profligate. “Utinam male qui mihi volunt, sic rideant!


Abstract from this performance its profanity and impiety, and it is “a tale told by an ideot;” but, with these qualities, it is an outrage on religion, committed by a madman. For, Sir, this precious production, as you are aware, is neither more nor less than a parody of that awful portion of Scripture which concludes the New Testament, and which I shall not contribute farther to profane, by naming in the same breath with this blasphemous mimicry of it. I am not so presumptuous as to intend to inflict an adequate castigation on such a performance,—the task would suit your pen much better than mine. If they whose duty it is to punish such libels, and to protect things sacred from outrage and insult, feel no call on themselves to come forward on this occasion, this writer must settle his account with his own conscience; and under its agreeable suggestions, he may elicit what comfort he can from the state of his accounts with his friend the publisher, and the benefactions which this patron may bestow on his literary lacquies.

“Yet, oh, my Sons a Father’s words attend
(So may the fates preserve the ears you lend,)
’Tis yours a Bacon or a Locke to blame,
A Newton’s genius or a Milton’s flame
But, oh! with one, immortal one, dispense,
The source of Newton’s light, of Bacon’s sense.
Content, each emanation of his fires
That beams on earth, each virtue he inspires,
Each art he prompts, each charm he can create,
Whate’er he gives, are giv’n for you to hate.
Persist, by all divine in man unaw’d,
But, learn ye Blockheads! not to scorn your God.

And now, Sir, need I add, that my determination to address you on the present occasion, has arisen from the regret and displeasure with which I have seen your name and character associated with such a performance as this. An article to which your name is subscribed, is inserted in the body of the work—almost in immediate contact with the insult to that religion of which you are so distinguished an ornament: and it has pretty generally gone abroad that you mean occasionally to contribute to stock this Foundling Hospital of Wit with your productions, and thus grant to its management the implied certificate of your approbation. Nay, the Parodist seems to have imagined that he could blind your eyes and pervert your judgment by the gift of his commendation: and
accordingly, in place of revilement from this Scorner, (which your function teaches you to expect, and your character enables you to despise) you, the historian of
Knox and the champion of the Covenanters, are accosted from the Scorner’s chair with the accents of good fellowship, and described in the record of his impiety as an ally,—while your humbler fellow-labourer in the defence of the Covenanters, is lampooned beside you, and expressly lampooned as a man “that feareth God!

Now, Sir, highly as I venerate and admire your character, if I had thought that in this instance, you had erred so far as to have for one moment consented to “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,”—that you, “knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death,” had even for a moment permitted yourself to “have pleasure in them that do them,”—I should have said so without shrinking, and with as little apprehension of doing wrong as of incurring your resentment. “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee,” says the Scripture; and I believe it says no
more than the truth. But I am as fully convinced as I am of my own existence, that not a breath of the scandal created by this performance can justly light on you; that the only error you have committed, is that of embarking rather too hastily in an adventure, the nature of which you did not understand; that your recent contribution to the Magazine was bestowed without the slightest previous surmise on your part of the company into which it was to be introduced; and that nobody can feel more indignant than yourself at so perfidious an attempt to dignify the profane by raising them to your level, or to degrade you by depression to theirs. How you will demonstrate the sentiments you entertain on this subject, must be determined by you but must, also excite the anxious interest of every friend of virtue and of
Dr M’Crie. It belongs not to me to teach you your duty; nor can my authority be wanted to impress you with the conviction that “the companion of fools shall be destroyed.” I forbear to adorn my pages by bringing again before your own and the public eye, those memorable passages of your late Review of
the “
Tales of my Landlord,” in which you have so powerfully reprobated and chastised profanity not half so gross and odious as this. These passages are fresh in public recollection; and long may they continue so. But I will remind you of, what no wise man should overlook,—what the tongue of an enemy has said of yourself. A certain critic lately endeavoured to palliate the profanity of which you accused the novelist to whom I have already alluded; and, as the most effectual palliation he could plead, he ventured to insinuate that you yourself could tolerate on an occasion, a humorous though irreverent use of Scriptural language; and he asserted in particular, that you had actually transferred to your own pages, with expressions of approbation, “a ludicrous parody made by an ignorant parish clerk on certain words of a psalm too sacred to be here quoted.” (Quarterly Review, NO. xxxii. p. 475.). Nothing can be more groundless or more easily disproved than this particular charge. The more general insinuation is equally unfounded; but of course it cannot be so easy to refute it. I am confident, how-
ever, that the conduct you will pursue on the present occasion, will be such “that they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your conversation;” and that you will not give the teachers of profanity a pretence for pointing to you as their associate, by extending your countenance to a work, which it would be injurious to you to suppose you did not now contemplate with unfeigned disgust.

I trust I need make no apology for the freedom of this expostulation: and I hope nothing will ever diminish the respect with which I am,


Your most obedient humble Servant,




“Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” Ephes. v. 6, 7.



The foregoing letter, which I have presumed to address to your reverend and excellent brother and friend, will supersede the necessity of a formal ceremonious approach to yourself. Like him you have combined the characters of the Scholar and the Divine, and have obtained no inconsiderable share of applause from the learned, and approbation from the good. To you, as to him, the eyes of many are turned as to “a watchman unto the house of Israel,” who will warn them of even the distant approach of danger,—as a man whose function has impressed him with much stronger convictions of duty than they are expected to attain, and extended his
views to the consequences of wickedness farther than their observation is supposed to reach,—as a leader whose steps they are bound to follow, but whose purity they will hardly be required to equal. Your exertions have not been confined to the pulpit; your published Discourses, and the pages of “
The Edinburgh Christian Instructor” have contributed to the propagation of piety, as powerfully as precept can do; and your example, I believe, has hitherto never been wanting to give to precept its due respect and efficacy. From the survey of such a character, it is truly painful to proceed to the consideration, that you are now represented to the public as pledged to countenance and assist the Magazine to which I have adverted in the preceding letter. Your Discourses, I perceive, are advertised on the cover of this work, and your assistance promised in the prospectus. You now see what it is that you are represented as approving, and expected to support: and it remains with you to do, in this situation, what you may consider due to the public, yourself, and your own reputation.


I have learned with a mixture of satisfaction and surprise that you, Sir, or Dr M’Crie, or both of you, did remonstrate in the strongest terms with the editor or publisher of this Magazine, against the insertion of the profane ribaldry which now disgraces its pages. That you should refuse to “count that gain which virtue shuns to win,” and should despise the most money-getting line that would make good men the foes of its author, is no more than might have been easily anticipated: but that you should have hoped for a moment to succeed in your remonstrance, and find your advice respected, seems to me as surprising as if you had quoted St Paul to a Turk, or Tom Paine in a sermon, or endeavoured to deter rats from your bacon by inscribing on the shelves of your pantry “Thou shalt not steal.” It is said that the best way to make a pig go forward, is to pull him back by the tail: but you have cast your pearls before him, and you see how he has valued them and treated you. I am willing, however, to rejoice in this remonstrance, as an earnest of your’s and Dr M’Crie’s future conduct towards a publication that has
so unhandsomely pilloried your names. You will not content yourselves with protesting, like Pilate, that you wash your hands from the scandal and impiety of a work which is countenanced by your names, and which your assistance contributes to circulate and sell. You will not join a party in which you may “haply be found with those that fight against the faith;” nor will you place your chair beside that of the scorner, or give place to them that deride things sacred, “no, not for an hour.”

I can readily foresee that the publisher of this Magazine, (who is also employed by you to publish the Christian Instructor and your own Discourses,) may state abundance of defences for his own share in the publication in question. He is doing nothing else than labouring in his vocation of scraping money; in which, I certainly know of no written law that can oblige him to be as much of a gentleman, and practise as much liberality as his competitor. That he should feel some anti-peristaltic sensations at the sale and celebrity of his competitor’s Magazine, and hate the cause of his bile, is not to be wondered at.
It is surprising what various and dissimilar views the private interests of different men will deduce from the same object. A tailor, surveying a field of battle, would probably find his heart bleed for the quantity of tailor’s work he saw thus inhumanly destroyed; and the same critical and poetical excellence which has attracted public favour and patronage to the new series of the
Scots Magazine, has only disordered the liver of its rival’s publisher, by suggesting the handfuls of half-crowns that might have rung on his counter, if the monopoly of magazine-making had fallen to his lot. He has loudly exclaimed, that by the destruction of his monopoly, he has been most unhandsomely dealt with: but there are limits to the efficacy of the most artful outcry; and though, like Potiphar’s wife, he has got the start of his adversaries in complaint, the facts have supported his story as ill as they did the story of the two elders who imputed their own incontinence to “Susanna.” I would not for the world insinuate that so sober a tradesman would gratuitously prefer a profane parody to a more respectable article: on the contrary, I fully believe him so perfectly single mind-
ed, that, like the bookseller in
Joseph Andrews, he “would as readily print a sermon of Whitfield, as any farce that was ever refused to be licensed for indelicacy.” At present he has done no more than hire a few literary scavengers to rake the channel and pelt his adversaries, in the hope of chasing them from the course; and if he find himself disappointed, and discover that his Magazine is no more able to outstrip its rival, than a man with a wooden leg is able to catch a hare,—he must content himself with railing at his unprofitable servants, who, dealing their blows in the dark, have missed the proper adversary, and only wounded the interests of piety and morality. He has begged help (as I am convinced you perfectly well know) from every man of letters whom he could tease into granting it for nothing; and bought it from every scribbling drudge willing to sell it cheap. Of this latter awkward squad who have consented to perform their exercise at his bidding, I have heard only of two—a brace of poets—the doleful Highland Hector, and the rhyming Swineherd. I should be sorry to give offence to either of these poetical drum-
mers, by classing them irregularly; but really, I am totally unable to settle the precedence between a flea and a louse. If their manager, the publisher, will shew me his books, and the order in which he writes their names, I shall endeavour to catalogue them in the same manner. In addition to these, he has collected a “sine nomine turba,” a nameless gang of “stickit lawyers” and juvenile pretenders to criticism, some of whom (like
Martial’s coxcombs) turn up their noses before they are well able to blow them. This precious pack has undertaken, on some principle of free-masonry in nonsense, to find out the dunce-mark in their enemies, and estimate the negative quantity of intellect evinced in the braying of brother blockheads. They must infallibly succeed, if it be true of dulness, as it is of wit, that they who excel therein are best qualified to arbitrate the pretensions of others.

But how will the public be persuaded to help off even one copy of a Magazine composed by such trashy dabblers? Even infidels weary of impiety, and even fools are shocked with it at last. But the annals of bookselling
have preserved a recipe for such emergencies; and the famous
Mr Curl has not left his successor without a precedent on this occasion. The policy which the publisher and editor of this Magazine have pursued in their distress, is thus anticipated by the Goddess of Dulness in her advice to Curl in the Dunciad:
To him the Goddess Son! thy grief lay down
And turn this whole illusion on the town.
As the sage dame, experienc’d in her trade,
By names of toasts retails each batter’d jade;
Be thine, my Stationer! this magic gift
Cook shall be Prior, and Concanen Swift:
So shall each hostile name become our own,
And we, too, boast our Garth and Addison.”
Hence the majority of the respectable names which are promised as permanent contributors to “
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.”

I scarce know whether to laugh at or to lament the destiny of those who in good earnest may be termed the journeymen of this publisher; ordained as they are to be starved by his love, or libelled by his hate. While they work as much, and accept as little as he pleases, they have all the honour that his creditable countenance can confer. “Nos poma natamus,” he tells them, with an air of
benignant familiarity, “You to praise, and I to pudding.” The instant they disagree, he denounces them as dunces and rogues,—as indifferent to the force of their retort, as
Jack Ketch is to the participation of, the disgrace he inflicts; and he hires a literary terrier or two to gnaw their heels and supply their place, till a second disagreement produce a repetition of the same dissentions.

As for the author of the vile Parody of Scripture, who attempts to jest with a halter about his neck, I give him joy of a performance for which his conscience will reproach him as a scorner of religion, after he has spent every farthing that his bookseller would bestow to keep him from the gallows; and which he cannot now avow either to the public or his friends, without reproaching himself with the want of the only quality that can redeem a stupid miscreant from universal contempt. I am enabled to state, as a fact now quite notorious, that the ingenious and accomplished editor of a celebrated literary work, conveyed to this libeller, through the medium of his publisher, an intimation which the libeller would perhaps prosecute me for scandal if I
reported, but which he has shewn be deserved, by pocketing it in silence. I should have been much dissatisfied with the conduct of that accomplished and respectable gentleman in thus resenting a charge, the falsehood of which nobody knew better than his accuser, if the result of his proceeding has not put the finishing stroke to his libeller’s disgrace, by shewing that he who is such a prodigal of his conscience as to make thus free with his God, is such an economist of his person as to hedge and shrink from encountering the correction of a man. Thus destitute both of piety and of courage, the noblest quality of what is divine, and the most manly of what is human in our nature, what inferior merit shall this buffoon be permitted to claim? That he has conveyed a sting to the minds of one or two worthy men, has arisen from the venom of his shaft, and not from the vigour of his bow. “He has sometimes sported with lucky malice,” said
Johnson, in reference to a far abler calumniator, “but to him that knows his company, it is not hard to be sarcastic in a mask. While he walks like Jack the Giant-killer in a coat of darkness, he may
do much mischief with little strength. When he has once provided for his safety by impenetrable secresy, he has had nothing to combat but truth and justice, enemies whom he knows to be feeble in the dark.” He has shown his wit in searching Scripture for sentences to be ludicrously and profanely applied to those whom he was hired to traduce; his magnanimity in insulting decrepitude; his cleverness and humour in pushing down the crutch of
a lame man; his generous hostility in hiding his own person, and yet making personal defects the butt of his insolence. Shakespear has told us that “In nature there’s no blemish but the mind;” and a more odious blemish than this libeller’s own mind, I believe it would be difficult to depict. I wish the authors, great and small, whom he has bepraised, much joy of the diplomas they hold from him. But I would rather belong to the party that, with a Playfair, share the honour, of possessing no quality that can excite the complacency of so despicable a babbler. By his mean and stupid abuse of that great man, he has conferred on him the only sort of honour which it is within his
competence, and which it is certainly most congenial to his nature and his manners to bestow. I would rather be pelted, than cheered and embraced by the mob of
Orator Hunt, or the pen of this libeller. Nor shall I honour him so far as to notice one of his untruths. The cart’s tail is the only proper theatre for discussion with him; the beadle his proper disputant; and the “things called whips” the only argument and answer to which he is entitled. As for his publisher, who carries a shield before him to battle, and hopes to eat all that he kills, he will be severely enough punished by the loss of his meal. On another occasion, he will assuredly find calomel pills a much better remedy for the bile, than profanity.

It has given me great pleasure to learn that some of the most respectable inhabitants of this city, who had been importuned by the publisher of this Magazine to purchase copies of it, have since returned them,—declaring that they would neither keep nor encourage such loathsome profanity and scurrility; and prohibiting the publisher from sending them any future number of the work. Some others,
I dare say, who can swallow profanity where it is united with a shadow of wit, will follow the same example, in order to get back the half-crowns they paid for what is obviously not worth half a farthing to any body but the tobacconist. When I first saw this Magazine on the publisher’s counter, I turned over a page or two, and then shut it, as I thought, forever; quickly perceiving that the outer covering and vignette were no more than the Lion’s skin, and that the genius of the former editors had deserted it forever. Having subsequently heard of this precious parody, I not only perused it, but taxed myself to wade through another of its articles,—a
tirade against Mr Leigh Hunt; intended, I suppose, to provoke that gentleman to give some repute to the Magazine by noticing it in his Newspaper. It seems to be the composition of some obscure and desperate dunce, who tries to make people look at him by walking without his breeches. Such horrible nonsense is below all criticism; and yet some parts of it amused me; for I have been lately reading “Peregrine Pickle,” and now see in this article, that Pallet the painter is still alive. He
has exchanged the painter’s brush for the critic’s birch; and is now as like
Jeffrey as he was then like Rubens. He did not of yore reach the highest altitudes of absurdity, till after the Socratic immersion he sustained at Alost; and luckily for his admirers he seems now to be in somewhat of the same wrath-stirring pickle; for, from the purity of his Billingsgate, and the slavering fury he expresses at the friendship between Lord Byron and Mr Hunt, I should guess that he had been contumeliously refused admittance by the porter of one of these personages, and had the door of the other slapped in his face. You may now see what the editor of this Magazine has been partly aiming at. Apothecaries frequently sprinkle something pungent over a purge, to hinder the stomach from treating it as an emetic, and rejecting it on the spot. Nothing but a little startling blasphemy, or the hope of meeting with some communication from such pens as your’s and Dr M’Crie’s, could procure a moment’s attention to the trash of this Magazine.

The little article already furnished by Dr M’Crie, I have not read; and I hope I shall
never again be referred for any production of your or his pen, to the pages of “
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.”

I am far from expecting that he or you will declare war on innocent mirth and recreation; that you will exhort a bridegroom to look like an Undertaker, or a lover to court from the Lamentations; or that you will even press to its sternest limits the inexpediency of “foolish talking and jesting.” Religion, like a well-made coat, sits so easy upon you both, as to be neither stiff nor morose. But the act of profanity to which I have now directed your attention, is of so vile and disgraceful a nature, that the virtue which would wink at it for a moment, deserves to lose her eyesight forever. The prevalent laxity of morals will never be admitted by you as a reason for relaxing the curb on licentiousness that is entrusted to your hands, or weakening the efficacy of the example you are expected to shew. You are not one of those censors who demonstrate their charity in making allowance for what is, at the expense of their zeal in contending for what ought to be; nor are you one of those ministers who can satisfy
their consciences by comparing the official regularity of their own deportment, with the open profanity of others. What you think yourself entitled to touch, to taste, to handle, others, without scruple, will grasp, devour, and embrace. To suggest to you the value of so lofty a privilege, or the responsibility with which it is accompanied, would be worse than superfluous. What I have submitted to your consideration, are the sentiments of a man who sincerely esteems both your character and your function; who desires to see your claims on public respect continue unimpaired; who would rather see a clergyman whipping a top in the streets, or running a sack-race, than associating himself with the witlings and parodists of this Magazine; and who, for the present, subscribes himself,

Your obedient humble Servant,