LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[John Scott]
Cockney Writers.
London Magazine  Vol. 3  No. 13  (January 1821)  69-71.
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No XIII. JANUARY, 1821. Vol. III.


We shall here say a word on what the epithet Cockney, applied to a writer either of prose or poetry, really signifies,—or ought to signify:—it is worth describing; and, since we have made the Edinburgh Mohocks angry, they apply it so blunderingly that it is likely to lose all its point, should we leave it in their hands,—and that were a pity. We suspect they never knew very well what they were about in using it;—but it has served them for a word when they have been without an idea. It has saved them an expenditure, disproportionate to their means, in argument and wit: they have written Cockney against a writer, when they have been unable to write any thing else. Not but that, in some instances, the term has been sufficiently characteristic of the persons to whom they have applied it:—if their cleverness led them to these happy applications, we can only say, that their knavery has made them spoil their own joke; for the term Cockney, as now directed by them against an author, only means that they have a spite against his person or his talents.—The author of the article on the Scotch Novels, which appeared in our Magazine, has not, by his subsequent papers, rendered himself quite so agreeable to their feelings as they stated themselves to have found him in his first: in their last Number accordingly he is put down as a Cockney!—“an unfortunate Cockney!“ Yet we believe it is pretty generally allowed, that he has proved himself to be too far North for them; and it would go hard, we suspect, for any of the Mohocks to show, that, either in virtue of their birth-place or their compositions, they have a better right than he has to quote the motto of the Scottish nation, or brandish significantly the emblem which it accompanies. Our Elia, too—the pride of our Magazine, and the object of that praise of their’s under his real name—he is set down as a “Cockney Scribbler!” This gentleman, in his capacity of acknowledged author, they have never mentioned but to eulogize; as, indeed, who does not eulogize his writings for displaying a spirit of deep and warm humanity, enlivened by a vein of poignant wit,—not caustic, yet searching,—and recommending a shrewdness of judgement on men, books, and things, which seems to revive the old times when Magazines were not, and literature and knowledge were the better for it. The author of our Table Talk, too, is “a Cockney:” we offer to wager the amount at which Professor Leslie has laid his damages, in the action he has brought against them, that he is not,—and that no reader of his papers thinks him one. They have thus a good opportunity presented to them of getting out of a scrape, if their words are worth any thing. But they will take Shakspeare’s advice instead of our bet; “they who can’t be honest shouldn’t be valiant.” They won’t risk the wager. Let us, however, proceed at once to tell them what a Cockney writer is: they know, as well as ourselves, that these, just mentioned, have no claim to the title.

Cockneys, in general, are little
70Town Conversation.
men; but they are smart, clever, and active; quick observers, and wonderfully occupied with whatever is going on about them. They observe every thing, however, with an immediate and exclusive reference to themselves: being born and bred up in the metropolis renders each, in his own estimation, a member of a privileged class, and all novelties and varieties from their habits, are set down by them as singular exceptions, remarkable occurrences, things to be entered in their journals. They themselves constitute a standard, in their own estimation; and hence they are always measuring other people by themselves. If taller, they are giants; if shorter, dwarfs. Cockneys are thus unpleasantly pert in their manner, without meaning to be offensive: they are prone, too, to make mountains of mole-hills, and this is apt to turn the laugh against them, and cause them to be considered as more ignorant than they are. Place a Cockney amongst the ice-islands described by our late discoverers, and he would be forcibly struck by the magnificence and terror of the scene; but the first object in his thoughts would be himself, and nature’s marvels would be ranked high in importance chiefly through their connection with himself. How strange that he should be there! The ice how much more thick than on the Serpentine! How much more cold than in Cheapside! How much he will have to tell when he gets back!—“What do you find most remarkable at Versailles,” said
Louis XIV to the Doge of Genoa, whom he had compelled to come personally to make an apology? “Myself!” replied the Doge: “what most strikes me with surprise is that I should be here.” This was a Cockney idea; and the Doge of Genoa was, no doubt, a sort of Lord Mayor.—When Mr. Henry Augustus Mug was prime minister at the court of his Mandingo majesty, in the interior of Africa, he looked at the palm-trees and thought of the flower-pots in the windows of Ludgate-hill; he admired the elephant’s teeth, because they suggested his turner’s-shop; and the white sands and black faces of the land of the Niger, put him in mind of a chess-board newly made. He was saucy to the savages on his right as a Londoner; and not even his fears could conquer his propensity to cut jokes on their ignorance of knives and forks, in a country which furnished so much fine ivory for handles!

Such is a Cockney;—a Cockney author sublimates all these qualities in his person and writings. By a Cockney author we do not mean a London author;—there may be Cockney authors who never saw London, and vice versâ. We allude to writers to whom this term of ridicule may be fairly applied. A Cockney author is likely to be found clever, but with his talent will almost constantly go a certain air of smallness belonging to his character generally. He will seem to want actual experience, and be inclined to make up the deficiency by egotism. His good manners will be pert; his observations too minute and particular; he will make too much of all he knows, and too little of what other people, who are not of his set, tell him. Chiefly, however, will his generosity and magnanimity be disgusting—for these will always savour of intolerance and insolence. Such an one happening upon the word fatness, as used in Scripture to express the quality of essential richness, would instantly connect the Bible with his own bile, and sicken at the word as nauseous. His poetry will be often beautiful, but quite as often false, and apparently affected; owing to his being unable to observe the due proportion of things, when they have any sort of relation to himself. Should he chance to “have stout notions on the marrying score,” we are likely to have him telling us that Shakspeare was an enemy to marriage, not because he has any reason to say so, or because there are not innumerable reasons to say the reverse,—but because a Cockney is always eager to associate himself with Shakspeare, and, out of tenderness to the “bard’s” reputation, will not suppose it possible a difference of opinion could exist between them.

We confess we have one of our popular writers, noticed in Blackwood’s Magazine as a Cockney poet, chiefly in our eye at present; and we have not scrupled to render our allusions to him pretty plain, because we wish our charges against the Mohocks to be rightly understood. That they have written abominable and unfounded
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scandals against this author we know: but that his style and sentiments are not provocative of severity, we would be the last persons to deny.

There are, perhaps, several good writers who might be termed Cockney authors, if it were allowable so to term Doctor Samuel Johnson, whose fondness for London is well known, and whose habits of life are to be traced an the turn and imagery of his compositions. The doctor once went a hunting at Brighton, and he manifested the true Cockney zeal in this novel exercise:—he rode over the hounds, and was, at least, in at their death.

In another, but a much better sense, Steele and Addison were Cockney authors; and, so understood, the author of the articles in the London Magazine, on the South Sea House, Christ’s Hospital, The Two Races of Men, may claim this distinguishing appellation. The fair influence of London on the works of men of talent, who are either natives of that capital, or who have resided there for a considerable portion of their lives, may be noticed by us in another short Article; and we shall then venture a word or two on the Edinburgh School of Literature. It is a very peculiar one. We do not here mean the Mohock school.