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[Leigh Hunt]
Mr. Hazlitt’s Letter to Mr. Gifford.
The Examiner  No. 584  (7 March 1819)  156.
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No. 584. SUNDAY, MARCH 7, 1819.


No. 48.


We said a little while since, that if the creature yclept Gifford did not take care, he would be picked up by the fingers of some person indignant at his perpetual creeping malice, and held out to the loathing eyes of the community, sprawling and shrieking. Here he is. Mr. Hazlitt has got him fast by the ribs, forcing him, with various ingenuity of grip, to display unwillingly all the deformities of his moral structure. They may now see "the nature of the beast."

Mr. Hazlitt had already written a character of this miserable little being, which he has repeated at the beginning of his letter; but it was in a newspaper, and though calculated to make the miserable object of it groan with rage, something more public was wanting to expose him completely and finally. “Such, Sir,” observes Mr. Hazlitt, “is the picture of which you have sat for the outline:—all that remains is to fill up the little mean, crooked, dirty details. The task to me is no very pleasant one; for I can feel very little ambition to follow you through your ordinary routine of pettifogging objections and barefaced assertions, the only difficulty of making which is to throw aside all regard to truth and decency, and the only difficulty in answering them is to overcome one’s contempt for the writer.” Oh, how true is this! “But you are a nuisance,” continues Mr. Hazlitt, and should be abated.”

The letter which consists of 87 closely printed pages, then proceeds to expose the wretched cavilings, wilful falsehoods and omissions, and servile malignity of the well-known articles in the Quarterly Review upon the Round Table, the Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, and the Lectures on the English Poets:—and such an exposure! Readers look at each other involuntarily in the midst of it; and at once wonder, and do not wonder, how it is, that they feel no more pity for the wretched object of it.

“Your employers, Mr. Gifford, do not pay their hirelings for nothing. They want your invincible pertness, your mercenary malice, your impenetrable dullness, your barefaced impudence, your pragmatical self-sufficiency, your hypocritical zeal, your pious frauds to stand in the gap of their prejudices and pretensions, to fly-blow and taint public opinion, to defeat independent efforts, to apply not the sting of the scorpion but the touch of the torpedo to youthful hopes, to crawl and leave the slimy track of sophistry and lies over every work that does not “dedicate it’s sweet leaves” to some luminary of the Treasury Bench, or is not fostered in the hot-bed of corruption.—This is your office; “this is what is looked for at your hands, and this you do not baulk.”—You are, by appointment, literary toad-eater to greatness, and taster to the Court.”—P. 41.

“Your reasoning is ill put together; it wants sincerity, it wants ingenuity.”—“You ask, “are we gratified by the cruelties of Nero and Domitian?” No, not we—they were too petty and cowardly to strike the imagination at a distance; but the Roman Senate tolerated them, addressed their perpetrators, exalted them into gods, the Fathers of their people; they had pimps and scribblers of all sorts in their pay, their Senecas, &c. till a turbulent rabble thinking that there were no injuries to society greater than the endurance of unlimited and wanton oppression, put an end to the farce, and abated the nuisance as well as they could. Had you and I lived in those times, we should have been what we are now, I “a sour mal-content;” and you “a sweet courtier.”—P. 49.

The following prose epigram contains half the secret of all Mr. Gifford’s abuse.  The other half is political.

“You say that it is impossible to remember what I write after reading it:—One remembers to have read what you write—before!”—P. 35.

But we must reserve another extract or two for next week. Master Murrain, we find, has taken his name away from the publication emphatically called Blackguard’s Edinburgh Magazine. We thought the other day, that he would. Oh! how these fellows might be made to tremble and put to flight in all their quarters, if, as Mr. Hazlitt says, there were not a difficulty in conquering one’s contempt for them;—aye, and even one’s pity.