LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Charles Cowden Clarke]
An Address to that Quarterly Reviewer.
 (London:  R. Jennings,  1816)
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH








Story of Rimini.


And may be also had of all Booksellers in Town or Country.

Printed by C. Richards, Printer, 18, Warwick-street, Golden-square.

Price One Shilling.


&c. &c.

I believe it is unlikely that any one of ordinary experience and discernment, could read the first twelve or fourteen lines of your article on Mr. Hunt’sStory of Rimini,’ without thinking them a tissue of falsehood—ill enough woven to be sure!—but full as malicious as inconsequent. Considering, however, that it is possible you may have been seven, fourteen, or even twenty-one years out of England; so, it may be likely that you ‘have not indeed read one line that he ever wrote.’ And, if such the length of your absence, it is also equally possible you have never heard that he has been for many years the Editor of the Examiner. Contributor as you are to a public journal, and desirous of course to be correct, even upon the most trivial matters, and at any rate deemed sufficient to swell the catalogue of a poet’s disqualifications, it may be as well to inform you of an error in
—a mistake in the very first line of your essay—‘Such an introduction’ (as you would say) ‘is not calculated to make a very favourable impression.’ Mr. Hunt was not confined in Newgate—had you thought ‘Carlton-House’ a more disgraceful sound, I verily believe, in your eagerness to say something, you would have adopted it. He was imprisoned in Horsemonger-lane gaol, for an imputed libel on the Prince Regent, wherein thinking himself ‘pricked’ to ’t by honesty,’ but with perhaps more courage than prudence, he brought sundry charges against that person; ‘All which though he might most powerfully and potently believe, yet, it was not held honesty to be thus set down.’—For this, therefore, he was sentenced to a confinement of two years in the above-mentioned prison of Horsemonger-lane; and his brother, as publisher of the offensive words, was immured for the same space of time in that of Cold-bath-fields, each being also subjected to a heavy fine.

Whether his prison-house was called Newgate or Horsemonger-lane, was perhaps then, and certainly must be now, of no importance to the Author. But it is pretty obvious you
do not think so. If the circumstance of having composed ‘a considerable part of this poem’ (one canto, and a small portion of another out of four) in Newgate be an unfavourable introduction—you are the good-natured usher to whom he is indebted for it; availing yourself of a note to some beautiful lines near the middle of his work; your criticism condescends to introduce itself by noticing a circumstance, which you at least did not, (by your own profession) know but from himself.—‘It would be worse than uncandid, (forsooth,) if our criticism were swayed by any other consideration than the work itself.’ How speedily are we reminded of the truth of this your acknowledgment!— candid, therefore, as it is, we soon discover it is quite as bald, trite, and unnecessary.

But what I must still enquire had his prison to do with his poem?—
‘* * * * * * Th’ oppressor holds the body bound,
‘But knows not what a range the spirit takes.’

There is no discrepancy in the Second Canto; it possesses many delightful passages. —Who imputes to their memory, that Chaucer, and Cervantes, and Raleigh, and Galileo, were half their lives imprisoned? I
mention these illustrious names for no other purpose than to remind you that the colour of offences varies in succeeding ages—that by posterity, the judgment in such cases is most frequently reversed; and I have dilated the rather upon this subject, that, should you be within reach of this address, you may be induced to correct that part of your statement, provided the Review go into a second edition, without omitting your article.

To begin with your critique—you charge Mr. Hunt with the violation of a rule in grammar in p. 15 of his work—I deny it.

In the next place, you enquire, what Mr. Hunt can mean by saying, that, ‘Milton had learnedly a musical ear!’—In my copy, (and probably in your’s, as two or three lines preceding, you have given the real passage) the words are, ‘Spencer who was musical from pure taste, Milton who was learnedly so,’ &c. which I suppose is consistent and comprehensible.

Spencer, Shakespeare, Milton, &c. (says Mr. Hunt) ‘are about as different from Pope as the church organ is from the bell in the steeple, or to give him a more decorous comparison, the song of the nightingale from that of the cuckoo.’


You cannot discover why the latter is a more decorous comparison—the word here, means—‘suitable to a character.’ (Johnson) You cannot make out whether Pope is the organ or the bell, the nightingale or the cuckoo.’ I should think no one versed in the ordinary construction of a sentence could fail in this discovery. If Mr. H. as you shrewdly suppose, knows that, for want of a better, Pope was called by his contemporaries ‘the nightingale;’ he may very well think now, that the note of another bird would have been more appropriately applied to him. The sweet song of the former is richly varied, and Pope in his versification, was of all poets perhaps the most monotonous:
‘His cuckoo-song verses half up and half down,’*
when compared with the store of harmony to be found in the former great writers, may, to his ear, aptly remind him of the bell in the steeple.

Alluding to the distressed, and affectionate old nurse, your critical acumen is astounding:—because it is said
* * * * * * * * * * ’ She pressed close
‘Her withered lips to keep the tears that rose.’

* Feast of the Poets.

You ask whether the nurses in Rimini weep with their mouths!! Had you ever cause to repress a rising tear? Whether this old servant wept, or ‘driveled,’ is not a matter of importance; it is however of much importance that there should be no driveling in criticism.

You object to the epithet ‘clipsome’ as being applied to a lady’s waist; and because, truly, it is not to be found in any vernacular tongue! Such a reason could be expected only from a writer in an anti-reformist Review. Can any one reasonably hesitate at the import of the word?

‘What (say you) is the meaning of a ‘quoit-like drop?’ Mr. Hunt certainly did not mean a drop of vinegar, or the new drop—he alluded to the fall of a horse’s foot, to which I cannot but think that of a quoit aptly compared—perhaps you think so too, or you would have given the context.

Your next enquiry is, ‘where the author met with his swaling a jerked feather?’ The line in the original is:—‘And the jerked feather swaling in the bonnet.’ A jerked feather swaling, and, swaling a jerked feather, do not appear to me the same:—a prejudiced critic misquoting, and misquoting a preju-
diced critic must otherwise be alike. To be sure, I need not have cited the author, for you, in a second instance of inadvertent candour, have already given the real passage;—a very slovenly indication of contempt for your readers’ memory.

What fault can be found with the expression ‘Music unbedinned with drums?’ You leave out the word drums, only because your readers would then have seen the propriety of the phrase.

You object to the epithet ‘half-indifferent wonderment’ as applied to the ‘plodding woodman.’ Suffer our readers upon having the whole passage set before them to decide.

‘But scarce their eyes encounter living thing,
Save now and then a goat loose wandering,
Or a few cattle looking up aslant,
With sleepy eyes, and meek mouths ruminant;
Or once a plodding woodman old and bent,
Passing with half-indifferent wonderment,
Yet, turning at the last, to look once more,
Then feels his trembling staff and onward as before.’
p. 37.

The word ‘enormous’ as applied to the ‘shout’ of a multitude, I believe to be equally proper, as when applied to length, breadth, and thickness. This it is to criticise poetry!—What work you would have
made with poor
Milton and his ‘enormous bliss!’ or with your friend Pope and his ‘enormous faith!’*

In sneering at the frequent use of the word ‘heave,’ you have been incorrect in one of your quotations—inadvertently of course—only it does not happen to improve the passage. The trumpeters are described, not as heaving to the croud, but as sitting ‘stately, and heaving to the sway below;’ which I consider as an apposite description of the motion communicated by the horse in walking. No man I imagine, would or could, assume a very stately air, when heaved by a croud.—This is sheer malevolence!—Moreover, you have not proved that the word ‘heaved’ has been in a single instance misapplied, but have culled it from four distinct spots of the poem, and huddled them together in order that their appearance may be cloying and unfavourable.

Now for an exemplification of your candour in producing passages of the poem ‘in extenso,’ that the reader may judge for himself, and prove your right and title to that indis-

* ————— ‘Of many made for one.’
pensable requisite in a critic. In the delicate and precious exordium to your critique, (observe, if it be a misnomer, it was tuo periculo) when asserting that ‘you had never heard of 
Mr. Hunt’s imprisonment, never seen his paper, never heard the particulars of his offence;’ you say, ‘fortunately, we are as little prejudiced as possible on this subject:’—no doubt you were, and also—as much.—‘I am not prejudiced!’ from some people, is equivalent to, ‘I am not drunk!’ from others—your very endeavour to persuade yourselves, convinces your observers of the contrary.
‘Sirrah! ’tis conscience makes you squeak!’

But about to criticise a poem, what business have you to be prejudiced?—suppose Mr. Hunt had retained his quondam mistress as waiting-woman to his wife;—suppose he were a gambler, an adulterer, or a debauchee—one or all of these characters,—suppose he had been an horse-jockey who had drugged his horse, that he might be a gainer by the animal’s failure;—what would all this have to do with the merits, or demerits of his poem?

But to return to the passages, by which the ‘unprejudiced-as-possible critic’ would
enable his readers to do justice at once to his judgment, and to the merits of the poem. ‘That we may not, (you say) be suspected of making malicious extracts’—(conscience again!)—‘we shall quote in extenso two of the most important passages of the poem, that our readers may judge for themselves.’ Now here, but without any idea of availing myself of your example, (for really, you have a marvellous, and most accommodating facility of ignorance;) I must in turn be allowed to confess my inability to ‘make out’ your exact meaning. Either as a candid critic should, you mean by ‘important,’ those passages which you think most honourable to the author’s efforts; or, as an illnatured critic would, you mean those passages which the author ought to have rendered more important, had his genius been equal to the task. If you felt, or wished to appear to feel, swayed by candour in this selection; then was your judgment, honestly, or dishonestly, most woefully perverted: for, I will venture to assert, there shall not be one of your readers who has perused the whole story, but will confess that you have to all appearance, carefully selected the two very passages which may be considered as reflecting least credit
upon the Poet, and consequently, if intended as a set-off against your censure, of the least importance to your readers.—‘De gustibus’ &c. is as common a proverb as, ‘Mendaci ne verum quidem dicenti creditur.’—Permit me in turn to refer you to my favourite extracts.

The description of the fountain, p. 8. The portrait of an accomplished horseman, p. 20, beginning ‘His haughty steed.’ &c. The journey from Ravenna, beginning at p. 31, which would have adorned the pages of your Review. The portrait of Don Giovanni, p. 45. The description of The Garden, beginning at p. 65, and ending at p. 73, to my taste yields to very few rural scenes—certainly to none of the present day.—The affecting picture of the heroine, beginning at p. 87.—‘But she the gentler frame.’ &c.—There are few readers, I believe, who would hesitate for a moment in preferring the passages I have cited, to the two which you
‘Have choycely picked out from all the rest,
And laid forth for ensample of the best.’

All this is however as it should be; no judgment is decidedly perverted (whether honestly, or dishonestly,) till after blinking
upon excellence, its dilated eyes gloar with gratuitous commendation upon mediocrity.

But I remember, I thought it possible you might have noticed these important passages as instances of failure. If such however your opinion, I have great pleasure in differing from you. You consider them—not versifications, in good sooth, but, ‘mere metrical adjustments of what Mr. Hunt found in the specimens of early English Romances.’—‘The first is the story of Launcelot of the Lake, on which the plot of Rimini hinges.’

What authority have you for tracing this to the ‘specimens?’—It is not to be found therein—Why must Mr. Hunt be made out a mere culler of abstracts?—‘Speak Bezonian!’* Has he not told you (pref. p. XI.) that he possesses a copy of Launcelot of the Lake in Italian, which imperfect as it is, might be sufficient for his purpose? And I repeat, that though the plot ‘hinges’ upon the heroine’s perusal of the important Launcelot, it was sufficient for his purpose, in introducing the scene between the lovers, to give a sketch only of its principal features.

* See Theobald’s note to this passage, Henry IV. 2nd Part, Act V.


If you think the narrative defective in the interest of which such an abridgment is susceptible, I must own I have hitherto found you singular in the opinion.

In the second instance, Mr. H. by referring his readers to the source whence Giovanni’s speech is taken, has anticipated the discovery which you usher in with such ‘dreadful note of preparation.’ Acknowledging it among others, he adds they are obligations, ‘which, perhaps after all he has not handled well enough to make worth acknowledgment.’ This is a confession, modest enough one might hope to have neutralized your spleen, or, if that were impossible, at least to have directed its dirty work towards some other quarter.

I must dismiss this subject (dry and perplexing as the Arabian desart) with finally asking, why, having the fear of imputed malice before your eyes, since ‘the poem is not destitute of merit,’ and with a choice of originality such as has been pointed out, you rather present your readers with these passages seemingly only to call them mere metrical adjustments?—Passages too, in which the merit of originality was in one
instance necessarily out of the author’s reach, and in the other avowedly unclaimed. On this account only it is, that I consider them least creditable to the production as a work of imagination.

The poem is not destitute of merit you have told us, but, to be sure, that merit is the result of certain principles which, you do not appreciate or acknowledge; hinc illa lachrymæ!—What right has any poem to merits undeduced from principles, which, pedantic precedent, and prescriptive bigotry have not sanctioned? This is ‘not seeing the wood for trees,’ or, like the Irishman who preferred the moon to the sun, because the latter shone by day-light, and consequently could not be of use. Here however my task is easy, for you have really not deigned to say anything against these principles. Upon this point, therefore, as I am not writing a ‘Reponse au Silence,’ you are unanswerable!

But I find that notwithstanding its ‘merit,’ and that although ‘there are here and there some well executed descriptions, and occasionally a line, of which the sense and the expression are good,’ we are immediately told
that, in the qualities of versification, expression, and dignity, he has utterly failed!
‘To say, and strait unsay, * * * * * *
Argues no Critic, but a liar trac’d.’
P. L. iv. 947.

A word more, and I trust I shall have done with your criticism. The Spaniards, I believe, have a proverb, ‘Let him whose house is made of glass, beware how he throws stones at his neighbour’s windows.’ You have charged Mr. Hunt without attempting to adduce any proof, with a violation of grammar:—in page 480 of your production in the Review, you say: ‘This passage, however, like that which precedes it, are mere metrical adjustments.’—Brother—let me pull the beam out of thine eye!

It never was my intention to follow you through all the obliquities of your objections. Faults, the poem doubtless has; and this any one might safely predicate, even, where his discrimination is unequal to their detection. I will also concede the probability of your having ‘stumbled unawares’ upon them; your essay therefore may not be destitute of its appropriate merit, and, ‘bating the qualities of judgment, candour, and perspicuity,
may be read with satisfaction after the
British Critic.’ With this merit, however, if I could discern it, I have nothing to do, and I freely confess (as I am not criticising a poem) it must shift for itself as you have left the merit of Rimini to do. It must seek elsewhere its due acknowledgment. My business has been with your perverse misrepresentation,—your real, or affected want of comprehension,—your flimsily disguised envy and malignity.

While my pen has been indignantly employed—less in defence of merit, than in castigation of malevolence, I have found it impossible to repress certain thoughts upon the influence of Reviews in general. I avail myself of the opportunity to subjoin a word or two upon the subject.

Literature (alack the while!) has its middle men as well as the more ordinary concerns of life; the prosecution of whose interest is alike pernicious to that of the caterers, and the consumers of intellectual food. While the soi-disant guardians of public taste, morals, and politics, arrogate a prescriptive right to all the genius, common-sense, and learning of the nation; the esprit du corps of booksellers has established a line of circumvalla-
tion, from the pale of which the unfortunate votary of the muses in vain endeavours to escape. The former hydra-like monsters stalk the earth, enchaining in their ‘beastly thrall’ the minds of indolent men; the latter battening on the brains of their best friends, the men of genius, like harpies, blow upon, and taint, what they do not devour. I speak generally of course; but I must needs say, that in their dealings they excel the vulgar traffickers of Brokers’-row in the art of depreciating, or overrating their commodity, according to their situation as buyer or seller. Coupled with the liberality of critics, I hear as much cant about the generosity of booksellers; but would they ‘speak who best can tell,’ the public might form a widely different, and a juster estimate of the rewards of authors, than they do from the puffs of various hues which grace the ‘literary intelligence’ of the
Morning Post. They would learn to appreciate duly those magnificent sums which find their way only into the columns of newspapers, and which are good for nothing but to excite public expectation.

Upon some occasions the world has certainly been lately indebted to Reviews, for
essays which would have embellished any period of our literary history—si sic omnes!—When a contemporary work crosses you, in which the public religion, politics, or even taste is implicated, we find those who assume the dictation and government of others, the tools of booksellers, the slaves of passion, prejudice and party.

Every day reveals some new instance of the chicanery and obliquity,—the venal and groveling spirit of Reviewers in past days. The times, I fear me, are little better. We are still in the hands of men whose good works are more than counterbalanced by their evil:—men whose attainments are the more to be deplored, seeing that they have not taught them that straight-forward wisdom, ‘of doing unto others as they would have others do unto them!’ So far from diffusing a wholesome spirit through the world of letters—so far from guarding its privileges—Reviews form a sort of nucleus, round which the venom of every noxious creature is collected ready for circulation:—a sanctuary of refuge for the bravos of literature; whence they issue forth muffled, and ‘kill men i’ the dark!’

As to the Review in the service of which
you are either a mercenary, or a volunteer; it has in several instances been surprisingly offensive. I allude chiefly to the
article upon the Lancasterian System of Education, written in the true spirit of a persecutor; so that some have said, that while the author was at his ferocious work, he was clad in the lawn sleeves of Gardiner or Bonner. And indeed so notorious is the party spirit with which you are infected, it used to be the common talk, that had Dr. Bell been the sectarian, and Lancaster the High-Church-and-Sacheverel man, the tables would have been completely turned. Every article on Mr. Galt has borne the like illiberal stamp: his crime seems to be, that of having expressed his opinions upon matters of rational liberty too freely. And when an article is put forth of too lopsided a tendency even for yourselves to keep erect, the name of the writer is to be concealed. This has’ certainly been the case in one instance; for, when a person asked at the publisher’s who was the author of the remarks on Horne Tooke, he was informed, that the author’s name was to be kept secret!

You had never read a line that Mr. Hunt has written, otherwise perhaps you might object to his having at different times at-
tacked some of his contemporaries, and in no ordinary way. This I grant; but then let me add that he never put forth a line of this description, without subjoining his acknowledged signature. He has to be sure in his ‘
Feast of the Poets,’ been not a little successful in satirising the satirist Mr. Gifford; in arresting the fleeting colours of popular opinion in a pourtraiture of Mr. Southey; he has also made a happy allusion to Mr. Croker; and deigned to mention ‘one Mr. Rose.’—But here was no attempt at concealment: it has never been necessary for him to avail himself of ambush; and I believe that every facility has always been afforded to the public in identifying the productions of his pen. But after all—we may be assured you think so,—or whence the unqualified assertion, that, ‘you had never read one line he had written.’

Ex fumo dare lucem.—It is matter of comfort to us poor fellows, readers of your Review and of its opposing Brother; that upon some occasions—when the original is inaccessible to our means—by taking the middle course, we may be enabled to perform a satisfactory estimate of an Author’s merits,—for, like the Dutch weather-house, if the man have an inclination to take the air, the woman seems in
a sulky fit.—So, if one Reviewer fall foul of
Mr. Wordsworth, and endeavour to strip him of his garland of sweet flowers; the other in a furor of generosity, or of opposition, encumbers him with tulips and pionies.—Indeed, so mortal is your reciprocal hostility, that your victims may, with Mercutio, form the reasonable expectation, that, being, ‘two such, we shall have none shortly, for one will kill the other;’ and like the celebrated Kilkenny cats, leave no other vestige to designate the tribe of feræ naturæ to which you belong, than an odd tooth or a claw!

Allow me a word for myself, and I must have done. To an adept like you it is hardly necessary to say—I am unhabituated in the art of writing my thoughts:—this consideration occurred but tardily to my mind—but at no time would it have withheld me from advocating the cause of candour and feeling, against dissimulation and injustice. And even mine—even the humblest arm, is I trust available against an adversary, (strongly as he may seem intrenched,) who has made to himself so many vulnerable points. Indeed, it is matter of triumph to the friends of genius and integrity, that the Poem of Rimini, could elicit no rougher treatment even from a
Quarterly Reviewer. It has passed the fiery ordeal—who fears a squib, that has escaped barely singed from the explosion of a barrel of gunpowder?

It will be hence inferred that, even were I known, I am not vain enough to expect any accession to my importance from this adventure.—No! I am sensible of my disadvantage.—I have engaged in a cause where no honour can accrue to success, while failure involves inevitable disgrace: a strong cause and a weak opponent. At the same time though I have not ‘fidgeted’ myself into the company of a superior, I am not insensible to the disparity of the combatants; for a weak champion in a bad quarrel may become formidable when clad in brass. This reminds me of the purport of my ‘word for myself,’ which was to make apology—if it will be taken—for the rudeness of this address: though an impression may be made on some men with an horse-whip, others are to be attacked only with a crow-bar!


C. Richards, Printer, 18, Warwick-street, Golden-square, London.