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The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart
Chapter 20: 1826-52
John Gibson Lockhart to John Wilson, 15 April 1851

Vol. I. Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter 1: 1794-1808
Chapter 2: 1808-13
Chapter 3: 1813-15
Chapter 4: 1815-17
Chapter 5: 1817-18
Chapter 6: 1817-19
Chapter 7: 1818-20
Chapter 8: 1819-20
Chapter 9: 1820-21
Chapter 10: 1821-24
Chapter 11: 1817-24
Chapter 12: 1821-25
Chapter 13: 1826
Vol. II Contents
Chapter 14: 1826-32
Chapter 15: 1828-32
Chapter 16: 1832-36
Chapter 17: 1837-39
Chapter 18: 1837-43
Chapter 19: 1828-48
Chapter 20: 1826-52
Chapter 21: 1842-50
Chapter 22: 1850-53
Chapter 23: 1853-54
Chapter 24: Conclusion
Vol. II Index
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Sussex Place, April 15, 1851.

Dear Professor,—I am delighted with John Wilson’s letter about you and others—especially for its own excellence in all but the penmanship,

1 One lady followed, the other did not.

which, too, will soon come right, and after all is not much worse than I had seen thirty years ago on occasion.1 I went a week ago to see
Faed’s picture of Sir Walter Scott and his friends, and there met Home Drummond. We agreed that Adam Ferguson, T. Thomson, and you were so far like—you had all evidently sat to Faed, and as evidently no one else in the party had, nor could we see resemblance in any one of them. Then all ages are jumbled. Scott is a man of fifty. Ferguson and Thomson are eighty. I am twenty-five, and you are sixty or thereby. This will never do. I did not subscribe. I could do a better picture myself of those people even now, if I had three weeks’ free admission to Grant’s studio, and the free use of his materials. I think I will try. What an agreeable party that would have been! And this will perhaps be re-engraved in 1950. But then we shall be walking serene in some grove of Hades, with Landor, and Southey, and Hazlitt, and Jeremy Bentham; Dr. Parr and Gray of the High School, Johnnie Dow, Delta, &c &c. I was last night reading here and there in Delta’s new bookie,2 and found you, Aird, Pollock, and others glorified—nay ‘Captain Paton’s Lament’ dug up to justify the placing of the late Dr. Odontist Scotty among the great poets of the half century. This will do. De Quincey, I ob-

1 Professor Wilson’s hand, in letters to Lockhart, is a difficult, untidy scrawl.

2 Lectures, by Dr. Moir (Delta), on the Literature of the Age.

serve, is the greatest master of language—going or lately gone. This also will do!

“I yesterday read over calmly the Prelude, and am doubly in the dark as to its meaning—doubly dumfoundered by its heaviness and unharmony. The Canon’s book also I have re-read, and pronounce it raw and bald unbearably. There is nothing of his that helps you in the least to a conception of what the living man was. But it is not so with some of the letters by William Wordsworth, or with some of the reminiscences.

William Wordsworth’s arrogant chillness as to all the contemporary bards comes out well—Southey not excepted—indeed with no exception but Coleridge. This we expected—but still there is a manliness about William Wordsworth that separates him vastly from Robert Southey. What else can it be? Or is it that the one was really a great poet—the other not—the one’s ‘conceit,’ in short, based on a really grand something, though not on any one grand work—the other’s erected on no similar foundation? I cannot answer. What I know is that I liked William Wordsworth and never liked Robert Southey, and this though they both equally and completely differed from all my critical notions as to almost all their contemporaries, and as to all the best of them. I think, too, that William Wordsworth was a better man than Robert Southey—far better—even in the qualities for which Robert Southey deserves most praise, with the one exception of
pecuniary generosity, of which I fancy William Wordsworth had little or nothing—his early straits having hardened him effectually on that score, and no wonder.

“I have read fifty articles on Wordsworth’s philosophy. Hang me if I don’t suspect ’tis all an airy sham—beyond what lies on the very surface, that is to say, and might be expressed on this page in plain prose—as humble as any scrap of the Prelude is pompous. ‘Words, words.’

“It seems to be assumed that William Wordsworth made some wonderful discovery, which Homer, Dante, &c &c., lived and died without having had even a glimpse of. I beg to doubt. There is more exact observation of Nature implied in the epithets of the Second Iliad than declared in all William Wordsworth’s tomes, and bragged of by all his laudators, from Wilson down to Delta.

“I suspect there is more of artifice than of art in all that has been relied on for proof of this modern originality.

“Let me hear again either from John Wilson or the Professor. They are both far finer fellows than either William Wordsworth or Robert Southey, or even W. S. Landor.—Yours,

J. G. Lockhart.”