LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart
Chapter 7: 1818-20

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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EDINBURGH, 1818-1820
Lockhart meets Scott.—“The Shirra.”—Invitation to Abbotsford.—Lord Melville.—Scott discourages the iniquities of Blackwood’s.—His chuckle.—The attack on Keats.—Mr. Colvin’s theory.—Bailey’s story.—The story criticised.—Common friends of Keats and Lockhart.—Christie on Keats.—Kindly remark of Lockhart on Keats.—Lockhart and the scrape of a friend.—Action of Lockhart.—His relations with his father.—Letter to Christie.—His view of Leigh Hunt and Hazlitt.—Quarrel with Hamilton.

I have just mentioned Lockhart’s letter to Scott about Wilson’s agitation under the lash of “Hypocrisy Unveiled.” It is necessary to retrace a step, and, reverting to Lockhart’s private history, to mention the origin of his relations with Scott. This is the more needful, as Scott has been causelessly implicated in a new sin of Blackwood, the attack on Keats (August 1818). But it were impertinent, and is superfluous, to re-tell here the story of that first interview with Scott, which Lockhart has so admirably narrated. (“Life of Scott,” vol. v., chapter xli.) Lockhart had doubtless often seen Sir Walter in public, in the Law Courts, in bookseller’s shops, even in large gatherings. He first met Scott in private society, apparently
in June 1818, at a dinner given by
Mr. Home Drummond of Blair Drummond. Sir Walter greeted him with his usual cordiality, and, after dinner, while expressing a wish to “have a talk with Goethe about trees,” invited Lockhart to visit him at Abbotsford. Lockhart had remarked that, in Weimar, when he was there, Goethe was only known as the Herr Geheimer-Rath von Goethe, not at all as der grosse Dichter. Scott, too, warned Lockhart that, in his own country, he must be asked for as “The Shirra.”

A few days later, Scott, through Ballantyne, offered to hand over to Lockhart his own task of compiling the historical part of the Edinburgh Annual Register. From a letter to Christie we learn that “the job,” as Hazlitt would have called it, was worth £500 a year. Sir Walter was eager enough to play the historian during Napoleon’s wars; he did not love celebrare domestica facta. The elder writer, it is plain, had “taken to” the young one, who, in turn, as Scott avers, “loved him like a son.” They often met, over business, or at Scott’s table, during the summer; they often examined together the legendary houses and heraldic blazons of the Old Town; and Lockhart’s pen, in the chapter cited, draws the happiest picture of Sir Walter’s domestic life, in Edinburgh, and at Abbotsford. Thither, in the following note—the first of the Shirra’s to his young friend—Lockhart was invited.

Abbotsford, Sept. 24, 1818.

Dear Sir,—You were so good as to give me hopes of seeing you here this Vacation. I am very desirous that, if possible, you would come here with our friend Mr. Wilson on Thursday, 8th October, as Lord Melville is to spend a day or two with me, and I should be happy to introduce you to each other. Do not say me nay, but arrange matters so as to be with us by five o’clock, or as much earlier as you please, and to stay a day or two.—Believe me, very sincerely yours,

Walter Scott.”

Lockhart and Wilson gladly accepted the invitation. They found Sir Walter in his own grounds, with some friends, and “I trust you have had enough of certain pranks with your friend Ebony,” Scott said, as he introduced the Leopard and the Scorpion to Lord Melville, “the great giver of good things in the Parliament House,”—so he had described that nobleman.

Now the truth of the matter is, that, far from being an accomplice of Lockhart and Wilson in their Blackwoodian iniquities, Sir Walter, from the first, and always, attempted to wean both men from “that mother of mischief,” Blackwood, or, at least, from personal satire therein. He began by offering Lockhart more remunerative and reputable work, as we have seen. He repeated his gentle warning
while walking in one of his own young woods at Abbotsford. I shall later quote his long-lost and strangely recovered admonition, written when Wilson, partly by his aid—for he thought to turn Wilson’s great powers into a new channel—obtained the Chair of Moral Philosophy. Before Lockhart’s marriage, Scott returned to the charge;1 he repeated his warning and advice, strenuously and for the last time, after the unhappy end of the affair with poor
Mr. John Scott of the London Magazine. He would not speak as with authority. But he did keep Lockhart out of the scurrilous Beacon, though Lord Cockburn says that, “instead of preventing it” (the Beacon’s libels), “he gave it his countenance. . . . His was the fault of unreflecting acquiescence.” Lockhart himself (“Life of Scott,” iv. 65), says that Sir Walter “had no kindness for Blackwood personally, and disapproved (though he chuckled over it) the reckless extravagance of juvenile satire” (v. 213).2 Lord Cockburn kindly adds, “A chuckle from Scott, in the blaze of his reputation, was all that young men needed to instigate them.” But Lockhart is probably thinking of Fergusson’s success in breaking down Scott’s gravity, and eliciting a chuckle, by a repeated, an insidious, and an innocent quotation about himself,

1 There is some uncertainty on this point.

2 A letter of Scott to Laidlaw, of 1818, entirely bears out what Lockhart says about Sir Walter’s feelings, at this time, towards Mr. Blackwood.

from “
The Chaldee.” That chuckle, however reprehensible, was a year after date, and Scott had never met Lockhart when “The Chaldee” was penned. (“Life of Scott,” v. 370.) Had Lord Cockburn read Scott’s letters to Lockhart, he could scarcely have pressed his accusation. (“Memorials,” pp. 316, 317.)

It is painful for a biographer to be obliged to confess his hero’s inexplicable attachment to “the mother of mischief.” But he is well assured that, while Scott did not, indeed, regard the offences of Maga with our modern horror, still he did most earnestly endeavour, on every occasion, to withdraw Lockhart and Wilson from the cup of her inexplicable sorceries. Alas, to each might have been said—
La laide dame Sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!”

Before this meeting at Abbotsford, in October 1818, there had appeared, in August, the vulgar reviling of Keats. We have already seen that Leigh Hunt, in the spirit of conceit which offended Keats, suspected Scott of being the author of the attacks on himself and his associates. Leigh Hunt, it is only fair to say, knew no more of Scott personally than Lockhart, in 1818, knew of Keats. To Lockhart, Keats was, at first, an uneducated Cockney adulator of Leigh Hunt; as, to Leigh Hunt, Scott was a wicked Tory, whom he had tried
to insult in his “
Feast of Poets.” Hunt’s opinion was absurd, but, in Mr. Sidney Colvin’s excellent “Life of Keats,” we hear an echo of the old belief. Mr. Colvin has changed his mind, and sung his palinode, but his “Life of Keats” remains an authority. “In the party violence of the time and place Scott himself was drawn into encouraging the savage polemics of his young Edinburgh friends, and that he was in some measure privy to the Cockney School outrages seems certain.”


Mr. Colvin’s reason is, “Such at least was the impression prevailing at the time,”—in the bosom of Leigh Hunt and his friends, for example. And again, because Severn “observed both in Scott and his daughter signs of pain and confusion which he could only interpret in the same sense,” when he talked to them about “Keats and his detractors” in Rome (1832). Something more is needed than Severn’s recollection of his impressions of Scott’s apparent “pain and confusion!” I repeat that Keats had been selected for attack, as a Huntian, and he knew it, before Scott and Lockhart ever met. That Anne Scott, who was a lively girl of sixteen when the crime was committed, should have betrayed painful emotion, when the subject was mentioned fourteen years later, is quite incredible.

Mr. Colvin adds a tale communicated, long after date, by Keats’s friend Bailey, to Lord Houghton.
Bailey had met
Lockhart at the house of Mr. Gleig’s father, in the summer of 1818. “He took the opportunity of telling Lockhart in a friendly way his (Keats’s) circumstances and history, explaining, at the same time, that his attachment to Leigh Hunt was personal, not political, pleading that he should not be made an object of party denunciation, and ending with the request that at any rate what had been thus said in confidence should not be used to his disadvantage. To which Lockhart replied that it certainly should not be so used by him. Within three weeks the article appeared, making use, to all appearance, and to Bailey’s great indignation, of the very facts he had thus confidentially communicated. To the end of his life Bailey remained convinced that, whether or not Lockhart himself wrote the piece, he must at any rate have prompted and supplied the materials for it. It seems, in fact, all but certain that he actually wrote it.” Mr. Colvin instances the word Sangrado, for “a doctor,” as a touch of his style, and I myself could add another possible example.

Accepting Bailey’s account of Lockhart as a traitor, what confidence did he betray? That Keats’s “attachment to Leigh Hunt was personal, not political”? The Reviewer asserts the very reverse: “Keats belongs to the Cockney school of politics, as well as to the Cockney school of poetry.” That Keats had no classical education? Keats himself betrays that mischance in a dozen
places, as where he rhymes “ear” to “Cytherea,” and speaks of “a penetralium.”

The single solitary fact which Lockhart might have betrayed is, that Keats in early life had been “destined to the career of medicine, and bound apprentice to a worthy apothecary in town.” Now that fact might have been let slip inadvertently, or might well have been known through other channels. Where, in the review, are “the very facts which Bailey had confidentially communicated”? One expects to hear about the paternal livery stable, and so forth, but there is no such matter. If Bailey communicated private facts, they were not betrayed. There is not a word of Keats’s private affairs, except his medical studies.

Mr. Colvin does not seem to have remarked, when he wrote the passage cited, that Lockhart had sources of information about Keats, apart from Bailey.1 On November 22, 1817, Keats wrote to Bailey himself—“I should have been here” (at Leatherhead) “a day earlier, but the Reynoldses persuaded me to stay in town to meet your friend Christie. There were Rice and Martin—we talked about ghosts.”2

By a curious freak of chance, Christie, Keats, John Hamilton Reynolds, Gleig, and Bailey were all “in touch,” and thus Lockhart might know,

1 Mr. Colvin’s recantation, as far as Scott is concerned, is in a note to p. 60 of his edition of Keats’s Letters.

2Letters of Keats,” 1895, p. 55.

through Christie or Gleig, anything that was to be known about the author of “
Lamia.” Bailey, then, was not his only source of information. Christie did write to Lockhart about Keats, though his letter is not preserved, unluckily; for, on January 27, 1818, I find Lockhart writing to him, “What you say of Keates (sic) is pleasing, and if you like to write a little review of him, in admonition to leave his ways, &c., and in praise of his natural genius, I shall be greatly obliged to you.”

There is no “malignity” in this private reference by Lockhart to Keats; Christie, in remonstrances about Blackwood, never refers to the treatment of Keats, whom he obviously liked, and there my information about this unhappy matter ends. I do not know who wrote the article. On September 15, 1820, Lockhart wrote to a Mr. Aitken, in Dunbar, “I have already attempted to say something kind about Mr. Keats, in Blackwood’s Magazine, but been thwarted, I know not well how. . . . I trust his health will mend, and that he will live to be a merry fellow. . . .”

For the rest, Keats’s temper, as to literary reviling, was as manly as Scott’s. “My own domestic criticism has given me pain without comparison beyond what Blackwood or the Quarterly could possibly inflict.” Could Keats have read Shelley’s letter to Leigh Hunt,1 it would have vexed him far more than the stingless insults of an anony-

1Correspondence of Leigh Hunt,” i. 158.

mous reviewer. It is needless to add the expression of the biographer’s extreme regret that
Lockhart was, to whatever extent or degree, connected with an unpardonable attack on a great poet and a good and brave man. The blindness of prejudice, the infatuation of political and literary feud, and, more or less, the undeniable weaknesses, and effeminacies, and ignorances of some of Keats’s immature poems, account for, though they do not palliate the deed. Yet we must not judge it as if it had been the act of a man who had before him the whole of Keats’s poems, or who possessed our knowledge of the fortunes and character of Keats.

That Lockhart, whatever his literary offences at this period, kept a tender and loyal heart for the service of his friends, appears from letters written to Christie, just before and just after the visit to Abbotsford. A young man’s scrape, exaggerated by fancy, had befallen one of the old Oxford set, and was complicated by a misunderstanding with the sufferer’s father. “Your letter,” writes Lockhart (Edinburgh, October 5, 1818), “has afflicted me beyond all expression. I feel that fruitless sorrow is the only way by which any of us shall have it in our power to express our feeling of our poor friend’s worth. I am very sorry that Hamilton is out of town, which deprives me of having any one to speak to about it. I have ventured to drop a few lines to under cover to his father, and if he be at home they will reach him,—if he be not there, they will come back
to me. If anything could be done by my going or Hamilton’s going to ——, I am sure I can answer for his readiness, as well as for my own. But I fear it is too late. After having told me so much, do tell me more. Let me know as much as possible of his state and its causes, and I shall burn your letter five minutes after reading it. This story has unhinged me for everything else.”

As to the nature of the story, as to the cause of the friend’s private sorrow, not a glimmer of light escapes the discretion of Lockhart—nor did he keep Mr. Christie’s letters on the subject. But his benevolence and friendly courage were engaged. On November 14, 1818, he writes from Edinburgh—“As ——’s own letter must have reached you before you receive this, I need not tell you the step I took in consequence of my knowledge of the cause of ——’s distress. I am apprehensive that you may, in one point of view, condemn it. All I can say is, that it was undertaken in consequence of the most sincere conviction, both in Hamilton’s mind and my own, that it was a proper one. The intentions of us both I can have no reason to justify, because I am sure you are in no danger of suspecting them.

“I have now received three or four letters from ——’s father, and were it not for the postage I would send them, in order that you might see with your own eyes what a pure-minded, feeling, affectionate, and estimable man he is, to whom I confided
so much. The result is sure to be happy in every point of view. It will not only be the means of releasing —— from his immediate cause of distress, but, I would trust, of opening a more entire system of confidence between him and his excellent parent, a species of confidence which, alas! the circumstances of my own life have, for some years, prevented me from entirely and undoubtingly enjoying in regard of my own father, equally good and affectionate as his, but still more averse from knowledge and participation of many feelings and views which, without being in themselves blamable, appear very much so in the eyes of secluded and venerable men.

“I trust that this is the last occasion on which I shall be put in the distressing situation of thinking myself called upon to do a thing so contrary to the common rules of friendship, and every way so hazardous. It will, however, be a consolation to me to hear from you that you do not seriously disapprove of what I have done. The affectionate manner in which —— himself writes on the occasion has endeared him to me more than ever. The longer I live” (he was twenty-four!) “the more do the ties of two or three old friendships strengthen round me. Living at a distance, and living in a different way, and with different pursuits in some respects, I always think of you as of brothers, and look forward to any prospect of meeting with you as a long absent voyager must do to a return to his home.”


Such were the friendships of the antique world. In words like these, we catch a glimpse of the true, the inward Lockhart, earnest, simple, affectionate, loyal: daring, in the cause of friendship, and with the most fortunate results, to break “the common rules of friendship.” This is all unlike the aspect of “the mischievous Oxford puppy,” who, “with his cigar in his mouth, his one leg flung carelessly over the other, and without the symptoms of a smile on his face, or one twinkle of mischief in his dark grey eye,” would beguile the good Shepherd with all manner of nonsense. “The callant never tawld me the truth a’ his days but aince, an’ that was merely by chance, an’ without the least intention on his part,” said James Hogg, who himself rejoiced greatly in a bam or bite, he being an Ettrick man indeed, in whom was (properly speaking) no guile.

The deep thoughtfulness and considerate regard for friends which shine in Lockhart’s letters are alien to the reckless manner of his literary feuds. To his mind Leigh Hunt, Keats, and Hazlitt were all cockney and conceited conspirators against the constitution, common sense, and the English language. There were two aspects of Leigh Hunt; he had, so to speak, “a double personality,” like Lockhart himself. Keats censured Hunt almost as severely in private as Lockhart did in public, and for the same faults. Concerning that other and admirable aspect of Hunt which shines, for example, in his regrets for Shelley, and in his letter to Severn
about the time of Keats’s death, Lockhart could know nothing.1 As to Hazlitt, he never had a better friend, no man ever had a more loyal friend, than
Mr. Patmore. Yet, before he met Hazlitt, Mr. Patmore had regarded that critic as “an incarnate fiend.” Lockhart, writing to Christie, only calls Hazlitt “a clever profligate.” Keats was taken by Lockhart for a flatterer, imitator, and general camp-follower of Leigh Hunt, though he certainly learned to modify this opinion. A visit to Christie in London might have dispelled many of these mists, but the visit, though meditated, was not then paid. One yet more melancholy reflection occurs. We see that, in November 1818, Lockhart and Hamilton were still on the old terms. Thereafter I find no mention of Hamilton, and, in the election to the Chair of Moral Philosophy, Lockhart was strong on Wilson’s side. To a heart like his, which in friendship gave itself once and for ever, the mysterious estrangement must have been the first of his lifelong sorrows. But he could not speak of it, he never spoke out, even to Christie. To his brother he was less reticent. He lost the aid and counsel of the most learned, pure, and estimable man among his contemporaries; he was divided by distance from the society of Christie, and his chief Edinburgh associates were not likely to keep him out of mischief. In the letter to Christie, of Nov. 14, 1818, he

1 See Leigh Hunt’s Letter in Lord Houghton’sKeats,” ii. 95.

mentions his pain at the impression which the
author of “Hypocrisy Unveiled” made on “the mind of Wilson, and that of his amiable wife,” a lady of whom he ever spoke (and notably in his “Life of Scott”) with the highest respect and affection, and, after her death, with a tender regret.1

1 The Rev. Lawrence Lockhart has left a brief record of the cause of estrangement between Lockhart and Hamilton. It arose, he says (as we have remarked), from a hasty word of Sir William’s. But he dates it at the time of “The Chaldee,” and though his account is, no doubt, essentially correct, we find that, more than a year after the date of “The Chaldee,” Lockhart and Hamilton were on the best terms.