LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries
Mr. Fuseli. Mr. Bonnycastle. Mr. Kinnaird.

Lord Byron.
Mr. Moore.
Mr. Shelley. With a Criticism on his Genius.
Mr. Keats. With a Criticism on his Writings.
Mr. Dubois. Mr. Campbell. Mr. Theodore Hook. Mr. Mathews. Messrs. James & Horace Smith.
Mr. Fuseli. Mr. Bonnycastle. Mr. Kinnaird.
Mr. Charles Lamb.
Mr. Coleridge.
Recollections of the Author’s Life.
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“It is for slaves to lie, and for freemen to speak truth.

“In the examples, which I here bring in, of what I have heard, read, done, or said, I have forbid myself to dare to alter even the most light and indifferent circumstances. My conscience does not falsify one tittle. What my ignorance may do, I cannot say.”       Montaigne.

Monthly Review

At the hospitable table of Mr. Hunter the bookseller, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, I became acquainted with the survivors of the literary party that used to dine with his predecessor, Mr. Johnson. They came, as of old, on the Friday. The most regular were Mr. Fuseli, and Mr. Bonnycastle. Now and then, Mr. Godwin was present: oftener Mr. Kinnaird the magistrate, a great lover of Horace.

Fuseli was a small man, with energetic features, and a white head of hair. Our host’s daughter, then a little girl, used to call him the white-headed lion. He combed his hair up from the forehead, and as his whiskers were large, his face was set in a kind of hairy frame, which, in addition to the fierceness of his look, really gave him an aspect of that sort. Otherwise, his features were rather sharp than round. He would have looked much like an old officer, if his face, besides its real energy, had not affected more. There was the same defect in it as in his pictures. Conscious of not having all the strength he wished, he endeavoured to make out for it by violence and pretension. He carried this so far, as to look fiercer than usual when he sat for his picture. His friend and engraver, Mr. Houghton drew an admirable likeness of him in this state of dignified extravagance. He is sitting back in his chair,
leaning on his hand, but looking ready to pounce withal. His notion of repose was like that of Pistol:
“Now, Pistol, lay thy head in Furies’ lap.”
Agreeably to this over-wrought manner, he was reckoned, I believe, not quite so bold as he might have been. He painted horrible pictures, as children tell horrible stories; and was frightened at his own lay-figures. Yet he would hardly have talked as he did about his terrors, had he been as timid as some supposed him. With the affected, impression is the main thing, let it be produced how it may. A student of the Academy told me, that Mr. Fuseli coming in one night, when a solitary candle had been put on the floor in a corner of the room, to produce some effect or other, he said it looked “like a damned soul.” This was by way of being Dantesque, as
Michael Angelo was. He was an ingenious caricaturist of that master, making great bodily displays of mental energy, and being ostentatious with his limbs and muscles, in proportion as he could not draw them. A leg or arm was to be thrust down one’s throat, because he knew we should dispute the truth of it. In the indulgence of this wilfulness of purpose, generated partly by impatience of study, partly by want of sufficient genius, and, no doubt, also by a sense of superiority to artists who could do nothing but draw correctly, he cared for no time, place, or circumstance, in his pictures. A set of prints, after his designs, for Shakspeare and Cowper, exhibit a chaos of mingled genius and absurdity, such as perhaps was never before seen, and afford an hour’s entertainment of the most ludicrous description. He endeavoured to bring Michael Angelo’s apostles and prophets, with their superhuman ponderousness of intention, into the
commonplaces of modern life. A Student reading in a Garden, is all over intensity of muscle; and the quiet tea-table scene in Cowper, he has turned into a preposterous conspiracy of huge men and women, all bent on showing their thews and postures, with dresses as fantastical as their minds. One gentleman, of the existence of whose trowsers you are not aware till you see the terminating line at the ankle, is sitting and looking grim on a sofa, with his hat on, and no waistcoat. Yet there is real genius in his designs for
Milton, though disturbed, as usual, by strainings after the energetic. His most extraordinary mistake, after all, is said to have been on the subject of his colouring. It is a sort of livid green, like brass diseased. Yet they say, that when praised for one of his pictures, he would modestly answer, “It is a pretty colour.” One would have thought this a joke, if remarkable stories were not told of the mistakes made by other people with regard to colour. Sight seems the least agreed upon, of all the senses.

Mr. Fuseli was lively and interesting in conversation, but not without his usual faults of violence and pretension. Nor was he always as decorous as an old man ought to be; especially one whose turn of mind is not of the lighter and more pleasurable cast. The licences he took were coarse, and had not sufficient regard to his company. Certainly they went a great deal beyond his friend Armstrong; to whose account, I believe, Mr. Fuseli’s passion for swearing was laid. The poet condescended to be a great swearer, and Mr. Fuseli thought it energetic to swear like him. His friendship with Mr. Bonnycastle had something childlike and agreeable in it. They came and went away together, for years, like a couple of old schoolboys. They also, like boys, rallied one another, and sometimes made a singular display of it,—Fuseli at least,
for it was he that was the aggressor. I remember, one day, Bonnycastle told a story of a Frenchman, whom he had received at his house at Woolwich, and who invited him in return to visit him at Paris, if ever he should cross the water. “The Frenchman told me,” said he, “that he had a superb local. When I went to Paris I called on him, and found he had a good prospect out of his window; but his superb local was at a hairdresser’s up two pair of stairs.” “Vell, vell!” said Fuseli impatiently, (for though he spoke and wrote English remarkably well, he never got rid of his Swiss pronunciation)—“Vell—vay not—vay not—Vat is to hinder his local being superb for all thtat?” “I don’t see,” returned Bonnycastle, “how a barber’s in an alley can be a superb local.” “You doan’t! Vell—but thtat is not thte barber’s fault—It is your’s.” “How do you make that out? I’m not an alley.” “No; but you’re coarsedly eegnorant.” “I may be as ignorant as you are polite; but you don’t prove any thing.” “Thte thtevil I doan’t! Did you not say he had a faine prospect out of window?” “Yes, he had a prospect fine enough.” “Vell, thtat constituted his superb local. A superb local is not a barber’s shop, by Goade! but a faine situation. But that is your coarsed eegnorance of thte language.”

Another time, on Mr. Bonnycastle’s saying that there were no longer any Auto da Fés, Fuseli said he did not know that. “At all events,” said he, “if you were to go into Spain, they would have an auto-da-fé immadiately, oan thte strength of your appearance.”

Bonnycastle was a good fellow. He was a tall, gaunt, long-headed man, with large features and spectacles, and a deep internal voice, with a twang of rusticity in it; and he goggled over his plate, like a horse. I have often thought that a bag of corn would have hung well on him.
His laugh was equine, and showed his teeth upwards at the sides.
Mr. Wordsworth would have thought it ominous. Mr. Bonnycastle was passionately fond of quoting Shakspeare, and telling stories; and if the Edinburgh Review had just come out, would give us all the jokes in it. He had once an hypochondriacal disorder of long duration, but had entirely outlived it. He said he should never forget the comfortable sensation given him one night during this disorder, by his knocking a landlord, that was insolent to him, down the man’s staircase. On the strength of this piece of energy (having first ascertained that the offender was not killed) he went to bed, and had a sleep of unusual soundness. Perhaps he thought more highly of his talents, than the amount of them strictly warranted; a mistake to which scientific men appear to be more liable than others, the universe they work in being so large, and their universality (in Bacon’s sense of the word) being at the same time so small. But the delusion was not only pardonable, but desirable in a man so zealous in the performance of his duties, and so much of a human being to all about him, as Mr. Bonnycastle was. It was delightful one day to hear him speak with complacency of a translation which had appeared of one of his books in Arabic, and which began by saying, on the part of the translator, that “it had pleased God, for the advancement of human knowledge, to raise us up a Bonnycastle.” Some of his stories were a little romantic, and no less authentic. He had an anecdote of a Scotchman, who boasted of being descended from the Admirable Crichton; in proof of which, the Scotchman said he had “a grit quantity of table-leenen in his possassion, marked A. C. Admirable Creechton.”


Mr. Kinnaird, the magistrate, was a stout sanguine man, under the middle height, with a fine lamping black eye, lively to the last, and a person that “had increased, was increasing, and ought to have been diminished;” which is by no means what he thought of the prerogative. Next to his bottle, he was fond of his Horace; and in the intervals of business at the police-office, would enjoy both in his arm-chair. Between the vulgar calls of this kind of magistracy, and the perusal of the urbane Horace, there must be a gusto of contradiction, which the bottle, perhaps, is required to render quite palatable. Fielding did not love his bottle the less for being obliged to lecture the drunken. Nor did his son, who succeeded him in taste and office. I know not how the late laureat, Mr. Pye, managed;—another man of letters, who was fain to accept a situation of this kind. Having been a man of fortune, and a Member of Parliament, and loving Horace to boot, he could hardly have done without his wine. I saw him once in a state of scornful indignation at being interrupted in the perusal of a manuscript by the monitions of his police officers, who were obliged to remind him over and over again that he was a magistrate, and that the criminal multitude were in waiting. Every time the door opened, he threatened and he implored.
“Otium divos rogat in patenti
Had you quoted this to Mr. Kinnaird, his eyes would have sparkled with good fellowship: he would have finished the verse and the bottle with you, and proceeded to as many more as your head could stand. Poor fellow! the last time I saw him, he was an apparition formidably substantial. The door of our host’s dining-room opened without my
hearing it, and happening to turn round, I saw a figure in a great coat, literally almost as broad as it was long, and scarcely able to articulate. He was dying of a dropsy, and was obliged to revive himself, before he was fit to converse, by the wine that was killing him. But he had cares besides, and cares of no ordinary description; and for my part I will not blame even his wine for killing him, unless his cares could have done it more agreeably. After dinner that day, he was comparatively himself again, quoted his Horace as usual, talked of lords and courts with a relish, and begged that God save the King might be played to him on the piano-forte; to which he listened, as if his soul had taken its hat off. I believe he would have liked to have died to God save the King, and to have “waked and found those visions true.”