LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries
Mr. Dubois. Mr. Campbell. Mr. Theodore Hook. Mr. Mathews. Messrs. James & Horace Smith.

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.


I forget how I became acquainted with Mr. Hill, proprietor of the Monthly Mirror; but at his house at Sydenham I used to meet his editor Mr. Dubois; Mr. Campbell, who was his neighbour; and the two Smiths, authors of “The Rejected Addresses.” Once or twice I saw also Mr. Theodore Hook, and Mr. Mathews the comedian. Our host (and I thought him no older the other day than he was then) was a jovial bachelor, plump and rosy as an abbot; and no abbot could have presided over a more festive Sunday. The wine flowed merrily and long; the discourse kept pace with it; and next morning, in returning to town, we felt ourselves very thirsty. A pump by the road side, with a plash round it, was a bewitching sight.

Dubois was one of those wits, who like the celebrated Eachard, have no faculty of gravity. His handsome hawk’s-eyes looked blank at a speculation; but set a joke or a piece of raillery in motion, and they sparkled with wit and malice. Nothing could be more trite or commonplace than his serious observations. Acquiescences they should rather have been called; for he seldom ventured upon a gravity, but in echo of another’s remark. If he did, it was in defence of orthodoxy; of which he was a great advocate. But his quips and cranks were infinite. He
was also an excellent scholar. He,
Dr. King, and Eachard, would have made a capital trio over a table, for scholarship, mirth, drinking, and religion. He was intimate with Sir Philip Francis, and gave the public a new edition of the Horace of Sir Philip’s father. The literary world knew him well also as the writer of a popular novel in the genuine Fielding manner, entitled Old Nick. Mr. Dubois held his editorship of the Monthly Mirror very cheap. He amused himself with writing notes on Athenæus, and was a lively critic on the theatres; but half the jokes in his Magazine were written for his friends, and must have mystified the uninitiated. His notices to correspondents were often made up of this bye-play; and made his friends laugh, in proportion to their obscurity to every one else. When I use the past tense in writing these sketches, it is because I speak of past times. Mr. Dubois is living still, to scatter his anonymous pleasantries; and if my eyes did not deceive me the other day, when I met him, he affords another instance of the juvenility of the social. If the bottle does not stand with him, time does: but then, I remember, he was festive in good taste; no gourmand; and had a strong head withal. I do not know whether such men ever last as long as the unsophisticate; but they certainly last as long, and look a great deal younger, than the carking and severe. Long may my old acquaintance last, to prove the superiority of a lively mixture of the good and ill of this life, over a sulky one; and if the gout must come after all, may he be as learned and pleasant over it, as his friend Lucian.

They who know Mr. Campbell only as the author of “Gertrude of Wyoming,” and the “Pleasures of Hope,” would not suspect him to be a merry companion, overflowing with humour and anecdote, and any
thing but fastidious. These Scotch poets have always something in reserve. It is the only point in which the major part of them resemble their countrymen. The mistaken character which the lady formed of
Thomson from his “Seasons,” is well known. He let part of the secret out in his “Castle of Indolence;” and the more he let out, the more honour it did to the simplicity and cordiality of the poet’s nature, though not always to the elegance of it. Allan Ramsay knew his friends Gay and Somerville as well in their writings, as he did when he came to be personally acquainted with them; but Allan, who had bustled up from a barber’s shop into a bookseller’s, was “a cunning shaver;” and nobody would have guessed the author of the “Gentle Shepherd” to be penurious. Let none suppose that any insinuation to that effect is intended against Mr. Campbell. He is one of the few men whom I could at any time walk half-a-dozen miles through the snow to spend an afternoon with; and I could no more do this with a penurious man, than I could with a sulky one. I know but of one fault he has, besides an extreme cautiousness in his writings; and that one is national, a matter of words, and amply overpaid by a stream of conversation, lively, piquant, and liberal, not the less interesting for occasionally betraying an intimacy with pain, and for a high and somewhat strained tone of voice, like a man speaking with suspended breath, and in the habit of subduing his feelings. No man, I should guess, feels more kindly towards his fellow-creatures, or takes less credit for it. When he indulges in doubt and sarcasm, and speaks contemptuously of things in general, he does it, partly, no doubt, out of actual dissatisfaction, but more perhaps than he suspects, out of a fear of being thought weak and sensitive; which is a blind that the best men very commonly practise. Mr. Campbell
professes to be hopeless and sarcastic, and takes pains all the while to set up an university.

When I first saw this eminent person, he gave me the idea of a French Virgil. Not that he is like a Frenchman, much less the French translator of Virgil. I found him as handsome, as the Abbé Delille, is said to have been ugly. But he seemed to me to embody a Frenchman’s ideal notion of the Latin poet; something a little more cut and dry than I had looked for; compact and elegant, critical and acute, with a consciousness of authorship upon him; a taste over-anxious not to commit itself, and refining and diminishing nature as in a drawing-room mirror. This fancy was strengthened in the course of conversation, by his expatiating on the greatness of Racine. I think he had a volume of the French Tragedian in his hand. His skull was sharply cut and fine; with plenty, according to the phrenologists, both of the reflective and amative organs: and his poetry will bear them out. For a lettered solitude, and a bridal properly got up, both according to law and luxury, commend us to the lovely “Gertrude of Wyoming.” His face and person were rather on a small scale; his features regular; his eye lively and penetrating; and when he spoke, dimples played about his mouth, which nevertheless had something restrained and close in it. Some gentle puritan seemed to have crossed the breed, and to have left a stamp on his face, such as we often see in the female Scotch face rather than the male. But he appeared not at all grateful for this; and when his critiques and his Virgilianism were over, very unlike a puritan he talked! He seemed to spite his restrictions; and out of the natural largeness of his sympathy with things high and low, to break at once out of Delille’s Virgil into Cotton’s, like a boy let loose from school. When I have the pleasure of hearing him now,
I forget his Virgilianisms, and think only of the delightful companion, the unaffected philanthropist, and the creator of a beauty worth all the heroines in Racine.

Mr. Campbell has tasted pretty sharply of the good and ill of the present state of society, and for a book-man has beheld strange sights. He witnessed a battle in Germany from the top of a convent (on which battle he has written a noble ode); and he saw the French cavalry enter a town, wiping their bloody swords on the horses’ manes. Not along ago he was in Germany again, I believe to purchase books; for in addition to his classical scholarship, and his other languages, he is a reader of German. The readers there, among whom he is popular, both for his poetry and his love of freedom, crowded about him with affectionate zeal; and they gave him, what he does not dislike, a good dinner. There is one of our writers who has more fame than he; but not one who enjoys a fame equally wide, and without drawback. Like many of the great men in Germany, Schiller, Wieland, and others, he has not scrupled to become editor of a magazine; and his name alone has given it among all circles a recommendation of the greatest value, and such as makes it a grace to write under him.

I remember, one day at Sydenham, Mr. Theodore Hook came in unexpectedly to dinner, and amused us very much with his talent at extempore verse. He was then a youth, tall, dark, and of a good person, with small eyes, and features more round than weak; a face that had character and humour, but no refinement. His extempore verses were really surprising. it is easy enough to extemporize in Italian—one only wonders, how in a language in which every thing conspires to render verse-making easy and it is difficult to avoid rhyming, this talent should be so much cried up—but in English it is another matter. I
know but of one other person besides Mr. Hook, who can extemporize in English; and he wants the power, perhaps the confidence, to do it in public. Of course, I speak of rhyming. Extempore blank verse, with a little practice, would be found as easy in English, as rhyming is in Italian. In Mr. Hook the faculty was very unequivocal. He could not have been aware of all the visitors, still less of the subject of conversation when he came in, and he talked his full share till called upon; yet he ran his jokes and his verses upon us all in the easiest manner, saying something characteristic of every body, or avoiding it with a pun, and introducing so agreeably a piece of village scandal upon which the party had been rallying
Mr. Campbell, that the poet, though not unjealous of his dignity, was perhaps the most pleased of us all. Mr. Hook afterwards sat down to the pianoforte, and enlarging upon this subject, made an extempore parody of a modern opera, introducing sailors and their clap-traps, rustics, &c. and making the poet and his supposed flame the hero and heroine. He parodied music as well as words, giving us the most received cadences and flourishes, and calling to mind (not without some hazard to his filial duties) the commonplaces of the pastoral songs and duetts of the last half-century; so that if Mr. Dignum, the Damon of Vauxhall, had been present, he would have doubted whether to take it as an affront or a compliment.

I have since been unable to help wishing, perhaps not very wisely, that Mr. Campbell would be a little less careful and fastidious in what he did for the public; for, after all, an author may reasonably be supposed to do best that which he is most inclined to do. It is our business to be grateful for what a poet sets before us, rather than to be wishing that his peaches were nectarines, or his Falernian Champagne. Mr. Campbell, as an author, is all for refinement and classicality, not
however without a great deal of pathos and luxurious fancy. His merry jongleur,
Mr. Hook, has as little propensity, perhaps, as can be imagined, to any of these niceties: yet I confess, from the mere pleasure of the recollection of the evening I passed with him, I have been unable to repress a wish, as little wise as the other; to wit, that he had stuck to his humours and farces, for which he had real talent, instead of writing politics.

Among the visitors at Sydenham, was Mr. Mathews the comedian. I have had the pleasure of seeing him there more than once, and of witnessing his imitations, which, admirable as they are on the stage, are still more so in a private room. Once and away his wife used to come with him, with her handsome eyes; and charitably make tea for us. The other day I had the pleasure of seeing them at their own table; and I thought that while Time, with unusual courtesy, had spared the sweet countenance of the one, he had given more force and interest to that of the other in the very ploughing of it up. Strong lines have been cut, and the face has stood them well. I have seldom been more surprised than in coming close to Mr. Mathews on that occasion, and in seeing the bust that he has in his Gallery of his friend Mr. Liston. Some of these comic actors, like comic writers, are as unfarcical as can be imagined in their interior. The taste for humour comes to them by the force of contrast. The last time I had seen Mr. Mathews, his face appeared to me insignificant to what it was then. On the former occasion, he looked like an irritable indoor pet: on the latter, he seemed to have been grappling with the world, and to have got vigour by it. His face had looked out upon the Atlantic, and said to the old waves, “Buffet on; I have seen trouble as well as you.” The paralytic affection, or whatever it was, that twisted his mouth when young, had formerly appeared
to be master of his face, and given it a character of indecision and alarm. It now seemed a minor thing; a twist in a piece of old oak. And what a bust was Mr. Liston’s! The mouth and chin, with the throat under it, hung like an old bag; but the upper part of the head is as fine as possible: there is a speculation, a look-out, and even an elevation of character in it, as unlike the Liston on the stage, as Lear is to King Pippin. One might imagine
Laberius to have had such a face.

The reasons why Mr. Mathews’s imitations are still better in private than in public are, that he is more at his ease personally, more secure of his audience (“fit though few”), and able to interest them with traits of private character, which could not be introduced on the stage. He gives, for instance, to persons who he thinks will take it rightly, a picture of the manners and conversation of Sir Walter Scott, highly creditable to that celebrated person, and calculated to add regard to admiration. His commonest imitations are not superficial. Something of the mind and character of the individual is always insinuated, often with a dramatic dressing, and plenty of sauce piquante. At Sydenham he used to give us a dialogue among the actors, each of whom found fault with another for some defect or excess of his own,—Kemble objecting to stiffness, Munden to grimace, and so on. His representation of Incledon was extraordinary his nose seemed actually to become aquiline. It is a pity I cannot put upon paper, as represented by Mr. Mathews, the singular gabblings of that actor, the lax and sailor-like twist of mind, with which every thing hung upon him; and his profane pieties in quoting the Bible; for which, and swearing, he seemed to have an equal reverence. He appeared to be charitable to every body but Mr. Braham. He would be described as saying to his friend Holman, for instance, “My dear George, don’t be abusive,
George;—don’t insult,—don’t be indecent, by G—d! You should take the beam out of your own eye,—what the devil is it? you know, in the Bible; something” (the a very broad) “about a beam, my dear George! and—and—and—a mote:—you’ll find it any part of the Bible; yes, George, my dear boy, the Bible, by G—d;” (and then with real fervour and reverence) “the Holy Scripture, G—d d—me!” He swore as dreadfully as a devout knight-errant. Braham, whose trumpet blew down his wooden walls, he could not endure. He is represented as saying one day, with a strange mixture of imagination and matter-of-fact, that “he only wished his beloved master,
Mr. Jackson, could come down from Heaven, and take the Exeter stage to London, to hear that d—d Jew!” As Mr. Hook made his extempore verses on us, so Mr. Mathews one day gave an extempore imitation of us all round, with the exception of a fierce young critic, who happened to be present, and in whose appearance and manner he pronounced that there was no handle for mimicry. This may have been intended as a politeness towards a comparative stranger, perhaps as a piece of policy; and the laughter was not missed by it. At all events, the critic was both good-humoured and self-satisfied enough to have borne the mimicry; and no harm would have come of it. One morning, after stopping all night, I was getting up to breakfast, when I heard the noise of a little boy having his face washed. Our host was a merry bachelor, and to the rosiness of a priest might, for aught I knew, have added the paternity; but I had never heard of it, and still less expected to find a child in his house. More obvious and obstreperous proofs, however, of the existence of a boy with a dirty face, could not have been met with. You heard the child crying and objecting; then the woman remonstrating; then the cries of the child were snubbed and
swallowed up in the hard towel; and at intervals out came his voice bubbling and deploring, and was again swallowed up. At breakfast; the child being pitied, I ventured to speak about it, and was laughing and sympathizing in perfect good faith, when Mr. Mathews came in, and I found that the little urchin was he. The same morning he gave us his immortal imitation of old
Tate Wilkinson, patentee of the York Theatre. Tate had been a little too merry in his youth, and was very melancholy in old age. He had a wandering mind and a decrepid body; and being manager of a theatre, a husband, and a rat-catcher, he would speak, in his wanderings, “variety of wretchedness.” He would interweave, for instance, all at once, the subjects of a new engagement at his theatre, the rats, a veal-pie, Garrick and Mrs. Siddons, and Mrs. Tate and the doctor. I do not pretend to give a specimen: Mr. Mathews alone can do it; but one trait I recollect, descriptive of Tate himself, which will give a good notion of him. On coming into the room, Mr. Mathews assumed the old manager’s appearance, and proceeded towards the window, to reconnoitre the state of the weather, which was a matter of great importance to him. His hat was like a hat worn the wrong way, side foremost, looking sadly crinkled and old; his mouth was desponding, his eye staring, and his whole aspect meagre, querulous, and prepared for objection. This miserable object, grunting and hobbling, and helping himself with any thing he can lay hold of as he goes, creeps up to the window; and giving a glance at the clouds, turns round with an ineffable look of despair and acquiescence, ejaculating “Uh Christ!”

Of James Smith, a fair, stout, fresh-coloured man with round features, I recollect little, except that he used to read to us trim verses, with rhymes pat as butter. The best of his verses are in the Rejected
Addresses; and they are excellent. Isaac Hawkins Browne with his Pipe of Tobacco, and all the rhyming jeux-d’esprit in all the Tracts, are extinguished in the comparison; not excepting the Probationary Odes. Mr. Fitzgerald finds himself bankrupt in non sequiturs; Crabbe knoweth not which is which, himself or his parodist; and Lord Byron confessed to me, that the summing up of his philosophy, to wit, that
“Nought is every thing, and every thing is nought,”
was very posing. Mr. Smith would sometimes repeat after dinner, with his brother Horace, an imaginary dialogue, stuffed full of incongruities, that made us roll with laughter. His ordinary verse and prose are too full of the ridicule of city pretensions. To be superior to any thing, it should not always be running in one’s head.

His brother Horace was delicious. Lord Byron used to say, that this epithet should be applied only to eatables; and that he wondered a friend of his, who was critical in matters of eating, should use it in any other sense. I know not what the present usage may be in the circles, but classical authority is against his Lordship, from Cicero downwards; and I am content with the modern warrant of another noble wit, the famous Lord Peterborough, who in his fine, open way, said of Fenelon, that he was such a “delicious creature,” he was forced to get away from him, “else he would have made him pious!” I grant there is something in the word delicious, which may be said to comprise a reference to every species of pleasant taste. It is at once a quintessence and a miscellany; and a friend, to deserve the epithet, ought to be capable of delighting us as much over our wine and fruit, as on graver occasions. Fenelon himself could do this, with all his piety; or rather he could do it because his piety was of the true sort, and re-
lished of every thing that was sweet and affectionate. The modesty of my friend Horace Smith (which is a manly one, and has no hectic pretensions to what it deprecates) will pardon me this reference to a greater name. He must allow me to add, at some hazard of disturbing him, that a finer nature, except in one instance, I never was acquainted with in man; nor even in that instance, all circumstances considered, have I a right to say that those who knew him as intimately as I did the other person, would not have had the same reasons to love him. The friend I speak of had a very high regard for Mr. Horace Smith, as may be seen by the following verses, the initials in which the reader has now the pleasure of filling up:—
“Wit and sense,
Virtue and human knowledge, all that might
Make this dull world a business of delight,
Are all combined in H. S.”
Mr. Horace Smith differed with Mr. Shelley on some points; but on others, which all the world agree to praise highly and to practise very little, he agreed so entirely, and showed so unequivocally that he did agree, that (with the exception of one person (V. N.) too diffident to gain such an honour from his friends) they were the only two men I ever knew, from whom I could receive advice or remonstrance with perfect comfort, because I could be sure of the unmixed motives and entire absence of self-reflection, with which it would come from them.* Mr. Shelley said to me once, “I know not what Horace Smith must take me for sometimes: I am afraid he must think me a strange fellow; but

* With all his vagaries I must add Mr. Hazlitt, who is quite capable, when he chooses, of giving genuine advice, and making you sensible of his disinterestedness. Mr. Lamb could do it too; but for interference of any sort he has an abhorrence.

is it not odd, that the only truly generous person I ever knew, who had money to be generous with, should be a stockbroker! And he writes poetry too,” continued Mr. Shelley, his voice rising in a fervour of astonishment; “he writes poetry and pastoral dramas, and yet knows how to make money, and does make it, and is still generous!” Mr. Shelley had reason to like him. Horace Smith was one of the few men, who, through a cloud of detraction, and through all that difference of conduct from the rest of the world, which naturally excites obloquy, discerned the greatness of my friend’s character. Indeed, he became a witness to the very unequivocal proof of it, which I mentioned elsewhere. The mutual esteem was accordingly very great, and arose from circumstances most honourable to both parties. “I believe,” said Mr. Shelley on another occasion, “that I have only to say to Horace Smith that I want a hundred pounds or two, and he would send it me without any eye to its being returned; such faith has he that I have something within me beyond what the world supposes, and that I could only ask his money for a good purpose.” And he would have sent for it accordingly, if the person for whom it was intended had not said nay. I will now mention the circumstance, which first gave my friend a regard for Mr. Smith. It concerns the person just mentioned, who is a man of letters. It came to Mr. Smith’s knowledge, some years ago, that this person was suffering bitterly under a pecuniary trouble. He knew little of him at the time, but had met him occasionally; and he availed himself of this circumstance to write him a letter as full of delicacy and cordiality as it could hold, making it a matter of grace to accept a bank-note of 100l. which he enclosed. I speak on the best authority, that of the obliged person himself; who adds that he not only did accept the money, but felt as light and happy under the
obligation, as he has felt miserable under the very report of being obliged to some; and he says, that nothing could induce him to withhold his name, but a reason which the generous would excuse. From his friends in private he has no reason to conceal it, and he does not, as I can testify: and there is one thing more which he says he will conceal from nobody; which is, that subsequently to that obligation, he incurred others from the friend in question, which not only taxed his friend’s kindness, but his patience; and that notwithstanding these trials, the other was still so generous to discern in him what was well-intentioned from what was badly managed, and has retained to this hour so kind an opinion of him, that he never makes a step in better management (for his slow progress in which he has had more excuses than most people, in sickness, temperament, and a total want of education for it,) but he is accompanied, and assisted, with the hope of pleasing him before long, with the sight of the fruits of it. Such friends, and such only, (including those whose wish to act like them is as unequivocal as their inability,) are the friends that do a man all the good that can be done him, because they are not only generous to his virtues, but as humane to his faults as other people are to their own. For my part, I scarcely ever write a page which the public thinks worth reading, and which they like because it serves to keep them in heart with nature and mankind, but Horace Smith is one of those friends whom I fancy myself talking with, and whom I wish to gratify. It is such as he that a humanist would have the world become, and that furnish a proof that the wish is not founded in impossibility.
Swift said, that if the world contained a dozen Arbuthnots, he would burn his books. I am convinced, that the world contains hundreds of Arbuthnots, if education would but do their natures justice. Give me the education of a community, in which mutual help instead of selfish rivalry
was the principle inculcated, and riches regarded not as the end but the means, and I would undertake, not upon the strength of my own ability, but on the sole ground of the absence of what is at present taught us, to fill the place full of Arbuthnots and Horace Smiths; not indeed, as to wit and talent, but with all their geniality and sense and open-heartedness; with the same reasonableness of gain, and readiness of enjoyment.

When Mr. Horace Smith sees this account of himself, he will think that too much has been said of his generosity: and he would be right, if society were constituted otherwise than it is. Actions of this kind are not so common in trading communities as in others; because people learn to taste the value of every sixpence that passes through their hands. And for the same reason they are more extravagantly admired; sometimes with a fatuity of astonishment, sometimes with an envy that seeks relief in sarcasm. All these excesses of homage are painful to a man, who would fain have everybody as natural and generous as himself; but the just tribute must not be withheld on that account; otherwise there would be still fewer counteractions to the selfishness so abundantly taught us. At the period in question, I have said that Mr. Smith was a stockbroker. He left business with a fortune, and went to live in France, where, if he did not increase, he did not seriously diminish it; and France added to the pleasant stock of his knowledge.

On returning to England, he set about exerting himself in a manner equally creditable to his talents and interesting to the public. I will not insult either the modesty or the understanding of Mr. Horace Smith, by comparing him with the author of “Old Mortality” and “Guy Mannering:” but I will venture to say, that the earliest of his
novels, “
Brambletye House,” ran a hard race with the novel of “Woodstock,” and that it contained more than one character not unworthy of the best volumes of Sir Walter. I allude to the ghastly troubles of the Regicide in his lone house; the outward phlegm and merry inward malice of Winky Boss (a happy name), who gravely smoked a pipe with his mouth, and laughed with his eyes; and, above all, to the character of the princely Dutch merchant, who would cry out that he should be ruined, at seeing a few nutmegs dropped from a bag, and would then go and give a thousand ducats for an antique. This is hitting the high mercantile character to a nicety,—minute and careful in its means, princely in its ends. If the ultimate effect of commerce (perinulti transibunt, &c.) were not something very different from what its pursuers imagine, the character would be a dangerous one to society at large, because it throws a gloss over the spirit of money-getting, which in a thousand instances to one is a debasing spirit; but meanwhile nobody could paint it better, or has a right to recommend it more, than he who has been the first to make it a handsome portrait.

The personal appearance of Mr. Horace Smith, like that of all the individuals I ever met with, is highly indicative of his character. His figure is good and manly, inclining to the robust; and his countenance extremely frank and cordial, sweet without weakness. I have been told, he is irascible. If so, his city training is in fault, not he. He has not a jot of it in his appearance.