« PreviousContinue »
ing him relate the circumstances of his life, undertook the charge of his present support and future establishment; and, till this last could be effected to his wish, invited him to come and reside with him.
• These,' says the grateful scholar, ' were not words of course: they were more than fulfilled in every point. I did go and reside with him, and I experienced a warm and cordial reception, and a kind and affectionate esteem, that has known neither diminution nor interruption from that hour to this, a period of twenty years.' Part of this time, it may be remarked, was spent in attending the earl's eldest son, Lord Belgrave, on a tour of Europe, which must have tended greatly to inform and expand the mind of the scholar. Gifford appeared as an author in 1794. His first production was a satirical poem entitled * The Baviad,' which was directed against a class of sentimental poetasters of that day, usually passing under the collective appellation of the Della Cruscan School-Mrs. Piozzi, Mrs. Robinson, Mr. Greathead, Mr. Merry, Weston, Parsons, &c.—conspicuous for their affectation and bad taste, and their high-flown compliments on one another. There was a specious brilliancy in these exotics,' he remarks, 'which dazzled the native grubs, who had scarce ever ventured beyond a sheep, and a crook, and a rose-tree grove; with an ostentatious display of “blue hills,” and “crashing torrents," and
'petrifying suns. Gifford's vigorous exposure completely demolished this
set of rhymesters, who were probably the spawn of Dạrwin and Lichfield. Anna Matilda, Laura Maria, Edwin, Orlandi, &c. sunk into instant and irretrievable contempt; and the worst of the number—a man Williams, who assumed the name of Pasquin for his ' ribald strains'—was nonsuited in an action against Gifford's publisher. The satire was universally read and admired. In the present day, it seems unnecessarily merciless and severe, yet lines like the following still possess interest. The allusion to Pope is peculiarly appropriate and beautiful:
Degeneracy of Modern Literature.
F.--"Tis pitiful, Heaven knows;
You praise our sires, but, though they wrote with force,
P.-Pshaw; I have it here,
P.-Now, 'tis plain you sneer,
Inform the simple, and delight the sage. The contributions of Mrs. Piozzi to this fantastic garland of exotic verse are characterized in one felicitous couplet:
See Thrall's gay widow with a satchel roam,
And bring, in pomp, her laboured nothings home!
Others like Kemble, on black-letter pore,
And live upon a whilome for a week. The · Baviad' was a paraphrase of the first satire of Persius. In the year following, encouraged by its success, Gifford produced the Maviad,' an imitation of Horace, levelled at the corrupters of dra matic poetry. Here also the Della Cruscan authors-who attempted dramas as well as odes and elegies--are gibbeted in satiric verse: but Gifford was more critical than just in including O'Keefe, the amusing farce-writer, among the objects of his condemnation. The plays of Kotzebue and Schiller, then first translated and much in vogue, he also characterises as heavy, lumbering, monotonous stupidity,' a sentence too unqualified and severe.
Gifford tried a third satire, an 'Epistle to Peter Pindar' (Dr. Wol. cot), which, being founded on personal animosity, is more remarkable for its passionate vehemence and abuse than for its felicity or correctness. Wolcot replied with 'A Cut at a Cobbler,' equally unworthy of his fame. These satirical labours of our author pointed him out as a fit person to edit the ‘Anti-Jacobin,' a weekly paper set up by Canning and others for the purpose of ridiculing and exposing the political agitators of the times. It was established in November 1797, and continued only till the July following. The connection thus formed with politicians and men of rank was afterwards serviceable to Gifford. He obtained the situation of paymaster of the gentlemen-pensioners, and was made a commissioner of the lottery, the emoluments of the two offices being about £900 per annum. In 1802, he published a translation of Juvenal, to which was prefixed his sketch of his own life, one of the most interesting and unaffected of autobiographies. This translation of Juvenal was attacked in the 'Critical Review,' and Gifford replied in a pamphlet, *An Examination of the Strictures,' &c. which contains one remarkable passage:
A Reviewer Compared to a Toad. During my apprenticeship, I enjoyed perhaps as many places as Scrub;* though I suspect they were pot altogether so dignified: the chief of them was that of a planter of cabbages in a bit of ground which my master held near the town. It was the decided opinion of Panurge that the life of a cabbage-planter was the safest and pleasantest in the world. I found it safe enough, I confess, but not altogether pleasant; and therefore took every opportunity of attending to what I liked better, which happened to be, watching the actions of insects and reptiles, and, among the rest, of a huge toad. I never loved toads, but I never molested them; for my mother bad early bid me remember that every living thing had the same Maker as myself; and the words always rang in my ears. The toad, then, who had taken up his residence under a hollow stone in a hedge of blind nettles, I used to watch for hours together. It was a lazy, lumpish animal, that squatted on its belly, and perked up its hideous head with two glazed eyes, precisely like a Critical Reviewer. In this posture, perfectly satisfied with itself, it would remain as if it were a part of the stone, till the cheerful buzzing of some winged insect provoked it to give signs of life. The dead glare of its eye then brightened into a vivid lustre, and it awkwardly shuffled to the entrance of its cell, and opened its detestable mouth to snap the passing fly or honeybee. Since I have marked the manners of the Critical Reviewers, these passages of my youth have often occurred to me.
Never was a toad more picturesquely treated! Besides his version of Juvenal, Gifford, translated Persius, and edited the plays of Massinger, Ford, and Shirley, and the works of Ben Jonson. In 1808, when Sir Walter Scot and others resolved on starting a Review, in opposition to the celebrated one established in Edinburgh, Mr. Gifford was selected as editor. In his hands, the Quarterly Review' became a powerful political and literary journal, to which leading
* Farquhar's Beaux' Stratagem, Act III.:
SCRUB. Ah, Lord help you! I'll tell yon. Of a Monday I drive the coach, of a Tuesday I drive the plough, on Wednesday I follow the hounds, on Thursday I dun the tenants, on Friday I go to market, on Saturday I draw warrants, and on Sunday I draw boot.
statesmen and authors equally contributed. He continued to dis. charge his duties as editor until within two years of his death, which took place on the 31st of December 1826. Gifford claimed for himself
A fixed contempt of wrong. He was high-spirited, courageous and sincere. In most of his wri tings, however, there was a strong tinge of personal ascerbity, and even virulence. He was a good hater, and as he was opposed to all political visionaries and reformers, he had seldom time to cool. His literary criticism, also, where no such prejudices could interfere, was frequently disfigured by the same severity of style or temper; and whoever, dead or living, had ventured to say aught against Ben Jonson, or write what he deemed wrong comments on his favourite dramatists, were assailed with a vehemence that was ludicrously disproportioned to the offence.
His attacks on Hazlitt, Lamb, Hunt, and others, in the 'Quarterly Review,' have no pretensions to fair or candid criticism. His object was to crush such authors as were opposed to the government of the day, or who departed from his canons of literary propriety and good taste. Even the best of his criticisms, though acute and spirited, want candour and comprehensiveness of design. As a politician, he lookeu with distrust and suspicion on the growing importance of America, and kept alive among the English aristocracy a feeling of dislike or hostility towards that country, which was as unwise as it was ungenerous. His best service to literature was his edition of Ben Jonson, in which he successfully vindicated that great English classic from the unjust aspersions of his countrymen. His satirical poetry is pungent, and often happy in expression, but without rising into moral grandeur or pathos. His small but sinewy intellect, as some one has said, was well employed in bruising the butterflies of the Delia Cruscan Múse. Some of his short copies of verses possess a quict, plaintive melancholy and tenderness; but his fame must rest on his influence and talents as a critic and annotator, or more properly, on the story of his life and early struggles-honourable to limscif, and ultimately to his country--which will be read and remembered when his other writings are forgotten.
The Grave of Anna. I wish I was where Anna lies,
But who, when I am turned to clay, For I am sick of lingering here:
Shall duly to her grave repair, And every hour affection cries,
And pluck the ragged moss away, [there? Go and partake her humble bier.
And weeds that have no business I wish I could! For when she died, And who with pious hand shall bring
I lost my all; and life has proved The flowers she cherished, snow-drops Since that sad hour a dreary void; And violets that inheeded spring, (cold, A waste unlovely and unloved.
To scatter o'er her hallowed mould ?
Ansi who, while mem vry loves to dwell
Upon her name for ever dear,
And pour the bitter, bítter tear ?
And can thy soft persuasive look,
Thy voice that might with music vie, Thy air that every gazer took,
Thy matchless eloquence of eye;
I did it; and would fate allow,
Thy spirits frolicsome as good, Should visit still, should still deplore- Thy courage by no ills dismayed, But health and strength have left me now, Thy patience by no wrongs subdued, And I, alas! can weep no more.
Thy gay good-humour, can they fade?
Take then, sweet maid! this simple strain, Perhaps--but sorrow dims my eye;
Cold turf which I no more must view, Thy grave must then undecked remain, Dear name which I no more must sigh,
And all thy memory fade with inine. A long, a last, a sad adieu ! The above affecting elegiac stanzas were written by Gifford on a faithful attendant who died in his service. He erected a tombstone to her memory in the burying-ground of Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, with the following inscription and epitaph :
Here lies the body of Ann Davies, (for more than twenty years) servant to William Gifford. She died February 6th, 1815. in the forty-third year of her age, of a tedions and painful malady, which she bore with exemplary patience and resignation. Her deeply afflicted master erected this stone to her memory, as a painful testimony of her uncommon worth and of his perpetual gratitude, respect, and affection for her long and meritorious services :
Though here unknown, dear Ann, thy ashes rest,
FIRST OF MAY, Though clouds obscured the morning How pleasant, from that dome-crowned hour,
hill, And keen and eager blew the blast, To view the varied scene below, And drizzling fell the cheerless shower, Woods, ships, and spires,and, lovelier still,
As, doubtful, to the skiff we passed : The circling Thames' majestic flow !
Ali soon, propitious to our prayer,
Gave promise of a brighter day; The clouds dispersed in purer air,
The blasts in zephyrs died away.
How sweet, as indolently laid,
We overhung that long-drawn dale,
That glanced upon the shifting sail !
So have we, love, a day enjoyed,
And dread no thorn beneath the rose.
And when the shadow's rapid growth
Proclaimed the noontide hour expired, And, though unwearied, 'nothing loath,'
We to our simple meal retired ;