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WILLIAM GIFFORD, the son of a plumber and glazier, who dissipated his property by intemperance and extravagance, was born at Ashburton, in Devonshire, in April, 1755. He lost his father when only twelve years of age, and in about a year afterward his mother died, leaving himself and an infant brother," without a relation or friend in the world." The latter was sent to the workhouse, and the subject of our memoir was received into the house of his godfather, who put him to school for about three months, but at the end of that period took him home, with the view of employing him as a ploughboy. Being unfitted, however, for this occupation, by an injury on his breast, he was sent to sea in a coasting vessel, in which he remained for nearly a year. "It will be easily conceived," he says in his autobiography, that my life was a life of hardship. I was not only a ship-boy on the high and giddy mast,' but also in the cabin, where every menial office fell to my lot; yet, if I was restless and discontented, I can safely say it was not so much on account of this, as of my being precluded from all possibility of reading; as my master did not possess, nor do I recollect seeing, during the whole time of my abode with him, a single book of any description, except the Coasting Pilot."
He was at length recalled by his godfather, and again put to school, where he made such rapid progress, that in a few months he was qualified to assist his master in any extraordinary emergency; and, although only in his fifteenth year, began to think of turning instructer himself. His plans were, however, treated with contempt by his guardian, who apprenticed him to a shoemaker, at Ashburton, to whom our author went "in sullenness and in silence," and with a perfect hatred of his new occupation. His favourite pursuit at this time was arithmetic, and the manner in which he continued to extend his knowledge of that science is thus related by himself: "I possessed," he observes." but one book in the world; it was a treatise on algebra, given to me by a young woman, who had found it in a lodging-house. I considered it as a treasure, but it was a treasure locked up; for it supposed the reader to be well acquainted with simple equations, and I knew nothing of the matter. My master's son had purchased Fenning's Introduction: this was precisely what I wanted; but he carefully concealed it from me, and I was indebted to chance alone for stumbling on his hiding-place. I sat up for the greatest part of several nights successively; and, before he suspected his treatise was discovered, had completely mastered it. I could now enter upon my own: and that carried me pretty far into the science. This was not done without difficulty. I had not a
farthing on earth, nor a friend to give me one; pen, ink, and paper, therefore, (in despite of the flippant remark of Lord Orford,) were, for the most part, as completely out of my reach as a crown and sceptre. There was, indeed, a resource; but the utmost caution and secrecy were necessary in applying to it. I beat out pieces of leather as smooth as possible, and wrought my problems on them with a blunted awl; for the rest, my memory was tenacious, and I could multiply and divide by it to a great extent."
Under the same unfavourable circumstances, he composed and recited to his associates small pieces of poetry, and, being at last invited to repeat them to other circles, little collections were made for him, which, he says, sometimes produced him “as much as sixpence in an evening." The sums which he thus obtained, he devoted to the purchase of pens, paper, &c.; books of geometry, and of the higher branches of algebra; but his master, finding that he had, in some of the verses before mentioned, satirized both himself and his customers, seized upon his books and papers, and prohibited him from again repeating a line of his compositions. At length, in the sixth year of his apprenticeship, his lamentable doggerel, as he terms it, having reached the ears of Mr. Cookesley, a surgeon, that gentleman set on foot “a subscription for purchasing the remainder of the time of William Gifford, and for enabling him to improve himself in writing and English grammar."
He now quitted shoemaking, and entered the school of the Rev. Thomas Smerdon; and in two years and two months from what he calls the day of his emancipation, he had made such progress, that his master declared him to be fit for the university. He was accordingly sent by Mr. Cookesley to Oxford, where he obtained, by the exertions of the same gentleman, the office of Bible reader at Exeter College, of which he was entered a member. Here he pursued his studies with unremitting diligence, and had already commenced his poetical translation of the Satires of Juvenal, when the death of Mr. Cookesley interrupted the progress of the work. A fortunate accident procured him a new patron in Earl Grosvenor, in whose family he for some time resided, and afterward accompanied to the continent his son, Lord Belgrave. On his return to England, he settled in London, and, devoting himself to literary pursuits, published, in 1791, and 1794, successively, his poetical satires, the Baviad, and the Mæviad; the one containing an attack on the drama, and the other an invective against the favourite poets of the day. In 1800, he published his Epistle to Peter Pindar, in which he charged the satirist with blasphemy; and Wolcot accused him of obscenity. This led to
an assault, and Wolcot would have inflicted severe chastisement on Gifford, but for the interference of a powerful Frenchman, who happened to be present, and who turned Wolcot out of the readingroom, where the scene occurred, into the street, throwing his wig and cane after him. In 1802, appeared his long-promised version of Juvenal, which was attacked by the Critical Review, in an erudite but somewhat personal article, that called forth a reply from our author, entitled, Examination of the Strictures of the Critical Review upon Juvenal.
In 1805, and 1816, he published, successively, his editions of Massinger, and Ben Jonson; and in 1821, appeared his translation of Persius. He next edited the works of Ford, in two volumes; and he had proceeded with five volumes of those of Shirley, when his labours were terminated by his death. He died at Pimlico, on the 31st of December, 1826, and was interred in Westminster Abbey. Being a single man, he died in opulent circumstances; having enjoyed, for some years, an annuity from Lord Grosvenor, besides holding the office of pay. master of the band of gentleman pensioners, with a salary of 300l. a year; and, for a time, that of comptroller of the lottery, with a salary of 6007. a year.
The fame of Gifford rests principally upon his Juvenal, which occupied the greater part of his life, and was sent into the world with every advantage that could be derived from the most careful attention on the part of the author, and the correction of his most able friends. It still falls short, however, of Mr. Gifford's attempt to give
Tota cohors tamen est inimica, omnesque manipli
IN 1785, a few English of both sexes,* whom e ince had jumbled together at Florence, took a fcy to while away their time in scribbling highfle vn panegyrics on themselves, and complimentary canzonettas" on two or three Italians,† who under
* Among whom I find the names of Mrs. Piozzi, Mr. Greathead, Mr. Merry, Mr. Parsons, &c.
+ Mrs. Piozzi has since published a work on what she is pleased to call British Synonymes: the better, I suppose, to enable these foreign gentlemen to comprehend her multifarious erudition.
Juvenal entire, except in his grossness, and to make him speak as he would have spoken among us. In this he has so far failed, that whilst he omits to furnish the glowing imagery, luxuriant diction, and impetuous fluency of the Roman satirist, he has retained many of his worst and most objectionable passages. It has been well observed, by a writer in the New Monthly Magazine, that his translation presents us rather with the flail of an infatuated rustic, than with the exterminating falchion of Juvenal. His Baviad and Mæviad evince first-rate satirical powers; but in these, as in most of his writings, a degree of coarse virulence displays itself, which shows that literary associations had not refined his mind.
These satires would not have found a place in this collection, but for their intimate connexion with English literary history, and the influence they undoubtedly exerted in reforming public taste, and preparing the way for that galaxy of illustrious poets who succeeded him. Of late years Gifford was principally known as the editor of the Quarterly Review, a work established by himself in 1809, and of which he continued to be the conductor till 1824. He also for some time edited the Anti-jacobin newspaper, in which he displayed his usual acuteness, asperity, and subservience to the party by which he thrived; his politics being invariably those of his interest.
Gifford is chiefly known in America by his base and venomous attacks upon us in the Quarterly Review. These, however, were probably necessary in order for him to retain the direction of that periodical. He slandered for his bread.
stood too little of the language in which they were written to be disgusted with them. In this there was not much harm; nor, indeed, much good: but, as folly is progressive, they soon wrought themselves into an opinion that the fine things were really deserved, which they mutually said and sung of each other.
Thus persuaded, they were unwilling that their inimitable productions should be confined to the little circle which produced them; they therefore transmitted them hither; and, as their friends were strictly enjoined not to show them, they were first handed about the town with great assiduity, and then sent to the press.
A short time before the period of which we speak, a knot of fantastic coxcombs, headed by one Este,
as much Latin from a child's Syntax, as sufficed to expose the ignorance which she so anxiously labours to conceal. "If such a one be fit to write on Synonymes, speak." Pignotti himself laughs in his sleeve; and his countrymen, long since undeceived, prize the lady's talents at their truc worth,
Et centum Tales1 curto centusse licentur.
Though no one better knows his own house" than 1 the vanity of this woman, yet the idea of her undertaking such a work had never entered my head; and I was thunderstruck when I first saw it announced. To execute it with any tolerable degree of success, required a rare combination of talents, among the least of which may be numbered, neatness of style, acuteness of perception, and a more than common accuracy of discrimination; and Mrs. Piozzi brought to the task a jargon long nished the conjectural emendation above, which is highly spoken of by the since become proverbial for its vulgarity, an utter incapability of defining a single term in the language,and just ¡
1 Quære Thrales!-Printer's Devil.
2 Thus translated by Mr. Bulmer's devil, (the young gentleman who fur
German critics :)
And!, Or a clip! half-crown, expose to sale
had set up a daily paper called the World.* It was perfectly unintelligible, and therefore much read; it was equally lavish of praise and abuse, (praise of what appeared in its own columns, and abuse of every thing that appeared elsewhere ;) and as its conductors were at once ignorant and conceited, they took upon themselves to direct the taste of the town, by prefixing a short panegyric to every trifle which came before them.
It is scarcely necessary to observe, that Yendas, and Laura Marias, and Tony Pasquins, have long claimed a prescriptive right to infest our periodical publications: but as the editors of them never pretended to criticise their harmless productions, they were merely perused, laughed at, and forgotten. A paper, therefore, which introduced their trash with hyperbolical encomiums, and called upon the town to admire it, was an acquisition of the utmost importance to these poor people, and naturally became the grand depository of their lucubrations.
At this auspicious period the first cargo of poetry arrived from Florence, and was given to the public through the medium of this favoured paper. There was a specious brilliancy in these exotics which dazzled the native grubs who had never 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!" From admiration to imitation is but a step. Honest Yenda tried his hand at a descriptive ode, and succeeded beyond his hopes; Anna Matilda followed; in a word,
Hanc dedit in plures, sicut grex totus in agris
While the epidemic malady was raging from fool to fool, Della Crusca came over, and immediately announced himself by a sonnet to Love. Anna Matilda wrote an incomparable piece of nonsense in praise of it: and the two "great luminaries of the age," as Mr. Bell properly calls them, fell desperately in love with each other. From that period,
not a day passed without an amatory epistle fraught with thunder and lightning, et quicquid habent telorum arınamentaria cœli.—The fever turned to a frenzy; Laura Maria, Carlos, Orlando, Adelaide, and a thousand nameless names caught the infection: and from one end of the kingdom* to the other, all was nonsense and Della Crusca.
Even THEN, I waited, with a patience which I can better account for than excuse, for some one (abler than myself) to step forth to correct the growing depravity of the public taste, and check the inundation of absurdity now bursting upon us from a thousand springs. As no one appeared, and as the evil grew every day more alarming, (for bedridden old women, and girls at their samplers began to rave,) I determined, without much confidence of success, to try what could be effected by my feeble powers; and accordingly wrote the following poem.
The termination of this "everlasting" attachment was curious. When the genuine enthusiasm of the correspondence Preface to th Albuin) had continued for
Mr. Bell, however, tells the story another way. Accord ing to him, "Chance alone procured the interview." Whatever procured it, all the lovers of "true poetry,” with Mrs. Piozzi at their head, expected wonders from it. The flame that burned with such ardour while the * In this paper were given the earliest specimens of lady was yet unseen, they hoped uld with unexthose unqualified and audacious attacks on all private ampled brightness at the sight of the bewitching of ject. character; which the town first smiled at for their Such were their hopes. But what, as Dr. Johnson quaintness, then tolerated for their absurdity, and now-gravely asks, are the hopes of man! or indeed of woman! that other papers, equally wicked, and more intelligible, have ventured to imitate it,-will have to lament to the last hour of British liberty.
for this fatal meeting put an end to the whole. With the exception of a marvellous dithyrambic, which Dilla Crusca wrote while the impression was yet warm upon him, and which consequently gave a most accurate account of it, nothing has since appeared to the honour of Anna Matilda: and the "tenth muse," the "angel," the "goddess," has sunk into an old woman; with the comforting reflection of having mumbled love to an ungrate ful swain.
+ Here Mr. Parsons is pleased to advance his farthing rushlight. "Crashing torrents and petrifying suns are extremely ridiculous,"habes confitentem! "but they are not to be found in the Florence Miscellany." Who said they were? But apropos of the Florence Miscellany. Mr. Parsons says that I obtained a copy of it by a breach of confidence; and seems to fancy, "good easy man!" that I derived some prodigious advantage from it: yet I had written both the poems, and all the notes save one, before I knew that there was such a treasure in existence. He might have seen, if passion had not rendered him as blind as a mill horse, that I constantly allude to poems published separately in the periodical sheets of the day, and afterward collected with great parade by Bell and others. I never looked into the Florence Miscellany but once; and the only use then made of it was to extract a sounding passage from the odes of that deep-mouthed Theban, I almost shudder while I quote: but so it ever is, Bertie Greathead, Esq.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
-Non hic est sermo pudicus
In vetula, quoties lascivum intervenit illud
*Kingdom. This is a trifle. Heaven itself, if we may believe Mrs. Robinson, took part in the general infatuation:
"When midst ethereal fire
Thou strikest thy DELLA CRUSCAN lyre,
And Merry had given an example of impious temerity, which this wretched woman was but too eager to imitate.
game, and directed his attacks against an illustrious persecuted brethren, to shift for himself. He accord
ingly engaged in a New York paper, called The Federalist," but unfortunately his writings did not happen to hit the taste of his adopted countrymen; for after a few numbers had appeared, he was taken up for a libel, and is now either chained to a wheelbarrow on the Albany road, or rotting in the provincial jail.
I take some little credit to myself for having driven this pernicious pest out of the society upon which he preyed: I say some little-for, to be candid, (though I would not have shrunk from any talents in the contest,) the warfare with Anthony was finished ere well begun. Short and slight as it was, however, it furnishes an important lesson. Those general slanderers, those bugbears of a timid public, are as sneaking as they are insolent, as weak as they are wicked.-Resist them, and like the devil, to use a sacred expression, Resist them, and they will flee from you."
These, which were continued, from day to day, in the Morning Post, with a rancour that seemed indefatigable, were, after some time, incorporated with such additional falsehoods as the most savage hostility could supply, and printed in a book, to which Anthony thought fit to prefix his name.
It was now that I first found a fair opportunity for dragging this pest before the public, and setting him up to view in his true light. I was not slow in seizing it, and the immediate consequence was, that an action was commenced, or threatened against every publisher of the Baviad.
If we did not know the horror which these obscure reptiles, who fatten on the filthy dregs of slander and obscenity, feel at being forced into day, we might be justly surprised that a man who lived by violating the law should have recourse to it for protection; that a common libeller, who spared no rank nor condition, should cry out on the license of the times, and solicit pity and redress from that community, almost every individual of which he had wantonly and wickedly insulted.
The first, and, indeed, the only trial that came on, was that of Mr. Faulder, (a name not often coupled with that of a dealer in libels,) who was not only acquitted, but, by a verdict of his peers, declared to have been unjustly put in a state of accusation.
To finish Anthony's history.-His occupation was now gone. As a minister of malevolence he was no longer worth hiring; and as a dispenser of fame, no longer worth feeding. Thus abandoned, without meat and without money, he applied to a charitable institution for a few guineas, with which he shipped himself off for America,
But he was even here too late; that country had discovered, some time before Anthony reached it, that receiving into its bosom the refuse and offal of every clime, and seemingly for no other reason but because they were so, was neither the way to grow rich nor respectable. Anthony had, therefore, no congratulatory addresses presented to him on his arrival, but was left, with hundreds of his poor
P. This, my friend, to me
Mr. Garrow was furnished with a number of extracts from Anthony's multifarious productions. I F. Save me from this canting strain! lamented at first, that the impatient indignation of Why, who will read it? the jury at the plaintiff's baseness, coinciding with that of the upright judge who presided, stopped him short, and prevented their being read. But I am now satisfied with the interruption. It is better that such a collection of slander, and obscenity, and treason, and impiety, should moulder in the obscu-Pity is insult here. I care not, I, rity to which its ineffable stupidity has con- Though Boswell,* of a song and supper vain, demned it, than that it should be brought forward to the reprobation and abhorrence of the public.
P." Sad, but!"-Why?
Mr. Erskine, who did every thing for his client which could be expected from his integrity and abilities, applied in the "next ensuing term" for a new trial. I have forgotten the motives for this application, but it was resisted by Lord Kenyon; and chiefly on the ground of the marked indignation shown by the jury at the plaintiff's infamous conduct and character, and that, even before Mr. Garrow had fully entered into them,
A PARAPHRASTIC IMITATION OF THE FIRST SATIRE
Impune ergo mihi recitaverit ille SONETTAS,
P. WHEN I look round on man, and find how vain His passions
F. None, by my life.
P. What! none? Sure, two or threeF. No, no; not one. "Tis sad; but
*Cui non dictus Hylas? And who has not heard of James Boswell, Esq.? All the world knows (for all the world has it under his own hand) that he composed a BALLAD in honour of Mr. Pitt, with very little assistance from Dr. Trusler, and less from Mr. Dibdin; which he produced, to the utter confusion of the Foxites, and sang thanks to the scombri, et quicquid ineptis amicitur chartis, at the lord mayor's table. This important" state paper,' I have not been able to procure; but the terror and dismay which it occasioned among the enemy, with a variety of other circumstances highly necessary to be known, may be gathered from the following letter:
"To the Conductor of the World.
"Sir,-The wasps of opposition have been very busy
with my State Ballad, 'the GROCER of LONDON,' and they are welcome. Pray let them know that I am vain of a hasty composition which has procured me large draughts of that popular applause in which I delight. Let me add, that there was certainly no servility on my part; for I publicly declared in Guildhall, between the encores, 'that this same Grocer had treated ME arrogantly and
ungratefully; but that, from his great merit as a minister, I was compelled to support him!'
"The time WILL come when I shall have a proper oppor tunity to show, that in one instance, at least, the man has wanted wisdom"JAM. BOS." Atqui vultus erat multa et præclara minantis ! Poor Bozzy! But I too threaten.-And is there need of thy example, then, to convince us that on
And Bell's whole choir,* (an ever-jingling train,)
-Our quickest attempts
"BELL'S WHOLE CHOIR! Quousque tantum-Yes, sir, I am proud of the insinuation while I despise it. The owl, they say, was a baker's daughter. We know what we ARE, but we know not what we MAY BE. There. by hangs a tale: and the WORLD shall have it-Choice BIOGRAPHY is the boast of my paper-Verba sat-I have
friends-so has LAURA MARIA-She is the SAPPHо of the age. I wrong her-The MONTHLY REVIEWERS read GREEK, and they prefer our fair country woman. I read Greek, too, but I make no boast of it. I sell Mrs. RoBINSON'S works, and I know their value- It is the bright day that brings forth the adder.'
"YENDA I despise; ANTHONY PASQUIN I execrateThe brilliant effusions of fancy, the bright coruscations of genius only, illuminate the ORACLE-and ARNO and CESARIO, names dear to the MUSE OF GLORY, constitute a proud distinction between the unfading leaves of the PYTHIAN shrine, and the perishable records of the day. "JOHN BELL. "P.S.BLOCKHEADS with reason'-you know the rest. I fear nothing-yet I love not everlasting feuds-At a word: Will one of my NEW COMMONPLACE BOOKS be acceptable? "J. B."
This gentleman, who has long been known as an industrious paragraph-monger in the morning papers, took it into his head, some time since, to try his hand at a prologue. Having none of the requisites for this business, he laboured to little purpose till Dullness, whose attention to her children is truly maternal, suggested to him, that unmeaning ribaldry and vulgarity might possibly be substituted for harmony, spirit, taste, and sense. -He caught at the hint, made the experiment, and succeeded to a miracle. Since that period every play-wright from O'Keefe to Della Crusca, "a heavy declension!" has been solicitous to preface his labours with a few lines of his manufacturing, to excite and perpetuate the good-humour of his audience. As the reader may bably not dislike a short specimen of Mr. Andrews' wonder-working poetry, I have subjoined the following extract from his last and best performance, his prologue to
"Feg," cries fat Madam Dump, from Wapping Wall,
Ambizione del tiranno!
Piu forte, piu piano, a che fin
Zounds! here's my warrant, and I will come in.
Now comes the dance, the demi charactere,
-Morantur Pauci ridiculum effugientem ex urbe pudorem.1
No, not a whit. Let the besotted town
F. What? speak freely; let me know.
May he who hates not Crusca's sober verse,
the second, (would it had never been written!) instead pro-pected, and quieting him for ever, had a most fatal effect of gratifying the ambition of Mr. Parsons, as I fondly exupon his poor head, and, from an honest, painstaking gentleman, converted him, in imagination, into a Mino
1 It is rightly observed by Solomon, that you may bray a fool in a mortar without making him wiser. Upon this principle I account for the stationary stupidity of Mr. A.; whose faculties, "God help the while!" do not seem a whit improved by the dreadful pouading which he has received. Of him,
On crutches towards the grave, to" Light o' Love;"t
For the poetic amours of this lady, see the British
In the first editions of this and the following poems I had overlooked Mr. Parsons, though an undoubted Bavian. This nettled him. "Ha!" quoth he, "better be damn'd than mention'd not at all." He accordingly applied to me, (in a circuitous manner, I confess,) and as a particular favour was finally admitted, in the shape of a motto, into the title-page of the Mæviad. These were the lines:
Continuo implevit falsis mugitibus urbem,
The motto appeared on a Wednesday; and on the Saturday after, the morosoph Este (who appears to have believed in the reality of the metamorphosis) published the first bellowings of Mr. Parsons, with the following introduction:
therefore, I wash my hands-but I would fain ask Messrs. Morton and Rey. nolds, ("the worthy followers of O'Keefe, and the present supporters of the British stage,") whether it be absolutely necessary to introduce their pieces with such ineffable nonsense as this,
If it be not-for pity's sake, gentlemen, spare us the disgrace of it; and O heavens! if it be-deign in mercy sometimes to apply to the bellmen, or the
And this was heard with applause! and this was read grave-stone cutter, that we may stand a little chance of having our doggrel with delight! O shame! where is thy blush? ribaldry "with a difference."
-Betty, it's come into my head
Old maids grow cross because their cats are dead;
She wears black stockings-ah! ah! what a pother,
1 Parsons I know, and this I heard him say,
See the "V"-a Bartholomew-fair farce, by Mr. Reynolds