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portant and very valuable work. It is one which will occupy a permanent place in the English library, when all the puffed and placarded biographies and autobiographies which have of late years disgraced the press of this country, shall be as utterly forgotten as if the paltry beings whose vanity and insignificance they display had never existed. The portrait of one English Worthy more is now secured to posterity.
ART. IV.-Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries. By
Leigh Hunt. London, 1828. Quarto. pp. 513. 'LO
ORD NELSON and some of his Contemporaries' would
look well on the title-page of a large and sumptuous quarto volume : but what would mankind, or womankind, or childkind think, if the contemporaries par excellence—the chosen
some'-of his lordship, turned out to be Captain Augustus Pry, of the Margate Hoy, and a few more worthies of the like calibre? Or would vulgar wonder be diminished on finding that of 513 pages introduced with that eternal blazon, some 150 were given to the victor of Trafalgar, and about double that number to Mr. Pry himself,—a satisfactory deduction of his pedigree from • P. P. clerk of this parish, and a copious account of his achievements in the rencontre with the Wallsend Collier, the demonstration of the Wapping press-gang ? &c., &c.; while in the minor, but still important department of graphic embellishment, a twopenny blank profile falling to the share of the lamented Admiral, the pencil and graver had bestowed their most elaborate and costly exertions on the surviving heroes of the steam-service ?
Let us not, however, be unjust to Mr. Leigh Hunt, contemporary of Lord Byron. We find, on referring to his preface, that he disclaims, though not with indignation,—that, alas ! he durst not—the catchpenny arrangement of the title-page now before us, and indeed of the contents of the book itself. Had the bookseller permitted the author to obey the dictates of his own taste and judgment, the newspapers, instead of announcing for six months, in every variety of puff direct and puff oblique, the approaching appearance of Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries,' would have told us in plain terms to expect the advent of Mr. Leigh Hunt and his following ; the pale face rescued from insignificance by thought' which Mr. Hunt assures us he carries about with him would have fronted Mr. Hunt's titlepage ; and Mr. Hunt's recollections of Lord Byron would have been printed by way of modest appendix to the larger and more interesting part of the work, namely, the autobiography of Mr. Hunt.
• The account of Lord Byron,' says this ingenuous writer, not meant to stand first in the book. I should have kept it for a
climax, My own reminiscences, I fear, coming after it, will be like bringing back the Moselle after devils and Burgundy. But my publisher thought it best : perhaps it is so; and I have only to hope, that in adding to the attractions of the title-page, it will not make the greater part of the work seem unworthy of it.'—Preface, p. vii.
How graceful is that I fear!' how delicately modest the parallel case which it introduces ! Let us not be critical about trifles. The poet of Alma thought himself very philosophical when he said
• Yes ! let the goddess smile or frown,
Drink fine champagne or muddled port.' We are far from being reduced to such alternatives by the presens divus of Mr. Leigh Hunt. Both of our Burgundy and our Moselle, we are sure; and shall we quarrel with our liberal Amphytrion of Conduit Street, about the particular epoch of his rich repast at which it pleaseth him to whisper to the minister of his will
• Boy ! let yon liquid ruby flow?' We are constrained to add, however, that on this occasion our pensive hearts' have withstood the influence both of Burgundy and Moselle. To our fancy, dropping metaphors, this is one of the most melancholy books that any man can take up. The coxcombries of Mr. Hunt's style both of thought and language, were these things new, and were they all, might indeed furnish inextinguishable laughter to the most saturnine of readers. But we had supped full with these absurdities long ago, and have hardly been able to smile for more than a moment at the most egregious specimens of cockneyism which the quarto presents; and even those who have the advantage of meeting Mr. Leigh Hunt for the first time upon this occasion, will hardly, we are persuaded, after a little reflection, be able to draw any very large store of merriment from his pages. It is the miserable book of a miserable man: the little airy fopperies of its manner are like the fantastic trip and convulsive simpers of some poor worn out wanton, struggling between famine and remorse, leering through her tears.
• I must confess,' says this unhappy man in his preface,' that such is my dislike of these personal histories, in which it has been my lot to become a party, that had I been rich enough, and could have repaid the handsome conduct of Mr. Colburn, with its proper interest, my first impulse would have been to put it into the fire.'
And over and over again, in the course of the book itself, we have such parentheses as the following:
But I fear I am getting a little gossiping here beyond the record—such is the contamination of these personal histories.'-—p. 13. • I will not repeat what was said and lamented on this subject. I
would not say anything about it, nor about twenty other matters, but that they hang together more or less, and are connected with the truth of a portrait which it has become necessary for me to paint.'—p. 25.
With such a feeling running cold all the while at the bottom of his heart, does this unfortunate proceed to fill page after page, through a long quarto volume, with the meanest details of private gossip,—dirty gabble about men's wives and men's mistresses,and men's lackeys, and even the mistresses of the lackeys (p. 13) -and, inter alia, with anecdotes of the personal habits of an illustrious poet now no more, such as could never have come to the knowledge of any man who was not treated by Lord Byron either as a friend or as a menial. Such is the result of the handsome conduct' of Mr. Hunt's publisher—who, we should not forget, appears to have exercised throughout * the concoction of this work, a species of authority somewhat new in the annals of his calling :
• Thou profane man! I ask thee with what conscience
That made the pounds ? Were not the pounds told out?' • I have lived in their houses,' (said Byron, speaking of the Italians,) and in the heart of their families, sometimes merely as amico di casa, and sometimes as amico di cuore, and in neither case do I feel myself authorized in making a book of them.'+ His Lordship’s contemporary has struggled against the same feeling; and though he has sinned in spite of his conscience, the struggle is not to be forgotten. We shall at least endeavour to suppress contempt, on this occasion, in compassion.
Not having the fear of a publisher-editor before our eyes, we shall gratify Mr. Hunt by considering his materials in the order in which he, if he could have had his own way, would have presented them and begin with his autobiography; out of which some future D’Israeli will, no doubt, add a curious chapter to the annals of the “Calamities of Authors. This gentleman does not now, for the first time, introduce his personal history to the public, and our readers may find in former numbers of this journal, all that we could wish to say on the most important points of it. His account of his father is, however, new; and very offensive as well as absurd as is the style in which he chooses to tell that story, we must say the chief inferences to be drawn from its facts are, in one point of view at least, favourable to the unfortunate writer.
It appears that the father of Mr. Leigh Hunt was a native of
* See various letters addressed by Mr. Hunt, in January, 1828, to the editor of the Morning Chronicle. + MS, letters penes nos.
Barbadoes, who established himself in Philadelphia as a practising attorney and barrister, and had considerable success in his profession. He was a tory; and when the rebellion broke out, took the side of the government so warmly, as to make himself an object of suspicion and hatred among the insurgents. He was, in fact, driven by a mob-riot from America; and arrived in this country with high hopes of being munificently rewarded for his loyalty. Remembering the history of Warburton, the shrewd attorney took orders, and, according to his son's narrative, became the popular preacher of some gay chapel. Mr. Hunt speaks with no respect of his father's talents, but represents him as a graceful elocutionist. He was, we gather, one of those comely, smooth-tongued, demi-theatrical spouters who sometimes command for a season or two the rapture of pretty ladies, and the flutter of perfumed pockethandkerchiefs. Totally destitute of the learning of his new profession, and by no means remarkable, if we are to believe his son, for clerical propriety of habits, it is not wonderful that the creole orator was disappointed in his expectation of church patronage; or indeed, that, after a little time, his chapel-celebrity was perceptibly on the decline. Government gave him a moderate pension as an American loyalist; and as soon as he found that this was to be all, the reverend gentleman began to waver somewhat in his opinions both as to church and state. In a word, he ended in being an unitarian, and a republican, and an universalist; and found that this country was as yet far too much in the dark to approve either of his new opinions, or of the particular circumstances under which he had abandoned his old ones. Worldly disappointment soon turns a weak mind sour; and stronger minds than this have had recourse to dangerous stimulants in their afflictions. The steps of degradation are broad and easy; and Mr. Leigh Hunt describes himself, in a passage which, in spite of all his foppery, is pathetic, as tracing his earliest recollections to a prison.
Were we in the humour for mirth, the details of this story might furnish enough of it. The Reverend Isaac Hunt was, among other chances and changes, tutor for a little time to Mr. Leigh, father to the present Mr. Chandos Leigh, of Stoneleigh, and nephew to the last Duke of Chandos.
• To be tutor in a ducal family,' says the son, ' is one of the roads to a bishopric. My father was thought (by whom ?) to be in the highest way to it.
His manners were of the highest order (?): his principles in church and state as orthodox, TO ALL APPEARANCE, as could be wished; and he had given up flourishing prospects in America for their sake. But his West Indian temperament spoiled all. He also, as he became acquainted (how ?) with the government, began to doubt its perfection : and THE KING, whose minuteness of information respecting the personal affairs of his sub
jects is well known, was DOUBTLESS prepared with questions which THE DUKE was not equally prepared to answer, and perhaps did not hazard.'—p. 313.
The curiosity of George the Third, by the grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, about Mr. Isaac Hunt was doubtless intense. But the chance, however narrow, by which the latter individual escaped a mitre, was a fortunate one for the world-
• If it may be some vanity in us,' says our author, at least it is no dishonour to our turn of mind to hope that we may have been the means of circulating more knowledge and entertainment in society than if he had attained the bishopric he looked for, and left us ticketed and labelled among the acquiescent.'—p. 315.
Here let us rest for a moment, and be thankful. The Reverend Isaac Hunt did not get Gloucester ; but we have got the Examiner paper, and the Liberal, and Foliage, and Rimini, and a translation of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, in threepenny numbers. Here is another strong exemplification of the justice with which poets as well as divines have proclaimed
All partial evil universal good.' Mr. Hunt lays it down as an axiom, that it is impossible to have too much information about truly great men; and this principle has governed him throughout the composition of his autobiography. Whether Rousseau, or Montaigne, (from whom he takes his motto,) or Colley Cibber's apology, formed, to his fancy, the chief and best model, we know not; but on the whole, it is our opinion that the present work will remind ordinary readers of Brasbridge's Memoirs more frequently than of any others, except perhaps those of P. P. We are extremely sorry that our limits must prevent us from going very minutely into the details of this performance-The reader must be referred to the quarto itself for all the particulars about the Reverend Isaac Hunt's method of smoking tobacco; and about the establishment of the late Mr. Benjamin West, (who was connected with the family by his marriage, especially his porter James, a fine tall fellow, who figured in his master's pictures as an apostle;' who was 'as quiet as he was strong :' and with whom standing for his picture had become a sort of religion ;' and 'the butler, with his little twinkling eyes, full of pleasant conceit, venting his notions of himself in half tones and whispers—a strange fantastic person ;' and of the picture that the butler wore on his shirt-pin' (p. 333); and how Mr. Leigh Hunt, adhuc imberbis, visited the family of Alderman Thornton, at his house in Austin Friars; and how "a private door opened into a garden belonging to the Company of Drapers, so that what with the secluded nature of the street itself, and those