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Memoirs of a Trait in the Character of George III. of these United Kingdoms/Appendix 8

No. 8.

A NOTE ON JUNIUS AND WOLCOT.



What would Junius,[1] who, whatever might be his rank or destination, was one of the proudest of men, have said, on finding himself assimilating so closely with such refuse as he would have deemed Wolcot? Yet these people who disgraced more than they did honour to the species, were from the same stock: the same ill blood runs in their veins. Junius suffered a malevolent spirit to suppress all regard for truth in too numerous instances; and Wolcot, in the vulgar phrase, would have lied with the devil for a bean-stack, and won it. He wrote for a dinner, and made no secret of it, nor yet of his selfish and discreditable inducements "to cry havoc, and let slip his" doggerel—

Were I to write of common folks
No soul would buy my rhymes so queer and jokes;
Then what becomes of mutton, beef and pork?
How would my masticating muscles work?—
At Princes let but satire lift his gun,
The more the feathers fly, the more's the fun.
E'en the whole world, blockheads and men of letters,
Enjoy a cannonade upon their betters.

That blockheads enjoyed his fun, as he calls it, without the least regard to its veracity, we allow, though we were not prepared for such a thick-skulled compliment to this readers; but he might safely have been desired to name any respectable man of letters that felt gratified by his fabrications.—Like Junius, he was reckless of whatever ill consequences might result from his writings, for he chaunts—

Panegyric moves with snail-like creep,
And defamation on the light'ning's wings.

That is, defamation was more profitable to the empty pockets of the one and the revenge of the other; and—we add, that no intelligent person can peruse the works of Wolcot in connexion, without soon observing that he had no standard for his opinions but the state of his funds. Hence he is by turns a royalist and a republican, having written with equal virulence on both sides of the question. If he writes con amores, it is on the side of anarchy; for the production win which he excelled himself, both in pathetic and satirical touches,[2] was addressed to certain journeymen Shoemakers, who, about forty years ago, combined against their masters to raise their wages; but with so little reason, that the Judge who tried the ringleaders said the profits must be exorbitant which would enable them to live six weeks in idleness. The drift of this poetical tirade, was to excited the lower class to pull down all above them: but the allusions in it manifest the grossest ignorance of the particulars connected with the marriage of Henry, Duke of Cumberland; whose brother, George 3rd, censured that step in the most unqualified terms; the Duchess however held her jointure by the same right as any other dowager in the kingdom; which this ignorant instructor (for he elsewhere says he will instruct us in the knowledge we want) does not appear to have known;[3] nor yet that the disproportionate union with the widow of Colonel Luttrel, which was incompatible with obvious reasons of state, gave occasion for that Act of Parliament by which, in future, all marriages of the Royal Family, without the consent of the King in council, were declared null and void.

The misrepresentations of this fellow, brought to mind the exaggerated charges of Junius against the Duke of Grafton; not as regards the rangership of Whittlebury forest (for those have been fully exposed) but the virulence indulged against the private character of that Nobleman, who had a commixture of virtues and failings common among man of all ranks. The Author happened luckily to be acquainted with a person who, after having been many years in the service of his Grace, retired with a decent competence to his native village (Hatfield, in Yorkshire.) When questioned on the subject of the Duke's domestic conduct, it was evident it had been such as conciliated the regard of his dependants. And when this was observed in one who had had those ample opportunities which Junius had not, of observing his presumed enemy at home, under his every day garb, usages and description, it is as conclusive against the fabrications of the mortified politician as the case of John Harrison is against those of Peter Pindar,—Another piece by whom, is enough to make the blood curdle at the brutality of the Jacobin who could deliberately produce a ditty, which it may be thought, all hell alone could have responded. It originated in a report which crossed the channel, that the regicides had placed the miserable Prince, Lewis XVII. with a shoemaker: which one unworthy Englishman, either for lucre, or from a besotted depravity, thus commented on.

See stool-propp'd Majesty the leather spread,
Behold its pretty fingers wax the thread,
And now the leather on the lapstone; hole,
Now puts his Majesty the bristle in,
Now wide he throws his arms, with milk-white skin,
And now he spits, and hammers on the sole.

Such was, in effect, the prime supporter of the haughty unknown, who wreaks his vengeance on George 3rd, in the spirit of a New Zealand savage, for injuries which must remain for ever undefined, and had they been contemporaries, he would in equity have been entitled to the distinguished consideration, and to a cover at the table of the malevolent spirit, his half brother: where they might have debated the point like two Chieftains from Pandemonium,
"To find no end, all in infernal mazes lost."—
One of the most prominent assertions they are both conspicuous for, is that George 3rd was insatiably fond of flattery; and if it be allowed to furnish a criterion for our confidence in their veracity, is it not below contempt? We need not repeat that the case of John Harrison affords as decisive a contradiction to this calumny, as De Foe or Richardson could have invented—it would have been blazoned eftsoons in every corner of the palace, and echoed in the adjoining precincts, had this Prince been disposed to snuff such incense; and had he not, on the contrary "shut his ears to the voice of the charmer, charmed he never so wisely."

We are not sure we are correct in giving this low-lived fellow, as Junius would have called his kinsman, the credit of making a defamatory stride beyond his principal in persecuting the most virtuous Monarch in our annals since Alfred swayed the sceptre. It comes in the form of a surmise and insinuation, for not a solitary fact bears out the sweeping charge.—"The Earl [Paulet] has won the royal smile, and is made a Lord of the bedchamber; but as capricious inconstancy is a prominent feature in the Brunswic family, a royal frown may be at no great distance:"

And should the Monarch turn from sweet to sour,
Which Cometh oft to pass in half an hour.

In what history, memoirs, or diary, or collection of anecdotes, had he found that the individuals of the royal family are more changeable than other men? If he could have laid his hand on his authority, where was it? Instead of such an explanation, you find only the rhymes just quoted. The late Sir John Barton, who had been above forty-six years attached to his present Majesty (William IV.) gave a very different account from that of this mercenary calumniator; leaving the inference, that no distinguished family in the kingdom could be quoted as more an example of consistency than the House of Brunswic.—We had almost forgotten, that Wolcot, in trying to make a miser of the King, actually accuses him of omitting the dot over the i, in writing, to save his ink. It has often happened to the writer of this, as also to forget the stroke through the t: yet it would not follow that he is sparing of his ink, and his apprehension is lest the reader should be of the same opinion.—The Author of the Rape of the Lock was never thought a miser, though his friend, Swift, calls him "paper sparing Pope." The Dean has not mentioned any deficiency in his hospitality, when he was his guest. If "he saved five shillings in five years," by writing his compositions on the backs of letters, yet when Frederic, Prince of Wales, honoured him with his company to dinner, he set out his table as was befitting, without those marked omissions that seldom fail to denote the muckworm: Like Fielding's Lovegold, who being to give an entertainment to please his mistress, considers it would be advisable to have, in the first place, a large suet pudding, to cloy the stomachs of the guest,—If George 3rd had some frugal habits in private life, analogous to those of Pope (a point we leave to those better informed) he needed no prompter, if any occasion like an installation of the knights of the Garter elect, at Windsor Castle, in which his seven Sons walked before him, called for a splendor and sumptuousness accordant with the ceremonial, and every way worthy of the Monarch and his noble guests.—Notwithstanding these pointed considerations, Junius, who perfectly concurs with Wolcot in finding this Prince insatiably fond of flattery, would have been equally ready to impute to his Sovereign the meanest parsimony, had the hint been started when he wrote: which from Wolcot's career being of later chronology, happened not to be the case.

Such was the paucity of his resources,—the want of substance for the lash of a professed satirist, whom the Aonian Maids would have tossed in a blanket (if they had such an article.) He counted on being read at any rate, if he levelled his shafts at the throne, though they might be pointed with lead, as in the notable hit just quoted, and evidently caters for the depraved taste of the many, who desire to see those above them, in every sense, reduced to their own level. Though neither Junius, nor his understrapper were philosophers, they bring to mind a just observation on Rochefoucault, given by Dr. Hawksworth in the Adventurer, who calls hime "the great philosopher for administering consolation to the idle, the envious and the worthless part of mankind."

Respecting the tamed political Incognito, the Author, who adopts the original and at present the prevailing opinion, that he was Viscount Sackville, thinks the interview he sought with Lord Mansfield, a short time before his death, to beg his lordship's forgiveness for injuries which no one could divine, unless they had been inflicted under the mask of Junius, not a little corroborative of his identity. But the compunction he felt towards that Nobleman, leaves an enormous hiatus, when it is asked why no expedient of any kind was adopted for his submission in a higher quarter—to expiate, if possible, his aggravated ingratitude to the best of Sovereigns?—As to Wolcot, who bears the same relation to Junius that the squire does to the knight (if the comparison may pass, for nothing could be more opposed to the generosity of chivalry than the unfounded aspersions of both) a few words after the Socratic method would have shown him specially entitled to be exhibited "in close catasta pent." For with all his affected detestation of flattery, and

"He never drank at adulation's spring;"

no dignatory in the church or state ever was, or will be, more coarsely lubricated with the goose-grease of fulsome encomiums than "young Augustus" or the Prince of Wales; who is endowed with every attribute that could be thought of to command our esteem and admiration, while no merit whatever is Conceded to George 3rd, except that of having given the world such a Prince.—The sequel of these gallimaufiry flights was consummately ridiculous; for while Peter was prancing on his long-eared poetical nag, so much to his own delight, and that of numerous readers in—St, James's, we hope not, but at St. Giles's, to wit, be entirely forgot that the good taste, for which among other shining qualities he extolled his highness so lavishly (and a large portion of which he possessed) would show him despising the literary Parasite, whose real object was of sterling import. Such was the overweening self-sufficiency of this man, that you gather from his swaggering hints he actually expected to be handsomely provided for, when the Regent should succeed to power: but being wholly disappointed in these golden dreams, he veered round with characteristic effrontery, and, like Pope's magpie, bestowed almost verbatim on the Son the same language with which he had before vilified the Father: of which "England's golden calf" may be thought a sufficient specimen.

To show the utter recklessness of this man to what impeached his veracity, he got hold of it as a good thing to turn the penny by, that the British Ambassador at the court of Pekin, had duly conformed to the ceremony called Ko-tou, so degrading to European ideas, and forthwith tossed up in his doggerel frying-pan, an invective against the absurd meanness of the compliance; not sparing, of course, the Government that appointed Lord Macartney, and so on. Had he not been in haste to show that "one fool makes many," he might, by waiting a few days, or, perhaps a few hours, have avoided falling out of the frying-pan into the fire; and rescued the slattern,[4] his Muse, from the imputation of hearing aloud that "a greater liar Parthia never bred." Yet, possibly finding the more you stir it, the more it will stink, he never apologized to his readers for a blunder by which he was holding them dog-cheap. And soon after, it is likely, in the ordinary coarse of his business, he would thrust on them some stuff from the Palace, impressed on doubting people by the conviction that A had it from B, who was told it by C, who had just then met D, piping-hot from the coffee-house, where he had seen E, who is known to be the half-brother to the first scullion on the establishment; and uncle besides to the deputy clerk of the kitchen, and so forth.

Such, or something like it, seems to have been the source of that quarto catch-penny scurrility which proved so palatable to that numerous class in society, called by Lord Chesterfield, male gossips; and soon found its way into Lady Tabby Touchup's drawing-room and Sir Pontius Periwinkle's peripatetic repository, and—where else, those (equivocal) gentlemen who were not ashamed to invite him to their tables, could say.[5]

If it be adjudged supererogatory that the Author should find any room on his pages for a pseudo adjunct to the republic of letters, whose conduct all the respectable writers of the same æra concur in reprobating, particularly the Author of Pursuits of Literature, who is extremely severe on this obscure person, as he calls Wolcot, and condemns in pointed terms, the general tendency of his writings; but not having thought it worth while to bestow any letter-press on him in detail, except with reference to the conceited admission, that kings may be necessary in a state, just as a nail or a peg is to some building, the preceding glances at a few others of his mercenary compositions may not appear misplaced; especially when it is considered that he got his bread mostly by hacking, with a blunt edge, the aforesaid nail or peg (if we must use his own degrading idea.) It was the coincidence between Junius and a libeller by trade, in the odious vocation of injuring George 3rd as much as they could in the esteem of his subjects, that insensibly induced an association of persons therefrom. They either knew nothing of his real character, or they were fraudulent enough to affect an ignorance convenient for their purposes; but the depravity of the Aristocrat, who may be concluded to have had frequent opportunities of assuaging his bile at St. James's, exceeds that of a needy scribbler, who himself had no auricular knowledge of his insulted Sovereign.

Allowing for the variance in chronology, there is a passage in the works of his fellow labourer that precludes comment, and should have been especially commended to the attention of Junius, if he professed to believe in a future state of retribution, viz.

How could I hold aloft my tuneful head.
Or proudly hope at doomsday to be read?


Notes:

  1. Refers to page 77.
  2. You must not heed your childrens hunger'd cry,
    Nor once over their little sorrows sigh,
    In tears their blubber'd faces let them steep
    and howl their griefs to sleep.

    We must support too her fine gold-lac'd crew
    Behind her gilt coach, dancing[subnote 1] jolly fellows,
    With canes and ruffles goodly to the view,
    And (suiting their complexions) pink umbrellas.

  3. It may be doing a service to the young men who admire this man's works, to show them the ignorance of their professed instructor, who points out to their admiration "our Edwards and our Henries," intending thereby to degrade their modern successors; but without explaining that nothing could be more futile than the purpose in which those heroes were engaged: for Edward III. who took the lead in these "deeds of arms," supposing his construction of the salique law to have been correct, was not the rightful heir to the crown of France by his own rule. If he had succeeded in his enterprise, the certain result would have been that England would have become a province of France.—Voltaire has the credit of illustrating this consequence, by showing that the Tartars who invaded China, and subverted the reigning dynasty, afterwards submitted with sword in hand to the Chinese emperors of their own race.
  4. The degraded taste, which gave a vogue to Peter Pindar, drew this sentiment from Mr. D'Isreal, in his Defence of Poetry.

    E'en Shakespear's genius, Spencer's fancy fail,
    While Folly bids her Wolcot's scandal hail.
    'Tis she that gives his malice wings to fly;
    Nursing in natal dirt the infant lie,
    Till grown more bold it flaunts about the town,
    The dirty Prostitute of half-a-crown.

  5. The idea that he was a wit, wholly misled those who expected to find his conversation seasoned with tarns of humour. Of two friends of the Author who had dined in his company; one by accident, and the other in a party; the first said, that if he had not previously known who he was, he should have taken him for a cheesemonger: while the brightest saying the other could quote, bordered on blasphemy, without being in the least exhilerating.—One of the dishes was stewed eels, which Peter Pindar relished so well, as to say, that "if he had been consulted at the creation he would have had all other fish eels."

Subnotes:

  1. The footmen standing on a large leather cushion, stuffed with elastic materials, suggested the epithet.