Our Church and State, our Courts and Camps, concede
Reward to very moderate heads indeed!
In these plain common sense will travel far;
All are not Erskines who mislead the Bar:
But Poesy between the best and worst
No medium knows; you must be last or first;
For middling Poets' miserable volumes
Are damned alike by Gods, and Men, and Columns.
- All are not Erskines who adorn the bar.—[MS. M.]
- [Thomas Erskine (third son of the fifth Earl of Buchan) afterwards Lord Erskine (1750-1823), Lord Chancellor (1806-7), an eloquent orator, a supremely great advocate, was, by comparison, a failure as a judge. His power over a jury, "his little twelvers," as he would sometimes address them, was practically unlimited. (See Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856), p. 126.)]
With very middling verses to offend
The Devil and Jeffrey grant but to a friend.—[MS. L. (a).]
Though what "Gods, men, and columns" interdict,
The Devil and Jeffrey[i] pardon—in a Pict.[MS. M.]
^ i. "The Devil and Jeffrey are here placed antithetically to gods and men, such being their usual position, and their due one—according to the facetious saying, 'If God won't take you, the Devil must;' and I am sure no one durst object to his taking the poetry, which, rejected by Horace, is accepted by Jeffrey. That these gentlemen are in some cases kinder,—the one to countrymen, and the other from his odd propensity to prefer evil to good,—than the 'gods, men, and columns' of Horace, may be seen by a reference to the review of Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming; and in No. 31 of the Edinburgh Review (given to me the other day by the captain of an English frigate off Salamis), there is a similar concession to the mediocrity of Jamie Graham's British Georgics. It is fortunate for Campbell, that his fame neither depends on his last poem, nor the puff of the Edinburgh Review. The catalogues of our English are also less fastidious than the pillars of the Roman librarians. A word more with the author of Gertrude of Wyoming. At the end of a poem, and even of a couplet, we have generally 'that unmeaning thing we call a thought;' so Mr. Campbell concludes with a thought in such a manner as to fulfil the whole of Pope's prescription, and be as 'unmeaning' as the best of his brethren:—
'Because I may not stain with grief
The death-song of an Indian chief.'
"When I was in the fifth form, I carried to my master the translation of a chorus in Prometheus, wherein was a pestilent expression about 'staining a voice,' which met with no quarter. Little did I think that Mr. Campbell would have adopted my fifth form 'sublime'—at least in so conspicuous a situation. 'Sorrow' has been 'dry' (in proverbs), and 'wet' (in sonnets), this many a day; and now it 'stains,' and stains a sound, of all feasible things! To be sure, death-songs might have been stained with that same grief to very good purpose, if Outalissi had clapped down his stanzas on wholesome paper for the Edinburgh Evening Post, or any other given hyperborean gazette; or if the said Outalissi had been troubled with the slightest second sight of his own notes embodied on the last proof of an overcharged quarto; but as he is supposed to have been an improvisatore on this occasion, and probably to the last tune he ever chanted in this world, it would have done him no discredit to have made his exit with a mouthful of common sense. Talking of 'staining' (as Caleb Quotem says) 'puts me in mind' of a certain couplet, which Mr. Campbell will find in a writer for whom he, and his school, have no small contempt:—
'E'en copious Dryden wanted, or forgot,
The last and greatest art—the art to blot!'"—[MS. M.]