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LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF “ MY
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRITISH REVIEW.
MY DEAR ROBERTS,
As a believer in the Church of England—to say nothing of the State—I have been an occasional reader, and great admirer of, though not a subscriber to, your Review, which is rather expensive. But I do not know that any part of its contents ever gave me much surprise till the eleventh article of your twenty-seventh number made its appearance. You have there most vigorously refuted a calumnious accusation of bribery and corruption, the credence of which in the public mind might not only have damaged your reputation as a barrister and an editor, but, what would have been still worse, have injured the circulation of your journal; which, I regret to hear, is not so extensive as the “ purity (as you well observe) of its,” &c. &c. and the present taste for propriety, would induce us to expect. The charge itself is of a solemn nature, and, although in verse, is couched in terms of such circumstantial gravity, as to induce a belief little short of that generally accorded to the thirty-nine articles, to which you so frankly subscribed on taking your degrees. It is a charge the most revolting to the heart of man, from its frequent occurrence; to the mind of a lawyer, from its occa
sional truth; and to the soul of an editor, from its moral impossibility. You are charged then in the last line of one octave stanza, and the whole eight lines of the next, viz. 209th and 210th of the first canto of that “pestilent poem,” Don Juan, with receiving, and still more foolishly acknowledging the receipt of, certain monies, to eulogize the unknown author, who by this account must be known to you, if to nobody else. An impeachment of this nature, so seriously made, there is but one way of refuting; and it is my firm persuasion, that whether you did or did not (and I believe that you did not) receive the said monies, of which I wish that he had specified the sum, you are quite right in denying all knowledge of the transaction. If charges of this nefarious description are to go forth, sanctioned by all the solemnity of circumstance, and guaranteed by the veracity of verse (as Counsellor Phillips would say) what is to become of readers hitherto implicitly confident in the not less veracious prose of our critical journals ? what is to become of the reviews ? And, if the reviews fail, what is to become of the editors ? It is common cause, and you have done well to sound the alarm. I myself, in my humble sphere, will be one of your echoes. In the words of the tragedian Liston, “ I love a row,” and you seem justly determined to make
It is barely possible, certainly improbable, that the writer might have been in jest; but this only aggravates his crime. A joke, the proverb says, “ breaks no bones;” but it may break a bookseller, or it may be the cause of bones being broken. The jest is but a bad one at the best for the author, and might have been a still worse one for you, if your copious contradiction did not certify to all whom it may concern your own indignant innocence, and the immaculate purity of the British Review. I do not doubt your word, my dear Roberts,
yet I cannot help wishing that in a case of such vital importance, it had assumed the more substantial shape of an affidavit sworn before the Lord Mayor.
I am sure, my dear Roberts, that you will take these observations of mine in good part; they are written in a spirit of friendship not less pure than your own editorial integrity. I have always admired you; and not knowing any shape which friendship and admiration can assume more agreeable and useful than that of good advice, I shall continue my lucubrations, mixed with here and there a monitory hint as to what I conceive to be the line
in you should ever again be assailed with bribes, or accused of taking them. By the way, you don't say much about the poem, except that it is “flagitious.” This is a pity—you should have cut it up; because, to say the truth, in not doing so, you somewhat assist any notions which the malignant might entertain on the score of the anonymous asseveration which has made you so angry.
You say, no bookseller “ was willing to take upon himself " the publication, though most of them disgrace themselves " by selling it.” Now, my dear friend, though we all know that those fellows will do any thing for money, methinks the disgrace is more with the purchasers; and some such, doubtless, there are, for there can be no very extensive selling (as you will perceive by that of the British Review) without buying. You then add, " what can the critic say?" I am sure I don't know; at present he says very little, and that not much to the purpose. Then comes, " for praise, as far
as regards the poetry, many passages might be exhibited; " for condemnation, as far as regards the morality, all.” Now, my dear good Roberts, I feel for you and for your reputation; my heart bleeds for both; and I do ask you, whether or not such language does not come positively under the
description of “the puff collusive,” for which see Sheridan's farce of “ The Critic” (by the way, a little more facetious than your own farce under the same title) towards the close of scene second, act the first.
The poem is, it seems, sold as the work of Lord Byron ; but you feel yourself “ at liberty to suppose it not Lord B.'s
composition.” Why did you ever suppose that it was? I approve of your indignation—I applaud it-I feel as angry as you can; but perhaps your virtuous wrath carries you a little too far, when
no misdemeanour, not even “ that of sending into the world obscene and blasphemous
poetry, the product of studious lewdness and laboured im
piety, appears to you in so detestable a light as the ac“ceptance of a present by the editor of a review, as the “ condition of praising an author.” The devil it doesn't Think a little. This is being critical overmuch. In point of Gentile benevolence or Christian charity, it were surely less criminal to praise for a bribe, than to abuse a fellow creature for nothing; and as to the assertion of the comparative innocence of blasphemy and obscenity, confronted with an editor's “ acceptance of a present,” I shall merely observe, that as an editor you say very well, but as a Christian barrister, I would not recommend you to transplant this sentence into a brief.
And yet you say, “ the miserable man (for miserable he is,
as having a soul of which he cannot get rid”)—But here I must pause again, and inquire what is the meaning of this parenthesis. We have heard of people of “ little soul,” or of
soul at all,” but never till now of “ the misery of having a soul of which we cannot get rid;" a misery under which you are possibly no great sufferer, having got rid apparently of some of the intellectual part of your own when you penned this pretty piece of eloquence.