Read CHAPTER XI - LOCKHART of Essays in English Literature‚ 1780-1860 , free online book, by George Saintsbury, on ReadCentral.com.

In every age there are certain writers who seem to miss their due meed of fame, and this is most naturally and unavoidably the case in ages which see a great deal of what may be called occasional literature.  There is, as it seems to me, a special example of this general proposition in the present century, and that example is the writer whose name stands at the head of this chapter.  No one, perhaps, who speaks with any competence either of knowledge or judgment, would say that Lockhart made an inconsiderable figure in English literature.  He wrote what some men consider the best biography on a large scale, and what almost every one considers the second best biography on a large scale, in English.  His Spanish Ballads are admitted, by those who know the originals, to have done them almost more than justice; and by those who do not know those originals, to be charming in themselves.  His novels, if not masterpieces, have kept the field better than most:  I saw a very badly printed and flaringly-covered copy of Reginald Dalton for sale at the bookstall at Victoria Station the day before writing these words.  He was a pillar of the Quarterly, of Blackwood, of Fraser, at a time when quarterly and monthly magazines played a greater part in literature than they have played since or are likely to play again.  He edited one of these periodicals for thirty years.  “Nobody,” as Mr. Browning has it, “calls him a dunce.”  Yet there is no collected edition of his works; his sober, sound, scholarly, admirably witty, and, with some very few exceptions, admirably catholic literary criticism, is rarely quoted; and to add to this, there is a curious prepossession against him, which, though nearly a generation has passed since his death, has by no means disappeared. Some years ago, in a periodical where I was, for the most part, allowed to say exactly what I liked in matters literary, I found a sentence laudatory of Lockhart, from the purely literary point of view, omitted between proof and publication.  It so happened that the editor of this periodical could not even have known Lockhart personally, or have been offended by his management of the Quarterly, much less by his early fredaines in Blackwood and Fraser.  It was this circumstance that first suggested to me the notion of trying to supply something like a criticism of this remarkable critic, which nobody has yet (1884) done, and which seems worth doing.  For while the work of many of Lockhart’s contemporaries, famous at the time, distinctly loses by re-reading, his for the most part does not; and it happens to display exactly the characteristics which are most wanting in criticism, biographical and literary, at the present day.  If any one at the outset desires a definition, or at least an enumeration of those characteristics, I should say that they are sobriety of style and reserve of feeling, coupled with delicacy of intellectual appreciation and aesthetic sympathy, a strong and firm creed in matters political and literary, not excluding that catholicity of judgment which men of strong belief frequently lack, and, above all, the faculty of writing like a gentleman without writing like a mere gentleman.  No one can charge Lockhart with dilettantism:  no one certainly can charge him with feebleness of intellect, or insufficient equipment of culture, or lack of humour and wit.

His life was, except for the domestic misfortunes which marked its close, by no means eventful; and the present writer, if he had access to any special sources of information (which he has not), would abstain very carefully from using them.  John Gibson Lockhart was born at the Manse of Cambusnethan on 14th July 1794, went to school early, was matriculated at Glasgow at twelve years old, transferred himself by means of a Snell exhibition to Balliol at fifteen, and took a first class in 1813.  They said he caricatured the examiners:  this was, perhaps, not the unparalleled audacity which admiring commentators have described it as being.  Very many very odd things have been done in the Schools.  But if there was nothing extraordinary in his Oxford life except what was, even for those days, the early age at which he began it, his next step was something out of the common; for he went to Germany, was introduced to Goethe, and spent some time there.  An odd coincidence in the literary history of the nineteenth century is that both Lockhart and Quinet practically began literature by translating a German book, and that both had the remarkably good luck to find publishers who paid them beforehand.  There are few such publishers now.  Lockhart’s book was Schlegel’s Lectures on History, and his publisher was Mr. Blackwood.  Then he came back to Scotland and to Edinburgh, and was called to the bar, and “swept the outer house with his gown,” after the fashion admirably described in Peter’s Letters, and referred to by Scott in not the least delightful though one of the most melancholy of his works, the Introduction to the Chronicles of the Canongate.  Lockhart, one of whose distinguishing characteristics throughout life was shyness and reserve, was no speaker.  Indeed, as he happily enough remarked in reply to the toast of his health at the farewell dinner given to celebrate his removal to London, “I cannot speak; if I could, I should not have left you.”  But if he could not speak he could write, and the establishment of Blackwood’s Magazine, after its first abortive numbers, gave him scope.  “The scorpion which delighteth to sting the faces of men,” as he or Wilson describes himself in the Chaldee Manuscript (for the passage is beyond Hogg’s part), certainly justified the description.  As to this famous Manuscript, the late Professor Ferrier undoubtedly made a blunder (in the same key as those that he made in describing the Noctes, in company with which he reprinted it) as “in its way as good as The Battle of the Books.” The Battle of the Books, full of mistakes as it is, is literature, and the Chaldee Manuscript is only capital journalism.  But it is capital journalism; and the exuberance of its wit, if it be only wit of the undergraduate kind (and Lockhart at least was still but an undergraduate in years), is refreshing enough.  The dreadful manner in which it fluttered the dovecotes of Edinburgh Whiggism need not be further commented on, till Lockhart’s next work (this time an almost though not quite independent one) has been noticed.  This was Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk, an elaborate book, half lampoon, half mystification, which appeared in 1819.  This book, which derived its title from Scott’s account of his journey to Paris, and in its plan followed to some extent Humphrey Clinker, is one of the most careful examples of literary hoaxing to be found.  It purported to be the work of a certain Dr. Peter Morris, a Welshman, and it is hardly necessary to say that there was no such person.  It had a handsome frontispiece depicting this Peter Morris, and displaying not, like the portrait in Southey’s Doctor, the occiput merely, but the full face and features.  This portrait was described, and as far as that went it seems truly described, as “an interesting example of a new style of engraving by Lizars.”  Mr. Bates, who probably knows, says that there was no first edition, but that it was published with “second edition” on the title-page.  My copy has the same date, 1819, but is styled the third edition, and has a postscript commenting on the to-do the book made.  However all this may be, it is a very handsome book, excellently printed and containing capital portraits and vignettes, while the matter is worthy of the get-up.  The descriptions of the Outer-House, of Craigcrook and its high jinks, of Abbotsford, of the finding of “Ambrose’s,” of the manufacture of Glasgow punch, and of many other things, are admirable; and there is a charming sketch of Oxford undergraduate life, less exaggerated than that in Reginald Dalton, probably because the subject was fresher in the author’s memory.

Lockhart modestly speaks of this book in his Life of Scott as one that “none but a very young and thoughtless person would have written.”  It may safely be said that no one but a very clever person, whether young or old, could have written it, though it is too long and has occasional faults of a specially youthful kind.  But it made, coming as it did upon the heels of the Chaldee Manuscript, a terrible commotion in Edinburgh.  The impartial observer of men and things may, indeed, have noticed in the records of the ages, that a libelled Liberal is the man in all the world who utters the loudest cries.  The examples of the Reformers, and of the eighteenth-century Philosophes, are notorious and hackneyed; but I can supply (without, I trust, violating the sanctity of private life) a fresh and pleasing example.  Once upon a time, a person whom we shall call A. paid a visit to a person whom we shall call B.  “How sad,” said A., “are those personal attacks of the ­ on Mr. Gladstone.” ­“Personality,” said B., “is always disgusting; and I am very sorry to hear that the ­ has followed the bad example of the personal attacks on Lord Beaconsfield.” ­“Oh! but,” quoth A., “that was quite a different thing.”  Now B. went out to dinner that night, and sitting next to a distinguished Liberal member of Parliament, told him this tale, expecting that he would laugh.  “Ah! yes,” said he with much gravity, “it is very different, you know.”

In the same way the good Whig folk of Edinburgh regarded it as very different that the Edinburgh Review should scoff at Tories, and that Blackwood and Peter should scoff at Whigs.  The scorpion which delighted to sting the faces of men, probably at this time founded a reputation which has stuck to him for more than seventy years after Dr. Peter Morris drove his shandrydan through Scotland.  Sir Walter (then Mr.) Scott held wisely aloof from the extremely exuberant Toryism of Blackwood, and, indeed, had had some quarrels with its publisher and virtual editor.  But he could not fail to be introduced to a man whose tastes and principles were so closely allied to his own.  A year after the appearance of Peter’s Letters, Lockhart married, on 29th April 1820 (a perilous approximation to the unlucky month of May), Sophia Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch’s “Little Jacobite,” the most like her father of all his children.  Every reader of the Life knows the delightful pictures, enough for interest and not enough for vulgar obtrusion, given by Lockhart of life at Chiefswood, the cottage near Abbotsford which he and his wife inhabited for nearly six years.

They were very busy years for Lockhart.  He was still active in contributing to Blackwood; he wrote all his four novels, and he published the Spanish Ballads. Valerius and Adam Blair appeared in 1821, Reginald Dalton and the Ballads in 1823, Matthew Wald in 1824.

The novels, though containing much that is very remarkable, are not his strongest work; indeed, any critic who speaks with knowledge must admit that Lockhart had every faculty for writing novels, except the faculty of novel-writing. Valerius, a classical story of the visit of a Roman-Briton to Rome, and the persecution of the Christians in the days of Trajan, is, like everything of its author’s, admirably written, but, like every classical novel without exception, save only Hypatia (which makes its interests and its personages daringly modern), it somehow rings false and faint, though not, perhaps, so faint or so false as most of its fellows. Adam Blair, the story of the sudden succumbing to natural temptation of a pious minister of the kirk, is unquestionably Lockhart’s masterpiece in this kind.  It is full of passion, full of force, and the characters of Charlotte Campbell and Adam Blair himself are perfectly conceived.  But the story-gift is still wanting.  The reader finds himself outside:  wondering why the people do these things, and whether in real life they would have done them, instead of following the story with absorption, and asking himself no questions at all.  The same, in a different way, is the case with Lockhart’s longest book, Reginald Dalton; and this has the additional disadvantage that neither hero nor heroine are much more than lay-figures, while in Adam Blair both are flesh and blood.  The Oxford scenes are amusing but exaggerated ­the obvious work of a man who supplies the defects of a ten years’ memory by deepening the strokes where he does remember. Matthew Wald, which is a novel of madness, has excellent passages, but is conventional and wooden as a whole.  Nothing was more natural than that Lockhart, with the example of Scott immediately before him, should try novel-writing; not many things are more indicative of his literary ability than that, after a bare three years’ practice, he left a field which certainly was not his.

In the early autumn of 1825, just before the great collapse of his affairs, Scott went to Ireland with Lockhart in his company.  But very early in the following year, before the collapse was decided, Lockhart and his family moved to London, on his appointment as editor of the Quarterly, in succession to Gifford.  Probably there never was a better appointment of the kind.  Lockhart was a born critic:  he had both the faculty and the will to work up the papers of his contributors to the proper level; he was firm and decided in his literary and political views, without going to the extreme Giffordian acerbity in both; and his intelligence and erudition were very wide.  “He could write,” says a phrase in some article I have somewhere seen quoted, “on any subject from poetry to dry-rot;” and there is no doubt that an editor, if he cannot exactly write on any subject from poetry to dry-rot, should be able to take an interest in any subject between and, if necessary, beyond those poles.  Otherwise he has the choice of two undesirables; either he frowns unduly on the dry-rot articles, which probably interest large sections of the public (itself very subject to dry-rot), or he lets the dry-rot contributor inflict his hobby, without mercy and unedited, on a reluctant audience.  But Lockhart, though he is said (for his contributions are not, as far as I know, anywhere exactly indicated) to have contributed fully a hundred articles to the Quarterly, that is to say one to nearly every number during the twenty-eight years of his editorship, by no means confined himself to this work.  It was, indeed, during its progress that he composed not merely the Life of Napoleon, which was little more than an abridgment, though a very clever abridgment, of Scott’s book, but the Lives of Burns and of Scott himself.  Before, however, dealing with these, his Spanish Ballads and other poetical work may be conveniently disposed of.

Lockhart’s verse is in the same scattered condition as his prose; but it is evident that he had very considerable poetical faculty.  The charming piece, “When youthful hope is fled,” attributed to him on Mrs. Norton’s authority; the well-known “Captain Paton’s Lament,” which has been republished in the Tales from Blackwood; and the mono-rhymed epitaph on “Bright broken Maginn,” in which some wiseacres have seen ill-nature, but which really is a masterpiece of humorous pathos, are all in very different styles, and are all excellent each in its style.  But these things are mere waifs, separated from each other in widely different publications; and until they are put together no general impression of the author’s poetical talent, except a vaguely favourable one, can be derived from them.  The Spanish Ballads form something like a substantive work, and one of nearly as great merit as is possible to poetical translations of poetry.  I believe opinions differ as to their fidelity to the original.  Here and there, it is said, the author has exchanged a vivid and characteristic touch for a conventional and feeble one.  Thus, my friend Mr. Hannay points out to me that in the original of “The Lord of Butrago” the reason given by Montanez for not accompanying the King’s flight is not the somewhat fade one that

    Castile’s proud dames shall never point the finger of disdain,

but the nobler argument, showing the best side of feudal sentiment, that the widows of his tenants shall never say that he fled and left their husbands to fight and fall.  Lockhart’s master, Sir Walter, would certainly not have missed this touch, and it is odd that Lockhart himself did.  But such things will happen to translators.  On the other hand, it is, I believe, admitted (and the same very capable authority in Spanish is my warranty) that on the whole the originals have rather gained than lost; and certainly no one can fail to enjoy the Ballads as they stand in English.  The “Wandering Knight’s Song” has always seemed to me a gem without flaw, especially the last stanza.  Few men, again, manage the long “fourteener” with middle rhyme better than Lockhart, though he is less happy with the anapaest, and has not fully mastered the very difficult trochaic measure of “The Death of Don Pedro.”  In “The Count Arnaldos,” wherein, indeed, the subject lends itself better to that cadence, the result is more satisfactory.  The merits, however, of these Ballads are not technical merely, or rather, the technical merits are well subordinated to the production of the general effect.  About the nature of that effect much ink has been shed.  It is produced equally by Greek hexameters, by old French assonanced tirades, by English “eights and sixes,” and by not a few other measures.  But in itself it is more or less the same ­the stirring of the blood as by the sound of a trumpet, or else the melting of the mood into or close to tears.  The ballad effect is thus the simplest and most primitive of all poetical effects; it is Lockhart’s merit that he seldom fails to produce it.  The simplicity and spontaneity of his verse may, to some people, be surprising in a writer so thoroughly and intensely literary; but Lockhart’s character was as complex as his verse is simple, and the verse itself is not the least valuable guide to it.

It has been said that his removal to London and his responsible office by no means reduced his general literary activity.  Whether he continued to contribute to Blackwood I am not sure; some phrases in the Noctes seem to argue the contrary.  But he not only, as has been said, wrote for the Quarterly assiduously, but after a short time joined the new venture of Fraser, and showed in that rollicking periodical that the sting of the “scorpion” had by no means been extracted.  He produced, moreover, in 1828, his Life of Burns, and in 1836-37 his Life of Scott.  These, with the sketch of Theodore Hook written for the Quarterly in 1843, and separately published later, make three very remarkable examples of literary biography on very different scales, dealing with very different subjects, and, by comparison of their uniform excellence, showing that the author had an almost unique genius for this kind of composition.  The Life of Scott fills seven capacious volumes; the Life of Burns goes easily into one; the Life of Hook does not reach a hundred smallish pages.  But they are all equally well-proportioned in themselves and to their subjects; they all exhibit the same complete grasp of the secret of biography; and they all have the peculiarity of being full of facts without presenting an undigested appearance.  They thus stand at an equal distance from biography of the fashion of the old academic Éloge of the last century, which makes an elegant discourse about a man, but either deliberately or by accident gives precise information about hardly any of the facts of the man’s life; and from modern biography, which tumbles upon the devoted reader a cataract of letters, documents, and facts of all sorts, uncombined and undigested by any exercise of narrative or critical skill on the part of the author.  Lockhart’s biographies, therefore, belong equally (to borrow De Quincey’s useful, though, as far as terminology goes, not very happy distinction) to the literature of knowledge and the literature of power.  They are storehouses of information; but they are, at the same time, works of art, and of very great art.  The earliest of the three, the Life of Burns, is to this day by far the best book on the subject; indeed, with its few errors and defects of fact corrected and supplemented as they have been by the late Mr. Douglas, it makes all other Lives quite superfluous.  Yet it was much more difficult, especially for a Scotchman, to write a good book about Burns then than now; though I am told that, for a Scotchman, there is still a considerable difficulty in the matter.  Lockhart was familiar with Edinburgh society ­indeed, he had long formed a part of it ­and Edinburgh society was still, when he wrote, very sore at the charge of having by turns patronised and neglected Burns.  Lockhart was a decided Tory, and Burns, during the later part of his life at any rate, had permitted himself manifestations of political opinion which Whigs themselves admitted to be imprudent freaks, and which even a good-natured Tory might be excused for regarding as something very much worse.  But the biographer’s treatment of both these subjects is perfectly tolerant, judicious, and fair, and the same may be said of his whole account of Burns.  Indeed, the main characteristic of Lockhart’s criticism, a robust and quiet sanity, fitted him admirably for the task of biography.  He is never in extremes, and he never avoids extremes by the common expedient of see-sawing between two sides, two parties, or two views of a man’s character.  He holds aloof equally from engouement and from depreciation, and if, as a necessary consequence, he failed, and fails, to please fanatics on either side, he cannot fail to please those who know what criticism really means.

These good qualities were shown even to better advantage in a pleasanter but, at the same time, far more difficult task, the famous Life of Scott.  The extraordinary interest of the subject, and the fashion, no less skilful than modest, in which the biographer keeps himself in the background, and seems constantly to be merely editing Scott’s words, have perhaps obscured the literary value of the book to some readers.  Of the perpetual comparison with Boswell, it may be said, once for all, that it is a comparison of matter merely; and that from the properly literary point of view, the point of view of workmanship and form, it does not exist.  Perhaps the most surprising thing is that, even in moments of personal irritation, any one should have been found to accuse Lockhart of softening Scott’s faults.  The other charge, of malice to Scott, is indeed more extraordinary still in a certain way; but, being merely imbecile, it need not be taken into account.  A delightful document informs us that, in the opinion of the Hon. Charles Sumner, Fenimore Cooper (who, stung by some references to him in the book, attacked it) administered “a proper castigation to the vulgar minds of Scott and Lockhart.”  This is a jest so pleasing that it almost puts one in good temper with the whole affair.  But, in fact, Lockhart, considering his relationship to Scott, and considering Scott’s greatness, could hardly have spoken more plainly as to the grave fault of judgment which made a man of letters and a member of a learned profession mix himself up secretly, and almost clandestinely, with commercial speculations.  On this point the biographer does not attempt to mince matters; and on no other point was it necessary for him to be equally candid, for this, grave as it is, is almost the only fault to be found with Scott’s character.  This candour, however, is only one of the merits of the book.  The wonderfully skilful arrangement of so vast and heterogeneous a mass of materials, the way in which the writer’s own work and his quoted matter dovetail into one another, the completeness of the picture given of Scott’s character and life, have never been equalled in any similar book.  Not a few minor touches, moreover, which are very apt to escape notice, enhance its merit.  Lockhart was a man of all men least given to wear his heart upon his sleeve, yet no one has dealt with such pitiful subjects as his later volumes involve, at once with such total absence of “gush” and with such noble and pathetic appreciation.  For Scott’s misfortunes were by no means the only matters which touched him nearly, in and in connection with the chronicle.  The constant illness and sufferings of his own child form part of it; his wife died during its composition and publication, and all these things are mentioned with as little parade of stoicism as of sentiment.  I do not think that, as an example of absolute and perfect good taste, the account of Scott’s death can be surpassed in literature.  The same quality exhibits itself in another matter.  No biographer can be less anxious to display his own personality than Lockhart; and though for six years he was a constant, and for much longer an occasional, spectator of the events he describes, he never introduces himself except when it is necessary.  Yet, on the other hand, when Scott himself makes complimentary references to him (as when he speaks of his party “having Lockhart to say clever things"), he neither omits the passage nor stoops to the missish minauderie, too common in such cases, of translating “spare my blushes” into some kind of annotation.  Lockhart will not talk about Lockhart; but if others, whom the public likes to hear, talk about him, Lockhart does not put his fan before his face.

This admirable book, however, is both well enough known (if not so well known as it deserves) and large enough to make it both unnecessary and impossible to criticise it at length here.  The third work noticed above, the sketch of the life of Theodore Hook, though it has been reprinted more than once, and is still, I believe, kept in print and on sale, is probably less familiar to most readers.  It is, however, almost as striking an example, though of course an example in miniature only, of Lockhart’s aptitude for the great and difficult art of literary biography as either of the two books just mentioned.  Here the difficulty was of a different kind.  A great many people liked Theodore Hook, but it was nearly impossible for any one to respect him; yet it was quite impossible for Lockhart, a political sympathiser and a personal friend, to treat him harshly in an obituary notice.  There was no danger of his setting down aught in malice; but there might be thought to be a considerable danger of over-extenuation.  The danger was the greater, inasmuch as Lockhart himself had certainly not escaped, and had perhaps to some extent deserved, one of Hook’s reproaches.  No man questioned his integrity; he was not a reckless spendthrift; he was not given to excesses in living, or to hanging about great houses; nor was he careless of moral and social rules.  But the scorpion which had delighted to sting the faces of men might have had some awkwardness in dealing with the editor of John Bull.  The result, however, victoriously surmounts all difficulties without evading one.  Nothing that is the truth about Hook is omitted, or even blinked; and from reading Lockhart alone, any intelligent reader might know the worst that is to be said about him.  Neither are any of his faults, in the unfair sense, extenuated.  His malicious and vulgar practical jokes; his carelessness at Mauritius; the worse than carelessness which allowed him to shirk, when he had ample means of discharging it by degrees, a debt which he acknowledged that he justly owed; the folly and vanity which led him to waste his time, his wit, and his money in playing the hanger-on at country houses and town dinner-tables; his hard living, and the laxity which induced him not merely to form irregular connections, but prevented him from taking the only step which could, in some measure, repair his fault, are all fairly put, and blamed frankly.  Even in that more delicate matter of the personal journalism, Lockhart’s procedure is as ingenuous as it is ingenious; and the passage of the sketch which deals with “the blazing audacity of invective, the curious delicacy of persiflage, the strong caustic satire” (expressions, by the way, which suit Lockhart himself much better than Hook, though Lockhart had not Hook’s broad humour), in fact, admits that the application of these things was not justifiable, nor to be justified.  Yet with all this, the impression left by the sketch is distinctly favourable on the whole, which, in the circumstances, must be admitted to be a triumph of advocacy obtained not at the expense of truth, but by the art of the advocate in making the best of it.

The facts of Lockhart’s life between his removal to London and his death may be rapidly summarised, the purpose of this notice being rather critical than biographical.  He had hardly settled in town when, as he himself tells, he had to attempt, fruitlessly enough, the task of mediator in the financial disasters of Constable and Scott; and his own share of domestic troubles began early.  His eldest son, after repeated escapes, died in 1831; Scott followed shortly; Miss Anne Scott, after her father’s death, came in broken health to Lockhart’s house, and died there only a year later; and in the spring of 1837 his wife likewise died.  Then Fortune let him alone for a little, to return in no better humour some years later.

It is, however, from the early “thirties” that one of the best known memorials of Lockhart dates; that is to say, the portrait, or rather the two portraits, in the Fraser Gallery.  In the general group of the Fraserians he sits between Fraser himself and Theodore Hook, with the diminutive figure of Crofton Croker half intercepted beyond him; and his image forms the third plate in Mr. Bates’s republication of the gallery.  It is said to be the most faithful of the whole series, and it is certainly the handsomest, giving even a more flattering representation than the full-face portrait by Pickersgill which serves as frontispiece to the modern editions of the Ballads.  In this latter the curious towzled mop of hair, in which our fathers delighted, rather mars the effect; while in Maclise’s sketch (which is in profile) it is less obtrusive.  In this latter, too, there is clearly perceivable what the Shepherd in the Noctes calls “a sort of laugh aboot the screwed-up mouth of him that fules ca’d no canny, for they couldna thole the meaning o’t.”  There is not much doubt that Lockhart aided and abetted Maginn in much of the mischief that distinguished the early days of Fraser, though his fastidious taste is never likely to have stooped to the coarseness which was too natural to Maginn.  It is believed that to him is due the wicked wresting of Alaric Watts’ second initial into “Attila,” which gave the victim so much grief, and he probably did many other things of the same kind.  But Lockhart was never vulgar, and Fraser in those days very often was.

In 1843 Lockhart received his first and last piece of political preferment, being appointed, says one of the authorities before me, Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, and (says another) Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.  Such are biographers; but the matter is not of the slightest importance, though I do not myself quite see how it could have been Lancaster.  A third and more trustworthy writer gives the post as “Auditorship” of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is possible enough.

In 1847, the death of Sir Walter Scott’s last surviving son brought the title and estate to Lockhart’s son Walter, but he died in 1853.  Lockhart’s only other child had married Mr. Hope ­called, after his brother-in-law’s death, Mr. Hope Scott, of whom an elaborate biography has been published.  Little in it concerns Lockhart, but the admirable letter which he wrote to Mr. Hope on his conversion to the Roman Church.  This step, followed as it was by Mrs. Hope, could not but be, and in this letter is delicately hinted to be, no small grief to Lockhart, who saw Abbotsford fall under influences for which certainly neither he nor its founder had any respect.  His repeated domestic losses, and many years of constant work and excitement, appear to have told on him, and very shortly after his son’s death in April 1853 he resigned the editorship of the Quarterly.  He then visited Italy, a visit from which, if he had been a superstitious man, the ominous precedent of Scott might have deterred him.  His journey did him no good, and he died at Abbotsford on the 25th of November.  December, says another authority, for so it is that history gets written, even in thirty years.

The comparatively brief notices which are all that have been published about Lockhart, uniformly mention the unpopularity (to use a mild word) which pursued him, and which, as I have remarked, does not seem to have exhausted itself even yet.  It is not very difficult to account for the origin of this; and the neglect to supply any collection of his work, and any authoritative account of his life and character, will quite explain its continuance.  In the first place, Lockhart was well known as a most sarcastic writer; in the second, he was for nearly a lifetime editor of one of the chief organs of party politics and literary criticism in England.  He might have survived the Chaldee Manuscript, and Peter’s Letters, and the lampoons in Fraser:  he might even have got the better of the youthful imprudence which led him to fix upon himself a description which was sure to be used and abused against him by the “fules,” if he had not succeeded to the chair of the Quarterly.  Individual and, to a great extent, anonymous indulgence of the luxury of scorn never gave any man a very bad character, even if he were, as Lockhart was, personally shy and reserved, unable to make up for written sarcasm with verbal flummery, and, in virtue of an incapacity for gushing, deprived of the easiest and, by public personages, most commonly practised means of proving that a man has “a good heart after all.”  But when he complicated his sins by editing the Quarterly at a time when everybody attacked everybody else in exactly such terms as pleased them, the sins of his youth were pretty sure to be visited on him.  In the first place, there was the great army of the criticised, who always consider that the editor of the paper which dissects them is really responsible.  The luckless Harriet Martineau, who, if I remember rightly, gives in her autobiography a lurid picture of Lockhart “going down at night to the printer’s” and inserting dreadful things about her, and who, I believe, took the feminine plan of revenging herself in an obituary article, was only one of a great multitude.

Lockhart does not seem to have taken over from Gifford quite such a troublesome crew of helpers as Macvey Napier inherited from Jeffrey, and he was also free from the monitions of his predecessor.  But in Croker he had a first lieutenant who could not very well be checked, and who (though he, too, has had rather hard measure) had no equal in the art of making himself offensive.  Besides, those were the days when the famous “Scum condensed of Irish bog” lines appeared in a great daily newspaper about O’Connell.  Imagine the Times addressing Mr. Parnell as “Scum condensed of Irish bog,” with the other amenities that follow, in this year of grace!

But Lockhart had not only his authors, he had his contributors.  “A’ contributors,” says the before-quoted Shepherd, in a moment of such preternatural wisdom that he must have been “fou,” “are in a manner fierce.”  They are ­it is the nature and essence of the animal to be so.  The contributor who is not allowed to contribute is fierce, as a matter of course; but not less fierce is the contributor who thinks himself too much edited, and the contributor who imperatively insists that his article on Chinese metaphysics shall go in at once, and the contributor who, being an excellent hand at articles on the currency, wants to be allowed to write on dancing; and, in short, as the Shepherd says, all contributors.  Now it does not appear (for, as I must repeat, I have no kind of private information on the subject) that Lockhart was by any means an easy-going editor, or one of that kind which allows a certain number of privileged writers to send in what they like.  We are told in many places that he “greatly improved” his contributors’ articles; and I should say that if there is one thing which drives a contributor to the verge of madness, it is to have his articles “greatly improved.”  A hint in the Noctes (and it may be observed that though the references to Lockhart in the Noctes are not very numerous, they are valuable, for Wilson’s friendship seems to have been mixed with a small grain of jealousy which preserves them from being commonplace) suggests that his friends did not consider him as by any means too ready to accept their papers.  All this, added to his early character of scoffer at Whig dignities, and his position as leader en titre of Tory journalism, was quite sufficient to create a reputation partly exaggerated, partly quite false, which has endured simply because no trouble has been taken to sift and prove it.

The head and front of Lockhart’s offending, in a purely literary view, seems to be the famous Quarterly article on Lord Tennyson’s volume of 1832.  That article is sometimes spoken of as Croker’s, but there can be no manner of doubt that it is Lockhart’s; and, indeed, it is quoted as his by Professor Ferrier, who, through Wilson, must have known the facts.  Now I do not think I yield to any man living in admiration of the Laureate, but I am unable to think much the worse, or, indeed, any the worse, of Lockhart because of this article.  In the first place, it is extremely clever, being, perhaps, the very best example of politely cruel criticism in existence.  In the second, most, if not all, of the criticism is perfectly just.  If Lord Tennyson himself, at this safe distance of time, can think of the famous strawberry story and its application without laughing, he must be an extremely sensitive Peer.  And nobody, I suppose, would now defend the wondrous stanza which was paralleled from the Groves of Blarney.  The fact is that criticism of criticism after some time is apt to be doubly unjust.  It is wont to assume, or rather to imagine, that the critic must have known what the author was going to do, as well as what he had actually done; and it is wont to forget that the work criticised was very often, as it presented itself to the critic, very different from what it is when it presents itself to the critic’s critic.  The best justification of Lockhart’s verdict on the volume of 1832 is what Lord Tennyson himself has done with the volume of 1832.  Far more than half the passages objected to have since been excised or altered.  But there are other excuses.  In the first place, Mr. Tennyson, as he then was, represented a further development of schools of poetry against which the Quarterly had always, rightly or wrongly, set its face, and a certain loyalty to the principles of his paper is, after all, not the worst fault of a critic.  In the second, no one can fairly deny that some points in Mr. Tennyson’s early, if not in his later, manner must have been highly and rightly disgustful to a critic who, like Lockhart, was above all things masculine and abhorrent of “gush.”  In the third, it is, unfortunately, not given to all critics to admire all styles alike.  Let those to whom it is given thank God therefor; but let them, at the same time, remember that they are as much bound to accept whatever is good in all kinds of critics as whatever is good in all kinds of poets.

Now Lockhart, within his own range, and it was for the time a very wide one, was certainly not a narrow critic, just as he certainly was not a feeble one.  In the before-mentioned Peter’s Letters (which, with all its faults, is one of his best, and particularly one of his most spontaneous and characteristic works) the denunciation of the “facetious and rejoicing ignorance” which enabled contemporary critics to pooh-pooh Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, and Coleridge is excellent.  And it must be remembered that in 1819, whatever might be the case with Coleridge, Wordsworth and Lamb were by no means taken to the hearts of Tories on their merits, and that in this very passage Blackwood is condemned not less severely than the Edinburgh.  Another point in which Lockhart made a great advance was that he was one of the first (Lamb himself is, in England, his only important forerunner) to unite and combine criticism of different branches of art.  He never has the disgusting technical jargon, or the undisciplined fluency, of the mere art critic, any more than he has the gabble of the mere connoisseur.  But it is constantly evident that he has a knowledge of and a feeling for the art of line and colour as well as of words.  Nothing can be better than the fragments of criticism which are interspersed in the Scott book; and if his estimate of Hook as a novelist seems exaggerated, it must be remembered, as he has himself noted, that Thackeray was, at the time he spoke, nothing more than an amusing contributor of remarkably promising trifles to magazines, and that, from the appearance of Waverley to that of Pickwick, no novelist of the first class had made an appearance.  It is, moreover, characteristic of Lockhart as a critic that he is, as has been noted, always manly and robust.  He was never false to his own early protest against “the banishing from the mind of a reverence for feeling, as abstracted from mere questions of immediate and obvious utility.”  But he never allowed that reverence to get the better of him and drag him into the deplorable excesses of gush into which, from his day to ours, criticism has more and more had a tendency to fall.  If he makes no parade of definite aesthetic principles, it is clear that throughout he had such principles, and that they were principles of a very good kind.  He had a wide knowledge of foreign literature without any taint of “Xenomania,” sufficient scholarship (despite the unlucky false quantity of Janua, which he overlooked) in the older languages, and a thorough knowledge and love of English literature.  His style is, to me at any rate, peculiarly attractive.  Contrasted with the more brightly coloured and fantastically-shaped styles, of which, in his own day, De Quincey, Wilson, Macaulay, and Carlyle set the fashion, it may possibly seem tame to those who are not satisfied with proportion in form and harmony in tint; it will certainly not seem so to those who are more fortunately gifted.  Indeed, compared either with Wilson’s welter of words, now bombastic, now gushing, now horse-playful, or with the endless and heartbreaking antithèses of what Brougham ill-naturedly but truly called “Tom’s snip-snap,” it is infinitely preferable.  The conclusion of the essay on Theodore Hook is not easily surpassable as an example of solid polished prose, which is prose, and does not attempt to be a hybrid between prose and poetry.  The last page of the Tennyson review is perfect for quiet humour.

But there is no doubt that though Lockhart was an admirable critic merely as such, a poet, or at least a song-writer, of singular ability and charm within certain limits, and a master of sharp light raillery that never missed its mark and never lumbered on the way, his most unique and highest merit is that of biographer.  Carlyle, though treating Lockhart himself with great politeness, does not allow this, and complains that Lockhart’s conception of his task was “not very elevated.”  That is what a great many people said of Boswell, whom Carlyle thought an almost perfect biographer.  But, as it happens, the critic here has fallen into the dangerous temptation of giving his reasons.  Lockhart’s plan was not, it seems, in the case of his Scott, very elevated, because it was not “to show Scott as he was by nature, as the world acted on him, as he acted on the world,” and so forth.  Now, unfortunately, this is exactly what it seems to me that Lockhart, whether he meant to do it or not, has done in the very book which Carlyle was criticising.  And it seems to me, further, that he always does this in all his biographical efforts.  Sometimes he appears (for here another criticism of Carlyle’s on the Burns, not the Scott, is more to the point) to quote and extract from other and much inferior writers to an extent rather surprising in so excellent a penman, especially when it is remembered that, except to a dunce, the extraction and stringing together of quotations is far more troublesome than original writing.  But even then the extracts are always luminous.  With ninety-nine out of a hundred biographies the total impression which Carlyle demands, and very properly demands, is, in fact, a total absence of impression.  The reader’s mind is as dark, though it may be as full, as a cellar when the coals have been shot into it.  Now this is never the case with Lockhart’s biographies, whether they are books in half a dozen volumes, or essays in half a hundred pages.  He subordinates what even Carlyle allowed to be his “clear nervous forcible style” so entirely to the task of representing his subject, he has such a perfect general conception of that subject, that only a very dense reader can fail to perceive the presentment.  Whether it is the right or whether it is the wrong presentment may, of course, be a matter of opinion, but, such as it is, it is always there.

One other point of interest about Lockhart has to be mentioned.  He was an eminent example, perhaps one of the most eminent, of a “gentleman of the press.”  He did a great many kinds of literary work, and he did all of them well; novel-writing, perhaps (which, as has been said, he gave up almost immediately), least well.  But he does not seem to have felt any very strong or peculiar call to any particular class of original literary work, and his one great and substantive book may be fairly taken to have been much more decided by accident and his relationship to Scott than by deliberate choice.  He was, in fact, eminently a journalist, and it is very much to be wished that there were more journalists like him.  For from the two great reproaches of the craft to which so many of us belong, and which seems to be gradually swallowing up all other varieties of literary occupation, he was conspicuously free.  He never did work slovenly in form, and he never did work that was not in one way or other consistent with a decided set of literary and political principles.  There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the unprincipled character of journalism, no doubt; and nobody knows better than those who have some experience of it, that if, as George Warrington says, “too many of us write against our own party,” it is the fault simply of those who do so.  If a man has a faculty of saying anything, he can generally get an opportunity of saying what he likes, and avoid occasions of saying what he does not like.  But the mere journalist Swiss of heaven (or the other place), is certainly not unknown, and by all accounts he was in Lockhart’s time rather common.  No one ever accused Lockhart himself of being one of the class.  A still more important fault, undoubtedly, of journalism is its tendency to slovenly work, and here again Lockhart was conspicuously guiltless.  His actual production must have been very considerable, though in the absence of any collection, or even any index, of his contributions to periodicals, it is impossible to say exactly to how much it would extend.  But, at a rough guess, the Scott, the Burns, and the Napoleon, the Ballads, the novels, and Peter, a hundred Quarterly articles, and an unknown number in Blackwood and Fraser, would make at least twenty or five-and-twenty volumes of a pretty closely printed library edition.  Yet all this, as far as it can be identified, has the same careful though unostentatious distinction of style, the same admirable faculty of sarcasm, wherever sarcasm is required, the same depth of feeling, wherever feeling is called for, the same refusal to make a parade of feeling even where it is shown.  Never trivial, never vulgar, never feeble, never stilted, never diffuse, Lockhart is one of the very best recent specimens of that class of writers of all work, which since Dryden’s time has continually increased, is increasing, and does not seem likely to diminish.  The growth may or may not be matter for regret; probably none of the more capable members of the class itself feels any particular desire to magnify his office.  But if the office is to exist, let it at least be the object of those who hold it to perform its duties with that hatred of commonplace and cant and the popularis aura, with, as nearly as may be in each case, that conscience and thoroughness of workmanship, which Lockhart’s writings uniformly display.