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James Thomas Hodgson:
Memoir of Francis Hodgson


Chapter I.
Chapter II. 1794-1807.
Chapter III. 1807-1808.
Chapter IV. 1808.
Chapter V. 1808-1809.
Chapter VI. 1810.
Chapter VII. 1811.
Chapter VIII. 1811.
Chapter IX. 1811.
Chapter X. 1811-12.
Chapter XI. 1812.
Chapter XII. 1812-13.
Chapter XIII. 1813-14.
Chapter XIV. 1815-16.
Chapter XV. 1816-18.
Chapter XVI. 1815-22.
Chapter XVII. 1820.
Chapter XVIII. 1824-27.
Chapter XIX. 1827-1830
Chapter XX. 1830-36.
Chapter XXI. 1837-40.
Chapter XXII. 1840-47.
Chapter XXIII. 1840-52.

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Francis Hodgson was one of Byron's early friends, a fellow-satirist and admirer of William Gifford, a congenial soul who took an early and keen interest in Byron's affairs. It was Hodgson who deflected the challenge Thomas Moore sent to the author of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. After the unexpected deaths of his mother and several close friends, Byron wrote a will making Hodgson one of his principle heirs. Following Byron's departure in 1816, Hodgson cultivated a life-long correspondence with Augusta Leigh in which Byron was the central topic of conversation. The letters exchanged between Byron, Hodgson, and Mrs. Leigh are an important source of biographical information about the poet.
The memoir compiled by the poet's son James (1845-1880), an assistant master at Charterhouse, contains other matters of interest. Francis Hodgson was a well-regarded if conventional poet, translator, and critic. His correspondence sheds light on the operations of the reviews (he contributed voluminously to the Critical and Monthly). At Cambridge he was part of an informal social club whose members included the poets and translators Robert Bland and John Herman Merivale, the Harrow schoolmaster Henry Drury, and the barristers Thomas Denman, Launcelot Shadwell, and Joseph Green Walford. Following the course of their professional careers through the correspondence one gains a due sense of how important and enduring school relationships were, not least for Byron.
Though it would come late in life, Hodgson's most enduring legacy was to be his career as a reformer at Eton College where he was provost from 1840 until his death in 1852. While he could not have anticipated this outcome—his career had been that of a provincial clergyman—in retrospect one can see how his life experience prepared him for just that outcome. The Memoir contains a trove of information about public school life at Eton and Harrow. Through its pages one can follow the intricacies of the patronage networks developed in and around the public schools that were so important for poets, clergymen, scholars, and schoolmasters. One can also follow the intersections of school-relationships with family ties and aristocratic patronage (in Hodgson's case, Lord Liverpool and the Earls of Rutland and Devonshire).
This emphasis on social networking was in part accidental: while Hodgson left behind a mass of correspondence his editor had access to very few letters written by Hodgson himself. As James Hodgson explains in his preface, “Acting on the principle that a man may more accurately be known by his friendships than in any other way, I have endeavoured to make the letters of friends, as far as possible, illustrative of the life and character of their correspondent.” Of these Byron and Augusta Leigh are given most fully so that the resulting life-and-letters tends to read like a collective biography centered on the lives of Hodgson and Byron.
The editor also notes that he did not have the advantage of working from personal recollections. By the time the Memoir was published in 1877 a quarter of a century had passed since the death of its subject and very few of Hodgson's correspondents were still alive. James Hodgson could not have known his father very well since he died when the son was but seven years old. His mother was still alive, but having been married so late as 1838 she may not have been much help with annotating the earlier correspondence. The memoir makes few pretensions to literature or character analysis; after an opening chapter devoted to family history it presents the letters with a bare minimum of connecting material.
As is so often the case with nineteenth-century lives and letters one is left to draw one's own inferences about what has been selected or suppressed and why. Elisions are sometimes apparent and sometimes not. One learns very little about Hodgson's domestic life, either because it was not part of the original material or because the editor regarded it as a private matter. James Hodgson does not tell us that his father's first marriage produced no children or that his second marriage produced five. He does not so much as supply the Christian names of his wives. Such omissions obscure some of the more important relationships in a career in which family and professional connections were inseparable.
Both of Hodgson's marriages arose out of his Cambridge friendships. His second wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Thomas Denman, at the time Lord Chief Justice of England. The first, Susan Matilda Tayler, was a niece of Charles Henry Hall, dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Like Hodgson's father he was patronized by Lord Liverpool, but there was a more immediate connection since Susan Matilda's older sister Ann Caroline was the wife of Henry Drury. We are not told that Drury's sister Louisa was married to John Herman Merivale, or that Denman's wife Theodosia was the sister of another (apparent) member of the Cambridge band of friends, Richard William Vevers. Nor are we told that another Tayler sister, Eliza, was married to Robert Bland, Hodgson's friend and Byron's former tutor at Harrow.
While the Memoir devotes an entire chapter to Bland's biography nothing is said of his marriage until the concluding mention of his death in 1825: “a fund was raised for the bereaved family, by contributing to which (some of them far beyond their means) his friends paid a touching tribute to his talents.” Hodgson, Drury, and Denman were surely among these friends, and James Hodgson must have known from the correspondence that the three friends had married three daughters of Archdale Wilson Tayler (1759-1814). The loving tribute Francis Hodgson paid to his friend and brother-in-law in the Literary Gazette (23 April 1825) mentions only her name.
Whatever it was that the family wished to suppress they seem to have suppressed effectively. We know from Byron's correspondence that when Bland was overseas in 1809-10 Hodgson was asked to look after his mistress, that Hodgson had violated his charge and offered himself in marriage, and that having rejected him the lady subsequently took up with an officer of dragoons whom Bland challenged upon his return. Byron, presumably at the request of Drury or Hodgson, had intervened to avert a duel and subsequently mocked the bellicose clergyman Bland and the guilt-ridden lover Hodgson. If the “d——st bitch” Byron later identified as “Susan C.” was the “Susan T.” Hodgson eventually married, the lacunae in the narrative might be explained. But this seems a stretch.
If Bland and Hodgson could not marry the same woman, they could yet marry sisters. Byron wrote to Hodgson, “Bland’s nuptials delight me; if I had the least hand in bringing them about it will be a subject of selfish satisfaction to me these three weeks” (1 October 1813). To this letter Hodgson appended a note acknowledging his “most generous and well-timed aid” to his friends. The Memoir informs us that “In October 1813, Byron, Drury, and Hodgson went together in a postchaise to Oxford, where Byron had an interview with Mrs. Tayler, who was then on a visit to her brother, the Dean of Christ Church. The result of this interview was the removal of all objections to the intended marriage [of Hodgson]” A year later Byron wrote to Drury of their “never to be forgotten journey to Ox[for]d” (18 October 1814).
We do not know what Byron had done to further Bland's marriage in September, but the October meeting surely involved discussions of financial assistance: Bland had a situation; Hodgson, still a college fellow, did not. Mrs. Frances Taylor, a recently-impoverished widow with a family of eighteen children, was in no position to provide her daughter with a dowry. Perhaps her brother the dean was asked to find a situation for Hodgson; he does seems to have been involved in unfolding events, for a year later we find Byron borrowing money from Hodgson in exchange for a promissory note that the dean had given to Mrs. Tayler (Byron to Hodgson, 17 October 1814). Despite Byron's assistance the wedding had to wait upon Hodgson's finding a position and did not take place until August 1815.
In recalling the Oxford meeting to Henry Drury Byron toyed with the idea of a joint wedding with Hodgson: “I saw him and his idol at Hastings—I wish he would be married at the same time—I should like to make a party—like people electrified in a row by or rather—through the same chain—holding one another's hands, & all feeling the shock at once.” The marital chain is a ludicrous image but not an inapt metaphor for the social links that joined Byron with the three sisters via the three friends. Before long Hodgson would be exchanging letters with Augusta Leigh and Annabella Milbanke, drawing him into yet wider and more galvanic circles. So far from being suppressed, those letters and that story are given pride of place in the Memoir of Francis Hodgson.