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[Leigh Hunt]
Blackwood’s Magazine, John Bull, and the Beacon.
The Examiner  No. 720  (21 October 1821)  657-59.
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Produced by CATH


No. 720. SUNDAY, OCT. 21, 1821.


Party is the madness of the many for the gain of the few. Pope.

No. 706.


Though the outcry which has at last been raised by every decent person against the “regularly organised manufactories of blackguardism,” has again compelled the Examiner to notice them, the Editor confesses that it is not without great disgust and impatience that he feels himself bound to do so. When Blackwood’s Magazine was first set up, he was one of those whom it attacked in its most gratuitous and atrocious manner.  Not only were his manners and habits misrepresented to the least and idlest circumstances, but a sorrow in the history of a friend, which men of the smallest gallantry and goodness of heart would have known how to respect by their silence, precisely because it was liable to the misconstructions of the malevolent, and which had they known all the circumstances, they would have treated with more than respect because they knew it, was made to bear upon him as if of a different nature from what it was, and of his creation. The Editor has the permission of that friend to explain all circumstances, had occasion rendered it necessary; but the reader especially if he ever happened to come into possession of a secret which it became all his manliness to keep, and which the most cruel and even ruinous malignity would hardly provoke him to allude to, but it should be confounded with what it is not, will easily conceive that he may have accepted a permission very generous to give, without thinking it so proper to made use of. The Editor, therefore, scandalously as he was assailed, could have left the scandaal to worry itself to death, as he had been accustomed to do the minor ones of Blackwood’s predecessor the Satirist, had not his brother, the Proprietor of this Paper, felt himself unable one evening when a new number of the Magazine was brought him, to refuse his indignation and brotherly love the satisfaction of calling upon the calumniator to come forward. This having been done in the Examiner, the Editor found himself obliged to follow up the call, which he did from time to time to no purpose, though the calls were worded in a manner which no person, pretending to be a gentleman or a man, had hitherto thought himself warranted in not attending to. The fellow was then threatened with the law, and a person coming to London from Mr. Blackwood, offering to compromise the matter with money, if we would drop proceedings.  Finding however that our object was to get at the individual, whom they were prepared to go to any law expense rather than give up, and that we did not wish to hamper with him booksellers, and others, who as we then thought might be comparatively unconscious and innocent persons, this wretched individual, though eating his own words, returns to his trade of scandal, and expressly refuses to come forward at the name of “coward!” We confess we were not prepared for an excess of mean-ness of this sort. The poor creature had us at a disadvantage, new even, as we supposed, to his profession; and as it is customary with gentlemen to take no further notice of person who can avail themselves of such a poverty of spirit, we took no further notice of him—a piece of delicacy, the propriety of which we had afterwards reason to doubt, when we saw for how long a time the scandals of the Magazine were suffered to flourish. But we expected every day what has since happened.—the complete exposure of publications of this kind in consequence of their very excesses. We must not omit to mention, that when the calumniator was first called upon in the Examiner, an anonymous letter was written to the Editor from Edinburgh, informing him that the libeller was a certain person whom it named. He immediately wrote to this person, to ask him if he was so; when he received an answer complaining in an unequivocal manner of the information, as a trick done to injure the writer. We afterwards believed it was more; and that however happy to include an injury to another by the way, the letter was meant to sound the Editor as to the real inclination to meet the “coward” in case he had come forward. The poor wretch when he refused to do so, added that he would, some day or other! We said nothing in answer to this, that we might not baulk his courage in case he could have mustered up enough; but it is now a lapse of several years, during which he or his friend, or all together, have been calumniating and compromising to their heart’s content; and we can tell him, that come forward when he may, he will be as safe as the contempt of the community can let him.

We must confess, that when the death of the late Mr. Keats was hastened by the unprovoked and brute persecutions of this envious and miserable publication (for that envy has a great deal to do with its scandal, we have long had no doubt, seeing the men of virtue and genius whom it has attacked,) we had a great desire to aid in the work of its exposure; but Mr. Scott of the London Magazine (for whose unfortunate death it has to answer) had already done so much towards it, and our own illness and cares rendered it so painful to us to do what little with our pen we did, that we waited from time to time till the good work fell into the hands of the Scotsman, and has been finished. We will own further, that as far as our own wrongs go, we are apt to be perplexed by certain notions of revenge, respecting which, for persons whom these But it is their fate to exhibit every indecency against which they declaim.

Blackwood’s Magazine having worked out its day of success and scandal, it seems to have been thought as well to set up a newspaper of a similar character in England, called John Bull.  The novelty would give a chance to cowards to begin afresh, and a great deal of new mischief might be done, before it brawled and bullied itself into the condition of its archetype. There is a certain portion of talent, we understand, in this paper (for we never saw but one number, which was by chance, and in the house of a
“respectable” person, upon whom we had to call.)—There was also talent in Blackwood’s Magazine; that is to say just as much as it is possible for impudent-hearted men of the world to have, who possess nothing of delicacy or dignity. But what is the character of this new “organization of blackguardism?” Worse than even that of the other. For though Blackwood would not care to involve women in the most hard-hearted calumnies, John Bull exhibited a special delight in attacking them. Formerly a man of the name of
Rhynwick Williams, probably a madman, was emphatically called the Monster for going about the streets and giving cuts with a knife to females. But undoubtedly it would be a sorry subjection of the understanding to things literal, not to see that the same title is more eminently deserved by a paper, or by the man, or set of men, whoever they are, who while they have their faculties entire, can pierce as they have done into the bosoms of women and their families, tearing them away from the protection of every species of delicacy, affecting a zeal for decencies which they outrage at every step in this and every other respect, and then sheltering themselves behind some miserable pauper or other, who would agree to be the representative of their skulking infamy. We confess that however certain claimants to the exclusive character of Englishmen had lowered the appellation of John Bull, and even though the Quarterly Review had shewn the way to those who might be “infirm of purpose” in using “daggers” against women, we were heartily ashamed for our country at seeing a work of such avowed scandal and malignity set up in it under its old jovial title, which was at least thought to express something manly and sturdy. But it is said that there are hands in this publication which are also in Blackwood, and the Quarterly, and which are neither English nor Scotch. Oh! how much could we say of these hands, and of the Scotch also, if we condescended to avail ourselves of the same purposes for truth, which they do for falsehood!

John Bull however was called before Parliament, and Lord Castlereagh and others though the confessed they read it, were obliged to express disgust at its contents. This looked ill for the run of scandal; and a new chance was to be given to the cowards, and that too in the polluted soil of William Wallace. So up comes the burning shame of “The Beacon.” “When the London scandal,” says the Times, “was first hatched into being, those who secretly cherished its growth, and urged it to its odious tasks, were obliged from a sense of decency, publickly to disown the disgraceful connexion. Its parents and guardians declared its illegitimacy, and when the ‘did it good by stealth,’ would have ‘blushed to find it fame.’ Among a certain portion of the Scotch Tories, it would appear, there was no such abhorrence of private slander or political calumny. The Lord Advocate of the kingdom, the chief law officer of the Crown, not only owns the worthless offspring, but enters into a bond to maintain its infancy and to extend its influence.”—Astonishing as this news was to many persons, their astonishment became much greater, and was mingled with sorrow, when they heard the name of another patron of the Beacon; and yet his own countrymen, it seems, will be astonished rather at our astonishment. “That Sir Walter Scottthe printer of Blackwood’s Magazine,” says the Scotsman, “should be a partner and supporter of the Beacon, cannot, after what has taken place within the last two or three years, excite any surprise, and has, in point of fact, been reluctantly confessed by himself.—The Lord Advocate and Sir Walter Scott are the only individuals of the rank of Gentlemen who we have as yet ascertained to be connected with the Beacon.”—The writer proceeds to say, that there were, however, Fifteen signatures in all, to the bond, and that he pledged himself, as soon as he learnt the names, to expose every one of them, let their rage or malice do what it pleased. The threat was too daring; and the Edinburgh Courant was “authorized to state,” that at a meeting of the Subscribers to the bond had been held, at which a Resolution was adopted to withdraw the whole of the names from it, “which Resolution was, on Thursday the 20th, intimated to the Conductors of the Beacon, as also the Bank, and that those subscribers were thus, after that date, no longer connected, directly or indirectly with that paper.”—Mighty safe, correct, and hasty, to be sure! How we fancy all the names drawing the air between their consonants instead of teeth, and picking away their steps, with a genteel and wintry air of departure, by as many secret passages as they could find! It is needless to add that the Beacon’s character was the same as the rest. “We have more than once lately,” says the Traveller, “had occasion to hint at the excessive prevalence of hypocrisy as the political vice of the day; but the intolerable rankness of these proofs of it are almost beyond conception. What an idea do they suggest of the texture of mind which can be incessantly prating of irreligion, immorality, and laxity of principle, and secretly fostering a poisonous brood of mere defamatory vipers, to attack by poison and stiletto, that which cannot be encountered in manly combat!—creature whose province it is to wound through the agonies of females, and lacerate the bosom of domesticity. It is almost inconceivable that such publications can exist at all among a sound and reflective population; but that they should be secretly supported by rank, station, and professed purity, is a thousand times worse. Well may poor old Lear exclaim—
‘Robes and furr’d gowns hide all.’”

But we have not yet alluded to the whole extent of the impudence of these publications. They defame men, they defame women; they pursue early genius to the grave; they talk of religion, and are notorious "Scribes, Pharisees, and Hypocrites;" but would the reader believe it? They also defend themselves! They pretend that their indecency was necessary to repress indecency, their atrocity to put down what was atrocious, their “organized manufactories of blackguardism” to restore a proper home consumption of virtues. The inordinate rogues! Among other instances of shocking organization of libel and slander, which it is their business to counteract, they mention the Morning Chronicle and the Scotsman! And the Morning Chronicle and the Scotsman, they say, are worse than themselves! (Here the community burst into a fit of laughter, in which Lord Castlereagh unwillingly joins, and every body else but the “blackguards” and the “patrons.”) The Morning Chronicle and the Scotsman have taken too much pains to disprove this ridiculous assertion made in the desperation of convicted guilt. The common sense and perceptions of society put it down at once. Bitter party speeches, jokes upon absurd persons who have no private lives, and who can well revenge themselves, or even a less warrantable though a minor personality—once and away, provoked by the irritation of
party feeling.—What is it, especially when the writers are prepared to come forward if called upon, compared with your “regularly organized manufactory of blackguardism,” with publications that proceed upon a system of private slander, and that are known and acknowledged to do so even by their own readers? They say that others began; but others did not begin. The
Satirists and Anti-Jacobins were the beginners, as the Blackwoods and the rest are the continuators and concluders. Really it is, after all, the fault of the readers, that opportunity is given to these cowardly desperadoes to insult the understanding of the community with such nonsense. We have heard of men whom the world calls “respectable,” taking in such publications as Blackwood’s Magazine, and even of young ladies secreting them in their work-baskets and reticules. How can such readers pretend to fall in with reprobations of the works they encourage;—readers, who are in fact joint authors of those works, inasmuch as they are the authors of their success. Even the cant, by which such people think to save their reputation, and which they can only use by acknowledging that they take pleasure in what is despicable,—viz. that one individual makes no difference, and can put down no abuse,—is more obviously false in this instance than it is apt to be: for it is notorious to every body, who knows any thing of books or booksellers, that one good word or patronage makes many; and that, on the other hand, it is by the exertion of individuals, and the gradual giving up of such works by individual shame or disgust, that they at last decline and go down, as Blackwood has been long declining. Think of this, you who fancy you may continue to read such productions, by adding, at the close of the scandal that delights you, “Really it is too bad”—or, “Really there is no defending such abuse.” Why then do you defend it with your conduct? And how are you to be defended, who defend what is inexcusable?

As for Sir Walter Scott, we are really and unaffectedly sorry for him: and if he is not sorry for himself, we are not the less so for that. The beings whom he has countenanced affect to have nothing to be sorry for, and they are only on that account the more miserable.* When we first knew Sir Walter as a politician, which was in the notes to his edition of Dryden, we certainly did think him a very slavishly-inclined talker of Kings; and we said so in a little publication, which we begin to suspect he has thought of much oftener than ourselves. We afterwards softened what we said; and when he continued to pour out upon us the riches of his talent for novels, we felt so much gratitude for the entertainment, and thought we saw so much humanity, and even, for a Tory, so much singular fair play to all classes of society, in those admirable productions, that what we formerly put to the account of servility, we were now glad to attribute to a general good-nature and philosophy. His latter works, especially the way in which he contrived to sink the character of old Robin Hood, the grave delight which he seemed to participate with Amy Robsart in hearing Lord Leicester’s account of his grand orders and ornaments, and certain escapes of existing party politics respecting reformers and “greatest captains,” began to make us a little suspicious; but still we read on, and felt grateful, and admired, and said so.—What do we think now?—That Sir Walter is a shrewder author than he is a man: that certain views of mankind which he seems to entertain, are more biter, and less personally redeemed by what he finds in himself, than we supposed; and that although we must admire and be grateful still, which we are not sorry to be, we shall mingle with these pleasant and harmonious feelings certain others, which, if they are of no consequence to him, would make nothing which he thought, of any consequence to us. The next time he is flattered by being compared with Shakespeare, let it be remembered that Shakespeare knew more of mankind than he, and was good natured and liberal to the last.

Does Sir Walter think that he himself is exempt from scandal? Who shall say, in times like these, that he is exempt, whether faulty or not? Sir Walter has his defects as well as other people, and he is mistaken if he thinks they are not talked about; but all hearers are not willing hearers, or like those whom he countenances. Now if what people say of his defects is not true, he will understand how me may be calumniated by some of his enemies. If it is true, he will see how he can be spared by others.

What had he to do with a parcel of rats like the people of Blackwood and the Beacon; lineal representatives of the Reever of Westburn Flat and such like worthy borderers, only not courageous? That is their description in a few words, and it is as true at it is brief. What had the Sheriff of Ettrick Forest to do with these, much less the great Scottish Novelist, the high arbiter of Puritan and Cavalier, the holder of the willing ear of posterity?

* “But they, so perfect in their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement.”