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[Leigh Hunt]
On the Quarterly Review.
The Examiner  No. 753  (9 June 1822)  355-57.
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No. 753. SUNDAY, June 9, 1822.

No. 3.—On the Quarterly Review.

During my stay on the coast of Devonshire, a “good-natured friend” sent me the Quarterly Review for December last. The character of this publication is now pretty well understood by all parties. It flourishes, because it is industrious, because it is subservient to the opinions of Government and Government-men, and because it has as much talent, and no more, than is comfortable to the common-place. It flatters them in their prejudices; it helps them to look intelligent as well as prosperous; it is clever enough to amuse and instruct them, as far as the reigning corruptions will allow them to be instructed; it has even talent in it sufficient to make them proud, while at the same time it is by no means calculated to set their faculties on the stretch, or “over-inform” their respective “tenements of clay.” And in this respect it may have the credit of being honest. There is doubtless a great deal of hypocrisy in some of the writers, but it lies on the moral and religious side. In politics, they may have tricked themselves into a belief that they are in earnest; or rather, their political notions being altogether of a worldly character, and the flourishing state of their party rendering them secure, whatever illiberal doctrines they advocate, they are enabled to be the less insincere on that point. You may safely believe them to be as independent as they pretend to be. But in point of ability, they could go no farther, if they would. Not only would orthodoxy induce
tenure and services, to be wise thus far and no farther,—the same cause prevents them from having any greater men among them than they have. Greater understandings may temporize in other ways; they may compromise with this or that particular abuse; but they could not level their habits of style and speculation to the servility requisite in the Quarterly Reviewer.
Mr. Southey is forgiven his occasional affectations of something beyond them, partly for the sake of its being affected, partly because it serves to put them pleasantly in mind of what he promised to be and what he is, and chiefly because it is accompanied with masses of contradiction, and becomes an argument against itself. Mr. Gifford smiles upon the overweening old tall-boy, and still feels his authority secure. Mr. Canning is the beau ideal of the Quarterly  Reviewers. Beyond his notions of what is wise and becoming, they think all is “Chaos and old Night.” He delivers his “news of price” like “a man of this world,” and talks of “Africa and the golden joys” discreetly. It has been said of Dr. Johnson, and apparently with great justice, that his voluntary admiration of poetry did not go higher than Dryden. In like manner it may be said of the Quarterly Reviewers, that their voluntary admiration of intellect of any sort never rises higher than something which can be identified with worldliness and authority. Their favourite authors are those who flourish at the court-end. If a doubt could be put into their heads respecting the comparative superiority of Addison or Steele, the “Right Honourable Joseph” in the title-page would settle it.*

It is after this fashion they judge of the writers who are brought before them. They dare not say a word till they know a man's connexions and opinions. If his politics are not of the true cast, they cannot discover his poetry. If his faith is not orthodox, how can he have any wit in him? Before they admit a thought respecting his odes, they must learn what are his notions respecting the Mosaic Dispensation. The question is not, “Has he genius?” but “Is he one of us?”—if so, his book assumes a wonderful aspect of promise or performance: if not, “Mr. Milton” ought not to fancy he shall be a poet because he commits such offences against sense and grammar, as L'Allegro and Penseroso.† It is the same with regard to women. A lady has little or no merit, whatever the public may have thought, if she thinks the Americans have any. To differ with Mr. Croker, is to shew that another has no regard for virtue of modesty. But the sex acquires a right to be treated with decency, if it supposes the Court to be virtuous and Mr. Gifford no slave. To have a father in the Government interest is promising; and there is much literary merit in possessing a cousin on the pension-list.

It must be said for the publications on the liberal side, that in this respect they act well up to the pretensions of that epithet. The Edinburgh Review, with all its party spirit, is a great deal more just to the merits of living Tory authors, than the Quarterly to those of Whig. It is not sufficient for Mr. Jeffrey to know that a poet or translator is “well in” with the Quarterly Reviewers, in order to damn him, or say nothing about him. On the other hand, I believe that the Quarterly Reviewers have never said a word, good or bad, about Mr. Barry Cornwall, albeit he himself is in great favour with the circles, and never meddles with politics. It is enough for Mr. Gifford that he is praised by the Edinburgh Review and the Examiner. The same critic endeavoured to crush the young and exuberant genius of Mr. Keats, for no other reason than his expressing a different view of politics, and being first mentioned by that newspaper. Mr. Hazlitt, a man of greater powers of thinking than all the Quarterly Reviewers put together, they affect to consider next kin to a fool; and indeed, to do them justice, they innocently quote now and then some of his best passages, and profess that they do not understand them;—which is likely enough. With all the contempt they may have for their readers in general, they would hardly commit themselves so far as to pretend such a want of understanding, even to serve a purpose of malignity. On the other hand, if Mr. Hazlitt has a thorough contempt for Mr. Gifford, and little admiration for Mr. Southey, he allows the poetical genius of Mr. Wordsworth, though equally full of indignation against that writer's apostacy from freedom.  He has always done as much justice to the talent of the great Scottish Novelist; and so has the Examiner; though it has anything but respect for Sir Walter's politics. If Mr. Hazlitt ever pays any one the compliment of undervaluing the genius he possesses, it is not an enemy. On the other hand, if he ever exaggerates the merits of any one, particularly of one whom he has at other times undervalued, it must be allowed, that it is not an enemy either. If in his humours (which he might as well be without, though no man has a greater right to them on some accounts)—if in his humours he sometimes does more and sometimes less than justice to his friends, or to the friends of his cause, he always does sheer justice to his enemies, whether to praise or to blame.—“Speak, Grildrig.”—Speak, Lord Castlereagh, for he has found a sort of faculty even in you.

To come to the number before us.—If I did not know the Quarterly Review, and were to take its ipse dixits on trust, like a Gossip in Mr. Murray's reading-room, or like a Court-Office in which they occasionally turn out the under-clerks, or a Clergyman with two livings, or the Mayor and Alderman of a rotten Borough, or one of the numerous old Women, who, according to Mr. Southey, wait on him to thank him for being an antidote to unchastity,—I should conclude from the number before me, that Mr. Hazlitt was a mere dealer in slang, and Mr. Shelley a mere dealer in obscurity and nonsense. I should also conclude from the same number, that the French were a parcel of malignant fops and rascals, because they do not allow us modest Englishmen to be perfect; that the horrors of the French Revolution were owing to those who have put down feudality and Inquisitions, and not at all to the causes of the Great; and that the ancient Greeks were the cleverest people upon earth in point of writing, and yet one of the worst imaginable with respect to those political institutions under which their writers flourished. They were sadly deficient in Divine Right,—wonderously unhealthy in their notions of government for want of rotten boroughs. Looking back to the other numbers of the Review, I should furthermore discover that the Reverend Mr. Milman was a great genius, and Mr. Keats none at all;—that there was a wonderful Dan extant of the name of Ireland;—that Mrs. Barbauld, whom every body knows, was nobody, but that a lady whom nobody knows, authoress of a poem nobody reads, was eminent; that Thomas Moore was a very obscure person, particularly since he wrote the Fudge Family; but that any given authors (I forget their names) on the side of Canning and Castlereagh, and the said Dean, are the best, the wittiest, and the most illustrious of mankind. In short, it would go hard but that the only Grecian worth recollecting would be found to be Aristophanes, doubtless because he was “a wit and fine gentleman about town;” while on the other hand, shrewd suspicions must arise that Socrates was an old twaddler. Coming round again to the number first mentioned, I should finally be obliged to perceive, however much against my inclination, that even Sir Walter Scott, albeit he is very clever,—and what is more, writes himself “in any quittance, warrant, or obligation,” Bart.,—and what is more, is rich,—and what is more, is a zealous Tory,—and what is more, is a patron of scandalous Tory publications,—would be a much cleverer man, as well as more agreeable aristocrat, if Mr. Murray had possessed the copy-right of his novels instead of Mr. Constable.

Of Mr. Hazlitt, who is equally able and willing to give blow for blow—(as Mr. Gifford, still smarting at every pore from his Letter to him, well knows)—I shall say nothing farther at present, except that it is as idle, to call a writer of his great talents, a mere dealer in slang, as it would be to call 
* Lord John Russell in his excellent speech the other day on a Reform of Parliament, gave the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews the credit of being “equal to some of the best original works” of former times. What! Non-originality equal to originality! Genteel, or even acute criticism, equal to Gulliver and the Tale of a Tub, to Tom Jones, or the first conception of the Tatler and Spectator? Doubtless there are very clever articles, occasionally in the Quarterly as well as Edinburgh Review,—such as are beyond its usual character, and form exceptions to the rule against it. But these are in it, not of it. See however how difficult it is for “a man of wit and fashion about town,” especially if he is an author, to get out of the trammels of the town's authority.
mediocre men, like Mr. Gifford or
Mr. Croker, men of great talents. An analysis of the conduct and pretensions of the Quarterly Review, with some account by the way of those who write in it, would be an acceptable present to the public from Mr. Hazlitt's pen; and I am sure would much better advance the cause he has at heart, than any indiscriminate ebullitions of impatience, involving those who are struggling on the same side, and whose talents he really admires. Mr. Shelley, being a great infidel, is not fond of revenging himself; and as I know he will say nothing to the Quarterly Reviewers in answer to their criticism upon him, I will say in my next letter a few words in his stead, taking care to render the style of my reply as worthy as I can of his magnanimity. 

Yours sincerely,