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[William Maginn]
Letter from Dr. Olinthus Petre, to Christopher North, Esq.
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine  Vol. 8  No. 44  (November 1820)  207-09.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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No. XLIV. NOVEMBER, 1820. Vol. VIII.


Sir—I have this moment read a most violent tirade against your work in the last Number of the London Magazine; and a perfect specimen of spite, neutralized by stupidity, I must confess it to be. You are quite above the range of such paper-shot as this. He must be blind indeed, who does not see, that the virtuous indignation of the writer against the sins, negligences, and offences of your Magazine, would have slept in peace, had they not been committed by a rival, as it is probable the unfortunate scribblers about Baldwin’s have the vanity to consider you to be. You may securely despise the drivelry of such people; the public, or that minute portion of the public which will take the trouble of wading through their lumbering pages, must instantly appreciate the motives of their animosity. All will allow, that their wrath is just as disinterested as the patriotism of certain aspirants for parliamentary honours, put in to obtain a calculable advantage in pounds, shillings, and pence. You may, therefore, feel very easy under the visitation.

It really is rather laughable, to read some of their charges against you. They indeed are very indignant at the just castigation you have bestowed upon that miserable gang, to whom you have so aptly given the name of the Cockney School—a censure universally allowed to have been most deserved; and they vapour most heroically about personalities. But,
“Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes?”
Or, (for it is probable they will not know the meaning of the words I have quoted) who can do any thing else but laugh at such a charge, coming from a Magazine, which, during the short space of its existence, has accused
Mr Wilberforce, (for whom your hypocritical antagonist meanly pretends such a reverence,) of playing “at hawk and buzzard between character and conscience,” of “making his affectation of principle a stalking-horse to his pitiful desire of distinction,” of “being a man whose reputation costs him nothing,” with much more such slander on that eminent person;—which has called Lord Castlereaghan inanimate automaton;” and described Mr Canning, as “combining the pertness of a school-boy with the effrontery of a prostitute;” which has sneered at the
208Letter from Dr. Petre.
weakness of
Mr C. Wynne’s voice, Lord Castlereagh’s stammer, and even in the very number, in which one of their hacks has had the insolence to abuse you for laughing at Hunt, Hazlitt, (the very author, by the way, of the base personalities just quoted,) and others of that loathsome knot? They have, (to say nothing of their affronts to some gentlemen supposed to be connected with you, displayed in the article under my consideration, and in the braying of the ass, who occupies their lion’s head,) published the impertinencies of a Cockney Scribbler, who signs himself Elia, full of all kinds of personal, and often offensive allusions to every individual who had the misfortune of being educated at the same school with himself. I could point out many more such reprehensible passages, even in the three numbers in my possession, particularly in the articles of Hazlitt and Elia; but I think I have said sufficient, to expose the sincerity of their indignation against you for personal allusions. I shall not stop to defend you, as I could on almost every point of their accusation; but as for them,—why Sir, their hypocrisy in this respect, is too thick and palpable to deceive even the most foggy-headed native of Cockaigne.

I should most certainly never have noticed the article, but that I perceive a very sounding charge has been directed against you in it, on account of a letter of mine. The disinterested critic accuses you of attacking, in every number, “a most respectable professor of the University of Edinburgh;” viz—Professor Leslie. I believe the only serious charge against that “very celebrated” man, as he takes care to call himself in the Edinburgh Review, whenever he has or makes occasion to mention his name, came from me. There might have been some trifling allusions to him in sportive or satirical verses, but these could hardly be construed into very gross offences, and were besides in a great measure bottomed on my exposure of his ignorance. And as I do not think it fair, that you should be censured for a letter written by one of whom you know nothing, and concerning whom they cannot even have made a guess, I shall just say a few words with respect to my connection with Professor Leslie.

In a work of his, treating on Arithmetic, that “celebrated” man thought proper to go out of his way to revile, in a most dogmatic and insulting manner, the Hebrew Language. I asserted, that he did not know even a letter of the tongue he had the impudence to pretend to criticize, and I proved my assertion. I leave the decision of the question to any Hebraist, to any man of common sense in the land. I proved that he was actuated by a hostility to the language of revelation, simply because it was so; and I defy any one to refute me. This unfortunate Cockney, who is lamenting over my hard treatment of the Professor, of course cannot be supposed to know any thing about the matter in dispute; but what I am saying is not the less true on that account. As I am on the subject, I may remark, that I was, at first, a little surprised to find, that in the second edition of the philosophy of arithmetic, which was announced since I had pointed out Leslie’s mistake, he had not retracted the unlucky note which convicted him of ignorance; but on inspection of the work, my wonder ceased, for I perceived that the new edition was nothing more than the old one with a fresh lying title-page, and a few additional leaves; in short, only a collusion between an honest bookseller, and a doubly honest professor, to impose on the public, and get rid of the remaining copies of an unsaleable work.

Here then is the vile offence against decency as committed by me. What reason have I to respect Mr Leslie? His Essay on Heat? The matter of that work is no great affair; and the manner is so bad, that even a brother reviewer pronounces it to be execrable and “drossy.” His Mathematics? There is not an original Mathematical fact of the smallest value in all his book, and his barbarous style, and vile arrangement, have done a great deal to obscure the merit of what he has purloined. I do not intend, for it would not be the proper place, to go into any detailed remarks on his geometry; but every mathematician has laughed at his droll proof of the doctrine of parallel lines, at his doctrine of ratios, at his failure in proving his very first proposition, the foundation of his system, and a thousand other such betises. Am I to bow to him
Letter from Dr. Petre.209
because he is an Edinburgh Reviewer? I question the inspiration of that worthy oracle;—and as to the professor’s own part in its lucubrations, why, his impudent puffings of himself, and ignorant sneerings at others, have often made me liken Leslie The Reviewer to some enormous overfed pet of the parrot species, stuck up at a garret-window—and occupied all day with saying, “pretty poll—pretty poll,” to itself; “Foul witch—foul witch,” to every passer by. Look now, I beseech you, at his
Article on the North-west passage!!!

What other claims to respect he possesses I know not, except his having made some neat second-rate chemical experiments, and invented some handy little instruments; but even if his claims were ten times as weighty, they should not have deterred me from speaking as I thought. A man who could go out of his path, in an inquiry on the nature of heat, to recommend an impious work, and, in a treatise on arithmetic, to cast an ignorant sarcasm on the language of the Bible, or to sneer at the “fancies” of one of the apostles, must ever be an object of suspicion to those who hold the Scriptures in honour, and impiety in detestation. We have no assurance that he may not digress as culpably hereafter; and if he does so, it is only fair to give him warning, that I shall take care to point it out. With grief I have perceived that many of the young men, who go from this country to Edinburgh to pursue their medical studies, come back with their religious principles perverted, and their reverence for holy things sneered away—it would be very unjust to accuse any individual, of this weighty charge—but the fact is undeniable. I rejoice, therefore, whenever it is in my power, even in the most trivial degree, to show that the lights of the famous Northern sect are not infallible; that under affected knowledge gross ignorance may lurk; and that considerable intolerance may sometimes be the characteristic feature of philosophic liberality. I rejoice also, but much more sincerely, to learn, that a better spirit is arising in your famous university; and, in spite of its levity, its humour, its follies, nay, even its transgressions, I think your Magazine has been instrumental in this good work.

So much for my share in the tirade against you. The error I exposed was trifling, but it marked a bad spirit, and therefore I noticed it. If Professor Leslie or his friends be offended, let them trace the origin of it to himself. As for my part, I shall never repent of having contributed to a work which is even suspected of being supported by such names as any of those given in the article to which I am now referring. I remain, sir, yours, &c.

Olinthus Petre, D.D.
Trin. Coll. Dublin.
Nov. 10, 1820.