LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Memoir of Francis Hodgson
James Montgomery to Francis Hodgson, [1822?]

Vol. 1 Contents
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.
Vol. 2 Contents
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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Reverend and dear Sir,—If the will were always to be taken for the deed, I believe I should be set down for the best correspondent in the world, but if the will must be judged by the deed, assuredly I should pass for the worst; and yet in neither case would my friends do justice to themselves or me, for in the first they would have nothing to forgive, and in the second would forgive nothing. I cannot stay to explain the ambiguity of this introduction, for I must proceed at once to state the case of debtor and creditor, as it stands in my mind, between you and me, on the subject of a very kind and valuable letter, received from you in February last. I wished—for Fortunatus himself was not a heartier wisher than I am, only not having his cap
I cannot have my desire without a further effort—I wished to answer that letter immediately, and I thought that I could thus have answered effectually your very powerful objections against some hazardous assertions of mine on the comparative state of intelligence between the ancient people of Athens and the men of Hallamshire in the present day. But at the very time, I was suddenly called upon to prepare, at a few days’ notice, an opening lecture for our Institution. This, of course, occupied my time intensely during the interval, and was no small performance, for it took upwards of two hours in the delivery, and yet comprehended only half the subject which I had meditated, and sketched out in the rough draft. No sooner was this task completed, than I was required by the Leeds Institution to furnish a paper which I had long promised. Accordingly I set to work, and produced an essay nearly as long as my Sheffield lecture. Your idle fellows work hardest when they are put to it, as cowards fight most fiercely when there is no escape. Idleness is my constitutional and, by long indulgence, my habitual infirmity also; so that I always toil like a galley-slave, or sleep like an Indian when there is neither battle nor chace to rouse him into activity. When I had achieved this second Hercu-
lean feat for a pigmy mind, I really was so tired that I determined to lie down and rest a while, let who would disturb me with claims or duties unfulfilled. Since then I have been continually, and sometimes overwhelmingly, exercised with other engagements, not directly literary, but such as have required study and personal exertion, till both thought and feeling, strength and courage, have seemed to fail, and I have been ready to renounce everything beyond the more ordinary drudgery of newspaper editing. This is an honest confession of the employment of my time since the receipt of your letter, except that I have omitted to inform you that the said letter has lain on my desk or been within reach of my hand all the while, and I have often as resolutely purposed to answer it forthwith, as I have impotently wished that I had answered it. This morning, having a few minutes thrown upon my hands, which I was grievously tempted to throw away after millions of their predecessors, in doing next to nothing—for nothing itself I cannot do with all my powers of indolence—your letter suddenly cried out from under the litter of papers that covered it, and demanded justice; its voice, which had often been raised in vain on like occasions, was not to be resisted, and I in-
stantly complied; the more readily, I must acknowledge, because I had long ago abandoned the first idea of formally replying to your objections, and vindicating my sentiments. With the same freedom, therefore, as the former were offered by you, I will make such remarks as occur in noticing them here. I must, however, state, that a few days after the receipt of your favour, I sent a verbal acknowledgment of it by
Dr. Knight, who incidentally told me that he expected to see you soon, and it was with the less uneasiness of conscience that I deferred a written reply till a more convenient opportunity. Dr. Knight perhaps forgot to deliver my message, and I never inquired after the fate of it. I only mention the circumstance to show that not from the remotest deficiency either of respect or gratitude have I remained so long, and perhaps so unpardonably, under the suspicion of both, unless you have exercised the charity of hoping the best when only the worst appeared. Better late than never, you may yet be kind enough to think.

You are aware, and I pretend not to conceal it, that in the argument which I held on the occasion alluded to I was taking the part of an advocate, whose duty it was to show to the utmost advantage
the cause of his clients without the wilful violation of truth or justice. The merits and claims of the Hallamshire people I therefore advanced as boldly as I durst, while those of the ancients were only contingently introduced; and though they were acknowledged to be transcendent, their superiority was lowered as much as appeared to me consistent with fact, if not with the general favourable prejudice, which all who are acquainted with Greek and Roman history, but especially the learned, feel. In the latter class, of course, I include you; and, though you may deem it miserable logic, I am disposed to contend that you, with an intimate acquaintance and enthusiastic admiration of the reliques of classic literature, have a bias on that side of the question which disqualifies you from being a perfectly impartial judge, especially when I consider that you are comparatively a stranger to the state of intelligence among a population such as that in this neighbourhood. For more than thirty years I have had opportunities of observing the indications of this with no ordinary advantage, both under political and religious excitement. You will acknowledge that into whatever extravagances weak men may be deluded on either religion or politics, no two topics are calculated so
suddenly and so greatly to awaken and exercise the faculties of persons not early or severely disciplined by a college education. The occupations of many of our artisans are favourable to thought, and the bodily exercise of these is not such as to enervate those who use it. Now, I have witnessed, formerly in political and latterly in religious assemblies, nearly similar effects of popular eloquence on the minds of all gradations of our artisans as you refer to in the case of the Athenians under Pericles. It is not so uncommon a thing as mere scholars imagine, for men in middling and humble life to enjoy and to understand intellectual displays far above their own power of imitating, particularly when they come in the captivating form of eloquence, with all its adventitious accompaniments at once speaking to the eye, and the ear, and the mind. Pure English is intelligible among all the peasantry from Berwick to Penzance, though not one in ten could speak a sentence in it. This is a fact almost entirely overlooked by authors and play-writers, who imagine that they must address the vulgar in the vulgar tongue. In like manner, the meaning of the finest argument may be perfectly comprehended by ordinary minds accustomed to thinking
for themselves in however humble a way; and the most elegant diction will yield genuine delight to a popular audience of whom few, perhaps, could express themselves grammatically. Nay, persons of very mean capacity can frequently distinguish in common discourse between a good pronunciation, that is habitual to the speaker, and an affected one in a half-learned coxcomb; and they will instinctively prefer the former. There appears, therefore, nothing very extraordinary in an Athenian audience hanging with rapture on the tongue of a splendid and energetic orator, especially when we consider the corrupt and servile character of that ‘fierce democratic’ (notwithstanding their passion for glory), who of all the people of antiquity, except, perhaps, the later Romans, were the readiest dupes and sycophants to any who could pay the price of enslaving them. The bulk of the actual population were literally slaves, and the rest were virtually so, in the best days of Greece. The vulgar also were held in avowed contempt by the learned, which makes little in favour of popular intelligence.

My own firm opinion is that among the ‘thinking part,’ and it is now no small one, of the people in this country, especially among religious persons,
there is more practical and influential knowledge than could be possessed by any heathen populace. This might require a great deal of illustration (not by argument so much as facts) to convince one who has not been long and intimately conversant with this numerous and increasing proportion of our countrymen. This I have been, and this, it is no disparagement to you as a minister in the Church to say, you have not. You know these people only by report and by books. Through such media they cannot be well known. I have never pretended to compare those who are or have been great in Hallamshire with the truly great and glorious names of antiquity. I have only ventured the opinion that the middling and lower classes here are, on the average, quite equal in intelligence to the corresponding ranks in Greece and Rome, and, so far as they can be put in competition, I believe history will bear me out. I am compelled to break off here.

Believe me truly and ever your obliged friend and servant,

J. Montgomery.

P.S.—With respect to Greek Tragedy, I think that the best parts of Shakespeare would surely be
as good a test, both of taste and moral feeling, in an audience, as those of
Sophocles; and, from my recollection, the gallery critics of Sheffield were wont to applaud most what was best. No objection to the irregularity of Shakespeare’s drama will invalidate this. Even you would not argue that because French audiences can bear cold declamation in an artificial tone for hours together, that they are therefore more virtuous and intelligent than Englishmen who can appreciate the exquisite nature and pathos of their own old writers, when brought home to them by the consummate acting of John Kemble and Mrs. Siddons.

I don’t expect that you will be at the trouble of answering this rhapsody; it will be quite enough if you read and forgive it.