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Bacon's want of principle and Johnson's want of


In the course of his famous definition or description of wit, Barrow says: "Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying: sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense or the affinity of their sound." If this be so, she possessed it in abundance. In a letter, dated Bath, 26th April, 1818,-about the time when Talleyrand said of Lady F. S.'s robe: "Elle commence trop tard et finit trop tôt," she writes:

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"A genteel young clergyman, in our Upper Crescent, told his mamma about ten days ago, that he had lost his heart to pretty Miss Prideaux, and that he must absolutely marry her or die. La chère mère of course replied gravely: My dear, you have not been acquainted with the lady above a fortnight: let me recommend you to see more of her.' More of her!' exclaimed the lad, 'why I have seen down to the fifth rib on each side already.' This story will serve to convince Captain T. Fellowes and yourself, that as you have always acknowledged the British Belles to exceed those of every other nation, you may now say with truth, that they outstrip them."

On the 1st July, 1818:

"The heat has certainly exhausted my faculties, and I have but just life enough left to laugh at the fourteen tailors who, united under a flag with Liberty and

Independence' on it, went to vote for some of these gay fellows, I forget which, but the motto is ill chosen, said I, they should have written up, Measures not Men.''

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Her verses are advantageously distinguished amongst those of her blue-stocking contemporaries by happy turns of thought and expression, natural playfulness, and an abundant flow of idiomatic language. But her facility was a fatal gift, as it has proved to most female aspirants to poetic fame, who rarely stoop to the labour of the file. Although the first rule laid down by Goldsmith's connoisseur is far from universally applicable to productions of the pencil or the pen, all fruitful writers would do well to act upon it, and what Mrs. Piozzi could do when she took pains is decisively proved by her "Streatham Portraits."

She was wanting in refinement, which very few of the eighteenth century wits and authors possessed according to more modern notions; and she abounded in vanity, which, if not necessarily a baneful or unamiable quality, is a fruitful source of folly and peculiarly calculated to provoke censure or ridicule. In her, fortunately, its effects were a good deal modified by the frankness of its avowal and display, by her habits of self-examination, by her impulsive generosity of character, and by her readiness to admit the claims and consult the feelings

"Upon my asking him how he had acquired the art of a conoscente so very suddenly, he assured me that nothing was more easy. The whole secret consisted in an adherence to two rules: the one always to observe that the picture might have been better if the painter had taken more pains; and the other to praise the works of Pietro Perugino."-The Vicar of Wakefield, ch. xx.

of others. To seek out and appreciate merit as she appreciated it, is a high merit in itself.

Her piety was genuine ; and old-fashioned politicians, whose watchword is Church and King, will be delighted with her politics. Literary men, considering how many curious inquiries depend upon her accuracy, will be more anxious about her truthfulness, and I have had ample opportunities of testing it; having not only been led to compare her narratives with those of others, but to collate her own statements of the same transactions or circumstances at distant intervals or to different persons. It is difficult to keep up a large correspondence without frequent repetition. Sir Walter Scott used to write precisely the same things to three or four fine-lady friends, and Mrs. Piozzi could no more be expected to find a fresh budget of news or gossip for each epistle than the author of "Waverley." Thus, in 1815, she writes to a Welch baronet from Bath:

"We have had a fine Dr. Holland here.* He has seen and written about the Ionian Islands; and means now to practise as a physician, exchanging the Cyclades, say we wits and wags, for the Sick Ladies. We made quite a lion of the man. I was invited to every house he visited at for the last three days; so I got the Queue du lion despairing of le Coeur."

Two other letters written about the same time contain the same piece of intelligence and the same joke.

Sir Henry Holland, Bart., who, with many other titles to distinction, is one of the most active and enterprising of modern travellers.

She was very fond of writing marginal notes; and after annotating one copy of a book, would take up another and do the same. I have never detected a substantial variation in her narratives, even in those which were more or less dictated by pique; and as she generally drew upon the "Thraliana" for her materials, this, having been carefully and calmly compiled, affords an additional guarantee for her accuracy.

Her taste for reading never left her or abated to the last. In reference to a remark (in Boswell) on the irksomeness of books to people of advanced age, she writes: “Not to me at eighty years old: being grieved that year (1819) particularly, I was forced upon study to relieve my mind, and it had the due effect. I wrote this note in 1820.”

She sometimes gives anecdotes of authors. Thus, in the letter just quoted, she says: "Lord Byron protests his wife was a fortune without money, a belle without beauty, and a blue-stocking without either wit or learning." But her literary information grew scanty as she grew old: "The literary world (she writes in 1821) is to me terra incognita, far more deserving of the name, now Parry and Ross are returned, than any part of the polar regions:" and her opinions of the rising authors are principally valuable as indications of the obstacles which budding reputations must overcome. "Pindar's fine remark respecting the different effects of music on different characters, holds equally true of genius: so many as are not delighted by it are disturbed, perplexed, irritated. The beholder either recognises

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it as a projected form of his own being, that moves before him with a glory round its head, or recoils from it as a spectre.' The octogenarian critic of the Johnsonian school recoils from "Frankenstein" as from an incarnation of the Evil Spirit: she does not know what to make of the "Tales of my Landlord "; and she inquires of an Irish acquaintance whether she retained recollection enough of her own country to be entertained with "that strange caricature, Castle Rack Rent." Contemporary judgments such as these (not more extravagant than Horace Walpole's) are to the historian of literature what fossil remains are to the geologist.

Although perhaps no biographical sketch was ever executed, as a labour of love, without an occasional attack of what Lord Macaulay calls the Lues Boswelliana or fever of admiration, I hope it is unnecessary for me to say that I am not setting up Mrs. Piozzi as a model letter-writer, or an eminent author, or a pattern of the domestic virtues, or a fitting object of hero or heroine worship in any capacity. All I venture to maintain is, that her life and character, if only for the sake of the "associate forms," deserve to be vindicated against unjust reproach, and that she has written many things which are worth snatching from oblivion or preserving from decay.

* Coleridge, "Aids to Reflection."


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