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The tone of the Magazine changed at once. Its attacks on the Whig party were fierce and fearless; and its articles, though brilliant and popular, were marked by unequalled and inexcusable personalities. In the early part of this century, when political parties, both in this and the old countries, were thrown into such violent excitement by the French Revolution, the animosities of journalists were certainly more bitter than at the present day; but even then, the virulent personal abuse of Blackwood was unparalleled. The first number under the new régime contained an attack on Coleridge, an abusive article on Leigh Hunt, and the famous Chaldee Manuscript. This, like other succeeding articles, involved the editor in a suit for libel, which, however, did not in any degree moderate the tone of the Magazine. Its editorship was attributed to Wilson, but this he explicitly denies. His biographer dwells with some complacency on the fact, which however can hardly appear to be of great importance, as undoubtedly his influence in the Magazine, under whatever name veiled, was greater than that of any other person. Wilson and Lockhart gave to the Magazine a large measure of its audacity, brilliancy, and dash. The two men were strikingly contrasted in personal appearance, as well as in mental traits. Wilson, of a Saxon type, with long, light hair, blue eyes, and sanguine complexion, was a man of ready humor, quick enjoyment of the world, and of keen poetic sensibilities. Lockhart, according to Mrs. Gordon, was of a “pale olive complexion, sombre or melancholy expression, thin lips compressed into a smile of perpetual sarcasm, with a compact, finely formed head, and an acute and refined intellect.” Feared by many, loved by few, even Wilson himself, his warm friend, shrank from his bitter jests. “I've sometimes thocht, Mr. North,” says the Shepherd in the Noctes, “ that ye were a wee feared for him yoursel, and used rather, without kennin it, to draw in your horns.”.
Their friendship, however, continued through life. Lockhart's letters to his friend often give curious glimpses of his literary character. Referring to his own novel, “ Matthew Wald,” Lockhart says: “ Pray write a first-rate but brief puff of Matthew (Wald) for next number Blackwood, or if not, say so, that I may do it myself, or make the Doctor.”
The mystery which was carefully maintained as to the authorship of the articles in Blackwood doubtless sharpened popular curiosity and interest. Lockhart wrote under several names, not infrequently using those of persons who had never written a word for the Magazine. A curious instance of this is the case of one Dr. Scott, who was guiltless of having ever been in print; and in his case the joke was carried so far, that a volume of his contributious was advertised in the Magazine as in press, and so completely were the public deceived, that Dr. Scott is said, at a public dinner, to have received and responded to a compliment as a distinguished contributor to Blackwood. Even Hogg, who was intimately associated with the editorial clique, appears to have been completely in the dark as to the authorship of the different articles. Lockhart, with perfect gravity, fathered them on one and another person, and the credulous Shepherd complains sorely of this. “Away I flew," he says, “ with the wonderful news, to my other associates; and if any remained incredulous, I swore the facts down through them, so that before I left Edinburgh I was accounted the greatest liar in it except one.”
It is difficult even for Wilson's partial biographer to place in a favorable light the treatment which the Ettrick Shepherd received at the hands of his Edinburgh friends. Drawn from obscurity to unexpected popularity and favor, when his feeble character was unable to resist flattery, and his self-conceit and folly made him ridiculous, he was remorselessly snubbed by his new patrons, and made the butt of their jests. Mrs. Gordon truly says of Lockhart: “ He had no sympathy in wounding to the quick, and no compassion.” The following characteristic note to Wilson contains, with a curious account of Miss Edgeworth, a no less characteristic allusion to Hogg:
“ Miss Edgeworth is at Abbotsford, and has been for some time; a little, dark, bearded, sharp, withered, active, laughing, talking, impudent, fearless, out-spoken, honest, Whiggish, unchristian, good-tempered, kindly, ultra-Irish body. I like her one day, and damn her to perdition the next. She is a very queer character; particulars some other time. She, Sir Adam, and the Great Unknown are too much for any company...... I have invited Hogg to dine here to-morrow, to meet Miss Edgeworth. She has a great anxiety to see the Bore.”
In the “ Noctes,” the sentiments which Wilson puts into the mouth of the Shepherd often rise to a rude eloquence quite effective; but it is evident that Christopher North uses him only as a foil to his own wit. Poor Hogg seems to have suspected at last that his position was hardly an enviable one, and, in the answer to his protest, Wilson replies with sophistical earnestness: —
“ As for the Noctes Ambrosianæ, that is a subject in which I am chiefly concerned; and there shall never be another with you in it, if indeed that be disagreeable to you !!! But all the idiots in existence shall never persuade me that in those dialogues you are not respected and honored, and that they have not spread the fame of your genius and virtues all over Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. If there be another man who has done more for your fame than I have done, let me know in what region of the moon he has taken up his abode. But let the · Noctes' drop, or let us talk upon that subject if you choose, that we may find out which of us is insane, - perhaps both.”
Hogg died poor and neglected, and, of all his brilliant friends, Wilson was the only one who, moved by affection or remorse, followed his body to the grave. When all others had left the place, he remained alone, his hat off, his long hair floating in the wind, thinking sadly, perhaps, of the past, the folly and wrong of which were then beyond redemption.
The “Noctes Ambrosiana” are the most characteristic of Wilson's writings, although their frequent allusion to local matters greatly lessens their interest for the reader of to-day. His “ Recreations,” essays, and tales were nearly all of them originally contributions to Blackwood. In these his love and appreciation of natural beauty, and his rough enjoyment of manly sports, give to his descriptions a delicacy and freshness always pleasing, though the sketches of Scotch peasant-life, in which they abound, must be considered somewhat ideal.
Wilson wrote at this time very largely, sometimes contributing more than half a number of the Magazine. Of his manner of writing he says: “We love to do our work by fits and starts. We hate to keep fiddling away an hour or two at a time on one article for weeks.”
In 1820 the Professorship of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh became vacant, and the friends of Wilson
proposed his name as a candidate for the vacancy. He possessed hardly a single special qualification for that position, while the opposing candidate, Sir William Hamilton, was both in personal character and intellectual tastes peculiarly fitted for it. The election was fiercely contested, and was purely a political matter. The opponents of Wilson did not hesitate to attack his private character, and he unfortunately felt it necessary to strengthen his prospects by soliciting testimonials to this point from his friends. Lockhart, in his Memoir of Scott, publishes a letter in which the poet frankly says, “If Wilson gets the place, he must give up sack.”
By the help of government influence, the friends of Wilson triumphed. It was simply a political victory; but having obtained the chair, the Professor was excited by the strongest motives to win success. He became in that position, as in every other where he was brought into social contact with individuals, extremely popular. A man of great personal magnetism, of persuasive eloquence, of commanding presence, and of those quick, warm sympathies which especially attract the young, it is not strange that his auditors were charmed beyond a wish to criticise, and that he became at once the most popular Professor in the University. There is little reason to doubt that Wilson, moved by the opportunity of impressing for good the young men of his class, labored faithfully and heartily; and whatever may have been the effect of the lectures upon his class, to him the occupation undoubtedly gave steadiness of character, as it required regularity of life.
He seems, however, to have taken great satisfaction in occasionally breaking away from the routine of his duties to indulge in his old recreations, and his quiet enjoyment of the contrast between these escapades and the enforced dignity of his office is not unnatural. Speaking to one of his pupils of Tarland, a rendezvous of smugglers, of wild and ruffianly habits, the Professor “hinted, with a sort of half-sarcastic solemnity, that he was there in the course of the ethical inquiries to which he had devoted himself; just as the Professor of Natural History, or any other persevering geologist, might be found where any unusual geological phenomenon is developed, or the Professor of Anatomy might conduct his inquiries into
VOL. LXXIV, — 5TH S. VOL. XII. NO. II.
some abnormal structure of the human body. His researches might lead him into trials and perils, as those of zealous investigators are often apt to do. In fact, he had to draw upon his early acquired knowledge of the art of self-defence on the occasion, and he believed he did it not unsuccessfully."
At Professor Wilson's house in Edinburgh, the students were always kindly received, while he entertained at this time other friends, who drew somewhat more largely upon his hospitality.
At the Lakes, he first met De Quincey, who was afterward his neighbor, and for many years a friend. Mrs. Gordon thus describes a prolonged visit which Wilson received from him in Edinburgh:
“I remember his coming to Gloucester Place one stormy night. He remained hour after hour, in vain expectation that the waters would assuage and the hurly-burly cease. There was nothing for it but that our visitor should remain all night. The Professor ordered a room to be prepared for him, and they found each other such good company that this accidental detention was prolonged, without further difficulty, for the greater part of a year. During this visit some of his eccentricities did not escape observation. For example, he rarely appeared at the family meals, preferring to dine in his own room, at his own hour, not unfrequently turning night into day. His tastes were very simple, though a little troublesome, at least to the servant who prepared his repast. Coffee, boiled rice, and milk, and a piece of mutton from the loin, were the materials that invariably formed his diet. The cook, who had an audience with him daily, received her instructions in silent awe, quite overpowered by his manner; for, had he been addressing a Duchess, he could scarcely have spoken with more deference. He would couch his request in such terms as these :-Owing to dyspepsia afflicting my system, and the possibility of any additional disarrangement of the stomach taking place, consequences incalculably distressing would arise, so much so, indeed, as to increase nervous irritation and prevent me from attending to matters of overwhelming importance, if you do not remember to cut the mutton in a diagonal, rather than in a longitudinal form.'
“ The cook — a Scotchwoman — had great reverence for Mr. De Quincey as a man of genius; but after one of these interviews, her patience was pretty well exhausted, and she would say, “Weel, I never heard the like o' that in a' my days; the bodie has an awfu' sicht o' words. If it had been my ain master that was wanting his dinner, he