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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

VIII. Southey

§ 19. Hanbury Williams

A charitable epigrammatist has divided “loose” writers of any merit at all into those who sometimes follow the amusing across the border of the indecent and those who, in the quest of the indecent, sometimes hit upon the amusing. If Anstey deserves the indulgence of the former class, Hanbury Williams and Hall Stevenson must, it is feared, be condemned to, and by, the latter. It is true that, in Williams’s case, some doubt has been thrown on the authorship of the grossest pieces attributed to him, and that most other things recorded of him—except a suspected showing of the white feather—are rather favourable. He appears, both in Horace Walpole’s letters and in Chesterfield’s, as a man extremely good-natured and unwearied in serving his friends. It is certain, however, that the suicide which terminated his life was preceded, and probably caused, by a succession of attacks of mental disease; and, in some of the coarsest work assigned to him in the singularly uncritical hodgepodge of his Works, a little critical kindness may trace that purely morbid fondness for foulness which mental disease often, if not always, brings with it. On the whole, however, Williams’s asperity and his indecency have both been exaggerated. He took part ardently on the side of Sir Robert in the “great Walpolian battle” and was never weary of lampooning Pulteney. But his most famous “skits”—those on Isabella, duchess of Manchester, and her way of spending her morning and her subsequent marriage to the Irishman Hussey—are neither very virulent nor very “improper.” The fault of Williams’s political and social verse is a want of concentration and finish. In these points, the notes which his editor (Lord Holland?) gathered from Horace Walpole in prose are frequently far superior to the verse they illustrate. But the verse itself is full of flashes and phrases, some of which have slipped into general use, and many of which are far superior to their context. Compared with the brilliant political verse, first on the whig, then on the tory, side, of the last twenty years of the century, Sir Charles is pointless and dull; but, in himself, to anyone with a fair knowledge of the politics and persons of the time, he is far from unamusing. Sometimes, also, he could (if the Ballad in Imitation of Martial, “Dear Betty come give me sweet kisses,” written on Lord and Lady Ilchester, be his) be quite good-natured, quite clean and almost as graceful as Prior or Martial himself.