Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 5. George Ellis; John Hookham Frere; William Gifford; The Baviad; The Maeviad

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

II. Political Writers and Speakers

§ 5. George Ellis; John Hookham Frere; William Gifford; The Baviad; The Maeviad

The men who wrote this fiery periodical may surprise us by their mundane character. There was the many-sided, brilliant Canning, then in the heyday of his youth; George Ellis, the amiable antiquary, by this time, a fervent tory and repentant of The Rolliad; and John Hookham Frere, the ideal of a cultivated country gentleman, whose striking literary achievement it was to introduce the satiric Italian epic into English. The editor was a man of literary mark, William Gifford. No one, perhaps, of the tribe of poor authors has gone through a more bitter struggle than his with the obstacles and misfortunes in his way, although they were not spread over a long term of years. He was the son of a ne’er-do-well, whose main occupation was that of a glazier at Ashburton in Devonshire. After a miserable boyhood, obsessed by a passionate and seemingly hopeless desire for learning amid the handicraft work to which he was forced, he was befriended by William Cookesley, a surgeon, and sent to Oxford by subscription. While there, he came to the notice of earl Grosvenor, and was appointed travelling tutor to his son. He was able to make something of a name, in 1794 and 1795, by his mediocre satires, The Baviad and The Maeviad, directed against the ridiculous Della Cruscan school of poets and the small dramatic fry of the day. Although their merit was not great, his ample quotations from his victims made his conquest easy. When The Anti-Jacobin was set on foot, his sledge-hammer style and industry made him a fit editor for it; but he was mainly concerned with its prose. He did his task well, and, when The Quarterly Review was started in 1809, he was selected as its editor, a post he occupied for fifteen years, in despotic fashion, even finding it in his heart to mutilate an essay by Lamb. Meanwhile, he did yeoman service to literature by his translation of Juvenal in 1802 and by some editions of older English dramatists. Sound common-sense redeems his commonplace ability, while his sour, fierce criticisms find an explanation in his early hardships and constant ill-health. He seems to have written verse because it was, then, a regular accomplishment of literary men.