Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 9. The New Morality

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

§ 9. The New Morality

The series of parodies surpass the other poetry of The Anti-Jacobin in that they were perfect in their kind. None the less, in absolute merit, they fall behind its most serious piece, The New Morality. In 1798, The Anti-Jacobin had done its office of cheapening and discrediting the revolutionary propagandists, and its gall and licence of satire were in danger of alienating less fervent supporters. So it was decided to cease its publication. Canning gathered together all his power for a final, crushing blow. With but little assistance from his friends, he composed a formal satire in the manner of Churchill; and, although The New Morality is hardly the work of a great poet, yet its sincerity of passionate conviction, no less than its admirable rhetoric and skilful versification, raises it above the ill-formed genius of its model. Canning was not a cosmopolitan philosopher; he was full of insular patriotism and produced his best when giving full-hearted expression to it. From his sneering contempt of sympathisers with France and of half-hearted—perhaps impartial—“candid friends” of the ministry, he rises, through fierce denunciatory scorn of the French publicists, to an appeal to maintain the older England of law and right. Burke is his prophet:

  • Led by thy light, and by thy wisdom wise;
  • he urges the claims of the native past—
  • Guard we but our own hearts; with constant view
  • To ancient morals, ancient manners true;
  • True to the manlier virtues, such as nerv’d
  • Our fathers’ breasts, and this proud isle preserv’d
  • For many a rugged age: and scorn the while
  • Each philosophic atheist’s specious guile;
  • The soft seductions, the refinements nice,
  • Of gay Morality, and easy Vice;
  • So shall we brave the storm; our ’stablish’d pow’r
  • Thy refuge, EUROPE, in some happier hour.
  • Thus, The Anti-Jacobin, at its close, bade farewell to the burlesque spirit which had guided political satire since the days of The Rolliad. The utmost in that style of writing—after all, not a lofty style, not an important species of literature—had been achieved, and the exhausted wave drew back again. Canning’s own subsequent political verse, scanty in quantity as it was, never attained the excellence of his contributions to his famous newspaper; and the successors to The Anti-Jacobin, which borrowed its title, were unable to supply verse of real merit.