5 JUNE 1880, Page 16



Tins volume is an addition to the curiosities rather than to the treasures of literature. Had Thomas Griffiths Wainewright not distinguished himself by one forgery and at least four cold- blooded murders, it is tolerably certain that neither Mr. Hazlitt 'nor any other editor would have felt more than the most momentary temptation to exhume his literary remains from the magazine volumes in which they have been buried for more than half a century ; and the interest attaching to this collec- tion of papers is largely of that morbid kind which would attach to a betting-book of William Palmer's, or to an auto- -graph letter from Charles Peace. We say " largely " rather than "altogether," because it cannot be denied that Waine- wright's essays have intrinsic qualities which give them a certain attractiveness. The matter is frequently valu- able, though the value is seldom of a permanent kind; and the style, though, as a rule, intolerably flippant, Toppish, and affected, occasionally deviates into noteworthy 'felicity and grace. Indeed, it is clear that work which held its own in a magazine numbering Lamb and Hazlitt among its regular contributors could not be quite despicable ; and in addition to this presumptive evidence of merit, we have positive 'knowledge of the fact that Wainewright's articles were highly thought of, not only by the public, who could appraise their readable qualities, and by the editor of the London Magazine, who could estimate their commercial value, but by contemporary • Essays and Criticisms. By Thomas Griffiths Walnewright. Now first collected, with some Account of the Author. By W. Carew flealitt. London: ROOM and -Turner.

writers, whose critical verdicts cannot be denuded of authority: and influence. Still, many productions which serve admirably a temporary purpose in a periodical publication have no place in enduring literature ; and as we have said, this volume derives its reason of being, less from its inherent merits than from the notoriety achieved by its author's feat of imitative penmanship, and his unpleasant experiments in the use of nun romica. Wainewright himself is much more interesting than his work.

He was a curiosity that might well attract the attention of any students of moral insanity. His character presented a com- bination, not unfrequently represented in fiction, but happily somewhat rare in real life, of singularly keen and delicate wsthetic sensibilities, with a moral sense which had either early lost or never possessed any power of ethical discrimination or regulative efficiency ; the result of the combination being not "a glorious devil, large in heart and brain," like the builder of Mr. Tennyson's Palace of Art, but an utterly inglorious devil ; with large brain indeed ; with senses which thrilled and pulse that quickened at the appeal of any splendour of colour or witchery of form ; but with absolutely nothing corresponding to what is popularly called a heart,—nothing which could be

touched by sympathy, moved by pity, or pierced by remorse. , We do not intend to give here even the merest outline of the

of a career with the main facts of which most of our readers are more or less familiar. It has been told by Mr. Justice Tal-- fourd, by Mr. Walter Thornbury, and now, let us hope for the last time, it has been told again with additional fullness of grue- some detail by Mr. W. Carew Hazlitt. We may say that we think Mr. Hazlitt would have done well to omit the sneer at his predecessors, which he has introduced into his rather too ego- tistical preface. it would have been in bad taste had it been deserved ; and as it is altogether undeserved, it is in the worst

taste, conceivable. To remark, a in-opo, of nothing, that Waine- wright's "conversance with literature was far in excess of any

possessed either by Mr. Justice Talfourd or by Mr. Walter Thornbury," is an impertinence for which Mr. Hazlitt's, most lenient critic will fail to find a palliation, much less an excuse.

The house of this latest biographer has far too much glass about it to allow him safely to indulge in the amusement of throwMg stones. Mr. Thornbury's account of Wainewrigbt, which appeared in his entertaining series of narratives, Old Stories Retold, may be "flimsy," as Mr. Hazlitt tells us it is, but it has not been shown to be inaccurate in any really important particular; and it is certainly lucid, graphic, and readable, which the biography given in this volume as certainly is not. Butler's Analogy is light, Blair's Sermons are enter- taming, and Mr. Browning's Bordello is singularly transparent, when compared with the pages which Mr. Hazlitt devotes to a perplexing and purposeless proem, dealing with Wainewright's grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, and with a number of supernumerary characters, whose vital relation to his life it is exceedingly difficult to discover. Some idea, though a very inadequate one, of the miscellaneous nature of Mr. Hazlitt's matter, and of the general bewilderment of his manner, may be gathered from the first paragraph of this "Account of Thomas Griffiths Wainwright," which runs as follows :—

"Ralph Griffiths, Esq., LL.D., was born in Shropshire in 1720; his beginnings we know nothing, till we find him the assistant of Mr. Jacob Robinson, bookseller, in Ludgate Street. Robinson, from being a dealer in spectacles, became a bookseller and a critic ; and it is reasonably supposed that young Griffiths imbibed his literary tastes from his early employer. Thomas Davies, the bookseller, of whom Johnson said that he was not a bookseller, but a gentleman who dealt in books,' used to frequent Robinson's shop, and though hp found him intelligent, he preferred the society and conversation of Griffiths' who was nearer his own age. This was about 1742, when Griffiths was two-and-twenty."

To say of these confused and confusing sentences that they are written in a bad style would be too speak too favourably, for they have no style at all, good, bad, or indifferent. Words and facts are thrown together and left to arrange themselves as they will, the result being a conglomeration which resembles nothing so much as the well-known piece of nursery nonsense

beginning, "He went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf, to make an apple-pie." The chaotic confusion would, however, be less irritating, if the facts themselves had any relevance to the story of Wainewright's life, but they have absolutely none. Griffiths was indeed Wainewright's grandfather, and the founder of a magazine to which Wainevnight did not contribute, but this is all; and what Robinson, Davies, and Dr. Johnson are doing in Mr. Hazlitt's galley is a mystery which. seems to

us -quite insoluble. The industry displayed in the compilation of this sketch is commendable, and we only regret that it has been so entirely misdirected. Of the details of Waine- wright's criminalities there is enough and to spare, but of his social and literary life—with which we should have thought Mr. Hazlitt would have been most concerned—he has little to tell us, and of this little there is nothing that has not been told before. In criticism he does not indulge largely, but of this we do not complain, for critical work of value is hardly to be expected from a writer who, on the most trivial grounds, assigns to Wainewright the essay entitled A Character of the Late Elia, every sentence of which is pervaded by the peculiar quality of Lamb's most characteristic work.

, Enough, however, has been said of Mr. Hazlitt's deficiencies. Our remaining space must be devoted to Wainewright him- self. That he was a strange character is obvious, and if the possession of abnormal attributes gives a man a claim to remembrance, this disinterment of Wainewright's remains has ample justification. His intellectual powers are by no means easy to appraise. It can hardly be denied that he had a cer- tain order of genius, but it was overshadowed by affectation which may almost be called colossal. Only by accident does his style acquire anything like simplicity, but these accidents reveal Wainewright at his best. When he becomes so much in- terested in his subject, that for the moment he forgets to pose as a fashionable and flippant dilettante, he has always some- thing to say which is worth saying, and that something is sure to be well said. There is, among these papers, a description of Rembrandt's " Crucifixion " which literally bites itself into the memory by its wonderful rendering of the informing spirit of the master's work ; and, indeed, whenever Wainewright is really touched to the quick by any thing of beauty or of power, he can always reproduce in a singularly subtle fashion the fine aroma of sentiment which is wont to be missed by the more common- place critic who endeavours by a mere enumeration of details to convey that intangible expression which is in the details, but not

• of them,—which may be perceived at once by a man with an eye for such things, but which generally refuses to be translated

into verbal symbols. This is, perhaps, the most striking feature of Wainewright's art criticism, but here and there are very fine felicities of phrasing, and it is impossible not to feel that one is in the presence of a man with both insight and courage,— • insight to discern the unaccredited hero of art, and courage to testify to the thing he has discerned.

What can be learned of the moral nature of Wainewright seems almost a justification of a theory we have sometimes beard advanced,—that it is possible for a man, by continued violation of the higher instincts, to kill them outright, and so to free himself entirely and for ever from the painfulness of their protests. His character seems early to have attained a horrible homogeneity, a rounded wholeness of depravity which is simply appalling. It had not, apparently, either desire or power to present even an histrionic simulation of pity or remorse. It is reported—and the story is, at any rate, consistent with the rest of our knowledge of him—that when asked how he could have brought himself to take the life of the innocent and trusting girl to whom he owed protection, he replied,—" Upon my soul, I don't know, unless it was because she had such thick legs." The insurance agent who visited him in prison to endeavour to extract from him some particulars concerning the murders be had committed, found his task an easier one than he could possibly have anticipated. Wainewright, with a stolid frankness • even more revolting than the crimes themselves, gave the desired • information, and when the loathsome tale was finished, his visitor could not refrain from putting one final question. "It would be quite useless, Mr. Wainewright," he observed, "to speak to you of humanity, or of tenderness, or laws, human or divine ; but does it not occur to you, after all, that, merely • regarded as a speculation, crime is a bad one ? See where it ends ! I talk to you in a shameful prison, and I talk to a degraded convict." Wainewright's reply reminds us of the naked shamelessness of Mr. Browning's Ottima : were it not for something small and mean from which we cannot divest the man, he would stand as she stood, "magnificent in sin." "Sir," said he, "you City men enter on your speculations, and take the chances of them. Some of your speculations succeed,—some fail. Mine happen to have failed; yours happen to have succeeded ; this is the difference, Sir, between my visitor and me. But I will tell you one thing in which I have suc- ceeded to the last. I have been determined through life to hold the position of a gentleman. I have always done so. I do so still. It is the custom of this place that each of the inmates of a cell shall take his morning's turn of sweeping it out. I occupy a cell with a bricklayer and a sweep. But, by God ! they never offer me the broom."

Here we must stay our hand, lest we breed miasma by further stirring-up of this moral cesspool. How little we know of each other, how perfectly opaque may be the mask behind which the soul is hidden, is startlingly shown by the fact that this monster, who had surely touched the bed of the great ocean of depravity, was known to Charles Lainb, and to a circle of admiring friends, only as "the light-hearted Janus !"