Saturday, August 1, 2015

John Mitford---‘a pleasant layman spoiled’

Mitford's vicarage at Benhall
That’s what Charles Lamb called this literary odd job man, who was a cousin of the essayist Mary Russell Mitford, and who wrote of a visit to Lamb at his home in Islington in the  Gentleman’s Magazine, which he edited for seventeen years; he was   also editor of Gray and Goldsmith, and collected manuscripts ,old books, paintings and Chinese ceramics. He was a gifted cricketer too, a passionate gardener, and in any spare time left to him, he managed to squeeze in a bit of preaching in his parish of Benhall, near Saxmundham in Suffolk.

Here we have a tiny letter from Mitford, in miniscule handwriting, dated July 5th 1848 and addressed to an unnamed correspondent—probably the editor of a magazine, for Mitford was a prolific writer of articles.
At this time Mitford himself was editing the Gentleman’s Magazine. It’s worth transcribing the letter in full as it gives a flavour of what a literary hack of the early nineteenth century got up to, although with the security of a clergyman’s income, Mitford was hardly a typical denizen of Grub Street. The letter relates principally to Mitford’s opinion of a new biography of Oliver Goldsmith.

My dear Sir,

I have nothing ready, but I will send some MS as soon as possible. I mentioned to Mr Gravell I wanted a few books, but I suppose he forgot it. I have only 4 little books, besides Forster, Goldsmith ; and you see as I have remarked before that now I can’t do as I used, get some reviews ready before hand .
Having no book sent for leading Article, I asked Mr Bentley to give me one---Walpole’s Letters to Ld. Ossory, which I am reading.
As regards Forster’s Life of Goldsmith, to which you beg me to turn my attention, I have only heard Mr Dyce say it contains no new facts & Mr Rogers told me he did not like it at all.
I have heard of the dispute between him & Mr Prior. The latter objecting at Mr Forster’s hurting the sale of this book & taking much from it. If Mr Forster’s book has any merit, it must be in the way he has put the old facts together. I don’t understand your letter, whether you wish it to be a leading article.
I have not seen the Atheneum, but the Spectator gives an opinion of it, as I have stated. That there is nothing new in it.
I sh(oul)d presume that the Corr(espondence) between Mr Forster & Mr Prior from what I have heard from Mr Dyce, who knows them both, contains nothing but the accusations & differences of both Parties & no new literary information.

Yrs very truly,

Many of Mitford’s letters passed to another man of Suffolk, Edward Fitzgerald, author of the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam. His pretty Vicarage at Benhall can still be seen.


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