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his general carelessness. It seems to have been one of his pe
culiarities, to preserve not only every letter addressed to him • during the course of his long life, but also the most trifling
notes and unimportant memoranda. Such was the practice of the most celebrated wit of the eighteenth century; the most celebrated wit of the nineteenth does precisely the reverse. • Upon principle,' (said the Rev. Sydney Smith, in answer to an application about letters from Sir James Mackintosh,) I • keep no letters, except those on business. I have not a single • letter from him, nor from any human being, in my possession.'* We should certainly prefer being our contemporary's correspondent; but we must confess, that we are not sorry to come in for a share of the benefits aceruing from Selwyn's savings to his posterity.
• To this peculiarity,' continues Mr Jesse, the reader is indebted for whatever amusement he may derive from the perusal of these volumes. The greater portion of their contents consist of letters addressed to Selwyn by persons who, in their day, moved in the first ranks of wit, genius, and fashion. Independent of their general merit as epistolary compositions, the editor conceives that they will be found in a high degree valuable and entertaining, from the light which they throw on the manners and customs of society in the last age, from their presenting a faithful chronicle of the passing events of the day, and from the mass of amusing gossip and lively anecdote which they contain.'
This is a rather injudicious paragraph. It excites expectations which are not fulfilled. There is very little anecdote-less altogether than will be found in any half dozen consecutive letters of Walpole; and two volumes would contain every thing in the book calculated to throw the faintest light on manners. It is, indeed, precisely of that kind which Bacon says should be read by deputy, i. e. through the medium of a Review; for the real meaning of the aphorism— bad books make good • reviews, as bad wine makes good vinegar'-is not, as the profane allege, because critics excel or exult in fault-finding, but because their chief utility consists in collecting scattered beauties, distilling essences, or separating the true metal from the dross. But it would be unjust to call this a bad book; it is certainly one which every possessor of a library should possess; yet it is one in which the quantity of print is out of all proportion to the useful or amusing matter; and the intelligent Editor is
Life of Mackintosh, by his Son, Vol. ii. p. 99.-- We talked of letter-writing. “ It is now,” said Johnson, “ become so much the fashion to publish letters, that, in order to avoid it, I put as little into mine as I can." “ Do what you will, sir,” replied Boswell, “ you cannot avoid it."'-- Boswell's Life of Johnson, Vol. viii. p. 80.
evidently conscious of the fact; for on what principle can his singularly liberal mode of annotation be defended, except as compensating for the poverty of the text ? The legitimate use of editorial 'notes is to clear up doubtful allusions, or supply knowledge necessary to the understanding of the work. For example, it might be useful to tell us something about Gilly Williams; but the youngest reader knows enough of Garrick not to be puzzled by the incidental occurrence of his name. Yet we are favoured with a biographical notice of the great actor, occupying ten pages, apropos of this solitary line in one of Dr Warner's letters. The chapter of Garrick (his
death) is a very melancholy one for poor Harry Hoare and me.' This is book-making with a vengeance! At the same time, this mode of proceeding has answered the main purpose; it has made the book more readable, and may save the indolently curious much trouble, by placing all they can possibly wish to learn, or refer to, within reach. Thus, we find here a careful compilation of most of the scattered notices regarding Selwyn himself; and, with the help of the materials thus collected, we will endeavour, before tapping (to borrow Walpole’s word) the chapter of his correspondence, to sketch an outline of his life.
George Augustus Selwyn entered the world with every advantage of birth and connexion; to which that of fortune was added in good time. His father, Colonel John Selwyn, of Matson in Gloucestershire, where the family ranked as one of the best in the county, had been aide-de-camp to the Duke of Marlborough, commanded a regiment, sat many years in Parliament, and filled various situations about the court. His mother, a daughter of General Farrington, was woman of the bedchamber to Queen Caroline, and enjoyed a high reputation for social humour. As his father was a plain, straightforward, commonplace sort of man, it is fair to presume that he inherited his peculiar talent from her ; thus adding another to the many instances of gifted men formed by mothers, or endowed by them with the best and brightest of their qualities. Schiller, Goethe, the Schlegels, Victor Hugo, Canning, Lord Brougham, occur to us on the instant; and Curran said—' The only inheritance • I could boast of from my poor father, was the very scanty
one of an unattractive face and person, like his own; and if • the world has ever attributed to me something more valuable
than face or person, or than earthly wealth, it was that another • and a dearer parent gave her child a fortune from the treasure " of her mind.'
Selwyn was born on the 11th August 1719. He was educated at Eton, and on leaving it entered at Hertford College, Oxford.
After a short stay at the university, he started on the grand tour, and on his return, though a second son with an elder brother living, made London and Paris his headquarters, became a member of the clubs, and associated with the wits and men of fashion. Before he had completed his twenty-first year, he was appointed Clerk of the Irons and Surveyor of the Meltings at the Mint; offices usually performed by deputy. At all events, occasional attendance at the weekly dinner formerly provided for this department of the public service, was the only duty they imposed on Selwyn ; the very man to act on Colonel Hanger's principle, who, when a friend in power suggested that a particular office, not being a sinecure, would hardly suit him, replied, “Get me the place, and leave me alone for making it
a sinecure. The salary must have been small, for in a letter from Paris, (September 1742, he says that his entire income, including the allowance made him by his father, was only L.220 a-year; and he appears to have been constantly in distress for money. In a letter to his former Eton tutor, Mr Vincent Mathias, (Paris, November 1742, he entreats his advice as to the best mode of getting the colonel to advance a small sum over and above his yearly income; and gives a pitiable description of his circumstances, without clothes, linen, books, or credit.'
In 1744 Selwyn returned to Hertford College, and resumed the life of a college student;—unaccountably enough, for he was then a formed man of the world, and twenty-five. Probably he had thoughts of pursuing a profession, or, to please his father, pretended that he had. His influential position in the London world at this time, is shown by letters from Rigby and Sir Charles Hanbury Williams. · The Right Hon. Richard Rigby to George Selwyn.
• Tuesday, March 12, (1745,) 7 o'clock. • Dear George, • I thank you for your letter, which I have this moment received and read; and, that you may not be surprised at my readiness in answering it, I will begin with telling you the occasion of it. I am just got home from a cock-match, where I have won forty pounds in ready money, and, not having dined, am waiting till I hear the rattle of the coaches from the House of Commons, in order to dine at White's ; and now I will begin my journal, for in that style I believe my letters will be best received, considering our situations.
• I saw Garrick act Othello that same night, in which I think he was very unmeaningly dressed, and succeeded in no degree of comparison with Quin, except in the scene where lago gives him the first suspicion of Desdemona. He endeavoured throughout to play and speak every thing directly different from Quin, and failed, I think, in most of his alterations.
This was the occasion when Quin went to the pit to see his rival act. It was at a time when Hogarth's Marriage à la Mode was familiar to every one. One of the prints of that series
represents a negro boy bringing in the tea-things. When Garrick, with his diminutive figure and blackened face, came forward as Othello, Quin exclaimed, · Here is Pompey, but where is the tray ?' The effect was electrical, and Garrick never attempted Othello again. When Dr Griffiths, many years afterwards, thoughtlessly enquired whether he had ever acted the part? “Sir,' said he, evidently disconcerted, I once acted it to my
cost.' Sir Charles writes
I hope you divert yourself well at the expense of the whole university, though the object is not worthy you. The dullest fellow in it has parts enough to ridicule it, and you have parts to fly at nobler game.'
By disregarding this sensible hint Selwyn got into a scrape, which, had it happened in our time, would have fixed a lasting stigma on his character. In 1745, he so far forgot himself, in a drunken frolic, as to go through a profane mockery of a religious ceremony; and the circumstance having come to the knowledge of the heads of the University, he was expelled. Most of his gay friends looked on this affair in the same light as Sir William Maynard, who writes thus
• Walthamstow, July 3, 1745. Dear George, • I have this moment received yours, and have only time to tell you the sooner you come here, the greater the obligation will be to me. D-n the university -- I wish they were both on fire, and one could hear the proctors cry like roasted lobsters. My compliments to Dr Newton. Yours affectionately,
· W.M.' Indeed the only palliation or apology, and that a poor one, that can be urged for Selwyn, is to be found in the bad taste and loose habits of his contemporaries. The famous Medenham Abbey club was founded soon afterwards. It consisted of twelve members, who met at Medenham Abbey, near Marlow, to indulge in ribaldry, profanity, and licentiousness. The motto (from Rabelais) over the grand entrance was: Fay ce que voudrais. Though the club became notorious, and their disgusting profanity was well known, it proved no bar either to the reception of the members in society, or to their advancement in the state. Sir Francis Dashwood, the founder, who officiated as high priest, became Chancellor of the Exchequer; Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty; and Wilkes every thing that the sober citizens of London could make of him.
Selwyn's character at this time is given by one of the Oxford magnates : • The upper part of the society here, with whom he
often converses, have, and always have had, a very good opinion of him. He is certainly not intemperate, nor dissolute, nor does ç he game that I know or have heard of. He has a good deal of vanity, and loves to be admired and caressed, and so suits him: self with great ease to the gravest and the sprightliest.'
Colonel and Mrs Selwyn were, on this occasion, shocked and irritated in the highest degree; but the failing health of his elder brother John çontributed to soften them, and procured him an extent of indulgence which would hardly have been granted, had it not become apparent thạt the family estate and honours must eventually devolve upon him. John Selwyn was the intimate friend of Marshal Conway, to whom, so early as 1740, Walpole writes : * I did not hurry myself to answer your last, but chose to write 6 to poor Selwyn upon his illness. He deserves so much love : from all that know him, and you owe him so much friendship,
that I can scarce conceive a greater shock.' He did not die till June 1751, when George Selwyn was in his thirty-second year. By this event he became the heir, but the estate was unentailed, and his prospects were still dubious enough to excite the apprehensions of his friends. In November 1751 Sir William Maynard writes--
• The public papers informed me of your father's being dangerously ill, wbich was con tirmed to ne last post. As you have always convinced me of your love for your father, (though I can't persuade the world you will be sorry for his death,) I shall be glad to know, if
have one moment's leisure, how he does, as you are so nearly concerned in his doing well. I can't help thinking but it will be more for your
interest that your father should recover, as I don't yet imagine you quite established in his good opinion, and as you have so powerful an enemy at home.'
Who his powerful enemy at home was, does not appear. His mother is mentioned in a preceding letter as his advocate; yet one of Walpole's anecdotes implies that at one time he had forfeited the affection of both parents. The notorious Lady Townshend had taken an extraordinary fancy to the rebel Lord Kilmarnock, whom she had never seen until the day of his trial.
George Selwyn dined with her, and not thinking her affliction so serious as she pretends, talked rather jokingly
of the execustion. She burst into a flood of tears and rage, told him she snow believed all his father and mother had said of him, and, with a • thousand other reproaches, flung up stairs. George coolly took • Mrs Dorcas, her woman, and made her sit down to finish the • bottle. “ And pray, sir," says Dorcas,“ do you think my lady 'will be prevailed upon to let me go and see the execution ? Í ' have a friend that has promised to take care of me, and I can • lie in the Tower the night before.”'