Devonshire Characters and Strange Events/William Gifford

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WILLIAM GIFFORD


WILLIAM GIFFORD, the satirist, was born at Ashburton in April, 1756. His father's name was Edward, and he says that his great-grandfather "was possessed of considerable property at Halsbury, a parish in the neighbourhood of Ashburton." There is no such parish, but there is the manor of Halsbury that belonged to the Giffords or Giffards in the neighbourhood of Bideford, in Parkham parish.

As William Gifford does not give the Christian names of his grandfather and great-grandfather, it will not be an easy matter to trace descent from the Giffards of Halsbury. That estate was sold by Roger Giffard, who died in 1763, seven years after the birth of William.

Roger had inherited Halsbury from his great-uncle, of the same Christian name, who died without issue in 1724. There is no trace of any legitimate son of this Roger.

No Giffords appear in the Ashburton register prior to 1716, when Mary, daughter of Edward Gifford, was baptized; but there were Giffords, but not gentlefolk, in the neighbouring parish of Ilsington.

William Gifford's great-grandfather was of the same generation as Roger Giffard of Halsbury, second son of John Giffard, of Brightleigh, who succeeded to Halsbury, under some family arrangement, in consequence of the then heads of the Halsbury Giffards dying
W. Gifford - Devonshire characters and strange events.jpg

W. GIFFORD

out issue. It is possible that the last Halsbury Giffard may have left his estate to Roger of Brightleigh, in consequence of his having disinherited a worthless son. In this case William Gifford's story of a disinheritance may have some foundation. But one would expect to find an entry in the Parkham registers of the baptism of such a son; and there is none.

William's grandfather was dissipated and extravagant, and his father, Edward, was not much better. He had been sent to the Grammar School at Exeter, but ran away, and entered on board a man-of-war. His father bought him out, but he was incorrigible; he again ran away, and joined Bampfylde-Moore Carew in his vagabondage, when the latter was an old man. On leaving this choice society he became a plumber and glazier at Ashburton, and married a carpenter's daughter named Elizabeth Cain, 3 September, 1750.[1] Edward Gifford now moved to South Molton and set up there; but after four or five years, having involved himself in trouble by attempting to excite a riot in a Methodist conventicle, he deemed it advisable to show a pair of heels, and went to sea on board the Lyon, a transport. Mrs. Gifford then returned to her native place, Ashburton, where William was born.

So away went Edward, singing, I doubt not, a popular Devonshire song—

My fortune is pretty well spent,
  My lands and my cattle and corn;
I must put on a face of content,
  When as naked as when I was born.
No more I'll be troubled with wealth,
  My pockets are drained full dry,
I walk where I please for my health,
  And never fear robbing, not I.

    

O once I could He on the best,
    The best of good beds made of down,
If sure of a flock of good straw
    I am glad to keep off the cold ground.
Some say that Old Care killed the cat,
    And starv'd her for fear she should die;
Henceforth I'll be wiser than that,
    To my cares bid for ever good-bye.
        So adieu to old England, adieu!
            And adieu to some thousands of pounds!
        If the world had been done, ere my life was begun,
            My sorrows would then have had bounds.

Mrs. Gifford was left very badly off. All she had for her maintenance was the rent of four small fields all that remained of the land as yet unsold.

Edward Gifford returned from sea in 1764, having been absent eight years. He had received over a hundred pounds of prize money in addition to his wages, which were considerable; but as he reappeared in Ashburton his pockets were nearly empty. The little property yet left was therefore turned into money, and Edward Gifford set up a second time as glazier, plumber, and house-painter. William was now sent to the free school in S. Laurence's Chapel, the master of which was Hugh Smerdon. This school was founded by Bishop Stapeldon in the tower of the old Chantry Chapel. On the dissolution of the chantries, the scholars and master moved out of the tower into the body of the chapel. It was further endowed with funds by Edward Gould, Esq., of Pridhamsleigh, and Mr. Peter Blundell, of Tiverton. In this school William Gifford learned to read, write, and cypher. He remained there till his father's death three years later. Edward Gifford had learned nothing by his misfortunes. He preferred to drain the pewter in the tavern to doing pewterer's work in the shop. He died and was buried 9 June, 1767, leaving beside a widow and his son William another son aged six or eight months. Mrs. Gifford unwisely continued the business without knowing anything about it, and committed the management to a couple of journeymen, who wasted her property and embezzled her money. In less than a twelvemonth she died, and was buried 29 November, 1768. William was then thirteen and his brother not two years old; and they had not a relation or friend in the world. Everything left was seized by a man named Carlile for money advanced to Mrs. Gifford. The youngest child was sent to an almshouse, and William was taken charge of by Carlile, who was his godfather, not out of pity, but because he was afraid of forfeiting the respect of his fellow citizens if he turned the orphan adrift.

The life of the unfortunate youngest child was short. He was indeed

The child of misery, baptized in tears.

When aged seven the parish bound him apprentice to a farmer of the name of Leman, with whom he endured incredible hardships, and at nine broke his thigh. On his recovery he tried the sea, and went on board the Egmont, but was allowed to do this by the grasping Leman, as his apprenticeship was not expired, only on condition that his wages should be paid into his (Leman's) hands. The poor lad knew no favourable change of fortune, for he fell sick and died at Cork.

Carlile sent the unfortunate William to drudge at the plough; but William was physically incapable of driving the plough. During his father's life, in attempting to clamber up a table, he had fallen backwards and drawn it after him; its edge fell on his chest, and it is possible that his spine was also jarred, giving him ever after a look of deformity. Ploughing was out of the question, and he was forced to be withdrawn from field labour.

His guardian then thought of sending him to Newfoundland to assist in a storehouse, and for this purpose entered into correspondence with a Mr. Holdsworth, of Dartmouth, who consented to see the boy. When, however, he had cast eyes on the puny, sickly child, he declined to have anything to do with him, and Carlile then sent him on board a coaster at Brixham, with a man named Full, plying between Dartmouth and Plymouth, and sometimes going as far as Portsmouth.

In this boat he continued for a twelvemonth.

On Christmas Day, 1770, he was summoned back to Ashburton by his godfather. It seemed that the fishwives who went from Brixham to Ashburton with their wares had spoken there pretty freely of the little ragged urchin who wandered about the quay, and of his delicacy and of the rough treatment to which he was exposed. This roused a strong feeling in Ashburton against Carlile, and he was constrained to bring the boy back so as to allay the prejudice his conduct had awakened. He sent him again to school in the old chapel, where he sat on the benches at the long desks, and looked up at the huge plaster-work gaily-painted shield and bearings of Ashburton over the headmaster's desk, and those of the benefactors to the school down the sides. Here he worked assiduously at his books and made astonishing progress. He was even employed as a monitor to teach the younger boys, and received a few coppers for his services. The ambition of his young heart was to qualify himself to take the place of the old schoolmaster, Smerdon, who was becoming infirm and past work.

But these dreams of future happiness in the school where he had passed his most enjoyable hours were dashed. Carlile wanted to get the lad out of Ashburton and relieve his pocket of the burden of finding him clothes and bread and butter. He was determined to wash his hands of the orphan altogether; and accordingly, without consulting the boy's wishes, indentured him in January, 1772, to a cobbler, a cousin of his in Exeter, with whom he would be bound to remain till he was twenty-one. The shoemaker with whom he was placed was a sour and narrow-minded Presbyterian, who read nothing but controversial pamphlets relative to a theological dispute then raging between two of the clergy of Exeter and some of the Dissenting preachers of the city, and of these controversial pamphlets the cobbler read only those of his own side.

Gifford had no books save a Bible, a Thomas à Kempis, and a black-letter romance, Parismus and Parismenus, that had belonged to his mother, together with some chapbooks, The Golden Bull, and such like trifles. However, he found a stray treatise on algebra in a lodging-house, and commandeered it. But this last book was not at this time of any advantage to him, as to understand it a preliminary knowledge of simple equations was necessary—and what "equations" meant he knew no more than did the man in the moon, who had at his command no library whatsoever.

However, his master's son had a Flemming's Introduction to Knowledge, which, as a spiteful boy, he refused to let Gifford use, and hid it away. William, however, by accident discovered where the book was concealed and carried it off, sat up for several nights, and poring over it with avidity mastered the contents, and was then able to pursue his studies in algebra.

He says: "I hated my new profession with a perfect hatred; I made no progress in it, and was consequently little regarded in the family, of which I sank by degrees into the common drudge."

Whilst at Ashburton his dreary life had been cheered by making friends with some of his schoolfellows. One of these was young Hoppner, afterwards a famous portrait painter, a rival of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and in after years he looked back to this friendship with pleasure, and wrote to him, on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds

One Sun is set, one Glorious Sun, whose rays
Long gladdened Britain with no common blaze;
O may'st thou soon (for clouds begin to rise)
Assert thy station in the Eastern skies,
Glow with his fires, and give the world to see
Another Reynolds rise, my friend, in thee!

But dearer still to him had been the Ashburton butcher's son, John Ireland, afterwards Dean of Westminster, and to him he wrote—

Sure if our fates hang on some hidden Power,
And take their colour from the natal hour,
Then, Ireland ! the same planet on us rose,
Such the strong sympathies our lives disclose!
Thou know'st how soon we felt this influence bland,
And sought the brook and coppice, hand in hand,
And shaped rude bows, and uncouth whistles blew,
And paper kites (a last great effort) flew;
And when the day was done, retired to rest,
Sleep on our eyes, and sunshine in our breast.

But in Exeter he had no friends, none who would associate with him. He was utterly alone and miserable. He had not a penny wherewith to bless himself. One only little streak of sunlight entered his gloomy life, and this was the cheery notice of a young woman, a neighbour, who daily gave the depressed boy, as he passed her door, a smile and a kindly greeting, and the gratitude he felt for this slight encouragement was the first pleasing sensation he had ventured to entertain for many dreary months.

In his Autobiography he says: "Pen, ink, and paper were for the most part as completely out of my reach as a crown and sceptre." He had but one resource, which required the utmost caution and secrecy in applying it. He beat out pieces of leather as thin and smooth as possible, and in his garret, by the tiny window, with a blunt awl worked out on the leather his algebraical calculations.

Hitherto he had not so much as dreamed of poetry, but his first attempt was on the occasion of a person who had undertaken to paint a sign for an inn; it was to have been a lion, but the artist had produced a creature much more like a dog. One of his acquaintances wrote some lines on it. Gifford looked them over, shook his head, and said that he thought that he could do better. Accordingly he composed an epigram on the theme, so cutting and droll that his shopmates declared he had succeeded in a masterly manner. After that he ventured on other attempts—doggerel, he says they were, but all caustic and humorous, and these circulated, were laughed over, and gained him not a little applause. When he had composed some brief little satire he would read it to a select circle, and was rewarded by the gift of a few pence, amounting occasionally to sixpence. Did he write also a few tender and grateful lines to the pretty, smiling girl on the doorstep in the same street, who had cheered the lonely boy? I have not the smallest doubt in my mind that he did.

To one so long in absolute want of money, such a resource seemed like a gold-mine, and although at this time he thought lightly, even contemptuously of the Muse, and all his energies of mind were devoted to mathematics, yet, as these trifles brought him in money, and so enabled him to buy paper and ink, and books on geometry and algebra, he continued to compose verses.

But a storm was gathering. There is a delightful picture by Phiz in David Copperfield, where Mr. Creakle, the schoolmaster, enters the schoolroom leaning on the arm of his factotum Tungay, just as a boy has drawn a caricature of both on the blackboard.

Inevitably some of the keen shafts of Gilford's ridicule had been levelled at his master, the cobbler. This man laid himself open to being satirized. He possessed a dictionary of synonyms; and it was his practice never, when he could avoid it, to employ a direct word when he could find a roundabout mode of expressing himself; a weeding with him would be a runcation, and to ride would be to equitate. It was not in human nature that William Gifford should withhold his hand from turning out some neat lines taking off the sanctimonious and pretentious cobbler, and so revenging himself for slights and insults many. It is not in human nature that he should refrain from showing this product to his fellow apprentices. It is not in human nature that some sneak among them should not apprise the master or that master's son of what the sullen, discontented lad had done.

Whether it was this, or whether it was that the shoemaker as a strict Puritan looked on laughter and jest and poetry as ungodliness, the master's anger was raised to fury. He searched Gifford's garret, took away all his books and papers, and dared him to touch paper with pen or read any other books in future than the Bible. This was a severe blow, and was followed soon after by another that was as great. Mr. Hugh Smerdon, whom he had hoped to succeed, died, and was succeeded as master in the Ashburton Grammar School by another man not much older and still less qualified for the station than himself. Thus at once crumbled to nothing all his castles in the air that he had built; and still the only light in his darkness continued to be the smile and welcome from the girl a few doors off.

There is a ballad, "The Little Girl Down the Lane," sung to a plaintive, sweet air, greatly affected at one time by apprentices, and not yet forgotten in Devonshire; it relates the loves and sorrows of a 'prentice boy, bound by his articles to a tailor, who loved a maiden in the same lane, and who induced her to marry him. But, alas! as the couple were in church and the knot was about to be tied, the master tailor got wind of it, rushed in, stopped the ceremony, and carried off the bridegroom to his bench again. The words are mere doggerel, but they would appeal to Gifford, as they have appealed to many a Devonshire apprentice, and often in his garret he may have hummed over the pathetic air as he thought of the kind young face that alone in Exeter had smiled on him.

The darkest hour precedes the dawn. And now, when he was in the profoundest depths of depression, help arrived, and that from an unexpected quarter. Mr. William Cookesley, a surgeon of Ashburton, a large-hearted and open-handed man, having by accident heard some of his verses, recalled the unfortunate boy, thrust from pillar to post, and inquired after him. His history was well known to all in Ashburton, and he at once interested himself in Gifford, and not only gave from his own scantily furnished purse, but begged help from his friends and patients to cancel Gifford's apprenticeship and further his education. On examining his literary attainments, he found that, with the exception of mathematics, he was woefully ignorant; his handwriting was bad, and his language very incorrect. Mr. Cookesley now started a subscription list headed "A Subscription for purchasing the remainder of the time of William Gifford, and for enabling him to improve himself in Writing and English Grammar." Few contributed more than five shillings, and none beyond half a guinea; enough, however, was collected to free him from his apprenticeship, which amounted to six pounds (there were but eighteen months of that bondage to run), and also to maintain him for a few months during which he attended school under the Rev. Thomas Smerdon.

The hard life, the starvation of his early days, mentally and physically for a while stunted his faculties, so that he could not keep pace with youths of his own age or even younger, and his master talked of putting him into a lower class; on which he wrote the following lines, adopting playfully his somewhat significant nickname:—

Tho' my name is Cloudy,
   Yet cast me not away;
For many a cloudy morning
   Brings forth a shining day.

However, by dint of hard work, after two years and two months he was pronounced by Mr. Smerdon fit to go to the University.

Assistance was afforded by Mr. Thomas Taylor, of Denbury, who had already given him friendly support, and who procured for him a Bible readership at Exeter College; and this, with occasional help from Mr. Cookesley and his friends, was considered sufficient to enable him to live until he could take his degree.

The first act of Gifford on reaching Oxford was heartily to thank his friend Cookesley for all he had done for him. The surgeon replied: "Though I have ever esteemed you, my dear Gifford, yet I was far from perceiving the extent of my regard for you till you left Ashburton; and I am only reconciled to the loss of your society by the prospects of advantage and honour which are now before you. Believe me, I shall ever feel myself as much interested in your future fortune as if you were my brother or my son."

When Gifford was preparing to issue his Pastorals he insisted that Mr. Cookesley's name should stand at the head of the list of subscribers. "I will suck my fingers for a month rather than draw my pen to put a name over yours in my subscription book. Therefore look to it! I am Wilful and Wishful; and Wilful will do it."

Unfortunately those who promised to subscribe to maintain Gifford at college were slack in paying the sums they had agreed to find, and this put both Cookesley and Gifford in pecuniary straits.

Cookesley was one day dining with Governor Palk, near Ashburton, when he told him that Gifford was in sore want of a Juvenal, and could not afford to buy a second-hand copy at sixteen shillings. The governor then exclaimed: " Oh! he shall not want a Juvenal. My dear" (to his wife), "give Mr. Cookesley a guinea, and tell Gifford from me that he shall have his Juvenal and a little firing to read it by; and tell him, moreover, that I'll make my subscription three guineas annually."

Cookesley's letters to Gifford were carefully preserved. They were often written between sleeping and waking. One day he gives, as an excuse for the shortness of his letter: "I am quite fatigued, having been without sleep for a great part of the past night, and on horseback for several hours to-day. … Your account of the meadows of Christchurch almost made me so far forget myself as to cry out, 'I am resolved forthwith to set out for Oxford'; but, alas! to begin one's journey without money would be rather worse than ending it so."

Mr. Cookesley's active benevolence was cut short by his untimely death. He did not live long enough to do more than start his young friend on the road to fame and affluence. This event took place on 15 January, 1781. He died suddenly, and with a letter of Gifford's unopened in his hands. He left his family but scantily provided for, but a man's good works follow him, and the harvest comes sometime, if late, as we shall see in the sequel.

In his Autobiography, written twenty years later, Gifford says: "It afflicted me beyond measure, and in the interval I have wept a thousand times at the recollection of his goodness; I yet cherish his memory with filial respect; and at this distant period my heart sinks within me at every repetition of his name."

Gifford was, however, encouraged by the unexpected friendship of the Rev. Servington Savery. He had, moreover, gained other friends, not more kindly, but better able to serve him with their purses. His acquaintance with his greatest patron, Earl Grosvenor, was made through an accident. He had formed a college acquaintance with a young man who kept up a correspondence with him, and to whom, when this latter left college, he addressed his letters under cover to Lord Grosvenor. But on one occasion he forgot to put his friend's name to the letter, and it was opened by the Earl, who read it, and was surprised at the wit and brilliance of scholarship it evinced, and he begged for an introduction. This led to his being sent as tutor to travel abroad with Lord Belgrave, Earl Grosvenor’s son. Under the auspices of this nobleman he entered upon London life, and gradually rose to an eminent position among men of letters.

But there is an episode in his life to which he himself makes no allusion in his memoirs. Somewhere about the time when he was able to maintain himself, he married a certain Joanna—her surname is not known—but not at Ashburton. It can hardly be doubted that this was the "little girl down the lane" who had cheered him with her smile and voice in his hours of deepest gloom.

The entry of this marriage has not yet been found, but it will be lighted on some day in the register of one of the Exeter churches. To her he often alluded in his poems, as Anna. In an ode to a tuft of violets we find the following:—

Come then—ere yet the morning ray
    Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
    O come and grace my Anna's breast.
 
O! I should think—that fragrant bed
    Might I but hope with you to share—
Years of anxiety repaid
    By one short hour of transport there.

To her he appears to have been deeply attached. He moved her to Ashburton, and there visited her when he could escape from his literary labours in London, and there she faded, and was buried on 27 December, 1789. Gifford was stricken by her loss in the most sensitive part of the human heart, for over her grave he poured forth the pathetic lament:—

I wish I was where Anna lies,
    For I am sick of lingering here,
And every hour affliction cries,
    "Go, and partake her humble bier."
I wish I could! For when she died
    I lost my all; and life has proved
Since that sad hour a dreary void,
    A waste, unloving and unloved.

Perhaps the surest testimony to the pain left in his soul by her loss is his silence in his Autobiography concerning her. She—and his love and his sorrow—were too sacred to be brought before the public eye. He never mentioned her, or that he had been married, even to his best friends; and in Murray's Reminiscences it is asserted that Gifford never was married.

In Lord Grosvenor's house Gifford proceeded with his translation of Juvenal, that had occupied him off and on for some years. His bitter humour agreed with the biting sarcasm of the Roman poet, and the work on which he was engaged was one of love. But, previous to its publication, he hurled his Baviad at the heads of the Delia Cruscan school of poetasters, in 1794. The name signifies "of the Bran," and was adopted by a literary coterie, to signify that their poetic productions were sifted, and of the purest wheat. It was a mutual admiration society, and was composed of Robert Merry, a fanatical Republican, who had married Miss Brunton, the celebrated actress, and sister of the still more celebrated Louisa, who became Countess of Craven; another member of the society was Mrs. Piozzi; others were Mrs. Robertson and Bertie Greathead. This set inundated the newspapers, magazines, and annuals with a flood of weak and watery "poetry."

As Byron says, addressing this set:—

With you I was not: Gifford's heavy hand
Has crush'd, without remorse, your numerous band.

In 1795 appeared the Mœviad, a satire of the same class, in which, although equally personal, there was less unnecessary virulence.

Following up a line of composition so congenial to his temper and talents, he published, in 1800, his Epistle to Peter Pindar, of which some lines are given in the article devoted to that abusive poet. This roused Wolcot to fury, and he sought out and found the rival satirist in the publisher's shop.

An amusing account of the fray is given by Mr. Moonshine, "The Battle of the Bards." Sir Walter Scott says of it: "Though so little an athlete, he nevertheless beat off Dr. Wolcot, when that celebrated person, the most unsparing calumniator of his time, chose to be offended with Gifford for satirizing him in his turn. Peter Pindar made a most violent attack, but Gifford had the best of the affray, and remained, I think, in triumphant possession of the field of action, and of the assailant's cane."

Scott had a high opinion of Gifford as a poet in his peculiar line. He wrote in 1805: "I have a good esteem of Mr. Gifford as a manly English poet, very different from most of our modern versifiers."

In 1802, Gifford published his principal work, his English version of Juvenal, the production of which had engrossed the greater part of his life, and which was issued with a dedication to Earl Grosvenor.

Soon after the publication of the Baviad, and the Mœviad, Gifford issued, as editor, the Anti-Jacobin (1797-8). In 1805, he published an edition of Massinger; in 1816, an edition of Ben Jonson. His version of Persius did not appear till 1821, after which date he completed an edition of Ford.

In 1814, he was at Ryde, whither he had taken his old housekeeper.[2] He wrote: "My poor housekeeper is going fast. Nothing can save her, and I lend all my care to soften her declining days. She has a physician every second day, and takes a world of medicines, more for their profit than her own, poor thing. Guess at my expenses, but I owe in some measure the extension of my feeble life to her care through a long succession of years, and I would cheerfully divide my last farthing with her."

When the scheme was first started to issue the Quarterly Review, to counteract the influence of the Edinburgh Review, Gifford was at once proposed as editor. Sir Walter Scott, 25 October, 1808, wrote of the selection: "Gifford will be admirable at service, but will require, or I mistake him much, both a spur and a bridle—a spur on account of habits of literary indolence, induced by weak health, and a bridle because, having renounced in some degree general society, he cannot be supposed to have the habitual and distinctive feeling enabling him to judge at once and decidedly on the mode of letting his shafts fly down the breeze of popular opinion. But he has worth, wit, learning, and extensive information."

From this time the influence and celebrity of Gifford may be deemed established; nor were his services as a party man forgotten by those who could reward him, as he possessed two sinecures, the controllership of the lottery, at a salary of £600 per annum, and paymastership of the band of gentlemen pensioners, at £300 per annum. As editor of the Quarterly, he received a salary of £900 per annum, and also a pension of £400 from his former pupil, now Earl Grosvenor. He bitterly lamented, long ere this, that before the means of helping his little brother, nursed in the almshouse at Ashburton, was in his power, that little brother had died.

He was alone in the world, and his early trials, his loss of the only beings whom he had loved, soured his temper, and made him savage and virulent in his treatment of such as differed from him. One great defect he showed as editor. He would not consider a work to be reviewed on its own merits, but looked first to see what were the politics of the author before he praised or condemned the book.

In personal appearance he was not striking. George Ticknor, in his Life, Letters, and Journals, says, under 19 June, 1814: "Among other persons I brought letters to Gifford, the satirist, but never saw him till yesterday. Never was I so mistaken in my anticipations. Instead of a tall and handsome man, as I had supposed him from his pictures, a man of severe and bitter remarks in conversation, such as I had good reason to believe him from his books, I found him a short, deformed, and ugly little man, with a large head sunk between his shoulders, and one of his eyes turned outward, but withal one of the best-natured, most open, and well-bred gentlemen I have met."

From the ability and keenness of the Baviad and Mœviad, and from a promise made in his edition of the latter to continue his satirical writings, it was hoped that he would do this, but he did not. Byron says:—

"Why slumbers Gifford?" once was asked in vain.
Why slumbers Gifford? let us ask again.
Are there no follies for his pen to purge?
Are there no fools whose backs demand the scourge?
Are there no sins for satire's bard to greet?
Stalks not gigantic Vice in every street?
Shall peers or princes tread pollution's path
And 'scape alike the law's and Muse's wrath?
Nor blaze with guilty stare through future time,
Eternal beacons of consummate crime?
Arouse thee, Gifford! be thy promise claim'd,
Make bad men better, or, at least, ashamed.

One curious peculiarity Gifford had. He made his old housekeeper sit in his study doing her needlework whilst he was engaged on his literary labours. To the end he maintained a warm friendship with Dr. Ireland, Dean of Westminster, son of a butcher of Ashburton, and a schoolfellow in former days, and when he died he bequeathed to him his library.

"The last month of Gifford's life was but a slow dying," says Mr. Smiles. "He was sleepless, feverish, oppressed by an extreme difficulty of breathing, which often deprived him of speech; and his sight had failed. Towards the end of his life he would sometimes take up a pen, and after a vain attempt to write, would throw it down, saying, 'No, my work is done.' Even thinking caused him pain. As his last hour drew near, his mind began to wander. ’These books have driven me mad,' he once said; ’I must read my prayers.' He passed gradually away, his pulse ceasing to beat five hours before his death. And then he slept out of life on the 3ist December, 1826, in his 71st year."

He left £25,000 of personal property. He left the bulk of it to the Rev. John Cookesley, son of his early patron, whom he also instituted residuary legatee. He also left a sum of money the interest of which was to be distributed annually among the poor of Ashburton.

Finally, one touching trait in the character of Gifford was his exceeding love for children. Looking back at his own desolate, loveless childhood, full of hardship, his heart expanded towards all little ones, and he delighted in attending juvenile parties, and rejoiced at seeing the children frisking about in the happiness of youth. His domestic favourites were his dog and his cat, both of which he dearly loved. He was also most kind and considerate to his domestic servants; and all who knew him well knew that his bark was worse than his bite; he made no answer, did not retaliate when attacked vindictively, insultingly by Hazlitt, and when William Cobbett called him "the dottrel-headed old shuffle-breeches of the Quarterly Review" he cast back no vituperative term in reply.

Gifford was a staunch friend. He left his house in James Street, Buckingham Gate, to the widow of his old friend Hoppner, the portrait painter.

Sir Walter Scott wrote on 17 January, 1827: "I observe in the papers my old friend Gifford's death. He was a man of rare attainments and many excellent qualities. His Juvenal is one of the best versions ever made of a classic author, and his satire of the Baviad and Mœviad squabashed at one blow a set of coxcombs who might have humbugged the world long enough. As a commentator he was capital, could he but have suppressed his rancours against those who had preceded him in the task; but a misconstruction or misinterpretation, nay, the misplacing of a comma, was in Gifford's eyes a crime worthy of the most severe animadversion. The same fault of extreme severity went through his critical labours, and in general he flagellated with so little pity, that people lost their sense of the criminal's guilt, in dislike of the savage pleasure which the executioner seemed to take in inflicting the punishment. This lack of temper probably arose from indifferent health, for he was very valetudinary, and realized two verses, wherein he says Fortune assigned him:—

 One eye not over good,
Two sides that to their cost have stood
 A ten years' hectic cough,
Aches, stitches, all the various ills
That swell the devilish doctor's bills,
 And sweep poor mortals off.

But he might also justly claim as his gift the moral qualities expressed in the next fine stanza:—

 A soul
That spurns the crowd's malign control,
 A firm contempt of wrong;
Spirits above affliction's power,
And skill to soothe the lingering hour
 With no inglorious song.

"He was a little man, dumped up together, and so ill made as to seem almost deformed, but with a singular expression of talent in his countenance."

Gifford was buried in Westminster Abbey, and his schoolfellow and lifelong friend, Dean Ireland, was afterwards buried in the same grave.

The authorities for his life are his own biographical account of his early life, and Smiles's Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray, the Publisher. London, 1891.

Also a "Life," by Mr. J. S. Amery, in the now extinct Ashburtonian, 1891.

Also a brief account by the Rev. Treasurer Hawker in "Two Ashburton Scholars," in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1876.

  1. She was daughter of George Cain, carpenter, and was baptized 8 December, 1728.
  2. Annie Davies, died 6 February, 1815; buried in South Audley Street Church.