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WE sincerely regret that we are compelled to begin our notice of so amiable a man and so pleasing a poet as James Montgomery, by speaking in terms of decided protest of the manner in which his biography has been written. This biography is the most striking specimen of book-making with which, even in these days of preposterously extended biographies, we have happened to become acquainted. The story of a quiet life singularly devoid of incident has been spun out into seven closely-printed volumes, by the pure incompetence and impertinence of its writers. It was quite fit that some permanent record of Montgomery's life should be prepared: his poetry has real merit and distinctive characteristics which entitle him to such a memorial; though had the life of Mr. Popkins run a similar course, most assuredly it would not have been worth recording. Still, one of the seven volumes we have toiled through might properly enough have been given to a memoir, written with moderate discrimination, of the author of The World before the Flood, The Pelican Island, and The Common Lot. But Messrs. Holland and Everett had for once got hold of a subject likely to have some interest for educated people, and they resolved to make the most of it; and, if possible, to associate their own utterly insignificant names with the respectable name of Montgomery. Mr. Everett gives us, at the beginning of the third volume, a picture of his own peculiar features; and Mr. Holland, if possible a more singular-looking individual, figures at the beginning of the fifth, in one of those white neckcloths with long limp ends which are indissolubly associated with the memory of Mr. Stiggins. The characteristics of the biography are faithfully mirrored in these two countenances, so redolent of self-conceit and vulgarity. We do not hesitate to say that Messrs. Holland and Everett are wholly incapable of writing a biography. Their main determination in this work appears to have been to cover as many pages as possible. It seems to have been Mr. Holland’s system to cram himself from some cheap and popular manual, and then, with the information thus easily acquired, to come down upon Montgomery, and note down the ‘conversations on various subjects’ which ensued. Mr. Holland, of course, is the great man in most of these ; and he has preserved them quite in the Boswell style. We have abundance of such lively and memorable dialogues as the following “imaginary conversation:’—Holland—‘Sir, did you ever see a whale f * Montgomer Y—“No, I never saw a whale.” Whenever Montgomery said anything particularly weak and silly (which we regret to find he often did), Mr. Holland hastened to chronicle it as a valuable relic. Montgomery had a tendency, it appears, to write extremely long and very prosy, not to say twaddling, letters; and an immense number of these is given, almost all possessing not the slightest interest. Then Montgomery was for many years editor of a Sheffield newspaper ; and in that capacity, as Mr. Holland tells us, ‘the great and important events which have been significantly called “The Wars of the French Revolution,” were consecutively chronicled and commented upon by him; ’ and of course this is good reason why in his biography all these ‘great and important events’ should be chronicled and commented upon again. Montgomery was accustomed to go about speechifying at Sunday-school and Bible Society meetings; and no doubt all these speeches served a useful purpose at the time; but surely there was no occasion to preserve a great number of them in his Life, the more especially as they have really no merit at all save that of earnestness and simplicity. But the biographers have thought fit to put on record a vast deal of the washy stuff which the good man was wont in his failing days to talk in the vestries of dissenting meetinghouses, and at Sheffield local charities. We have no doubt at all that Messrs. Holland and Everett thought they were producing a book very like
* Memoirs of the Life and Writings of james Montgomery; including Selections from his Corbespondence, Remains in Prose and Perse, and Conversations on various Subjects. By John Holland and James Everett. Seven Volumes. London : 1854–6.
The Poetical Works of james Montgomery. Collected by himself. In Four Volumes. London: 1849.
Mr. Forster's delightful Life of Goldsmith. They explain that it is their purpose to set forth the ‘Life and Times of James Montgomery;’ and accordingly we have nearly as much about Montgomery's friends (Messrs. Holland and Everett being always in the foreground), as about Montgomery himself. But unhappily, all these friends appear to have been the most wearisome and uninteresting of mortals. At the first glance, we might be surprised that Montgomery did not choose acquaintances of a different stamp ; but the fact ceases to be remarkable when we remember that till late in life his position in society was not such as to afford him any selection; and when we discern in his character many indications of such weakness and silliness as prepare us to believe that he would take a pleasure in being surrounded by toadies and flatterers. No doubt he found such in Messrs. Holland and Everett : though the former in the preface to this work insinuates a graceful compliment to himself and his fit coadjutor, in the statement that ‘the biography of such a man demands some literary and religious qualifications resembling his own.” Mr. Holland's grammar is imperfect; still, the meaning of the sentence may be gathered. And it does really appear that Montgomery was on a footing of intimacy with these two men: Mr. Holland tells us that rarely a week, generally only a day or two, passed without their meeting. And for many years before Montgomery died, Messrs. Holland and Everett were accumulating materials for this valuable work. Through all this period the purpose ‘was never lost sight of:’ and we are told that the poet tacitly approved it. “To suppose that he himself had no suspicion of such a design, especially amidst the unguarded conversation of later years, would be to attribute to him the absence of even an ordinary degree of perspicacity.” And the result of the entire process is before us in these seven volumes. The stupidity of Messrs. Holland and Everett is such, that they seem really to think that they are magnifying their friend, when they set him before us as such a weak, twaddling, oversensitive, and silly person, that we heartily regret we ever read his Life—written, at least, by such incapable hands. The book sets out with a history of the noble family of Montgomerie through the chivalrous ages: the reason for introducing this in the Life of Montgomery being, that he was not in any way connected with that family. His parents were Irish : and they came to reside at Irvine, in Ayrshire, so immediately before the poet's birth, that he was accustomed to say that “he had very narrowly escaped being an Irishman.” But Eglinton Castle, the residence of the Earl of Eglinton, is within a few miles of Irvine: the name of the Eglinton family is Montgomerie; and accordingly the biographer tells us that “there seems nothing very improbable in the supposition that he may have had a common progenitor with that illustrious branch of the family.” But Montgomery himself, when asked