Regency Critics: Thanksgiving, Part II

In January 1817, the Prince Regent survived an attack on his carriage as he was being driven to the opening of Parliament.

War had ended the year before, but transitioning to a peacetime economy had vexed the Government and there was much suffering. The Prince Regent was blamed in part for the situation. Nevertheless, a special Thanksgiving prayer was ordered to be said in chapels throughout the Church of England:

The Prince Regent, by Lawrence. Someone once said he looks like Ted Koppel.

The Prince Regent, by Lawrence. The observation has been made that His Royal Highness resembles Ted Koppel.

Merciful God, who, in compassion to a sinful Nation, hast defeated the designs of desperate Men, and hast protected from the base and barbarous assaults of a lawless multitude, the Regent of this United Kingdom, accept our praise and thanksgiving. Continue, we implore Thee, Thy protection of his Royal Person. Shield him from the arrow that flieth by day, and from the pestilence that walketh in darkness; from the secret designs of treason, and from the madness of the People.

A sinful Nation. The madness of the People.

Who are the People, it was demanded, and why should they, slandered for being mad and treasonous, give thanks that Prinny survived?

These sentiments were masterfully uttered by William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830) a man of many talents, including art and literary criticism. He had been a contributor to Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review and his published commentaries on English literature made him a favorite of Leigh Hunt.

Blackwood’s was quite in charity with him as well:

“When Mr. Hazlitt’s taste and judgment are left to themselves, we think him among the very best, if not the very best, living critic on our national literature.”

Then came his remarkable Political Essays, with Sketches of Public Characters in 1819, criticizing, among others, the poet Southey and his lust for muzzling the press, but the Prince Regent as well, for being such an unworthy object of the people’s thanks:

“What have hereditary Monarchs..ever done for the people?”

“For one regicide committed by the People, there have been thousands committed by Kings themselves.”

Oh! Ungrateful wretch.

In less than a month, Blackwood’s threw Hazlitt under the bus, labelling him an “unprincipled blunderer.” One month more and the Leopard himself (under the pseudonym ‘old friend with a new face’) produced a scathing so-called cross-examination of “pimpled” Hazlitt. Unperturbed, Hazlitt responded to this article with his own letter refuting much of the allegations made against him, notably,

“And I am NOT pimpled, but remarkably pale and sallow.”

A self-portrait of young Hazlitt, sans pimples

A self-portrait of young Hazlitt, sans pimples

Something to be thankful for.

 

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