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in five volumes, with explanatory notes, and there are few books that contain so much of literary history or are really more valuable to the student of literature. Besides this they are full of comical extravaganzas, vivacious talk, eloquent and poetic dreamings, and all sorts of fancies nowhere else to be found in English literature. Blackwood's Magazine long since sowed all its wild oats and became a staid, respectable and highly meritorious periodical. But the brilliant days of “Maga” are still worthy of recall.
PROFESSOR JOHN WILSON,
ONE OF THE KINGS OF MEN.
THE republication of some of the earlier works of Professor John Wilson, the famous “Christopher North" of Blackwood's Magazine of seventy-five years ago, will give new pleasure to a generation that never knew, or have known but little, of that famous grog-drinking, prize-fighting teacher of moral philosophy, who was a prime favorite with our grandfathers, and was one of the chief characters of Edinburgh town in the days of George IV. For years and years the name of “Christopher North '' was a household word wherever Blackwood's Magazine was known, a rallying point and tower of strength to the old Tory party. Carlyle in his reminiscences says:
The broad-shouldered, stately bulk of the man struck me; his flashing eye, copious disheveled hair, and rapid, unconcerned progress like a plow through stubble. Wilson had much nobleness of heart and many traits of noble genius, but the central tie beam seemed wanting always; very long ago I perceived in him the most irreconcilable contradictions, Toryism with sans-culottism; a noble, loyal, and religious nature not strong enough to vanquish the perverse element it is born into. Hence, a being all split into precipitous chasms and the wildest volcanic tumults. * * * Wilson seems to me always by far the most gifted of our literary men, either then or still.
Wilson's life reads almost like a romance. He was born in Paisley, Scotland, the son of a rich manufacturer, in 1785, and was educated at Glasgow and Oxford. As a young man he was noted for his strength, activity, and eccentricity. He was a robust six-footer that could run, jump, swim, and fight with any one going. He was a man thoroughly alive and helped in all ways to keep up athletic sports—even prize-fighting. He was noted as a boxer, and once he met with a rough character as he was passing a bridge, the man obstructing his way. Wilson offered to fight him, and the man made no objection, saying that he was so and so, a well-known professional pugilist. This daunted Wilson not a jot. Off went his coat and in a few minutes he polished off the prize-fighter in a style that astonished him. Gasping from his defeat he could only say: “You are either Jack Wilson or the devil.” In his literary reminiscences De Quincey says of him : “Cock fighting, wrestling, pugilistic contests, boat racing, horse racing, all enjoyed Mr. Wilson's patronage ; all were occasionally honored by his personal participation. I mention this in no unfriendly spirit toward Professor Wilson; on the contrary, these propensities grew out of his ardent temperament and his constitutional endowments—his strength, speed, and agility—and being confined to the period of youth can do him no dishonor among the candid and the judicious.” In 1820, having lost his fortune through the default of a dishonest trustee of his estate, he was elected to the professorship of moral philosophy in the University of Edinburgh over so able a competitor as Sir William Hamilton, one of the finest scholars and ablest metaphysicians of the time, but politics in those days swayed such choices more than qualifications. Three years prior to this he had allied himself to Blackwood’s Magazine, then first started, and though he may not have been, strictly speaking, the editor of “Maga,” there is no doubt that for many years he exercised a sort of censorship over all contributions, and had an unrestricted right of publishing whatever he chose to write. It was for “Maga” that he wrote his still famous papers, “The Noctes Ambrosianae,” and it is by these papers that his fame in literature will be tested. And to-day it makes very good reading, and whoever wishes to know what was currently thought and said of the literary productions of the early part of the present century should at least turn the pages of “Noctes Ambrosianae.” Lockhart had something to do with them, and Maginn contributed a few numbers, but the main work was done by Professor Wilson, who delighted to draw his own portrait as Christopher North. The whole series has been collected and published, and they belong to the literature of the past. Whoever reads them must be prepared to find a good deal of prejudice on the high Tory side of literature and politics. Lots of scurrilous flings will be found, not only at the cockneys, Lamb, Hunt, and Hazlitt, but even at Macaulay and those who adopted the liberal side of English politics. But any one who can accommodate himself to these matters—as surely most Americans can—much more any one who can enter into the spirit of those past days, merry and leisurely as they were —will find the “Noctes” most delightful reading.