Posts Tagged ‘William Hogarth’

Happy birthday to poet Charles Gullans! “He did political poetry especially well!”

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Wilkes as seen by Hogarth

Another birthday celebration, coming to us courtesy the Los Angeles poet (and Stanford alum) Timothy Steele:

The poet and translator Charles Gullans was born on this date in 1929. Educated at the University of Minnesota and Stanford University, where he studied with Yvor Winters, he achieved significant notice in the 1950s and appeared in such anthologies of the time as “New Poets of England and America.” Though his classically inclined work fell from favor during the ascendency of the Beats and the Confessionals, he was a popular and productive professor at UCLA and continued to write excellent poems until his death in 1993. He did political poetry especially well, as is illustrated by his poem about John Wilkes, the eighteenth-century Whig politician, journalist, and thorn-in-the-side of George III. (Wilkes once declined an invitation to play cards, remarking that he couldn’t tell the difference between a king and a knave.) In view of this past fall’s election, some readers may find timely Gullans’ suggestion that we should prefer an imperfect political leader to one who is barbaric. The anecdote to which Gullans refers at the end of his poem exists in several versions and may be apocryphal. But it suits the context and Wilkes’ character in any case. Happy Cinco de Mayo! Happy Birthday, Charles Gullans! (The caricature of Wilkes that accompanies this post is by William Hogarth. [Go here for Tim’s birthday tribute to the artist – ED.])

John Wilkes

Lord Bute, whose rant was the establishment,
Had studied and had mastered the appearance
Of public virtue, but his private bent
Was mistresses and whores built for endurance.

The public interest hid his private acts.
His principle, self-interest of the few,
The fool aristocrat, he hated facts,
And any man of strong, contrary view.

But here was Wilkes, the upstart gentleman,
Bourgeois, with an aristocrat’s disdain
Of canting ethics and of rant in one,
Or in the many, whom he hoped to gain.

“I have no minor vices,” though a boast,
Was license to quick, brittle fools to laugh;
Then, teaching what hyperbole may cost,
His wit pursued him like an epitaph.

No hypocrite, his vices all well known,
“Godless, but never womanless an hour,”
Hard and contemptuous, still the man had grown
Hating restriction and abusive power.

Consistency is firmness in each type.
Yet men of principle may simply be—
Hero or saint, coward or guttersnipe—
Persistent in the partial good they see.

Then if defect seems equal in each eye,
Prefer the cynic to the hypocrite.
Despise the Bute who said to him, “You’ll die
Of syphilis or on the gallows yet.”

birthday cakePrefer the Wilkes who looked into that face,
And with the swift inconscience of the bored
Said, “That depends on whether I embrace
Your mistress or your principles, my Lord.”
Charles Gullans (1929-93)

Happy birthday to Oliver Goldsmith and William Hogarth! A few words from poet Tim Steele on the occasion.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Birthday boy.

More birthday news comes to us via our learned friend, the Los Angeles poet Timothy Steele, this time on the double birthday today of poet Oliver Goldsmith and painter William Hogarth. He enjoined us to celebrate Virgil’s 2,085 a few weeks ago. Here’s what he has to say on today’s occasion:

Other poets may have been more celebrated for their art and scope, but none was more trusted, as Samuel Johnson noted, than Oliver Goldsmith, whose birthday is today. Though Goldsmith repeatedly burned through large sums of money, friends and associates rarely failed to advance him funds whenever he requested loans. As a result, he died £2,000 in debt, a remarkable figure for somebody of his era and modest background.


Still stooping to folly, all these years later.

Paradoxically, he wrote acutely about economics, and historians of that subject still cite the lines in “The Traveller” about income inequality (“should one order disproportion’d grow, / Its double weight must ruin all below”) and the passage in “The Deserted Village” about the effect of land enclosures on small farmers (“Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey, / Where wealth accumulates, and men decay,” etc.). Goldsmith’s lyric poems include Olivia’s song from “The Vicar of Wakefield:

When lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can soothe her melancholy,
What art can wash her guilt away?

The only art her guilt to cover,
To hide her shame from every eye,
And give repentance to her lover,
And wring his bosom—is to die.

At right is “After the Seduction,” a painting by William Hogarth, another great eighteenth-century satirist whose birthday is today.