IN the month of July 1806, I had come up to London from a visit to Donington Park, having promised my dear and most kind friend, the late Dowager Lady Donegal, to join her and her sister at Worthing. The number of the Edinburgh containing the attack on my Odes and Epistles had been just announced.... The Review did not, however, reach me in London; for I have a clear recollection of having, for the first time, read the formidable article in my bed one morning at the inn in Worthing, where I had taken up my sleeping quarters during my short visit to the Donegals. Though, on the first perusal of the article, the contemptuous language applied to me by the reviewer a good deal roused my Irish blood, the idea of seriously noticing the attack did not occur to me, I think, till some time after. I remember, at all events, having talked over the article with my friends, Lady Donegal and her sister, in so light and careless a tone as to render them not a little surprised at the explosion which afterwards took place. I also well remember that, when the idea of calling out Jeffrey first suggested itself to me, the necessity I should be under of proceeding to Edinburgh for the purpose was a considerable drawback on my design, not only from the difficulty I was likely to experience in finding anyone to accompany me in so Quixotic an expedition, but also from the actual and but too customary state of my finances, which rendered it doubtful whether I should be able to compass the expense of so long a journey.
In this mood of mind I returned to London, and there, whether by good or ill luck, but in my own opinion the former, there was the identical Jeffrey himself just arrived on a short visit to his London friends. From Rogers, who had met Jeffrey the day before at dinner at Lord Fincastle's, I learned that the conversation in the course of the day having happened to fall upon me, Lord F. was good enough to describe me as possessing `great amenity of manners'; on which Jeffrey said laughingly, `I am afraid he would not show much amenity to me.'
. . . I accordingly applied to my old friend Hume, who without hesitation agreed to be the bearer of my message. It is needless to say that, feeling as I then did, I liked him all the better for his readiness, nor indeed am I at all disposed to like him a whit the less for it now. Having now secured my second, I lost no time in drawing up the challenge which he was to deliver; and as actual combat, not parley; was my object, I took care to put it out of the power of my antagonist to explain or retract, even if he was so disposed. Of the short note which I sent, the few first lines have long escaped my memory; but after adverting to some assertion contained in the article, accusing me, if I recollect aright, of a deliberate intention to corrupt the minds of my readers, I thus proceeded:
`To this I beg leave to answer, You are a liar; yes, sir, a liar; and I choose to adopt this harsh and vulgar mode of defiance in order to prevent at once all equivocation between us, and to compel you to adopt for your own satisfaction that alternative which you might otherwise have hesitated in affording to mine.'
I am not quite sure as to the exact construction of this latter part of the note, but it was as nearly as possible, I think, in this form.
There was of course but one kind of answer to be given to such a cartel. Hume had been referred by Jeffrey to his friend Mr. Horner, and the meeting was fixed for the following morning at Chalk Farm. Our great difficulty now was where to procure a case of pistols; for Hume, though he had been once, I think, engaged in mortal affray, was possessed of no such implements; and as for me, I had once nearly blown off my thumb by discharging an over-loaded pistol, and that was the whole, I believe, of my previous acquaintance with fire-arms. William Spencer, being the only one of all my friends whom I thought likely to furnish me with these sine-qua-nons, I hastened to confide to him my wants, and request his assistance on this point. He told me if I would come to him in the evening, he would have the pistols ready for me....
I must have slept pretty well; for Hume, I remember, had to wake me in the morning, and the chaise being in readiness, we set off for Chalk Farm. Hume had also taken the precaution of providing a surgeon to be within call. On reaching the ground we found Jeffrey and his party already arrived. I say his `party', for although Horner only was with him, there were, as we afterwards found, two or three of his attached friends (and no man, I believe, could ever boast of a greater number) who, in their anxiety for his safety, had accompanied him, and were hovering about the spot. And then was it that, for the first time, my excellent friend Jeffrey and I met face to face. He was standing, with the bag which contained the pistols in his hand, while Horner was looking anxiously around.
It was agreed that the spot where we found them, which was screened on one side by large trees, would be as good for our purpose as any we could select; and Horner, after expressing some anxiety respecting some men whom he had seen suspiciously hovering about, but who now appeared to have departed, retired with Hume behind the trees for the purpose of loading the pistols, leaving Jeffrey and myself together.
All this had occupied but a few minutes. We, of course, had bowed to each other on meeting; but the first words I recollect to have passed between us was Jeffrey's saying, on our being left together, `What a beautiful morning it is!' `Yes,' I answered with a slight smile, `a morning made for better purposes'; to which his only response was a sort of assenting sigh. As our assistants were not, any more than ourselves, very expert at warlike matters, they were rather slow in their proceedings; and as Jeffrey and I walked up and down together, we came once in sight of their operations; upon which I related to him, as rather à propos to the purpose, what Billy Egan, the Irish barrister, once said, when, as he was sauntering about in like manner while the pistols were loading, his antagonist, a fiery little fellow, called out to him angrily to keep his ground.
`Don't make yourself uneasy, my dear fellow,' said Egan; `sure, isn't it bad enough to take the dose, without being by at the mixing up?'
Jeffrey had scarcely time to smile at this story, when our two friends, issuing from behind the trees, placed us at our respective posts (the distance, I supposed, having been previously measured by them), and put the pistols into our hands. They then retired to a little distance; the pistols were on both sides raised; and we waited but the signal to fire, when some police officers, whose approach none of us had noticed, and who were within a second of being too late, rushed out from a hedge behind Jeffrey; and one of them, striking at Jeffrey's pistol with his staff, knocked it to some distance into the field, while another running over to me, took possession of mine. We were then replaced in our respective carriages, and conveyed, crest-fallen, to Bow Street.
On our way thither Hume told me that from Horner not knowing anything about the loading of pistols he had been obliged to help him in the operation, and in fact to take upon himself chiefly the task of loading both pistols. When we arrived at Bow Street, the first step of both parties was to dispatch messengers to procure some friends to bail us; and as William Spencer was already acquainted with the transaction, to him I applied on my part, and requested that he would lose no time in coming to me. In the meanwhile we were all shown into a sitting-room, the people in attendance having first inquired whether it was our wish to be separated, but neither party having expressed any desire to that effect, we were all put together in the same room. Here conversation upon some literary subject, I forget what, soon ensued, in which I myself took only the brief and occasional share beyond which, at that time of my life, I seldom ventured in general society. But whatever was the topic, Jeffrey, I recollect, expatiated upon it with all his peculiar fluency and eloquence; and I can now most vividly recall him to my memory, as he lay upon his back on a form which stood beside the wall, pouring volubly forth his fluent but most oddly pronounced diction, and dressing this subject out in every variety of array that an ever rich and ready wardrobe of phraseology could supply. I have been told of his saying, soon after our rencontre, that he had taken a fancy to me from the first moment of our meeting together in the field; and I can truly say that my liking for him is of the same early date.
From Moore, Journals, i. 199-200, 201-202, 203-205.
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