chapter
10 Pages

The Late Mr Horne Tooke

WithDuncan Wu

Mr Home Tooke was one of those who may be considered as connecting links between a former period and the existing generation. His education and accomplishments, nay, his political opinions, were of the last age; his mind, and the tone of his feelings were modern. There was a hard, dry materialism in the very texture of his understanding, varnished over by the external refinements of the old school. Mr Tooke had great scope of attainment, and great versatility of pursuit; but the same shrewdness, quickness, cool self-possession, the same literalness of perception, and absence of passion and enthusiasm, characterised nearly all he did, said, or wrote. He was without a rival (almost) in private / conversation, an expert public speaker, a keen politician, a first-rate grammarian,1 and the finest gentleman (to say the least) of his own party. He had no imagination (or he would not have scorned it!) - no delicacy of taste, no rooted prejudices or strong attachments: his intellect was like a bow of polished steel, from which he shot sharp-pointed poisoned arrows at his friends in private, at his enemies in public. His mind (so to speak) had no religion in it, and very little even of the moral qualities of genius; but he was a man of the world, a scholar bred, and a most acute and powerful logician. He was also a wit, and a formidable one: yet it may be questioned whether his wit was any thing more than an excess of his logical faculty: it did not consist in the play of fancy, but in close and cutting combinations of the understanding. 'The law is open to every one: so,' said Mr Tooke, 'is the London TavernY It is the previous deduction formed in the mind, and the splenetic contempt felt for a practical sophism, that beats about the bush for, and at last finds the apt illustration; not the casual, glancing coincidence of two objects, that points out an absurdity to the understanding. So, on another occasion, when Sir Allan Gardiner2(who / was a candidate for Westminster) had objected to Mr Fox, that 'he was always against the minister, whether right or wrong,' and Mr Fox, in his reply, had overlooked this slip of the tongue, Mr Tooke immediately seized on it, and said, 'he thought it at least an equal objection to Sir Allan, that he was always with the minister, whether right or wrong.'3 This retort had all the effect, and produced the same surprise as the most brilliant display of wit or fancy: yet it was only the detecting a flaw in an argument, like a flaw in an indictment, by a kind of legal pertinacity, or rather by a rigid and 115constant habit of attending to the exact import of every word and clause in a sentence. Mr Tooke had the mind of a lawyer; but it was applied to a vast variety of topics and general trains of speculation.