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[Horace Smith]
A Graybeard’s Gossip. No. III.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. 80  (May 1847)  38-48.
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No. III.
Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit.

Notice of Richard Cumberland continued—The London Review—Names of the principal Contributors—Its Want of Success—Anecdotes of Cumberland, and Summary of his Character—Thomas Hill, the Literary Drysalter—My first Interview with George Colman the Younger—Hill’s Proneness to Exaggeration, and the Dilemmas in which it involved him.

Notwithstanding the total failure of Cumberland’s project for securing a more equal distribution of profits between publishers and authors, he was not discouraged from attempting the reform of another literary abuse, which, though it might not be equally beneficial to the former, was scarcely less detrimental to the latter class. Enlightened and impartial criticism, rare enough in our own days, could hardly be said to have existed at the period of which I am writing. Under the insanifying influence produced by the horrors of the French Revolution, and the angry excitement of the war then raging, every Review was perverted into an instrument of political animosity and religious, or rather of irreligious, hatred. Not writings but writers were criticised, the verdict being solely guided by the party or sect to which they were known, or suspected to belong. Partiality of the critical judges on one side generated reaction on the other; both were equally culpable; both seemed to exult in that which formed their joint condemnation, their success in dashing the scales out of the hands of justice.

From this abuse we have been gradually emancipating ourselves, but there existed another, perhaps equally injurious, and, certainly more insidious, which, even now, has only received a partial remedy. All the Reviews were the property of booksellers, some of whom had notoriously established them for the express purpose of puffing their own publications, and vilipending those of their competitors. Thus was criticism doubly corrupted at its very source, subjected to every evil influence that could pervert, degrade, and taint it. That Cumberland wished to cleanse this Augean stable, for the general purification of literature, there is no reason to doubt; but we may fairly presume that he was not altogether uninfluenced by personal considerations. Too thin-skinned not to wince under the critical lash, however leniently applied, he made no secret of his hostility to their system, when the Edinburgh Reviewers, combining unprecedented vigour and talent with more copious and artistical critiques than had hitherto appeared, acted up to the severe spirit of their motto—“The judge is condemned when the offender escapes.” The unfavourable notice of his memoirs, in their number for April, 1806, in which they charged him with an exorbitant appetite for praise, and jealousy of censure, was little calculated to reconcile him, either to the Aristarchi of Edinburgh, or to the general condition of criticism as it was then conducted. Whatever might have been his motives, he resolved to attempt a remedy for a manifest evil by establishing a Review totally independent of bibliopolitan
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.39
influences, and guarded against all abuse of the judicial functions on the part of the contributors, by the stipulation that their names should be prefixed. On these conditions he succeeded in engaging associates, few of whom, however, could be deemed men of sufficient literary eminence to promise success to the enterprize; and in May, 1809, appeared the first number of—“The
London Review, conducted by Richard Cumberland, Esq.” The introductory address explains, in the figurative and overwrought style to which I have alluded, his reasons for the undertaking. “It is by no means my disposition to censure indiscriminately a whole body of gentlemen concerned in the like labours with my own, merely because they carry on their operations under casemates, or by ambuscade, while I work in the open field; yet I am free to own that I should like to see their faces that I might have a better chance of understanding their manoeuvres. When the enemy veiled himself in a cloud, honest Ajax only prayed for light. * * * * Every one must confess that there is a dangerous temptation, an unmanly security, an unfair advantage in concealment; why then should any man who seeks not to injure but to benefit his contemporaries resort to it? A piece of crape may be a convenient mask for a highwayman: but a man that goes upon an honest errand does not want it, and will disdain to wear it. * * * * If critics aim to raise themselves by sinking others, there is a marvellous great bathos in their ambition. But what is it they wish to do? Is it to make men brighter that they persuade them they are blockheads; or do they aspire to erect a throne for themselves upon the ruins of genius, and be approached like black barbarians through an avenue of skulls erected upon poles, as the trophies of their cruelty? * * * * Let me then wonder at the bad policy of those who waste their pains in watering a dead plant, from which they can expect no produce, and neglect a living one which bursting into bloom if duly fostered, may delight them with its beauty, and regale them with its odour.”

Diametrically opposed to this doctrine, is the present opinion of one of the contributors to the Review, who, rendered wiser by a long experience, thus sings his palinode:—

“If concealment affords a strong and often an irresistible temptation to the gratification of malice, and the splenetic effusions of envy, an avowal of the critic’s name must inevitably blunt or misdirect the sword of justice; thus seducing him into an opposite extreme, and affording a fresh proof that the reverse of wrong is not always right. Absolute impartiality is hardly attainable; for almost every man, without being conscious of the fact, has his little prejudices and prepossessions; but the fearlessness and independence possessed by an anonymous writer are calculated to make a much nearer approach to fair criticism, than the fettering responsibility imposed by the reviewer’s signature. The man who is hampered and disarmed by publicity, will only exercise a portion of the critic’s functions; avoiding all notice of those whom he is afraid to attack, however manifest may be their demerits; overlauding the objects of his favour; and attempting to neutralise the conscious excess of these encomiums by an undue severity towards the humbler aspirants whom he thinks he may victimise with impunity.”*

Few, except raw recruits, had been enlisted by the editor for an enter-
* Memoirs, &c, of James Smith, vol. i., p. 22.
40A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
prise that demanded a much more vigorous and practised band. His own name, much as it deserved respect, was no longer the tower of strength that it had been.
Mr. Pye, indeed, had been enrolled, but, alas! his prose was little better than his odes; and when Mr. Pybus published his fulsome eulogy on the Russian emperor, the laureate, becoming unluckily incorporated with him and Peter Pindar in a malicious Latin epigram,—
Poetis Anglia gaudet tribus,
was doomed to experience the truth of
Pope’s well-known lines,—
Whoe’er offends at some unlucky time
Slides in a verse, or hitches in a rhyme,
Sacred to ridicule his whole life long,
And the sad burden of some merry song.

The appropriate subjects selected by the laureate were Scott’s edition of Dryden, and Elton’s translation of Hesiod. The two Smiths, not having yet drawn their lottery-prize of the “Rejected Addresses,” chose frivolous works for review; the elder brother levelling his ridicule at “A New System of Domestic Cookery,” in which Cumberland inserted a few Greek quotations; the junior shooting his light shafts at “The New and Old Joe Miller,” a butt scarcely worth the cost of a single arrow. Horace Twiss came forward as the vindicator of Mr. Malthus, whose population doctrine it had been found much more easy to vituperate than to refute. With the single exception of Mr. G. W. Crowe, who has since become advantageously known to the public, the remaining names belong to the class of the illustrious obscure, and I will not disturb their repose.

In the preface to the first number, the editor had said:—“Every body knows the pain and peril of a first approach. Our pledged associates are aware of that, and wisely post themselves in the reserve. The wary and sagacious will not be eager to push off in the first adventurous boat, till they have proof that she is seaworthy.” If any such reserve ever existed it was never called into action, or never responded to the call, for, after the second number, the London Review, finding no favour with the public, and presenting (let the reader mark the candour of a contributor!) no very prominent claims to its patronage, was discontinued. It was free, however, from the injustice with which Bishop Warburton upbraids the world, when he says,—“The public is a malicious monster, which cares not what it affords to dead merit, so it can but depress the living.”

Prone to the belief that he had been ill-used by the world, and in his diplomatic capacity he had certainly received ungenerous treatment, Cumberland’s habitual mood was querulous; but I still recollect the delight with which he told me that his Observer, a series of essays in six volumes, had been incorporated with the great edition of the “British Essayists,” so that he considered that work as fairly enrolled among the standard classics of the British language.

The London Review was the last occasion on which I had the honour of seeing my name associated with that of Mr. Cumberland, whose life, indeed, was not much longer spared, as he died on the 7th of May, 1811, at the house of his friend, Mr. Henry Fry, in Bedford-place. When I last saw him, I found him much altered and attenuated, his white hair hanging over his ears in thin flakes, his figure stooping, his countenance
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.41
haggard. Not long before he had asked permission to appoint me one of his executors, to which I gave my consent; but he never altered his will, and I thus escaped all the trouble and responsibility of the office. The publication or suppression of his voluminous papers was intrusted to his friends,
Mr. Sharpe, Mr. Rogers, and Sir James Bland Burges. In 1813, his “Posthumous Dramatic Works,” were published, in two volumes, by subscription, under the superintendence of his daughter, Mrs. Jansen.

Before I conclude this retrospect, let me recall a few notabilia connected with the name of Cumberland, that still linger in my memory. More than once have I heard him relate an anecdote, illustrating the reckless and impulsive character of the lower class of Irish, which is thus repeated in his memoirs:—

“Amongst the labourers in my father’s garden, there were three brothers of the name of O’Rourke, regularly descended from the kings of Connaught, if they were exactly to be credited for their genealogy. One of the younger brothers was upon crutches in consequence of a contusion on his hip, which he literally acquired as follows: when my father came down to Clonfert from Dublin, it was announced to him that the bishop was arrived; the poor fellow was then in the act of lopping a tree in the garden; transported at the tidings, he exclaimed,—‘Is my lord come? Then I’ll throw myself out of this same tree for joy.’ He exactly fulfilled his word, and laid himself up for months.”

Cumberland was in the habit of adopting some subject of favour and patronage whom he would cry up, somewhat injudiciously, as a prodigy. At one time a young performer, named Alexander Rae, was pronounced to be a puerile wonder, who was to eclipse Garrick, and he importuned every one to go to the Haymarket, and see him in the character of Mortimer in the “Iron Chest.” At another period, I myself was the object of an equally unmeasured predilection. At a literary party where the conversation turned upon the comedy of “Love for Love,” some one happening to say,—“When will the days of Congreve return?” Cumberland pointed to me, and exclaimed with an air of perfect conviction,—“When that boy writes a play.” On that hint I wrote; what boy would have disbelieved the prophecy? My comedy met a cold reception, lingered for a few nights, was then withdrawn, and is now utterly forgotten. Humbled, but not quite discouraged, I attempted a farce, which was condemned on the first night. So much for the new Congreve!

The first new piece exhibited after the rebuilding of Drury Lane Theatre, was Cumberland’s comedy of the “Jew,” referring to which he says, in his memoirs, “The benevolence of the audience assisted me in rescuing a forlorn and persecuted character, which till then had only been brought upon the stage for the unmanly purpose of being made a spectacle of contempt, and a butt for ridicule.” In consequence of the service thus rendered to their class, it was rumoured that the Jews had presented a piece of plate to him, but on my asking whether the report were true, he replied, with a look of disappointment, and in a sneering tone,—“No, not they! and if they had, I should have been half afraid to receive it, lest I should be indicted as a receiver of stolen goods;” an answer characteristic enough of the speaker, but hardly in accordance with the spirit and professed object of his play.

Of his occasional happiness in malicious pleasantry, I remember another
42A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
instance. While residing at Ramsgate, he had two sister neighbours, whose censorious tongues had rendered them rather unpopular. At some public meeting, he happened to be seated next to one of them, and, on her rising to depart, offered to put on her shawl, observing, at the same time, for he rarely lost an opportunity of paying a compliment, that it was almost a sin to hide such shoulders.

“Oh!” said the lady, with a smirk; “my sister and I, you know, are famous for the beauty of our backs.”

“Ha! that is the reason, I suppose, why your friends are always so glad to see them,” sneered the dramatist, as soon as the party was out of ear-shot.

At an early period of my acquaintance with Cumberland, I had written a romance, which, in accordance with the prevalent taste, abounded in monks, monsters, horrors, thunderings, ghosts, and trap-doors. This farrago I requested him to peruse, and give me his opinion as to the propriety of its publication. He took the manuscript to Ramsgate, where he told me that his daughter, Lady Edward Bentinck, should read it to him, and in a few days it was returned to me with an unfavourable verdict, softened by compliments and many encouragements to new and better efforts. On my telling him, at our next interview, that I had immediately burnt it, he paid me the equivocal talent of saying; “You showed talent, my dear boy, in writing that work, but you have evinced much more in committing it to the flames.” One of the charges against my unfortunate novel having been its diffuseness, I remember that in writing to a friend, I retaliated upon my censor by maliciously quoting his own wire-drawing of the expende Hannibalem, in one of his minor poems, entitled “Pride.” The following is the passage:

Man, man thou little grovelling elf,
Turn thine eyes inward, view thyself;
Draw out thy balance, hang it forth,
Weigh every atom thou art worth,
Thy peerage, pedigree, estate,
(The pains that Fortune took to make thee great),
Toss them all in—stars, garters, strings,
The whole regalia of kings—
Now watch the beam, and fairly say
How much does all this trumpery weigh?
Give in the total, let the scale be just,
And own, proud mortal, own thou art but dust.

Surely the old Roman said as much in a single line, when he told us that the greatest hero must one day be comprised in a small urn.

Cumberland never received fair treatment from his contemporaries. Why he should be so universally considered as the Sir Fretful Plagiary of Sheridan’sCritic,” I never could discover. The former name might in some degree be applicable, for he was a disappointed man, and belonged to the irritable race; but for the second, it would be difficult to show any valid ground, notwithstanding the great variety of his voluminous writings. In the criticisms on Grecian literature which appeared in the Observer, he has frankly acknowledged how much he was indebted to Dr. Bentley’s MSS., and it is fair, therefore, to conclude, that if he had consciously borrowed from others, he would have been equally candid in confessing his obligations. In appreciating his personal character, one of his biographers, after admitting his great conversational powers,
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.43
says that he would have been more estimable had he been more sincere in his compliments to those who were present, or less bitter in his sarcasms on them, after they had taken their leave. To the former charge it must be confessed that he was occasionally amenable, the habits acquired as a courtier rendering him somewhat fulsome in his compliments. What he says of the
Abbé Hussey, in his memoirs, might almost be taken for a portraiture of himself. “He wore upon his countenance a smile sufficiently seductive for common purposes and cursory acquaintance; his address was smooth, obsequious, studiously obliging, and at times glowingly heightened into an impassioned show of friendship and affection. But he could not help colouring his attentions sometimes with such a florid hue, as gave an air of irony and ridicule, that did not always escape detection; and thus it came to pass that he was little credited, and, perhaps, even less than he deserved to be, for sincerity in his warmest professions, or politeness in his best attempts to please.”

Of his occasional sarcasms, proof has been afforded in the present paper, but as his blandness and adulation were rather the result of courtly and diplomatic habits than of any intentional hypocrisy, so do I firmly believe that bis bitterness—I would rather call it his malicious pleasantry—was indulged rather to point a jest than to vent any splenetic feeling; an offence only amounting to the old charge against men of wit, that they are apt to love their joke better than their friend. That he was capable of a sincere, firm, and disinterested attachment, I myself can testify; and for my own part, whether I contemplate Richard Cumberland as a scholar and an eminent man of letters, as a gentleman, and as a friend whose good offices were unremitted from the time of our first acquaintance until the day of his death, I can never recall his name without a feeling of almost filial regard and reverence.


When I first became acquainted with this gentleman, he was proprietor of the Monthly Mirror Magazine, and was carrying on business as a drysalter in Queenhithe, in which ultra-civic locality, but much more frequently in his cottage at Sydenham, it was his pride to collect around his hospitable board the literati, artists, wits, and actors of the day. He seems fully to have shared the ambition of Monsieur d’Olive, in Chapman’s old comedy of that name.—“I will have my chamber the rendezvous of all good jests, an ordinary of fine discourse; critics, essayists, linguists, poets, and other professors of that faculty of wit, shall, at certain hours i’ th’ day resort thither: it shall be a second Sorbonne, where all doubts or differences of learning, honour, duellism, criticism, and poetry, shall be disputed.”

To compare the Sydenham merry meetings, to which I have alluded, with the Sorbonne, sounds, indeed, somewhat absurd and presumptuous, since they were neither more nor less than friendly symposia, at which the Amphitryon sought to assemble a few of the “men of wit and pleasure about town,” and to allow them a boundless latitude for the display of their respective talents and humours. That our worthy host should assume the character of a literary patron, and of a dramatic critic, for his magazine was chiefly noted for its theatrical articles, evinced an ambition which, however honourable, was little in accordance with his qualifications for the office, since he was a man of narrow education, of no literary attainments, of somewhat inelegant manners, and even of no
44A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
real predilection for the arts in any of their higher departments. But he was cordial, convivial, proud of the novel reputation attached to the name of a civic
Mæcenas, and rich enough, at that time, to indulge his fancy, which, indeed, did not involve any serious expense, for his entertainments, though always abundant, were never costly.

The ground-floor of the house of business in Queenhithe being used as a warehouse, I passed through a whole wilderness of casks and carboys, bales, boxes, and other recipients, containing the multifarious stock of a drysalter, and ascending the stairs, was ushered into the room where I first had the honour of being introduced to the celebrated George Colman, the younger, whom I so rarely encountered afterwards, that I may say, almost literally, “Virgilium tantum vidi.” The exact year of this occurrence I cannot recall. His appearance disappointed me, for the addition to his name had led me to expect a person with some pretensions to juvenility, whereas I beheld a man beyond the middle age, of stout figure, and heavy aspect, lolling in his elbow-chair, with the aspect of one whose energies, both bodily and mental, had lost more of their elasticity than his years would warrant. For some minutes after my entrance, he sat silent, gazing from the window, which looked out upon a small wharf and stairs on the river bank, until his eyes began to twinkle, and his grave features to relax as he said in substance, for I do not pretend to remember his precise words,

Hill! I have long thought of it, and I have now determined to do it. ‘From this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.’ I will write a comedy, of which you shall be the principal character, and it shall be called, ‘The Literary Drysalter; or, The Mæcenas of Queenhithe.’ Nay, don’t get so red in the gills. It will immortalise you. You shall be embalmed and dried in your own salt, as a drysalter ought to be. You will make a capital character; I mean dramatically of course; nobody will suspect me of speaking in any other sense.”

“Pooh, pooh!” exclaimed the hoarse gutteral voice of our host, whose round, ruddy, full-blown face assumed a deeper purple, while his gray eye betrayed a feeling of alarm, “How can you talk such nonsense?”

Perceiving the effect his menace had produced, the dramatist followed up the blow by gravely suggesting a variety of scenes which might be rendered highly effective in the contemplated comedy, inquiring whether he might bring the hero on the stage in civic robes, as Alderman Mæcenas; and finally asking, with an air of the most serious interest, whether he sold spirits of turpentine?

“Sir, I have at this moment one hundred and eighty-seven carboys of spirits of turpentine in my warehouse,” was the reply.

“Good, good; and they are highly inflammable, I believe?”

“Nothing more so.”

“Better and better! Now, Hill, you are short-sighted, you know. You shall drop your spectacles in the warehouse; in groping for them you shall drop the candle; the whole warehouse shall be presently in a blaze; our last scene shall beat that of ‘Lodoiska,’ you shall make your escape after your garments have caught fire, like those of poor Mrs. Crouch, and you shall be extinguished by throwing yourself into the Thames. But stay, that will never do. How can we represent a drysalter in the water?”

A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance. 45

Poor as was the jest, we all laughed heartily, for its utterer was an acknowledged wag, and a rich man’s tinsel will always pass current for genuine gold.

Hill,“ resumed the dramatist, still gazing from the window, “you can never be dull here! plenty of society, eh? watermen and carmen, Arcades omnes, ever exchanging, in the same gentle strains that I now hear Amœbæan lays worthy to be immortalised with the piscatory eclogues of the poet. How pastoral, too, the river’s bank when the tide is out, and primroses and violets give their odours to the air in the form of drowned puppies and kittens! On a summer’s evening I suppose you wander occasionally among yonder sugar hogsheads on the quay, singing aloud ‘through circling sweets I freely rove,’ or listening for the musical pattens of some housemaid Amaryllis. Well, well, don’t look sheepfaced. Ne sit ancillæ tibi amor pudori. Queenhithe is altogether a scene for lovers; and hark! don’t I hear the feathered choir, the voice of birds?”

“Birds, sir, we have no birds here; the sound that you hear is the creaking of the cranes.”

“Well, my good friend, and cranes are birds, arn’t they?”

The wag was now the first to set the example of the laugh, in which we all heartily joined, and ere it had subsided dinner was announced.

In addition to Hill’s besetting sin of imagining all his own geese, and all the geese of all his friends to be swans, he was an inexhaustible Quidnunc and gossip, delighting more especially to startle his hearers by the marvellous nature of his intelligence, not troubling his head about its veracity, for he was a great economist of truth; and striving to beat down and crush every doubt by ever increasing vehemence of manner and extravagance of assertion. If you strained at a gnat he would instantly give you a camel to swallow; if you boggled at an improbability he would endeavour to force an impossibility down your throat, rising with the conscious necessity for exertion, for he was wonderfully demonstrative, until his veins swelled, his grey eyes goggled, his husky voice became inarticulate, his hands were stretched out with widely disparted fingers, and the first joint of each thumb was actually drawn backwards in the muscular tension occasioned by his excitement. Embody this description in the figure of a fat, florid, round little man, like a retired elderly Cupid, and you will see Hill maintaining a hyperbole, not to say a catachresis, with as much convulsive energy as if he believed it! And yet it is difficult to suppose that, deceived by his own excitement, and mistaking assertion for conviction, he did not sometimes succeed in imposing upon himself, however he might fail with his hearers; otherwise he would hardly wind up, as 1 have more than once heard him, by exclaiming,

“Sir, I affirm it with all the solemnity of a death-bed utterance, of a sacramental oath.”

Blinded by agitation and vehemence he could no longer see the truth, and went on asseverating until he fancied that he believed what he was saying. This, however, was in the more rampant stage of the disorder: there was a previous one, in which he would look you sternly in the face, and in a tone that was meant to be conclusive, and to inflict a deathblow upon all incredulity, would emphatically ejaculate,

“Sir, I happen to know it!”

46 A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.

If this failed, if his hearer still looked sceptical, he would immediately play at double or quits with his first assertion, adding a hundred per cent, to it, and making the same addition to the positiveness with which he supported it, until he gradually reached the rabid state, in which he would not condescend to affirm any thing short of an impossibility, or to pledge any thing short of his existence to its literal veracity.

This would seem to involve a reductio ad absurdum from which it was impossible to escape; but our Ferdinand Mendez Pinto was an adroit dodger, and when he saw that his position, spite of his most solemn averments, was no longer tenable, he would abandon it without beat of drum, take up some other which no one had ever disputed, and begin to defend it with an assumed ardour, as if the new ground had been all along the sole object of controversy. It was a standing joke with Hill’s friends to decoy him into some extravagant statement which “he happened to know;” to see him lash himself into fury as he attempted to flounder and bluster out of the meshes in which he became every moment more deeply entangled; and to mark the quietude with which he would finally desert the falsehood for which he had battled so fiercely, and entrench himself in some totally irrelevant truism which he knew to be unassailable.

An opportunity of playing upon this foible soon occurred, and Colman was not the man to suffer it to escape. After dinner our host placed upon the table some Vin de Jurançon, introducing it with his usual flourish of blatant trumpets, as the growth of a small district on the northern frontiers of Spain, of impossible obtainment, and of a most exquisite flavour. After tasting it, universal assent, a very rare sequence to one of Hill’s averments, was instantly granted to the latter clause, and the dramatist, whose potent Bacchanalian sympathies were instantly aroused, exclaimed, as he smacked his lips and refilled his glass,

Hill, this is really capital stuff! where can I get some of it?”

“Nowhere, sir! it’s not to be had for love or money, sir; they have none of it in Carlton House; the prince would give his ears for a bottle, but there’s not one, not a pint of it to be had in all England, for I bought up the whole of the only lot that was imported.”

“Glad to hear it, Hill, for I suppose you possess a good quantity.”

“Sir, I have twenty-seven dozen, and eight bottles in that closet.”

“Indeed! I should not have thought it would hold so many. Are you quite pellucid, quite clear as to the quantity; sure you have made no mistake?”

“You’re right, you’re right! I recollect now, I have made a mistake, it was forty-seven dozen and eight bottles.”

“What in that small closet? Impossible, my dear Hill!”

Two or three of the company, anxious to see the maximum to which these glass-men in buckram might be multiplied, maintained that the quantity mentioned might easily be stowed away in the closet, small as it undoubtedly was; whereupon our Amphitryon, with a brow-beating air, and a tone that were meant to challenge further doubt, exclaimed—

“This is not a matter for discussion, it is a question of fact, and what I have asserted I happen to know, d’ye hear me, sir, I know it, for I counted the bottles twice over this very morning, twice, I tell you. Is that evidence, and does it, or does it not establish the fact?”

A menacing look was cast around the room to see who would dare to pick up the gauntlet, but we all waited for Colman, who quietly asked,—

A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance. 47

“Have you altered, or put any additional shelves in that closet since you showed me your scarce books in it last week?”

“No; I have only taken out the books and put in the wine.”

“Then, if you will produce the key and open the door of the closet, which you cannot refuse to do, I will not only pledge myself to show that you have not more than four dozen and eight bottles, but I will prove by measurement, the physical impossibility of its containing more than that quantity.”

Numeration of bottles and measurement of shelves were so little congenial to Hill’s frame of mind, that he saw the necessity for changing the venue, as the lawyers say, and instantly exclaimed, with an air of indignant surprise,—

“Well, sir, and would you deny that four dozen and eight bottles of Vin de Jurançon, is a capital stock? Will you name me the wine-merchant in all London that can supply you such another stock? Pooh, pooh! don’t tell me. I know what I’m talking about. Do you know such a wine-merchant in all England, do you, or you, or you? No, not one of you. I was quite sure of it. That is all that I ever maintained, and you now admit it. Ah! I was quite sure you would end by acknowledging all that I have ever asserted. Pooh! pooh! I happened to know it.”

A general laugh attested our sense of this Protean substitution, and the butt of our merriment, notwithstanding the large reduction we had already effected in his nominal stock of wine, thought it wise to propitiate us by fresh and frequent extracts from the measurement four dozen and eight.

The lion of the night now betook himself so sedulously to his potations that he had no leisure to roar for our amusement, and at a later hour our host, knowing his habits, plied him with hot brandy-and-water, under the influence of which he finally fell fast asleep in his arm-chair. While Homer was thus nodding, the Mæcenas of Queenhithe entertained us with a partial recapitulation of the “many hundreds” of literati, artists, actors, and scholars, particularly and proudly specifying Professor Porson, who had dined with him at different times; or, to use his own words, who had had their legs under his mahogany, rather a homely version of Horace’s sub iisdem trabibus.

Some weeks after this dinner-party, I accompanied Hill in a morning visit to Colman at Melina Place, in the rules of the Bench, in which locality his pecuniary embarrassments had long compelled him to reside. He invited us to return and sup with him, but an engagement unfortunately prevented my compliance, and I never afterwards had an opportunity of personally encountering George Colman, the younger.

Pleasant and kind-hearted as he was, Colman was by no means free from the petulance of the irritable race, an impeachment which will be admitted by any of my readers (alas! they can be but few!), who may recollect the first appearance of the “Iron Chest,” in 1796. The audience were put out of humour by the prosy character of Old Adam Winterton, personated by Mr. Dodd; but the author, imagining that the partial failure of the first night was attributable to the tame acting of John Kemble, rashly penned a most sarcastic and illiberal attack upon him, which he published in a preface to the play. His cooler judgment, however, induced him to suppress it, a confession of its injustice, which induced a “candid and discerning public” to pay thirty and even forty shillings for the first edition! Some years afterwards, I remember telling Hill that I wanted a copy for a friend, and had been unable to find one.

48 A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.

“Not find one! no, of course you can’t. Why didn’t you come to me? I happen to have scores, hundreds.”

I took one copy, and left the remaining hundreds in nubibus.

Colman afforded another instance of his touchiness, by his furious onslaught on the reviewers, who, in noticing his poems, entitled “My Night Gown and Slippers,” had justly condemned the ribaldry which, polluted the writer’s wit, and referring to his mature years, had applied to him the reproach addressed to Falstaff, “How ill gray hairs become a. fool and jester!” Here he had not only a bad, but an indefensible case, and his anger and vituperation of his judges only served to confirm the justice of their sentence. Strange! that the man who, as a writer of harmless farces had sheltered himself under the nom de guerre of Arthur Griffinhoof, should not only avow, but attempt to defend an objectionable volume of poems. Stranger still, that the same writer who had allowed himself so very broad a latitude in his own plays should, when he became dramatic licenser, exercise a squeamish fastidiousness in supervising the works of others, which could hardly have been surpassed by a Puritan Mawworm. As if for the purpose of illustrating Swift’s position, that a nice man is a man of nasty ideas, his prurient delicacy discovered immodest meanings where none were dreamt of by the writers; the name of the deity, however reverently introduced, was instantly expunged; and all sorts of swearing, even where conventional usage sanctioned it as a venial expletive, was blotted out by the sanctimonious censor. Apropos to this rigour, I remember an anecdote of my friend Tom Dibdin, some one talking to him about his forthcoming play, asked him where the scene was laid, “At Rotter,” was the reply.

“Rotter! where’s that? I never heard of such a place.”

“Nor I either,” resumed the playwright, “it was Rotter-dam, but Colman has struck out the dam.”

Though I saw so little of Colman himself I was well acquainted with the majority of his dramatic works, having been present on the first night’s performance of the “Iron Chest,” in 1796; of “Bluebeard,” in 1798; of the “Poor Gentleman,” in 1802; of “John Bull” in 1805; of the “Heir-at-Law,” “Blue Devils,” the “Review,” and “Love laughs at Locksmiths.” For a long term of years, indeed, I was never absent from a first night’s performance at either of the patent theatres. Heu! quantum mutatus ab illo Hectore! I, who in those days always had an admission-ticket for the season, and by an annual retaining fee generally secured the best seat in the best box, now suffer many a year to elapse without ever entering a theatre!

Before I close this brief and slight notice of George Colman, the younger, let me communicate to my readers the pleasure that I myself feel in recording that his widow, the once beautiful and fascinating actress, Mrs. Gibbs, is still living in good health, at one of our fashionable watering-places. If I cannot say in the inflated language applied by Dr. Johnson to Garrick, that her retirement from the stage “diminished the public stock of harmless pleasure and eclipsed the gaiety of nations,” I venture to predict that she, whose rare histrionic talent afforded so much delight to playgoers in her youth and maturity, will receive their cordial and unanimous wishes for the extension of her old age, in the enjoyment of health and happiness.