LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of Writers
Chapter I.

‣ Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX
John Keats
Charles Lamb
Mary Lamb
Leigh Hunt
Douglas Jerrold
Charles Dickens
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John Clarke—Vincent Novello—John Ryland—George Dyer—Rev. Rowland Hill—Dr. Alexander Geddes—Dr. Priestley—Bishop Lowth—Gilbert Wakefield—Mason Good—Richard Warburton Lytton—Abbé Béliard—Holt White—Major and Mrs. Cartwright—John Keats—Edward Holmes—Edward Cowper—Frank Twiss—Mrs. Siddons—Miss O’Neil—John Kemble—Edmund Kean—Booth—Godwin.

To the fact of our having had pre-eminently good and enlightened parents is perhaps chiefly attributable the privilege we have enjoyed of that acquaintance with gifted people which has enabled us to record our recollections of many writers. Both John Clarke the schoolmaster and Vincent Novello the musician, with their admirable wives, liberal-minded and intelligent beyond most of their time and calling, delighted in the society and friendship of clever people, and cultivated those relations for their children.

By nature John Clarke was gentle-hearted, clear-headed, and transparently conscientious—supremely suiting him for a schoolmaster. As a youth he was articled to a lawyer at Northampton; but from the first he felt a
growing repugnance to the profession, and this repugnance was brought to unbearable excess by his having to spend one whole night in seeking a substitute for performing the duty which devolved upon him from the sheriff’s unwillingness to fulfil the absent executioner’s office of hanging a culprit condemned to die on the following morning. With success in finding a deputy hangman at dawn, after a night of inexpressible agony of mind, came his determination to seek another profession, and he finally found more congenial occupation by becoming usher at a school conducted by the
Rev. John Ryland, Calvinistic minister in the same town. My1 father’s fellow-usher was no other than George Dyer (the erudite and absent-minded Greek scholar immortalized in Elia’s whimsical essay entitled “Amicus Redivivus”); the one being the writing-master and arithmetical teacher, the other the instructor in classical languages. Each of these young men formed an attachment for the head-master’s step-daughter, Miss Ann Isabella Stott; but George Dyer’s love was cherished secretly, while John Clarke’s was openly declared and his suit accepted. The young couple left Northampton with the lady’s family and settled in Enfield, her step-father having resolved upon establishing a school near London. For this purpose a house and grounds were taken in that charming village—among the very loveliest in England,—which were eminently fitted for a school; the house being airy, roomy, and commodious, the grounds sufficiently large to give space for flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens, playground, and paddock of two acres affording pasturage

1 These are Charles Cowden Clarke’s reminiscences. When the first person plural is not used the context will indicate whether it is Charles or Mary Cowden Clarke who speaks.

for two cows that supplied the establishment with abundant milk.

One of the earliest figures that impressed itself upon my childish memory was that of my step-grandfather—stout, rubicund, facetious in manner, and oddly forcible when preaching. The pulpit eloquence of John Ryland strongly partook of the well-recorded familiarities in expression that have accompanied the era of the all but adored Rowland Hill. Upon one occasion, when delivering a sermon upon the triumph of spiritual grace over Evil, in connexion with the career of the Apostle Paul, John Ryland’s sermon concluded thus:—“And so the poor Devil went off howling to hell, and all Pandemonium was hung in mourning for a month.” His favourite grace before meat was:—“Whereas some have appetite and no food, and others have food and no appetite, we thank thee, O Lord, that we have both!” Old Mr. Ryland was acquainted with the Rev. Rowland Hill; and once, when my grandmother expressed a wish to go up to London and hear the famous preacher, her spouse took her to the chapel in the morning and afterwards to Rowland Hill’s own house, introducing her to him, saying, “Here’s my wife, who prefers your sermons to her husband’s; so I’ll leave her with you while I go and preach this afternoon.” Between the old gentleman and myself there existed an affectionate liking, and when he died, at a ripe age, I declared that if “old sir” (my usual name for him) were taken away I would go with him; but when the hearse came to the door to convey the remains to Northampton, for burial, according to the wish of the deceased, my boyish imagination took fright, and I ran to my mother, exclaiming, “I don’t want to go with old sir in the black coach!


It has been said that “Every one should plant a tree who can;” and my father was a devoted believer in this axiom. While still a little fellow, I used to be the companion of his daily walks in the green fields around our dwelling; and many a tree have I seen him plant. I had the privilege of carrying the bag containing his store of acorns: he would dibble a hole in the earth with his walking-stick, and it was my part to drop an acorn into the opening. It was a proud day for me when, the walking-stick chancing to snap, I was permitted to use the ivory-headed implement, thus fortunately reduced to a proper size for me; so that when my father had selected a spot, it was I who dibbled the hole as well as dropped in the acorn!

In many respects my father was independent-minded far in advance of his time; and an improvement systematized by him in the scholastic education of the boys, which testifies the humanity of his character as well as the soundness of his judgment, added considerably to the prosperity of his later career. Instead of the old custom of punishing with the cane, a plan was drawn up of keeping an account-book, for and by each scholar, of each performance at his lessons; “B” for bene, “O” for optime, and on the opposite page an “X” for negligence or wrong conduct; and rewards were given at the end of the half-year in accordance with the proportion of good marks recorded. A plan was also adopted for encouraging “voluntary” work in the recreative hours. For French and Latin translations thus performed first, second, and third prizes were awarded each half-year in the shape of interesting books. John Keats (if I mistake not) twice received the highest of these prizes. In his last half-year at school he commenced the translation of
Æneid, which he completed while with his medical master at Edmonton.

My father was intimate with the celebrated Roman Catholic writer, Dr. Alexander Geddes, and subscribed to all the portions of the Bible that Geddes lived to translate. He was upon equally familiar terms with Dr. Priestley; and such was my father’s Biblical zeal that he made a MS. copy of Bishop Lowth’s translation of Isaiah, subjoining a selection of the most important of the translator’s notes to the text. This MS., written in the most exquisitely neat and legible hand (the occasionally occurring Hebrew characters being penned with peculiar care and finish), bound in white vellum, with a small scarlet label at the back, the slight gilding dulled by age but the whole of the dainty volume in excellent preservation, is still in my possession. He took a peculiar interest in the work, much pursued at that time, of Biblical translation, and closely watched the labours of Gilbert Wakefield, the translator of the New Testament; and the eminent surgeon Mason Good—a self-educated classic—who produced a fine version of Job, the result of his Sunday morning’s devotion.

I remember accompanying my father on one occasion in a call upon Dr. Geddes. We found him at lunch; and I noticed that beside his basin of broth stood a supply of whole mustard seed, of which he took alternate spoonfuls with those of the broth: which he said had been recommended to him as a wholesome form of diet. He had a thin, pale face, with a pleasant smile and manner; and told us several droll, odd things during our stay, in an easy, table-talk style. But Dr. Geddes was irritable in controversy, for we heard from George Dyer that at a party given by Geddes, at his lodging, to some literary
men, the subject of
James II. arose, and the Doctor was so furious at the unfavourable estimate of the King’s character expressed by his guests that he kicked over the table upon them in his wrath. In those days men’s ire “grew fast and furious” in discussion.

I was but a mere child, wearing the scarlet jacket and nankeen trousers of the time, with a large frilled cambric collar, over which fell a mass of long, light-brown curls reaching below the shoulders, when, encouraged by himself and my father, I used to visit Mr. Richard Warburton Lytton, and was hardly tall enough on tip-toe to reach the bell-handle at the front garden-gate. Mr. Lytton, although the owner of Knebworth, one of those old-fashioned mansions built with as many windows as there are days in the year—for some reason known only to himself—dwelt for many years at Enfield, and afterwards at Ramsgate, where he died. He was maternal grandfather to the late Lord Bulwer Lytton, his daughter having married a Mr. Bulwer; and after Warburton Lytton’s death the author of “Pelham” adopted the maternal name.

Richard Warburton Lytton was educated at Harrow, and latterly attained the first class, in which were himself, the eminent Sir William Jones, and Bennett, Bishop of Cloyne. I have heard my father say that Mr. Lytton has read to him long portions of the Greek histories into English with such clear freedom that his dialect had not the least effect of being a translation made at the time of perusal. He was a man of the most amiable and liberal spirit. Several Frenchmen having emigrated to Enfield at the outbreak of the Revolution, Mr. Lytton displayed the most generous sympathy towards them; and they were periodically invited to entertainments at his house,
especially on their fast days (more properly speaking, abstinence days), when there was sure to be on his table plenty of choice fish. Among these gentlemen emigres was a certain delightful Abbé Béliard, who became French teacher at our school, and who was so much esteemed and even loved by his pupils that many ot them were grieved almost to the shedding ot tears—an unusual tribute from schoolboy feeling—when he took leave of them all to return to his native land. The bishop of his district required his return (peace between France and England having been declared), giving him the promise of his original living. Mr. Lytton, upon visiting Rouen, having found poor Beliard in distress (his Diocesan having forfeited his promise), with characteristic generosity received his Enfield guest in his Normandy lodging till the abbé had obtained the relief that had been guaranteed to him.

Mr. Lytton had a very round, fat face, he was small-featured and fresh-coloured; in person he was short, fat, and almost unwieldy. I used to see him, taking such exercise as his corpulence would permit, in his old-fashioned so-called “chamber horse”—an easy chair with so rebounding a spring cushion that it swayed him up and down when he leaned his elbows on its arms—while I stood, watching him with the interest of a child, and listening with still greater interest to the anecdotes and stories he good-naturedly related to me—stories and anecdotes such as boys most love to hear—adventurous, humorous, and wonderfully varied.

Another house in our vicinity that I enjoyed the privilege of visiting was that of Mr. Holt White, nephew to the Rev. Gilbert White, the fascinating historian of the parish and district of Selborne, of which he was the vicar.
Mr. Holt White had purchased a handsome property on the borders of the Chase—then unenclosed—and came there to reside. He made the acquaintance of my father, and placed his little son under his tuition. Mr. White was in person, manner, accomplishments, and intercourse a graceful specimen of the ideal aristocrat. As an author he was strictly an amateur. He made himself one among the band of Shakespearian commentators, and I have a slight recollection that in the latter period of his life he was engaged in editing one of the Miltonian essays—I believe the
Areopagitica. He also made an effort to be elected member of Parliament for Essex, but failed. His political opinion was of a broad Liberal character, and one of his most intimate associates was the heartily respected, the bland and amiable Major Cartwright, whose intercourse and personal demeanour in society and on the public platform secured to him from first to last the full toleration of his political opponents. I used to meet Major and Mrs. Cartwright at Mr. Holt White’s house; and it was either he himself or Mr. Holt White who told me that, having lost a formidable sum at the gaming-table, Cartwright made a resolution never more to touch card or dice—a resolution that he faithfully kept. Mrs. Cartwright had a merry, chatty way with her, and on one occasion at dinner, when she and her husband were present, I remember, the conversation having turned upon the great actors and actresses, Mrs. Cartwright enlarged upon the talent of “the Pritchard” (a talent commemorated by Churchill, as overcoming even the disadvantages of increasing age and stoutness, in a passage containing the couplet—
Before such merit all objections fly;
Pritchard’s genteel and Garrick’s six feet high)—
and on my asking if she were equal in talent with
Mrs. Siddons—“Siddons!” echoed Mrs. Cartwright, “Siddons was not fit to brush Pritchard’s shoes”! So much for the passionate partialities of youth.

Mr. Holt White had an ingenious arrangement by which he converted the more important works of his collected library into an extensive and useful commonplace book. In the course of his reading either an original work or a new translation of a celebrated classic, if he came upon a casual and new opinion upon the general character of an established author he would make an allusion to it, and, with a very brief quotation, insert it in the blank leaves of the work referred to. Thus some of his works—and particularly the popular ones—possessed a fine and interesting catalogue of approbations. For the memory of Mr. Holt White my gratitude and affection will continue with my days. Such was my social freedom and his kind licence that I had only to show him the volume when I had borrowed one of his books, and I had welcome to help myself from his splendid library—a rare and incalculable advantage for a youth of my age in those days.

I had several favourite chums among the boys at my father’s school; but my chief friends were John Keats, Edward Holmes, and Edward Cowper. Of the first I have spoken fully in the set of “Recollections” specially dedicated to him.2 The second I have mentioned at some length in the same place. There was a particularly intimate school-fellowship and liking between Keats and Holmes, probably arising out of their both being of ardent and imaginative temperament, with a decided artistic bent in their several predilections for poetry and music.

2 See pages 120 and 142.

Holmes, besides his passionate adoration of music and native talent for that art, had an exquisitely discerning taste in literature. His choice in books was excellent; his appreciation of style in writing was particularly acute—his own style being remarkably pure, racy, and elegant. He had a very handsome face, with beaming eyes, regular features, and an elevated expression. His mouth and nose were large, but beautifully formed. Thick masses of sunny brown hair, and his inspired look, lent him the air of a young Apollo. We who remember him in youth—one of us even recollecting him in child’s frock when he first came to school—felt strangely when, in after years, he was presiding at the pianoforte, and one of his enthusiastic young lady hearers present said, “Dear old man! how delightfully he plays!” The words disenchanted us of the impression we had somehow retained that he was still young, still “Ned Holmes,” although the Phœbus clusters were touched with grey, and their gold was fast turning to silver.

Edward Cowper, even as a boy, gave token of that ingenuity and turn for mechanical invention which, as a man, rendered him eminent. I recollect his fashioning a little windmill for winding the fibre from off the cocoons of the silkworms that he and I kept at school, and for winding my mother’s and sisters’ skeins of sewing silk. He used to open the window a certain width that the air might act properly upon his miniature mill, and would stand watching with steady interest the effect of setting in action the machinery. He was a lively, brisk boy, with an alert, animated, energetic manner, which he maintained in manhood. His jocular school-name for me was “Three-hundred,” in allusion to my initials, C. C. C. He had a fluent tongue, was fond of talking, and could
talk well. Once he joined us in a walk through Hyde Park from Bayswater to the Marble Arch, where we took an omnibus to the east end of Oxford Street; he delivering a kind of lecture discourse the whole way without ceasing, on some subject in which we were all interested. He gave lectures to young lady pupils in a scientific class, telling us that he always found them especially intelligent hearers, and we had the good fortune to be present at a lecture he delivered in the first Crystal Palace, erected for the International Exhibition of 1851, before it was opened. His subject was the great strength of hollow tube pillars, on the principle of the arch, which he prettily illustrated by piling up, on four small pieces of quill set upright, heavy weights one after another to an amount that seemed incredible. He was the inventor of an important improvement in a celebrated German printing-press, brought over and used by the
Times newspaper; and it was Applegarth, the printer, who helped him to take out the patent for this improvement.

Among our scholars was a boy named Frank Twiss, who was the son (if I mistake not) of Richard Twiss, the author of various tours and travels. I remember the lad being visited by his father, whose antique courtesy engaged my boyish notice when, as he walked round our garden, he held his hat in his hand until my father begged he would put it on; upon which Mr. Twiss replied, “No, sir; not while you are uncovered;” my father having the habit of often walking bare-headed in our own grounds.

While at Enfield my father received more than one visit from his fellow-usher in the old—or rather young—Northampton days; and I well remember George Dyer’s even then eccentric ways, under-toned voice, dab-dab
mode of speaking, and absent manner. He had a trick of filling up his hesitating sentences with a mild little monosyllabic sound, and of finishing his speeches with the incomplete phrase “Well, sir; but however—.” This peculiarity we used to amuse ourselves by imitating when we talked of him and recalled his oddities, as thus:—“You have met with a curious and rare book, you say? Indeed, sir; abd—abd—abd—I should like to see it, sir; abd—abd—abd—perhaps you would allow me to look at it; abd—abd—abd—Well, sir; but however—” Or: “You have been ill, sir, I hear. Dear me! abd—abd—abd—I’m sorry, I’m sure; abd—abd—abd—Well, sir; but however—” Once when he came to see us he told us of his having lately spent some time among a wandering tribe of gipsies, he feeling much desire to know something of the language and habits of this interesting race of people, and believing he could not do so better than by joining them in one of their rambling expeditions. He once wrote a volume of French poems. During a long portion of his life his chief income was derived from the moderate emolument he obtained by correcting works of the classics for the publishers; but on the death of
Lord Stanhope, to whose son he had been tutor, he was left residuary legatee by that nobleman, which placed him in comparatively easy circumstances. Dyer was of a thoroughly noble disposition and generous heart; and beneath that strange book-worm exterior of his there dwelt a finely tender soul, full of all warmth and sympathy. On one occasion, during his less prosperous days, going to wait at the coach-office for the Cambridge stage, by which he intended to travel thither, he met an old friend who was in great distress. Dyer gave him the half-guinea meant for his own fare, and walked down to
Cambridge instead of going by coach. His delicacy, constancy, and chivalry of feeling equalled his generosity: for, many years after, when my father died, George Dyer asked for a private conference with me, told me of his youthful attachment for my
mother, and inquired whether her circumstances were comfortable, because in case, as a widow, she had not been left well off he meant to offer her his hand. Hearing that in point of money she had no cause for concern, he begged me to keep secret what he had confided to me, and he himself never made farther allusion to the subject. Long subsequently he married a very worthy lady: and it was great gratification to us to see how the old student’s rusty suit of black, threadbare and shining with the shabbiness of neglect, the limp wisp of jaconot muslin, yellow with age, round his throat, the dusty shoes, and stubbly beard, had become exchanged for a coat that shone only with the lustre of regular brushing, a snow-white cravat neatly tied on, brightly blacked shoes, and a close-shaven chin—the whole man presenting a cosy and burnished appearance, like one carefully and affectionately tended. He, like Charles Lamb, always wore black smalls, black stockings (which Charles Lamb generally covered with high black gaiters), and black shoes; the knee-smalls and the shoes both being tied with strings instead of fastened with buckles. His hair, white and stiff, glossy at the time now spoken of from due administration of comb and brush, contrasted strongly with a pair of small dark eyes, worn with much poring over Greek and black-letter characters; while even at an advanced age there was a sweet look of kindliness, simple goodness, serenity, and almost child-like guilelessness that characteristically marked his face at all periods of his life.


Before leaving Enfield I used often to walk up to town from my father’s house of an afternoon in good time to go to the theatre, and walk back after the play was over, in order to be ready for my morning duties when I had become usher in the school. Dark and solitary enough were the “Green Lanes,” as they were called, that lay between Holloway and Enfield—through picturesque Hornsey, rural Wood Green, and hedge-rowed Winchmore Hill—when traversed in the small hours past midnight. Yet I knew every foot of the way, and generally pursued that track as the nearest for the pedestrian. I seldom met a soul; but once a fellow who had been lying under a hedge by the way-side started up and began following me more nearly than I cared to have him, so I put on my cricketing speed and ran forward with a swiftness that few at that time could outstrip, and which soon left my would-be co-nightranger far behind. Well worth the fatigue of a twelve-mile walk there and another back was to me then the glorious delight of seeing Mrs. Siddons as Lady Macbeth or Queen Constance (though at a period when she had lost her pristine shapeliness of person, for she had become so bulky as to need assistance to rise from the ground in the scene where she throws herself there as her throne, bidding “kings come bow to it”)! of seeing Miss O’Niel as Juliet, Belvidere, Monimia, and such tender heroines, which she played and looked charmingly; of seeing John Kemble as Coriolanus or Brutus, which he impersonated with true stateliness and dignity both of person and manner. But the greatest crowning of my eager “walks up to town to go to the play” was when Edmund Kean came upon the London stage: and I saw him in all his first perfection. The way in which he electrified the town by his fire, his
energy, his vehement expression of natural emotion and passion, in such characters as Othello (in my opinion his masterpiece during his early and mature career), Lear, Hamlet, Richard III., Sir Giles Overreach, Sir Edmund Mortimer, and Shylock (certainly his grandest performance in his latter days), after the comparatively cold and staid propriety of John Kemble, was a thing never to be forgotten. Such was the enthusiasm of his audiences that the pit-door at as early an hour as three o’clock in the afternoon used to be clustered round, like the entrance to a hive of bees, by a crowd of playgoers determined to get places; and I had to obtain extra leave for quitting school early to make me one among them. The excitement rose to fever-pitch when—about two years after Kean’s first appearance at Drury Lane Theatre—and
Booth had been “starring it” as his rival at Covent Garden—it was announced that the two stage-magnates were to act together in the same play, Shakespeare’s perhaps grandest tragedy being selected for the purpose—Booth playing Iago to Kean’s Othello. Both tragedians, of course, exerted themselves to their utmost, and acted their finest; and the result was a triumph of performance. The house was crammed; the most distinguished of theatrical patrons, the most eminent among literary men and critics, being present. I remember Godwin, on coming out of the house, exclaiming, rapturously, “This is a night to be remembered!”