LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of Writers
Chapter II.

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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Leigh Hunt—Henry Robertson—Frederick, William, Henry, and John Byng Gattie—Charles Ollier—Tom Richards—Thomas Moore—Barnes—Vincent Novello—John Keats—Charles and Mary Lamb—Wageman—Rev. W. V. Fryer—George and Charles Gliddon—Henry Robertson—Dowton—Mrs. Vincent Novello—Horace Twiss—Shelley—Walter Coulson.

The elder of my two sisters having married and settled in London, I was now able to enjoy something of metropolitan society, and to indulge in the late hours it necessarily required me to keep, by sleeping at my brother-in-law’s house, after an evening spent with such men as I now had the privilege of meeting. I was first introduced to Leigh Hunt at a party, when I remember he sang a cheery sea-song with much spirit in that sweet, small, baritone voice which he possessed. His manner—fascinating, animated, full of cordial amenity, and winning to a degree of which I have never seen the parallel—drew me to him at once, and I fell as pronely in love with him as any girl in her teens falls in love with her first-seen Romeo. My father had taken in the Examiner newspaper from its commencement, he and I week after week revelling in the liberty-loving, liberty-advocating, liberty-eloquent articles of the young editor; and now that I made his personal acquaintance I was indeed
a proud and happy fellow. The company among which I frequently encountered him were co-visitors of no small merit.
Henry Robertson—one of the most delightful of associates for good temper, good spirits, good taste in all things literary and artistic; the brothers Gattie—Frederick, William, Henry, and John Byng Gattie, whose agreeable tenor voice is commemorated in Hunt’s sonnet addressed to two of the men now under mention, and a third, of whom more presently; Charles Ollier—author of a graceful book called “Altham and his Wife,” and publisher of Keats’ first brought-out volume of “Poems;” and Tom Richards—a right good comrade, a capital reader, a capital listener, a capital appreciator of talent and of genius.

My father so entirely sympathized with my devoted admiration of Leigh Hunt, that when, not very long after I had made his acquaintance, he was thrown into Horsemonger Lane Gaol for his libel on the Prince Regent, I was seconded in my wish to send the captive Liberal a breath of open air, and a reminder of the country pleasures he so well loved and could so well describe, by my father’s allowing me to despatch a weekly basket of fresh flowers, fruit, and vegetables from our garden at Enfield. Leigh Hunt received it with his own peculiar grace of acceptance, recognizing the sentiment that prompted the offering, and welcoming it into the spot which he had converted from a prison-room into a bower for a poet by covering the walls with a rose-trellised papering, by book-shelves, plaster casts, and a small pianoforte. Here I was also made welcome, and my visits cordially received; and here it was that I once met Thomas Moore, and on another occasion Barnes, the then sub-editor of the Times newspaper, “whose
native taste, solid and clear,” Leigh Hunt has recorded in a charming sonnet. Barnes had been a schoolfellow of Leigh Hunt’s at Christ’s Hospital: he was a man of sound ability, yet with a sense of the absurd and humorous; for Leigh Hunt told me that a foolish woman once asking Barnes whether he were fond of children, received the answer, “Yes, ma’am; boiled.”

It was not until after Leigh Hunt left prison that my father saw him, and then but once. My father and I had gone to see Kean in “Timon of Athens,” and as we sat together in the pit talking over the extraordinary vitality of the impersonation—the grandeur and poetry in Kean’s indignant wrath, withering scorn, wild melancholy, embittered tone, and passionate despondency—Leigh Hunt joined us and desired me to present him to my father, who, after even the first few moments, found himself deeply enthralled by that bewitching spell of manner which characterized Leigh Hunt beyond any man I have ever known.

I cannot decidedly name the year when I was first made acquainted with the man whose memory I prize after that only of my own father. The reader will doubtless surmise that I am alluding to my father-in-law, the golden-hearted musician Vincent Novello. It was, I believe, at the lodging of Henry Robertson—a Treasury Office clerk, and the appointed accountant of Covent Garden Theatre. My introduction was so informal that it is not improbable my acquaintance with Leigh Hunt may have been known, and this produced so agreeable an interchange of courtesy that a day or two after, upon meeting Mr. Novello in Holborn, near Middle Row, I recollected having that day purchased a copy of Purcell’s song in the “Tempest,” “Full Fathom Five,” and
observing that the symphony had only the bass notes figured, I asked him to have the kindness to write the harmonies for me in the correct chords more legible to my limited knowledge of music. His immediate answer was that he “would take it home with him;” and, with an unmistakable smile, he desired me to come for it on the morrow to 240, Oxford Street, where he then resided. This was the opening of the proudest and the happiest period of my existence. The glorious feasts of sacred music at the Portuguese Chapel in South Street, Grosvenor Square, where Vincent Novello was organist, and introduced the masses of
Mozart and Haydn for the first time in England, and where the noble old Gregorian hymn tunes and responses were chanted to perfection by a small but select choir drilled and cultivated by him; the exquisite evenings of Mozartian operatic and chamber music at Vincent Novello’s own house, where Leigh Hunt, Shelley, Keats, and the Lambs were invited guests; the brilliant supper parties at the alternate dwellings of the Novellos, the Hunts, and the Lambs, who had mutually agreed that bread and cheese, with celery, and Elia’s immortalized “Lutheran beer,” were to be the sole cates provided; the meetings at the theatre, when Munden, Dowton, Liston, Bannister, Elliston, and Fanny Kelly were on the stage; and the picnic repasts enjoyed together by appointment in the fields that then lay spread in green breadth and luxuriance between the west-end of Oxford Street and the western slope of Hampstead Hill—are things never to be forgotten. Vincent Novello fully shared my enthusiastic admiration for Leigh Hunt; and it was at the period of the poet-patriot’s leaving prison that his friend the poetical musician asked Leigh Hunt to sit for his portrait to Wageman, the artist who
was famed for taking excellent likenesses in pencil-sketch style. One of these pre-eminently good likenesses is a drawing made by Wageman of the
Rev. William Victor Fryer, Head Chaplain to the Portuguese Embassy, to whom Vincent Novello’s first published work—“A Collection of Sacred Music”—was dedicated, who stood god-father to Vincent Novello’s eldest child, and who was not only a preacher of noted suavity and eloquence, but a man of elegant reading, refined taste, and most polished manners. The drawing (representing Mr. Fryer in his priest’s robes, in the pulpit, with his hand raised, according to his wont when about to commence his sermon) is still in our possession, as is that of Leigh Hunt; the latter—a perfect resemblance of him as a young man, with his jet-black hair and his lustrous, dark eyes, full of mingled sweetness, penetration, and ardour of thought, with exalted imagination—has for many years held its place by our bedside in company with the portraits of Keats, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jerrold, Dickens, and some of our own lost and loved honoured ones, nearer and dearer still.

Vincent Novello had a mode of making even simplest every-day objects matter for pleasant entertainment and amusing instruction; and the mention of the consentedly restricted viands of those ever-to-be-remembered supper meals, reminds me of an instance. As “bread-and cheese” was the stipulated “only fare” on these occasions, Vincent Novello (who knew Leigh Hunt’s love for Italy and all things pertaining thereto) bethought him of introducing an Italian element into the British repasts, in the shape of Parmesan, a comparative rarity in those days. He accordingly took one of his children with him to an Italian warehouse kept by a certain Bassano, who
formed a fitting representative of his race, renowned for well-cut features, rich facial colouring, and courteous manner. Even now the look of Signor Bassano, with his spare but curly, dark hair, thin, chiselled nose, olive complexion, and well-bred demeanour, remains impressed on the memory of her who heard her father address the Italian in his own language and afterwards tell her of Italy and its beautiful, scenery, of Italians and their personal beauty. She still can see the flasks labelled “finest Lucca oil” ranged in the shop, relative to which her father took the opportunity of feeding her fancy and mind with accounts of how the oil and even wine of that graceful country were mostly kept in flasks such as she then saw, with slender but strong handles of dried, grassy fibre, and corked by morsels of snowy, cotton wool.

This “Lucca oil” made an element in the delicious fare provided for a certain open-air party and prepared by the hands of Mrs. Novello herself, consisting of a magnificently well-jellied meat pie, cold roast lamb, and a salad, the conveyance of which to the spot where the assembly met was considered to be a marvel of ingenious management; a salad being a thing, till then, unheard of in the annals of picnic provision. The modest wines of orange and ginger—in the days when duty upon foreign importations amounted to prohibitory height—more than sufficed for quaffers who knew in books such vintages as Horace’s Falernian, and Redi’s Chianti and Montepulciano, whose intellectual palates were familiar with Milton’s
Wines of Setia, Cales, and Falerne,
Chios, and Crete;
or whose imaginations could thirst “for a beaker full of the warm South,” and behold—
The true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim
And purple-stained mouth.
This memorable out-door revel originated in one of the Novello children having the option given to her of celebrating her birthday by a treat of “going to the play,” or “a day in the fields.” After grave consideration and solemn consultation with her brothers and sisters, the latter was chosen, because the month was June and the weather transcendently beautiful. The large and happy party was to consist of the whole Novello family, Hunt family, and Gliddon family, who were to meet at an appointed hour in some charming meadows leading up to Hampstead. “The young Gliddons” were chiefly known to the young Novellos as surpassingly good dancers at their interchanged juvenile balls, and as super-excellently good rompers at their interchanged birthday parties; but one of the members of the family,
George Gliddon, became celebrated in England for his erudition concerning Egyptian hieroglyphics, and in America for his lectures on this subject; while his son Charles has since made himself known by his designs for illustrated books. The children frolicked about the fields and had agile games among themselves, while their elders sat on the turf enjoying talk upon all kinds of gay and jest-provoking subjects. To add to the mirth of the meeting, Henry Robertson and I were asked to join them; both being favourites with the youngsters, both possessing the liveliest of spirits, and known to be famous promoters of fun and hilarity. To crown the pleasure Leigh Hunt, as he lay stretched on the grass, read out to the assembled group, old and young—or rather, growing and grown up—the Dogberry scenes from “Much Ado about Nothing,”
till the place rang with shouts and shrieks of laughter. Leigh Hunt’s reading aloud was pre-eminently good. Varied in tone and inflection of voice, unstudied, natural, characteristic, full of a keen sense of the humour of the scenes and the wit of the dialogue, his dramatic reading was almost unequalled: and we can remember his perusal of the Sir Anthony Absolute scenes in
Sheridan’sRivals,” and Foote’s farce of “The Liar,” as pieces of uproarious merriment. Even Dowton himself—and his acted impersonation of Sir Anthony was a piece of wonderful truth for towering wrath and irrational fury— hardly surpassed Leigh Hunt’s reading of the part, so masterly a rendering was it of old-gentlemanly wilfulness and comedy-father whirlwind of raging tyranny. The underlying zest in roguery of gallantry and appreciation of beauty that mark old Absolute’s character were delightfully indicated by Leigh Hunt’s delicate as well as forcible mode of utterance, and carried his hearers along with him in a trance of excitement while he read.

Having referred to Mrs. Vincent Novello’s long-famed meat-pie and salad, I will here “make recordation” of two skilled brewages for which she was renowned: to wit, elder wine—racy, fragrant with spice, steaming with comfortable heat, served in taper glasses with accompanying rusks or slender slices of toasted bread—and foaming wassail-bowl, brought to table in right old English style, with roasted crab apples (though these were held to be less good in reality than as a tribute to antique British usage): both elder wine and wassail-bowl excellently ministering to festive celebration at the Novellos’ Christmas, New Year, and Twelfth Night parties. Mrs. Vincent Novello was a woman of Nature’s noblest mould. Housewifely—nay, actively domestic in her
daily duties, methodical to a nicety in all her home arrangements, nurse and instructress to her large family of children—she was nevertheless ever ready to sympathize with her husband’s highest tastes, artistic and literary; to read to him when he returned home after a long day’s teaching and required absolute rest, or to converse with him on subjects that occupied his eager and alert mind. Not only could she read and converse with spirit and brilliancy, but she wrote with much grace and fancy. At rarely-gained leisure moments her pen produced several tasteful Tales, instinct with poetic idea and romantic imagery. She had an elegant talent for verse, some of her lines having been set to music by her husband. She was godmother to
Leigh Hunt’s Indicator, supplying him with the clue to the information which he embodied in the first motto to that periodical,1 and suggesting the felicitous title which he adopted. Mrs. Novello contributed a paper to the Indicator, entitled “Holiday Children,” and signed “An Old Boy;” also some papers to Leigh Hunt’s Tatler and a large portion of a novel (in letters), which was left a fragment in consequence of this serial coming to an abrupt close. Per-

1 “There is a bird in the interior of Africa whose habits would rather seem to belong to the interior of Fairyland, but they have been well authenticated. It indicates to honey-hunters where the nests of wild bees are to be found. It calls them with a cheerful cry, which they answer; and on finding itself recognized, flies and hovers over a hollow tree containing the honey. While they are occupied in collecting it, the bird goes to a little distance, where he observes all that passes; and the hunters, when they have helped themselves, take care to leave him his portion of the food. This is the Cuculus Indicator of Linnæus, otherwise called the Moroc, Bee Cuckoo, or Honey Bird.”

fectly did Mrs. Vincent Novello confirm the assertion that the most intellectual and cultivated women are frequently the most gentle, unassuming, and proficient housewives; for few of even her intimate friends were aware that she was an authoress, so perpetually was she found occupied with her husband and her children.
Horace Twiss, who was acquainted with the Novellos and often visited them at their house in Oxford Street, near Hyde Park, proclaimed himself a devoted admirer of Mary Sabilla Novello, as the next among women to Mary Wolstonecraft, with whom he was notedly and avowedly “deeply smitten.” He used to knock at the door, and, when it was opened, inquire whether he could see Mrs. Novello; while she, from the front-parlour—which was dedicated to the children’s use as nursery and play-room—hearing his voice, and being generally too busy of a morning with them to receive visitors, would put her head forth from amid her young flock, and call out to him, with a nod and a smile, “I’m not at home to-day, Mr. Twiss!” Upon which he would raise his hat and retire, declaring that she was more than ever adorable.

Over the low blind of that front-parlour and nursery play-room window the eldest of the young Novellos peeped on a certain afternoon to see pass into the street a distinguished guest, whom she heard had been in the drawing-room upstairs to visit her parents. She watched for the opening of the street door, and then quickly climbed on to a chair that she might catch sight of the young poet spoken so highly and honouringly of by her father and mother—Percy Bysshe Shelley. She saw him move lightly down the two or three stone steps from the entrance, and as he went past the front of the house he
suddenly looked up at it, revealing fully to view his beautiful poet-face, with its clear, blue eyes surmounted by an aureole of gold-brown hair.

It was at Leigh Hunt’s cottage in the Vale of Health, on Hampstead Heath, that I first met Shelley; and I remember our all three laughing at the simplicity of his imagining—in his ignorance of journals and journal construction—that Leigh Hunt wrote the whole of the Examiner himself—right through—“Money Market,” “Price of Coals,” and all! On another occasion I recollect a very warm argument in favour of the Monarchy upheld by Leigh Hunt and Coulson, and in favour of Republicanism by Shelley and Hazlitt.

Walter Coulson was editor of the Globe newspaper. He was a Cornish man: and these “pestilent knaves” of wits used to tease him about “The Giant Cormoran,” some traditionary magnate of his native country whose prowess he was supposed to exaggerate. They nevertheless acknowledged Coulson to be almost boundless in his varied extent of knowledge, calling him “a walking Encyclopædia;” and once agreed that next time he came he should be asked three questions on widely different subjects, laying a wager that he would be sure to be able to give a satisfactory answer upon each and all—which he did. If my memory rightly serve me, the questions were these:—The relative value of gold coin in India with sterling money? The mode of measuring the cubic feet contained in the timber of a tree? And some moot point of correctness in one of the passages from an ancient classic poet.

It was on a bright afternoon in the early days of my visits to Leigh Hunt at the Vale of Health that the authors of these “Recollections” first saw each other.
Had some prescient spirit whispered in the ear of each in turn, “You see your future wife!” and, “That is your future husband!” the prediction would have seemed passing strange. I was in the fresh flush of proud and happy friendship with such men as Leigh Hunt and those whom I met at his house, thoroughly absorbed in the intellectual treats I thus constantly enjoyed; while she was a little girl brought by her parents for a day’s run on the Heath with the Hunt children, thinking that “Charles Clarke”—as she heard him called—was “a good-natured gentleman,” because, when evening came and there was a proposal for her staying on a few days at Hampstead, he threw in a confirmatory word by saying, “Do let her stay,
Mrs. Novello; the air of the Heath has already brought more roses into her cheeks than were there a few hours ago.”

It must have been a full decade after our first meeting that we began to think of each other with any feeling of deeper preference; and during those ten years much that profoundly interested me took place; while events occurred that carried me away from London and literary associates. When my father retired from the school at Enfield, he went to live in the Isle of Thanet, taking a house at Ramsgate, where he and my mother had frequently before made pleasant sea-side sojourns during “the holidays.” Here my younger sister and myself dwelt with our parents for a somewhat long period; and it was while we were at Ramsgate that I remember hearing of Charles Lamb and his sister being at Margate for a “sea change,” and I went over to see them. It seems as if it were but yesterday that I noted his eager way of telling me about an extraordinarily large whale that had been captured there, of its having created lively interest
in the place, of its having been conveyed away in a strong cart, on which it lay a huge mass of colossal height; when he added with one of his sudden droll penetrating glances:—The eye has just gone past our window.

I was at Ramsgate when Leigh Hunt started the “Literary Pocket-Book,” asking his friends for prose and verse contributions to that portion of its contents which was to form one of its distinguishing characteristics from hitherto published pocket-books. I was among those to whom he applied; and it was with no small elation that I found myself for the first time in print under the wing of Leigh Hunt. The work appeared in red morocco case for four consecutive years, 1819, ’20, ’21, and ’22, in the second of which he put No. I of “Walks round London,” where I described my favourite haunts to the south-west of Enfield, and contributed a small verse-piece entitled “On Visiting a Beautiful Little Dell near Margate,” both signed with my initials. Under various signatures of Greek characters and Roman capitals, Shelley, Keats, Procter (“Barry Cornwall”), Charles Ollier, and others, together with Leigh Hunt himself, contributed short poems and brief prose pieces to the “Literary Pocket-Book;” so that I ventured forth into the world of letters in most “worshipful society.”

Leigh Hunt afterwards paid me a visit at Ramsgate, when the ship in which he and his family were sailing for Italy put into the harbour from stress of weather; and it was on this occasion that my mother—who had long witnessed my own and my father’s enthusiasm for Leigh Hunt, but had never much shared it, not having seen him—now at once understood the fascination he exercised over those who came into personal communion
with him. “He is a gentleman, a perfect gentleman, Charles! He is irresistible!” was her first exclamation to me, when he had left us.

Another visitor made his appearance at Ramsgate, giving me vivid but short-lived delight. Vincent Novello, whose health had received a severe shock in losing a favourite boy, Sydney, was advised to try what a complete change would do towards restoration, and he came down with the intention of staying a few days; but, finding that some old friends of my father and mother were on a visit to us, his habitual shyness of strangers took possession of him, and he returned to town, having scarcely more than shaken hands with me.

Not long after that, anguish kindred to his assailed me. In the December of 1820 I lost my revered and beloved father; and in the following February my friend and schoolfellow John Keats died.