LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of Writers
Chapter VII.

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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Macready—Thomas Carlyle—Leigh Hunt—Richard Cobden—John Bright—Charles Pelham Villiers—George Wilson—W. J. Fox—Sir John Bowring—Colonel Perronet Thompson—Mrs. Cobden—Thomas Hood—Julia Kavanagh—Mrs. Loudon—Rev. Edward Tagart—Edwin and Charles Landseer—Martin—Miss Martin—Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bonomi—Owen Jones—Noel Humphreys—Mr. and Mrs. Milner Gibson—Louis Blanc—William Jerdan—Ralph Waldo Emerson—Mrs. Gaskell—Charles Dickens—John Forster—Mark Lemon—John Leech—Augustus Egg—George Cruikshank—Frank Stone—F. W. Topham—George H. Lewes—Charles Knight—J. Payne Collier—Sheriff Gordon—Robert Chambers—Lord and Lady Ellesmere.

One of the proudest privileges among the many pleasures we received from Macready was that of writing our name on the free list at the London theatres where he was manager; and we shall not readily forget the exultant sense of distinction with which we wrote for the first time in the huge tome,—that magic book,—which conferred the right of entry upon those who might put their signatures there. Once, as we stood ready to pen the open-sesame words, we heard a deep voice near to us, and saw a lofty figure with a face that had something of undoubted authority and superiority in its marked lines. Voice, figure, face, at once impressed us so potently that we instinctively drew back and yielded him precedence;
and when he, with courteous inclination of the majestic head, accepted the priority, signed his name, and went on, we, advancing, saw traced on the line above the one where we were to write, the honoured syllables—“
Thomas Carlyle.” It may be imagined with what reverence we placed our names beneath his and followed him up the staircase into the theatre.

Not very long after that we met him on a superlatively interesting occasion. Leigh Hunt had invited a few friends with ourselves to hear him read his newly-written play of “A Legend of Florence;” and Thomas Carlyle was among these friends. The hushed room, its general low light,—for a single well-shaded lamp close by the reader formed the sole point of illumination,—the scarcely-seen faces around, all bent in fixed attention upon the perusing figure; the breathless presence of so many eager listeners, all remains indelibly stationed in the memory, never to be effaced or weakened. It was not surpassed in interest,—though strangely contrasted in dazzle and tumult,—when the play was brought out at Covent Garden Theatre, and Leigh Hunt was called on to the stage at its conclusion to receive the homage of a public who had long known him through his delightful writings, and now caught at this opportunity to let him feel and see and hear their admiration of those past works as well as of his present poetical play. A touching sight was it to see that honoured head, grown grey in the cause of letters and in the ceaseless promotion of all that is tasteful and graceful, good and noble, a head that we remembered jet black with thick, clustered hair, and held proudly up with youthful poet thought and patriot ardour, now silvered and gently inclined to receive the applause thus for the first time publicly and face to
facedly showered upon it; the figure that had always held apart its quiet, studious course, devoted to patient, ardent composition, now standing there in sight of men and women the centre of a thousand grateful and admiring eyes. His face was pale, his manner staid and simple: as if striving for composure to bear an incense that profoundly stirred him, a kind of resolute calmness assumed to master the natural timidity of a man unaccustomed to numerous and overt testimony of approbation; and as if there were a struggle between his desire to show his affectionate sense of his fellow-men’s liking, and his dread lest he should be overcome by it. As he withdrew from the ovation it was evident that the man of retired habits was both glad and sorry, both relieved and regretting, to leave this shouting, welcoming, hurraing crowd.

There was a public occasion that brought us into contact with several noteworthy men of the time,—the Anti-Corn-Law Meetings at Covent Garden Theatre, and the Anti-Corn-Law-League Bazaar, held there in aid of the funds needed for the promotion of their object. Richard Cobden, John Bright, Charles Pelham Villiers, George Wilson, W. J. Fox, John Bowring (afterwards Sir John), and Colonel Perronet Thompson (afterwards General) were among the chief of these eloquent and earnest speakers. An excellent hit was made by Mr. Fox one night, when dancing was proposed to be got up after the speeches, and some of the demure and over-righteous objected to it as indecorous. Instead of answering their objection he took a most ingenious course. He rose to address the audience, and said, “I understand that dancing is about to take place, and that some inconsiderate persons have insisted that everybody shall
dance, myself among the number. Now any one who looks for a moment at me must perceive that my figure wholly disqualifies me for a dancer, and would render it entirely unbecoming in me to take part in an amusement that is charming for the young and the slender. I beg you will excuse me from joining you; but pray, all you who enjoy dancing and can dance have dancing at once.” Fox had a neat, epigrammatic mode of expressing himself that told admirably in some of the Anti-Corn-Law-League speeches. In one of them, as an illustration that England depends upon France for many luxuries, he said, “A rich Englishman has a French cook that dresses his dinner for him, and a French valet that dresses him for his dinner.”

Of Richard Cobden’s delightful society we had the honour and pleasure of enjoying a few perfect days in familiar home intercourse, several years afterwards abroad; he and his wife coming over from Cannes and taking up their abode under our cottage roof at Nice in the most easy, friendly, unaffected way imaginable. Of one Christmas Eve especially we retain strong recollection: when Mrs. Cobden sat helping us women-folk to stone raisins, cut candied fruits, slice almonds, and otherwise to make housewifely preparation for the morrow’s plum-pudding—a British institution never allowed to pass into desuetude in our family—while Cobden himself read aloud the English newspapers to us in his own peculiar, practical, perspicuous way—going through the Parliamentary debates line by line: and as he came to each member mentioned we observed that he invariably added in parenthesis the constituency as thus:—“Mr. Roebuck [Bath] observed that if Mr. Disraeli [Buckinghamshire] thought that Mr. Bright [Birmingham] intended
to say,” etc. It was as though Cobden had made this a set rule, so that he might well fix in his mind each individual and the constituency he represented.

With Colonel Perronet Thompson we subsequently met under very pathetic circumstances. It was by the bedside of a poor young lady in St. George’s Hospital, whose friends had asked him to go and see her there while she was in London hoping for cure, and who had likewise been recommended to our occasional visitation during her stay in that excellent establishment. It was by her own brave wish that she had come up to town from a distant northern county, and the visits of the benevolent-hearted veteran were most cheering to her. His steel-grey hair, his ruddy complexion, his bright, intelligent eyes, his encouraging smile, his enlivening conversation, shed a reflection of fortitude and trust around her, and made her youthful face kindle into renewed expectation of recovery as he spoke. The expectation was ultimately and joyfully fulfilled; for she was so completely cured of her spinal complaint as to return to her home able to walk, to resume her active duties, and, finally, to marry happily and well.

It was not long before the last illness of Thomas Hood that I (C. C. C.) met him at the house of a mutual friend, when his worn, pallid look strangely belied the effect of jocularity and high spirits conveyed by his writings. He punned incessantly but languidly, almost as if unable to think in any other way than in play upon words. His smile was attractively sweet: it bespoke the affectionate-natured man which his serious verses—those especially addressed to his wife or to his children—show him to be; and it also revealed the depth of pathos in his soul that inspired his “Bridge of Sighs,” “Song of
the Shirt,” and “
Eugene Aram.” The large-hearted feeling he had for his fellow-men and his prompt sympathy for them were testified by his including me—we having met but this once—in the list of friends to whom he sent on his death-bed a copy of the then recently engraved bust-portrait of himself, subscribed by a few words of “kind regard” in his own handwriting.

While we were living at Bayswater some friends came to see us, accompanied by a young lady who, with her mother, was a neighbour of theirs, and in whom they took much interest, from her intellectual superiority and her enthusiasm of nature. She had luminous, dark eyes, with an elevated and spiritual cast of countenance; and was gentle and deferential in manner to her mother, and very kind and companionable towards the children of our friends, who had a large family of boys and girls, eager in play, active in juvenile pursuits, after the wont of their race. She seemed ever at hand to attend upon her mother, ever ready to enter into the delights of the child neighbours; and yet she was devoted heart and soul to the ambition of becoming an authoress, and spent hours in qualifying herself for the high vocation. Some time afterwards we read her most charming novel of “Nathalie,” and found that the young lady of the dark eyes and gentle, unassuming deportment, Julia Kavanagh, had commenced her career of popular novelist, which thenceforth never stinted or ceased in its prosperous course.

Our pretty homestead, Craven-hill Cottage, Bayswater, was one of the last lingering remains of the old primitive simplicity of that neighbourhood, ere it became built upon with modern houses, squares, and terraces. Of our own particular nook in that parent-nest—the last that we
dwelt in together with our loved father and mother, ere they migrated to the Continent for warmer winters—
Leigh Hunt once said, “This is the most poetical room in a most poetical house.” It was a very small abode, and required close packing; but, for people loving each other as its inmates did, it was a very snug and happy home.

We had two houses close by us that contained very kindly and pleasant neighbour friends. One was the house of Mrs. Loudon and her daughter; the other that of the Rev. Edward Tagart, his wife and his family. So near to us were they that we could at any time put on hat, hood, or shawl over evening-dress and walk to and from the pleasant parties that were given there. Nay, on one occasion, when Sheridan’sRivals” was got up at Mrs. Loudon’s by her daughter and some of their friends, the Mrs. Malaprop, the Lucy, and the David went on foot ready dressed for their respective parts from Cravenhill Cottage to No. 3, Porchester Terrace, with merely a cloak thrown over their stage costumes. The David also enacted Thomas the Coachman, “doubling the parts,” as it is called; so that he went in his many-caped driving-coat over his David’s dress. It chanced that he arrived just as the gentleman who was to play Fag was drinking tea with Mrs. Loudon, and she gave a cup also to the new arrival. Afterwards she told us that she had been much amused by learning that one of her maids had been overheard to say, “It’s very strange, but missus is taking tea with two livery servants.”

At Mrs. Loudon’s house we met several persons of note and name: the Landseers, Edwin and Charles; Martin, the painter of “Belshazzar’s Feast,” &c.; his clever-headed and amiable daughter, Miss Martin;
Joseph Bonomi, and his wife, who was another daughter of Martin; Owen Jones, Noel Humphreys, Mr. and Mrs. Milner Gibson, Louis Blanc, William Jerdan, and others.

On one occasion, when Mrs. Loudon gave a fancy ball, few costumes, among the many very handsome and characteristic ones that gave picturesque variety to the scene, were more strikingly beautiful and artistic—as might be expected—than those of Owen Jones and the Bonomis.

Under Mr. Tagart’s roof we had the gratification of meeting one evening Ralph Waldo Emerson, who did one of the company the honour of requesting to be introduced to her, and paid her a kind compliment; while she, be it now confessed, was so occupied with a passage in one of his Essays that she had that morning been perusing with delight, and so longed to quote it to him and thank him for it, yet was so confused with the mingled fear of not repeating it accurately and the dread of appearing mad if she did venture to give utterance to what was passing in her mind, that she has often since had a pang of doubt that, as it was, she must have struck Emerson as peculiarly dull and absent and unconscious of the pleasure he really gave her.

One forenoon Mrs. Tagart, in her usual amiable, thoughtful way, sent round to say that she expected Mrs. Gaskell to lunch, and would we come and meet her? Joyfully did we accept; and delightful was the meeting. We found a charming, brilliant-complexioned, but quiet-mannered woman; thoroughly unaffected, thoroughly attractive—so modest that she blushed like a girl when we hazarded some expression of our ardent admiration of her “Mary Barton;” so full of enthusiasm on general
subjects of humanity and benevolence that she talked freely and vividly at once upon them; and so young in look and demeanour that we could hardly believe her to be the mother of two daughters she mentioned in terms that showed them to be no longer children. In a correspondence that afterwards passed between her and ourselves, on the subject of an act of truly valuable kindness she was performing anonymously for a young lady anxious to become a public singer, Mrs. Gaskell showed herself to be actuated by the purest and noblest motives in all she did. She tried her utmost to prevent her agency in the affair from being discovered; giving as her reason the dread that if it were known it might tend to “injure the freedom of the intercourse” between herself and the young lady in question; adding, “for I want her to look upon me as a friend rather than as a benefactor.”

It was at a party at the Tagarts’ house that we were introduced by Leigh Hunt to Charles Dickens; when an additional light and delight seemed brought into our life. He had been so long known to us in our own home as “Dear Dickens,” or “Darling Dickens,” as we eagerly read, month after month, the moment they came out, the successive numbers of his gloriously original and heart-stirring productions, that to be presented to “Mr. Charles Dickens,” and to hear him spoken of as “Mr. Dickens,” seemed quite strange. That very evening—immediately—we felt at home and at ease with him. Genial, bright, lively-spirited, pleasant-toned, he entered into conversation with a grace and charm that made it feel perfectly natural to be chatting and laughing as if we had known each other from childhood. So hearty was his enjoyment of what we were talking of that it caught the attention of our hostess, and she came up to inquire
what it could be that amused Mr. Dickens so much. It was no other than the successive pictures that had then lately appeared in
Punch of Mr. Punch himself; two, in particular, we recollect made Dickens laugh, as we recalled them, till the tears glistened in his eyes with a keen sense of the fun and ridiculous absurdity in the attitudes. They were, Mr. Punch as Caius Marius seated amid the ruins of Carthage, and Mr. Punch swimming in the sea near to a bathing-machine. Charles Dickens had that acute perception of the comic side of things which causes irrepressible brimming of the eyes; and what eyes his were! Large, dark blue, exquisitely shaped, fringed with magnificently long and thick lashes—they now swam in liquid, limpid suffusion, when tears started into them from a sense of humour or a sense of pathos, and now darted quick flashes of fire when some generous indignation at injustice, or some high-wrought feeling of admiration at magnanimity, or some sudden emotion of interest and excitement touched him. Swift-glancing, appreciative, rapidly observant, truly superb orbits they were, worthy of the other features in his manly, handsome face. The mouth was singularly mobile, full-lipped, well-shaped, and expressive; sensitive, nay restless, in its susceptibility to impression that swayed him, or sentiment that moved him. He, who saw into apparently slightest trifles that were fraught to his perception with deepest significance; he, who beheld human nature with insight almost superhuman, and who revered good and abhorred evil with intensity, showed instantaneously by his expressive countenance the kind of idea that possessed him. This made his conversation enthralling, his acting first-rate, and his reading superlative.

All three it has been our good-hap to enjoy completely;
and that we have had this enjoyment will last us as a source of blest consciousness so long as we live.

His having heard of the recent private performance of “The Rivals” caused Charles Dickens that very evening of our first seeing him to allude in obliging terms to the “golden opinions” he understood my Mrs. Malaprop had won; and this led to my telling him that I understood he was organizing an amateur company to play Shakespeare’sMerry Wives of Windsor,” and that I should be only too delighted if he would have me for his Dame Quickly. He at first took this for a playfully-made offer; but afterwards, finding I made it seriously and in all good faith, he accepted: the details of this enchanting episode in my life I reserve till we come to our Letters and Recollections of Charles Dickens; but meanwhile I may mention that it brought us into most pleasant acquaintance with John Forster, Mark Lemon, John Leech, Augustus Egg, George Cruikshank, Frank Stone, F. W. Topham, George H. Lewes, and, correlatively, with Charles Knight, J. Payne Collier, Sheriff Gordon, and Robert Chambers. Of those who were fellow-actors in the glorious amateur company further will be said in the place above pre-referred to; but of the four last-named men it is pleasant to speak at once. Both Charles Knight and J. Payne Collier in their conduct towards us thoroughly reversed the more usual behaviour of Shakespearian editors and commentators among each other: for Charles Knight was marked in his courtesy and kindness, while Payne Collier went so far as to entrust the concluding volume of his 1842-4 edition of Shakespeare, which was then still in manuscript, to Mary Cowden Clarke, that she might collate his readings and incorporate them in her “Concordance” before publication,
though she was then personally unknown to him. And when in 1848 she played Mistress Quickly at the Haymarket Theatre, on the evening of the 15th of May, Payne Collier came round to the green-room, introduced himself to her, told her he had just come from the box of
Lord and Lady Ellesmere, charged with their compliments on her mode of acting the character, and then—with a chivalrous air of gallantry that well became one whose knighthood had been won in Shakespearian fields—added that before taking leave he wished to kiss the hand that had written the “Concordance.” This gave her the opportunity she had long wished for, of thanking him for the act of confidence he had performed in previous years, of entrusting one unknown to him with his unprinted manuscript. It is pleasant to record incidents that so completely refute the alleged hostility of feeling that exists between authors; and to show them, on the contrary, as they mostly are, mutually regardful and respectful.

John T. Gordon, Sheriff of Mid-Lothian, was one of the most genial, frank-mannered, hearty-spoken men that ever lived. His sociality and hospitality were of the most engaging kind; and his personal intercourse was as inspiriting as his expressions of friendliness in his letters were cordial.

Of Robert Chambers’s friendly, open-armed reception to those who went to Edinburgh and needed introduction to the beauties of this Queen City of North Britain, no terms can be too strong or too high. He placed himself at the disposal of such visitors with the utmost unreserve and the most unwearied kindness; and no man was better fitted to act cicerone by the most interesting among the numerous noteworthy objects there to be seen. He
shone to great advantage himself while indicating them; for his talk was intelligent, clear, well-informed, and extremely pleasant. He seemed to enjoy afresh the things he was discussing and displaying for the thousandth time; and to be as much interested in them himself, as he made them doubly and trebly interesting to the person he was guiding.