LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter I

Contents Vol. I
Prelude 1
Prelude 2
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Contents Vol. II
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Note to Chapter XV
Contents Vol. III
‣ Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Note to Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Note to Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Note to Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Index of Persons
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The Third Epoch.


THE greater portion of my Second Epoch was written at Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight. I had spent the winter there with my family, and quitted it when the spring seemed at once passing into summer, and there was such an outburst of leaf and blossom as I had rarely witnessed in the early days of May. What a region of beauty is the Undercliff in all seasons. Winter rarely touches it with an icy finger. When “yellow leaves, or none, or few” hang upon the boughs that mingle with fallen crags, their bareness is hidden by the glossy ivy. In March it is a land of evergreens; in June a land of “flowers of all hues.” It is scarcely a place in which to pass “a working life;” but it is a place in which it is good to look back upon the turmoil of such a life—its vain cares, its disappointed hopes,—and to see what was once deemed the highest good fading into nothingness, and the instant evil melting into a twilight in which good and evil wear the same passionless and almost shapeless features. We unwillingly left the Undercliff, which had long been to me a spot sacred to friendship, when the friend was a
perennial source of delight to all who had the happiness to know him. It has become to me even more sacred, now that he lies in the most beautiful of churchyards, that of his long-loved Bonchurch.

We moved for the summer to a very different scene, but one, to my mind, equally attractive. I commence the story of my Third Epoch on the banks of the Thames, above Kingston. We are the tenants of an artist, whose spacious and quaint studio where I write is fitted by its seclusion for calling up the most abstracted memories of the Past. The river flows rapidly beneath my window, under the shadow of lofty elms which have flourished for a century, and by gay villas which proclaim the changes which have marked the era of rapid communication. And yet the Present is constantly in view, in the continuous stream of human life, which appears to move on as if it were always “a sunshine holiday.” In the morning and afternoon happy parties in van or cart are on their way to Hampton Court. As the sun is westering, boat after boat comes forth, some laden with fair ones, not perhaps so fine and fashionable as in the days when “Belinda smiled;” some bearing the solitary youth in his outrigger, who is training for the contest of a regatta; and, now and then, the beautiful eight-oar, rushing up the stream at a wondrous rate, attests the worth of one of the pursuits of Eton and Oxford. Very remarkable are the changed aspects of the Londoners’ river from Chelsea to Hampton. Rarely do I behold the team of a dozen horses toiling along the towing-path on the shore opposite my window. Cargoes of heavy goods travel by other modes of conveyance. Railroads carry the chief produce of the country to the
great city, and bring into the country its sea-borne coal, its native porter, its colonial imports. Sometimes I gaze upon the evidence of another great change. Smoke from the funnel of a steam-tug clouds the bright atmosphere, and three or four barges are dragged leisurely along. The pair of swans that I see leading their cygnets fearlessly out of their sheltering nook of osiers attest the progress of change. They are here to enjoy an unpolluted river.
Shakspere had
“seen a swan
With bootless labour swim against the tide.”
It is not the tide which now keeps them far away from what was once the “silver Thames” of the Blackfriars’ Stairs. I see nothing of the commercial character of the muddy stream as it glides to the sea by the great market of the world. But I see how it administers to the happiness of a mighty population, who, in our time, have been permitted to enjoy, in “meads for ever crown’d with flowers,” gardens of delight and treasures of art, which were once jealously guarded for the exclusive use of a Court. “The heroes and the nymphs” have passed away, for whom the old glades that
William planted after his grand Dutch fashion were exclusively held. The alleys of Kew, “carpeted with the most verdant and close-shaven turf,” are no longer appropriated by such as the maids of honour who hovered around Queen Caroline when Jeanie Deans entered the private gate with the Duke of Argyle. The pleasure grounds are no longer a sequestered region of verdure, seldom approached by the commonalty, but in which I remember having seen, with the joyous wonder of a school-boy, a herd of kangaroos, feeding fearlessly, with
their young leaping in and out of their pouches. These regal haunts of another age now belong, in the happiest sense of the word, to the people.

Nearly twenty years ago, I rejoiced in a spring morning walk from Richmond to Bushy. Yes!—I could then walk on, unfatigued by a stretch of a dozen miles. My pleasures of the picturesque must now chiefly abide in the remembrance of scenes which float unbidden before my mental eye. My outward vision is somewhat dim; my footsteps are feebler. Yet life is full of enjoyment. The thoughts of my youth have not altogether passed away. The Thames is to me now, as it was long ago, an evervarying source of gladness. I sit at my open window, now that the second week of July has really brought a summer evening. Gradually the sun casts long shadows of elm and poplar across the stream. The west is all a-glow. The pleasure boats still linger beneath the green banks. The shadows deepen. The plash of the oar becomes less frequent. A crescent moon rises in the south, and I sit watching its course, as it throws a pencil of silver light over the rippling water, and then sinks behind the distant woods. Many weeks of the loveliest weather succeed the passing away of the ungenial cold of June. Never was there a more exquisite English summer. Each day is
“The bridal of the earth and sky.”
The feelings of my early days are renewed, as I gaze upon the same stream, upon whose green banks
“Once my careless childhood play’d.”
Much of the Romance of fifty years ago is gone; but with it were mingled some aspirations which have not
been delusive. I then wrote—as the leading idea of a Sonnet—
“Spoil me not, world! but let my ripening age
Cling to the green fields and the breathing grove;
Not with the spell-bound votary’s sickly rage,
But with a calm, severe, and reverent love,
Such as my gathering woes might still assuage,
And fit my soul for the bright scenes above.”

In these my “chair days” I am not wholly unfitted for out-door pleasures. I can take boat within a few hundred yards of my temporary retreat, and glide down the river, “though gentle, yet not dull,” past populous places and sequestered dwellings. The rumble of the train over the railway-bridge at Kingston disturbs me not. The whole scene has the repose of solitude with tine gaiety of civilization. I sit in the stern of the light but steady craft, not troubling myself even to steer. I am molested not by the paddle of the steam-boat destroying the calm mirror of the current. That belongs to the lower regions of the Thames, and comes not now, with its crowded deck and its brass band, above Kew. I glide on past Teddington. Past Twickenham, whose associations with Pope are gone. Past Ham House, which Hood has immortalized in his exquisite verses, “The Elm Tree.” A glimpse of Richmond Hill tells me it is time to return. But I need not be sculled home against stream. The railway will carry me to Kingston in half an hour. Thus with little fatigue I have an afternoon of tranquil enjoyment. A writer in a “Review” which,—joining, with youthful vigour and more than youthful knowledge, the old clever and honest band of Examiners and Spectators,—has rendered weekly criticism a thing to be respected,
and sometimes feared,—delights me, at the time when I am renewing my familiar intercourse with my beloved Thames, by terming it “the most beautiful river in Europe.” “Some persons,” he says, “vainly talk of the Rhine.” He admits that the Rhine is larger, its banks more mountainous, and has in it more water than the Thames, but he utterly denies that it is more beautiful. “In fact, the Thames is the incarnation of refined comforts, and contains the essence of the best of English scenery.”*

I have recollections of the Rhine which do not in the slightest degree interfere with my admiration of the Thames, but lead me to enjoy it the more by the force of contrast. These recollections take me back to the point of time past, from which I have wandered in a dreamy enjoyment of time present.

On the 27th of June, 1844, I started in company with Mr. Long on an expedition to Germany. My ostensible object, always kept in view but very imperfectly carried out, was to hunt amongst the stores of the German booksellers for “Folk-lore,” that might serve as material for the series of the Weekly Volume. My companion’s perfect acquaintance with the language promised to be of essential service to me in this research. I was quite sure from previous experience that my friend would be as much disposed as myself to look with cheerful aspect upon whatever we encountered, and not render travelling that misery which sometimes ensues from the fastidiousness of those who are not ready to accommodate themselves to foreign habits. Our steam-boat voyage to Antwerp was accomplished in four-and-twenty

* “Saturday Review,” July 2, 1864.

hours. It is now easily performed in eighteen hours. We saw the Cathedral and the Picture Galleries, and for the first time understood, what we could never have learnt at home, how great a painter was
Rubens. We reached Liege late at night, having been detained long upon the railway by the imperfect arrangements of that new mode of travelling. There was then only one line of rail from Malines, and at one station we had to wait an hour until another train from Prussia had met us and passed on. My late excellent friend the Chevalier Hebeler had given us a letter or two of introduction, but we found none more valuable than a recommendation to the host of the principal inn at Aix-la-Chapelle to provide us with his best wine and his nicest apartments. We at length reached the Rhine, and saw the great Cathedral at Cologne, in which the work of restoration was then going on very slowly. We enjoyed the hospitalities of a friend at Bonn for a day or two, hearing incessant murmurs against the Prussian government. We then joined the crowd of steamboat tourists. To many of these the Rhine must have appeared monotonous. The real sense of the picturesque is not very widely diffused, even now, when people have ceased to talk about “horrid rocks,” as they did in the last century. The voyage up the Rhine was a somewhat tedious affair twenty years ago. Some beguiled the tedium with hock and seltzer-water; some with a book; some with a quiet nap. A friend of mine, a few years before, beheld one ingenious traveller who had a peculiar mode of enjoying the beauties of the noble river. He sat in the cabin hour after hour with the map of the Rhine spread out before him. Ever and anon he called out
to the steward—“Where are we now?” “Bacharach” “All right—here it is”—exultingly putting his finger on the map. “Where are we now?” “Oberwessel” “All right.” The castle of Rhemstein did not lure him from his task, nor the vine-covered hills where Charlemagne planted the Burgundy grape. Happy man!—as well employed perhaps as many a tourist who is hurried along, to do this noted place and that—sees all, and sees nothing. We left the steam-boat at St. Goar; and the next day realized what was the most delicious part of our trip—a walk for twenty miles amidst exquisite scenery, past which the railway now whisks us in an hour. Eighteen years later, as I glanced from the train at the White Horse at Bingen, I longed again to stop for a day or two’s enjoyment of its abundant good cheer; but then had I rested there I could not have climbed the Niederland and there looked upon what
Bulwer calls the noblest landscape in the world. We were at length housed in Frankfort. The shops of the regular booksellers offered very few serviceable things for the Weekly Volumes that could not as readily have been procured in London; but in dirty back lanes there was an occasional shop in which the humblest sort of popular literature—of the same character as the old chapbooks of our forefathers—was to be found. I filled a box at a venture with some score of volumes and sheets, which appeared candidates for cheapness in their whitey-brown paper and coarse printing and rude woodcuts. The greater number turned out to be rubbish. Our experience at Frankfort led us to conclude that little could be gained from an extension of our journey to the great publishing mart of
Leipsic, so we turned our faces homeward. This holiday trip was productive of no commercial good, but its pleasant recollections are “a joy for ever.”

There was no lack of abundant materials for the new series, in copyrights in which I had an interest. Some might be reprinted without alteration, others could be adapted by their writers. Lord Brougham’s Statesmen of the Time of George the Third; his Dialogues on Instinct, and his edition of Paley’s Natural Theology, were of this character. Mr. Lane’s Modern Egyptians, and Sir John Davis’s Manners and Customs of the Chinese, were in the same way valuable works, expensive in their original form, now brought down to the lowest cost. Mr. Craik, out of the extension of his chapters on Literature in the Pictorial History of England, produced six valuable little volumes, which have since been reprinted, as they well deserve to be, in a more costly shape for the library. One of the most original and important works in this series was the Biographical History of Ancient and Modern Philosophy by Mr. G. H. Lewes. The increasing reputation of Mr. Lewes as a writer of eminent ability and extensive acquirements was, in a great degree, founded upon this work, which, with large improvements, has taken a permanent rank as being at once learned and readable. In this series I included several summaries of great writers, such as Spenser and Bacon, by Mr. Craik; Moliere and Racine, by Madame Blaz de Bury; Chaucer, by Mr. John Saunders; Hudibras, by Mr. Ramsay. The small comparative sale of such volumes was to me a tolerably satisfactory proof that abridgments and analyses of standard authors are not likely to be
successful. Unless important works are inaccessible from their rarity or their bulk, the greater number of readers—and these perhaps are the more judicious—are ill-content with hashes and essences. In my early publishing days, I privately circulated a prospectus of “The Analytical Library of the Great Writers, Ancient and Modern,” which thus commenced: “One of the most valuable methods of conveying information to general readers is partially accomplished in the Reviews which are published quarterly in this country: we allude to the principle of taking up some standard book, to present a pretty complete view of the subjects upon which it treats, with specimens that may convey a notion of the matter and style of the Author. What is thus incidentally done in some of our best critical works, we propose to carry much farther in the present publication—much farther, indeed, than was done in the ‘
Retrospective Review,’ which, like ‘The British Librarian’ of Oldys, meritoriously adopted the principle of reviewing our past instead of our current literature. But, instead of a ‘Review,’ we propose to publish a Library: instead of presenting a Great Writer in an Article, we shall exhibit him in a Volume.” It was well for me that this project was not matured into a costly series, for, if I judge rightly now, it would not have commanded a remunerative sale. There are some works of imagination that are almost unknown to the present race of readers. Who can avoid lamenting that Tom Jones, and Roderick Random, and Tristram Shandy are utterly gone out of the popular view. But abridgments! No, no!

Amongst the original works was one which was an
exception to the general character of the books in my series, which for the most part carried the recommendation of popular names as their authors. This was “
Memoirs of a Working Man.” It was written by a tailor of the name of Carter. He was the author of one of the little books published by Knight and Co., called the “Guide to Trade,” and had been recommended to me in 1840 as a highly deserving man, carrying on a little business for himself, with a dependent family, and struggling with the severest ill health. In the introduction which I wrote to the “Memoirs of a Working Man,” I stated that when the author brought to me his manuscript, which he wished to be published by subscription, I carefully read his simple record of an uneventful life, advised him to curtail such particulars as could only be interesting to himself and his family, but on no account to suppress what would be interesting to all—the history of the formation of his habits of thought, and thence of his system of conduct—the development of his intellectual and moral life. In conclusion I said: “Upon receiving the Manuscript thus altered and completed, I proposed to publish it in the Weekly Volume. This is the extent of my editorial duty. I have not added, nor have I altered, a single word. The purity of its style is one of the most remarkable characteristics of this little book.”

I desire to make a few remarks upon the question of encouraging the class of those who are called, for want of a more definite name, working men, in attempts at literary composition under a system of rivalry for prizes. The example of Thomas Carter, and of many others who belong to the ranks of self-
educated men, is sufficient to prove that if they have talent and good sense, with a reasonable proportion of knowledge, they will want no artificial stimulus to attain some sort of success as public writers upon subjects with which they are really acquainted. After the death of
Sir Robert Peel, there was a penny subscription for a memorial by working men to the great minister who had carried the repeal of the Corn Laws. The late Mr. Joseph Hume, who was the treasurer of this fund, invited me to meet some gentlemen at his house to discuss the application of the money raised. It was proposed and was very nearly carried, that several prizes should be announced for the best memoir of Sir Robert Peel by working men. I was almost alone in opposing the project, but I finally got Mr. Hume to be of my opinion. The proceeds of the subscription were ultimately placed at the disposal of the Council of University College, and being invested by them in public securities, the interest is annually applied to the purchase of books to be presented to one or more Mechanics’ Institutes. When I witnessed a remarkable episode in the regular course of proceedings at the Bradford Meeting for the Promotion of Social Science in 1859, I became more than ever convinced that the hardy plant of uncultivated talent does not require to be transferred to a forcing-house to bud and fructify. Lord Brougham, as President of that meeting, was the principal performer in a great ceremony, of distributing to working men certain prizes for original compositions proposed by Mr. Cassell, a publisher of low-priced serials. To myself, as well as to many others, this appeared something more than a mistake—as the promotion of a social
evil. The venerable President proclaimed this trading speculation—this cheap mode of advertising—as a wonderful example of disinterested devotion to the cause of knowledge for the people, on the part of one who might be regarded as the great educator of his time. Palmam qui meruit ferat. The prize system has become one of the notable expedients of publishing quackery. The word prize is altogether a delusion. It tempts scores of uneducated young persons to enter upon a competition for a reward for literary labours which seems to them magnificent. They are wholly ignorant of the nature of the literary market, in which the real prizes are ready to be earned by those who possess the requisite qualifications. Instead of being an encouragement to struggling genius, it holds out a temptation to mediocrity to travel out of its proper road to honour. The competition for a prize essay, or a prize novel, is entered upon with the assured belief of scores of self-deceivers that they can become great writers—“upon instinct.” I think it may be of use if I here print a portion of a letter which I wrote, in 1856, in answer to a curious application which I received from a young man of the same unqualified class of literary aspirants as were the winners of the prizes distributed at Bradford. “Why you apply to me for advice I know not. You want to become, in some way or other, professionally connected with literature. You are obliged to spend your time in a warehouse. You want to write for a periodical that you may be enabled to pursue your studies. My advice to you is to stick to your honest calling, for you evidently labour under some terrible mistake with regard to what you call ‘literature.’ If you
would take the trouble to look in
Johnson’s Dictionary, you would find ‘literature’ to be ‘learning, skill in letters;’ and therefore a professor of ‘literature’ must obtain ‘learning’ and (skill in letters by study, before he presumes to be a writer.”

The series of the Weekly Volume, although it did not involve any considerable loss, was certainly not a commercial success. “Why Mr. Knight did not profit largely by the speculation, is a problem yet to be solved,” said the writer of a paper on “Literature for the People.” The solution was that the people did not sufficiently buy the series. There were not twenty volumes that reached a sale of ten thousand, and the average sale was scarcely five thousand. Considerable sums were spent upon new copyrights, and for the permission to include in the series high-priced books, previously published by me. The volumes were not cheap enough for the humble, who looked to mere quantity. They were too cheap for the genteel, who were then taught to think that a cheap book must necessarily be a bad book. Although very generally welcomed by many who were anxious for the enlightenment of the humbler classes, the humbler classes themselves did not find in them the mental aliment for which they hungered. They wanted fiction, and the half dozen historical novelets of the series were not of the exciting kind which in a few years became the staple product of the cheap press. It was perhaps as useless as it was unwise to battle against this growing taste, which was not limited to hard-handed mechanics and their families. In 1854, when I was inclined to think too harshly of the popular appetite for fiction, which was stimulated by the coarsely seasoned food of such publications as
the ‘
London Journal.’ Mr. Dickens remonstrated with me in the most earnest and affectionate spirit. I extract from a letter of his, marked by his accustomed good sense, a passage which deserves the serious consideration of those who look too severely upon the exuberance of this species of popular literature. “The English are, so far as I know, the hardest worked people on whom the sun shines. Be content if in their wretched intervals of leisure they read for amusement and do no worse. They are born at the oar, and they live and die at it. Good God, what would we have of them!”

At the time of the issue of the Weekly Volume, the sale of books at railway stations was unknown. Seven years afterwards it had become universal. Then, in the vicinity of great towns where there was a railway station, the shelves of the newspaper vender were filled with shilling volumes known as the ‘Parlour Library,’ ‘The Popular Library,’ ‘The Railway Library,’ ‘The Shilling Series.’ In their bulk of thin paper and close printing they would appear to be twice as cheap as my volumes, but, except in very rare instances, they had involved no expense of copyright. In 1851 I wrote: “It is easy to foresee that the public, having got into the habit of purchasing this class of books, to the great damage of the circulating libraries, will not rest content with American piracies; and will begin to inquire whether our native authors cannot write as well, and become as popular, as the Washington Irvings, and Pauldings, and Coopers of the New World.” In a few years, a most remarkable development of cheapness in books, especially in works of fiction, was accomplished without “the great damage of the circulating libraries.”
Wonderful organizations of the circulating library system presented a far greater encouragement to original authorship than at the period when the few rich purchased books for their sole use. The day of furniture books was almost past. When the circulating libraries had done their work of “the season,” then came the cheap reprint. This was the crucial test of an author’s popularity. My work as a publisher was finished before these times arrived, which are certainly more favourable for publishing enterprise than those of my own commercial experience.

Somewhat before the commencement of the Weekly Volume, I was engaged for several years in the publication of a series of popular books which had a very large sale, but were little known to the general reading public. They were picture books, especially adapted for sale, in the neighbourhood of the great manufacturing towns and other populous districts, by the class of book-hawkers known as canvassers. The books usually vended in this way, by the persevering activity of the agents of the canvassing booksellers, had become of a somewhat improved character, compared with those issued by the Number-publishers of twenty years previous, of whom I have described one of the most eminent of the class.* There were four books, forming seven volumes in folio, which I included under the generic name of “The New Orbis Pictus,” in imitation of that work of Comenius, which, after the lapse of two centuries, still holds its place amongst the educational books of continental Europe. That work, which was once amongst the most popular

* “Passages* &c.”’ Vol. I. p. 277.

of books, originally contained several hundred rude wood cuts with appropriate descriptions. My series comprised the following separate books: “
Pictorial Museum of Animated Nature:” “Pictorial Sunday-Book:” “Old England:” “Pictorial Gallery of Arts.” I told the public that what the Orbis Pictus had imperfectly accomplished was fully carried out in this series, in which was accumulated the largest body of eye-knowledge that had ever been brought together, consisting in the whole of twelve thousand engravings. To derive the full commercial advantage of such a series of picture-books, I must have become exclusively a canvassing publisher, with all the complex organization involved in having a vast body of subordinate agents distributed throughout England and Scotland, who have every facility for defrauding their principals unless watched and checked at every turn of their operations. These books have passed into the hands of canvassing publishers proper, and what I learn of their great and continued sale is sufficient to show me that there was a mine of wealth requiring to be dug out by a peculiar species of industry. It is satisfactory to me to think that these books may have presented to some portions of the population—who without the canvassers importunity would never have expended a monthly shilling upon literature—sources of instruction and amusement as various and extensive as my general title implies—The Pictorial World. Of this series I was necessarily the editor. The descriptions in each book were for the most part confided to persons of literary habits and competent knowledge—these were, Mr. William C. L. Martin for Natural History, Dr. Kitto for Sacred History, Mr. Dodd for
the Useful Arts,
Mr. Wornum for the Fine Arts, and Mr. John Saunders for our National Antiquities. I must mention, however, that the first Book of “Old England” and part of the second, were written by myself. At the period of its publication there was an awakening feeling for the preservation of our historical monuments. The barbarous neglect which had permitted so many druidical remains, such as Abury, to be in great part destroyed; so many traces of the Roman occupation to be buried; and so many of the noble ecclesiastical edifices of the Norman era to be defaced; this ignorant apathy was rapidly giving place to a just reverence for the past. Some of the visits which I then made to remarkable places, for the purpose of writing or superintending this pictorial and descriptive work on our antiquities, had been preceded by glimpses of the same nature for other literary objects, and were followed by excursions of a similar character for a work completed in 1849—“The Land we Live in.” This was an important preparation for writing the history of England. It was to me a branch of my historical education. As a rapid view of some of the localities connected with great events, and with eminent persons, may have interest for other historical students, I may not improperly devote a future chapter to the recollection of occasional visits, for the gratification of more than a passing curiosity, to sites which call up the associations that belong to the “chronicles of eld.”