LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Fifty Years’ Recollections, Literary and Personal

Vol. I Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Vol. II Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Vol. III Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
‣ Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
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When an individual has been well educated, and in the course of things is, perhaps, the member of an inn of court, or comes from the university or not, as the case may be, and enters upon life as a literary man, he begins to feel an ardent love for study, and is led into an attachment for that laborious employ. There are few can imagine how that life becomes second nature, how the devotion to a pursuit which absorbs the whole mind, and makes time fleet with increased rapidity, strengthens its hold upon the spirit. It is not in literature as in the pursuits of life in general, that men arrive at a point in which, from having attained the mastership, they can proceed no farther. The mind is led on from one stage to another, from mastering one ascent, to the view of Alp beyond Alp yet to be surmounted; and such is the prospect, let life be ever so protracted. Still we see:
“Now distant scenes of endless science rise.”

We ardently follow the road to knowledge, and in the meridian of life, find, as on setting out, that we are Tyros still, while we have derived but little of what the world most esteems, by which we are to support our vitality in age, until a last resting place is found in the lap of the common mother.


If we were worldly wise, therefore, we should turn to some money-making pursuit, but for this we find ourselves wholly unfit. We cannot take up with petty details, we have always thought upon a large scale, and acted upon it. We cannot alter our mode of thinking, and our customary habits, our elevated views, our expectations of good gleaned from reflecting on the undying minds of the wise in all ages, and exchange them for small beginnings, hagglings, and outwittings in traffic. We cannot think as the world thinks, if we would; we had rather not think so. We are chained to the stake, and must die there. The course of things has prevented us from reaping the fruit of our own toil. We have expended the oil, and the hour of darkness approaches, without the power of replenishing it. We have wasted the spring-time of life in seeking wisdom and understanding, but are not destined to reap the benefit of these acquirements. We toil that others may reap, the only race in the community so situated. We have no mode of access to the public judgment, but by the sacrifice of our mental qualifications, our labour, our anxiety, and our health, to enrich others. We are martyrs in a certain sense to the public gratification.

When I quitted town, I parted with my library, which cost me years to acquire. I looked at the well-laden shelves for the last time, and re-called how frequently I had thought, if the room had only opened on a good-sized garden, or on a rural landscape, the world might have its palaces for me. Those loaded shelves all spoke to me like voices from the dead, pregnant with what was elevating, good, and attaching to the heart,
and I, who have roamed much about the world, thought how contented I could be to die there, a captive, and be conveyed to my last rest, weary of a distempered pilgrimage, rather than continue to mingle in bustle again. I was quite ready to toil away in thanklessness, the allotted hours of existence on that spot, and living in the midst of the spirits of the past, to continue to pay my quota to the social good in my long continued avocation.

But had I, therefore, no enjoyment? Here lies the rub. Everybody who has taken a dose of laudanum to ease pain, knows the soothing effect, the momentary forgetfulness of care, which follows the dose. Here it is enjoying an intermediate state between pleasure and pain, through the mind being fully occupied. The allotted task places the feeling in a state of negation. We become lovers of the toil, the absorption in which deadens care, but we also become to the full extent, incapable of changing the employment that, perhaps, for half a century we have followed. What then remains for those who have not been able to realize an independency?

The difficulty of an author getting out a first work, if it be really new and original, is great, and is at present more so than ever. When it does happen that a truly original work appears, every scribe who wields a pen is beseeched by the trader to write as like it as possible, in matter and style, because it “has sold very well.” When Mr. Dickens published one of his earlier works, I was busy in the field of politics. I had never since my youth been a great reader of works of fancy, but, seeing some passages copied in the London papers, pleasing
me, I ordered the work from town. What was my surprise to receive the numbers with a continuation and conclusion by another writer, that of one who had, no doubt, been hired by some sordid hand to take up the story where its author had left off, while the sheets of the original writer were wet from the press. This was a species of robbery, committed in order that the continuation might appear to belong to the original writer. I refused the copy, and sent it back to town. The secret of profiting by imitation this way, is one too often exemplified.

The number of readers of profound works, as with those of learning, has not increased in proportion to readers for amusement, so that all advance together. It is here that our non-progression is too singularly visible. Works of fancy are alone perused by the many, particularly by the young, and this is taken for mental advance in the higher order of intellectual acquirement. It was agreed for a wager, a short time since, to put the question to twenty “educated” young men, in the present phrase, one after another, had they read any of Goldsmith’s works—the “Vicar of Wakefield,” for example. Only two knew anything about his works, but nineteen had read “Jack Sheppard,” that is, had read what happened to amuse the passing moment.

Such being the fluctuations in literature, it is not without reason that the wiser individuals in civilized nations see how extensive is the benefit literary men contribute to the public good—good, I may almost say measureless, and sometimes aid them. The caprices of the public taste may enable one literary man in a great number, and no more, to attain a scanty com-
petency. He lives to sustain traders whose modes of thinking and dealing are as wide from his own as the poles are asunder, the reciprocity of their connection always existing under feelings totally estranged.

Many are the hours retired and in heavy labour that those who work out great public good in literary works are compelled to pass. But there are some lower branches of literature, where men toil hard enough to serve the public interests, without the consolation of being recognized writers. In the old newspaper time, the editor, unlike some at present, were men of education, and any errors in those publications were rarely seen to arise from want of knowledge in the subjects treated upon. When I became acquainted first with this class of political writers, they were men of considerable acquirements, and well known by reputation. They were, as they should be, regarded as the ruling spirit of the publication, and possessed sterling principles on the side they advocated. They often retired from their duties to some public situation, at home or abroad. This has long ceased. The monied proprietary of newspapers now, regard them as means to forward their trading purposes. An editor is not considered of such moment on similar establishments. He must be Tory, Whig, and Radical, in turn, if it be the order of a proprietary, the larger part of which may be barely able to spell their own names, otherwise he must leave the concern. No superior spirit alone rules the pen. To cozen a sale, the most indefensible doctrines of the many or few are held up as virtues. Does a sullen dissatisfaction pervade the
minds of the humbler classes of society, it is at once pampered and extolled on the trading principle of getting a sale from them; to talk here of the integrity of the press is absurd. To me, the vocation of the press implies something better than this inculcation of discontent, unless it is justifiable in principle, not in interest. Every measure from an authority is declared bad, because there is a spirit abroad among certain of the labouring classes, which, unhappy from other causes, vents itself upon the government, for the time being, be it of what party it may, as if any government were faultless, and this without specifying solid grounds for discontent, because neither the praise nor blame of the government is the end of the diatribe. The act of a pecuniary speculation upon principles, is an abuse of the press, making a trade of truth. Let not this be made a charge against the literary men of this country. The capitalist bears down all, perverting the best things. The mercenary principle intertwines itself here, and becomes irresistible. It corrupts, defiles and degrades even our altars. As madder pervades the texture of the bones in the human frame, so the lust of lucre pervades and neutralizes the efforts of the better literary spirits in their vocation, deteriorating the offspring of mind, and defeating the high mission of the writer.

In regard to the labours in this branch of literature, well qualified men have too often had much to endure. Their toils are by no means as light as the popular ignorance on the subject would induce the ‘world to believe. The qualification for the duty (I speak only of those duly qualified) is no trivial acquirement, and the
emoluments rarely equal the labour and cost of the previous instruction, though formerly it was very different. The writing, day by day, let the mind be well or ill tuned to the labour, the infinite variety of subject, of which some knowledge must be acquired, all tend to show that the task is one of the heaviest that can be undertaken. Even style must be studied for popular adaptation. The responsibility of a minister of state, is, no doubt, great, and his duties various; but his toil is recompensed by his gratified ambition. What recompense in ambition meets him who labours for the public thanklessly, in secret, under the blighting influence of an insolent venality? The burthen is sometimes intolerable to a shrinking spirit, seldom imbued with the courage and spirit of the philosopher of old!

There was always a class of literary men in my earlier time, who were of the world, mingled in society, and made themselves all things to all men, but they generally disappointed vulgar expectation. Apparently trifling and joyous as others, people wondered how exhibiting no difference from others, they should publish works that afforded them so much pleasure.

But here the author plays a double character, the real being concealed under the assumptive. He cannot interchange his thoughts with those who have no similar feelings, no sympathy with the hour when he, contemplative and earnest, is working out in solitude the undertaking which affords them pleasure. It is among the select few, not the heterogeneous many, that one mind interchanges with the other to advantage.

Thus a dinner party, if of more than six or eight, is not
good for the communication of ideas. I myself for many years avoided numerous dinner parties, and what are called public dinners. The conversation is wholly unimproving, noisy, and desultory. Nor is there any benefit in marching up and down a crowded room, hearing common-place repetitions. Neither literature nor science are to be cultivated at levees or routs.

The members of the old-fashioned clubs of half a century ago, derived pleasure and improvement from conversation. They are past. Modern clubs are only large taverns, with the same unsocial company over again. Calm reasoning, or agreeable listening, is not to be had from a well or ill-clothed multitude.

I once belonged to a very pleasant conversation club, called the Literary Fund Club. It had no connection but in name with that excellent institution for the assistance of authors in narrow pecuniary circumstances in Great Russell Street, an institution conducted on the best principles for the end it purposes, and widely known as the Literary Fund. The chairman was Sir B. Hobhouse, the father of the present Lord Broughton. On the death of Sir Benjamin, Lord Broughton became chairman. I am ignorant at what period it ceased to exist, owing to my long absences from town. There were seldom as many as a dozen members present at a meeting, which rendered conversation snug and agreeable. Good wine and the zest afforded by the conversation of individuals of considerable mental endowments made memorable the social enjoyments of the hour. The club was held at the Freemason’s Tavern, and much resembled the clubs of the olden time.


The pleasures of an author generally tend to circumscription in social intimacy. If a writer make a name, and if his intellectual productions are admired, he attains an honest notoriety, not to be compared with those who cozen a reputation. Many for a little celebrity will figure as harlequins, or as Hamlets, characters to themselves totally indifferent, if they can catch the applause of the galleries.

I remember when I lived in France, a man condemned to the galleys for life being first branded. He had stopped the diligence near Avignon, with twelve passengers, and robbed them all, making them one and one get out and lie down on their faces. The whole story would have furnished an excellent subject for the graphic pen of Mr. Thackeray, who finishes off Gallic characters so admirably, as I can myself vouch. But to the point. When they applied the burning iron to his flesh, he scorned to shrink, and exclaimed,

“Who would not bear this and more for so much glory. I robbed twelve of them, and had no accomplice; à la gloire, mon ami!” he exclaimed to the man with the branding iron.

It was night when he performed the exploit, having stuck up in a wood by the roadside, two or three stuffed manikins, and a small fire kindled near, to make them look like brother bandits.

This man’s was the true Cambyses vein. This love of good or evil notoriety it is which
“Plots, preys, preaches, pleads,
Harangues in speeches, squeaks in masquerades.”


So it was with the man who set fire to the Ephesian temple for notoriety, and the courtier at Rome, who being with the Emperor Charles V. on the roof of St. Peter’s, felt tempted to take him in his arms and fling him over, to obtain renown by the exploit. The morality of the action no more troubling the courtier, than it troubles the Alexanders of military conquest.

But the ambition of the author of the present day must be circumscribed—modern ambition of this order is ephemeral. There is to be no acknowledgment, but en masse. No superior genius is to be regarded, but a perfect equality is to be established, and the desire of money supersede the excellence, obtained by patient study and honest investigation—it is a sign of the times.

The sudden decease of Judge Talfourd surprised his friends, and the world at large. I had known him for thirty-five years and upwards. I have already alluded to our connection.

In everything his industry and punctuality were conspicuous. During a long literary intercourse, he never pleaded for a substitute in a single instance through sickness or pleasure. Of his merits in connexion with histrionic literature, it would be superfluous to express an opinion. Singularities of expression and opinion upon actors and theatrical subjects marked his earlier articles, about the years 1820 and 1822. His chief excellences were of a passive nature. There was nothing impetuous about him—nothing of waywardness. His equanimity and “beauty” of temperament, if I may so express myself, were remarkable. He was not enthusiastic, but he cherished hopes rather good than
ambitious. He was no sordid money-loving advocate, his profession was a means only—a necessity of existence, a task to be unflinchingly executed, even while his heart was yearning after more generous pursuits. Destitute of fortune, and while at the bar a young practitioner naturally stinted in his “receipt of custom,” with others whom he loved looking up to him for support, I knew him, unknown to the world, return to a literary man considerable professional fees when the case had concluded, the language of his generous nature whispering: “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine!” He ever looked beyond the scope of external sense, and to the last “held communion sweet” with the shadowy past. He was not a wit according to existing phraseology, being incapable of turning good into evil, the serious into the ridiculous, for the sake of a vacant risibility. Obliging and civil to all, he sometimes wasted his urbanity where the frugal use would have been more politic. He never made an easiness of principle. When great truths were at stake, he did not shuffle, talk of expediency, and declare he thought it better to leave things as they were than be troublesome by an impertinent wrangling for reformation. He was not formed for a politician. His generous spirit could not be cordial with the chicane and subserviency—the wariness and want of principle of political men, ever intriguing and jealous. The arts of the advocate, the why and wherefore, are well understood by the world, and are but repetitions. He raised considerable expectations, it is true, on entering the House of Commons, as a representative for his native town of Reading, so flattering to his feelings. His friends
expected he would make a figure there. I was not deceived into thinking him a politician, though in legal questions he might have been distinguished in the House. The ministerial party expected something striking.
Peel was observed to take out his pencil to make notes, and to listen attentively for a few minutes, and then to replace it deliberately in his pocket; his sagacity and long experience told him that the new member would not be a formidable political opponent. I do not remember Talfourd’s writing a line on public affairs.

I never saw him on the bench, and seldom anywhere after 1840, having been long absent from London. Going into the court at the Stafford assizes—that court which neither he nor myself could then dream would be the closing scene of his existence—we met by accident. Only two or three gentlemen of the bar had come in; the judge had not yet made his appearance; we had a short conversation, and I did not see him again until he was elevated to the bench. We shook hands upon his appointment. He looked so changed that I could not help saying, “Neither of us look younger since we met last.” “True,” he observed, “but it is the course of nature.” There was a cast of heaviness, an apparent weight about his head, that was not caused by advancing years, but something unusual, which forced from me the above remark, that afterwards I wished, I knew not why, I had not made.

I have mentioned that Talfourd first wrote in the old series of the “New Monthly,” to which I was myself also a contributor, about which time I first knew him. He then overpraised a particular actor: and his style was
exuberant and somewhat singular. This he subsequently changed for one more chaste, with imagery less affluent. Talfourd regularly supplied me with the drama for ten consecutive years. His contributions to the first part of the magazine were few. He always asserted that a magazine should be a repository for all sorts of opinions. This would be just enough when the editor was not a known character before the public, and when the writers were not anonymous. But the public, when only cognisant of one name, would naturally imagine sentiments diametrically opposite to those of a literary man of reputation, already avowed in print elsewhere, were written or sanctioned by him. This point is now of no moment in magazines. The names of the writers being affixed to the articles, there can be no mistake about the authorship.

A second article of Talfourd’s was “A Call to the Bar,” a sort of pendant to one that had before appeared called “The Temple,” written by the lamented Henry Roscoe. “A Chapter on Time” was his next contribution. I remember a paper entitled “The Profession of the Bar,” to which there were several objections, for we were at the same moment publishing papers on the Irish Bar. It was necessary to vary the fare, and it was difficult to refuse a paper of Talfourd’s, although it was unmercifully long. I wrote him, therefore, to request he would, if possible, shorten it. He replied by the following note. I was at first apprehensive he was annoyed—I was mistaken, his amenity and amiability of disposition suppressed any feeling of that sort, had it existed:

“2, Elm Court, Temple.
“Dear Sir,

“I have looked over my article on the Bar carefully, with a view to your suggestion, and have submitted it to the perusal of several legal friends, and the result of our review is, that I cannot materially shorten it without rendering it incomplete and partial. To do this would be really to render what would be left untrue, because it would want qualification and equipoise, and, therefore, I am reluctantly obliged to decline the task. I do not write with much hope that you will take the article as it is; and I should he sorry to impose on you the unpleasant duty of writing a positive refusal, therefore I will understand your silence for an expression of dissent, and, after Tuesday next, if I hear nothing, consider myself left to dispose of the paper as chance may offer, or as I may be able to manage.

“I probably view the subject through the medium of prejudice, but to me it seems very far from being confined in interest to the legal profession. At all events, the Bar of England is as interesting to English readers as the Bar of Ireland, on which a long series of masterly articles is giving. Perhaps, however, I am ungrateful in making this allusion, for I half suspect that the qualified approbation of the subject has been employed as a kind substitution for complaint of the manner in which it is treated.

“When I find leisure, I shall try my fortune once more in an article; for I have a great desire to appear again in the pages of a work in which I wrote largely in the first days of my authorship—when the Maga-
zine was very inferior to what it is now, and when I, perhaps, was less stupid—meanwhile believe me,

“With many thanks for your polite attention,

“Yours faithfully,
T. N. Talfourd.”
C. Redding, Esq.”

The continuation of the Irish Bar and the English at the same time would not have been politic. Talfourd had had no experience in the vexations of conducting a periodical work of the nature of this, then, complicated magazine, and its double-column matter in addition, nor of the tact necessary to sustain it. All his circle of friends failed in their efforts to maintain a single work of the kind. I myself contributed to the “London Magazine,” which failed. The reason, I think, to have been the want of a more general coincidence in the style and literary opinions it supported, which were too much those of a coterie with those of the world at large.

I was careful that no alteration should be made in his dramatic articles, solely on account of his fondness for the subject; an author writes well only when he is free to use his own words. The articles on this topic were wholly in my department, and if I thought sometimes they were too exclusively laudatory of a particular actor, I reflected that the public might be more of his opinion than mine. There was only one casual occurrence of the kind. Campbell was taking coffee with me in Frederick Street one evening, when a letter was brought enclosing the monthly article. I stated what it was, and the poet said,


“Has he noticed Miss Kemble?”

I replied that he had, glancing my eye over the article. I then read it.

“Good,” said Campbell, “but let us add a little more.”

Campbell, whose friendship was great for Mrs. Siddons—she used to spend many an evening at his house in those pleasant days—then wrote some additions, off-hand, to what Talfourd had sent. Not liking that Talfourd should attribute the alterations, or additions to myself, as I had been so far scrupulous on the subject, I wrote to him accounting for them in the way they really occurred. He wrote back:

“Temple, Tuesday morning.
“Dear Sir,

“I am much obliged by your note, although it was wholly unnecessary to say a word on the alterations Mr. Campbell made in the dramatic article. I am exceedingly glad that Miss Kemble should have the pleasure of reading his richly-coloured praise of her, instead of my poorer eulogy; and I only wish she may know to how celebrated a pen she is indebted for such a testimony to her genius.

“I should be very glad to join the Literary Union, under such auspices, but unless I can, without annoying my friends, retire from the Verulam Club, of which I am a member, I should hesitate, as a married man, to encroach further on the little time my professional engagements allow me to be with my family.

“Believe me, dear Sir, very faithfully yours,
T. N. Talfourd.”
C. Redding, Esq.”

I have no notes besides that bear an interest for others. In one, dated from Shrewsbury, March, 1828, he says, as an excuse for not attending to a request until his return to town, “I have been too much engrossed by business, and by sorrow, to do anything.” I have no idea to what he referred—no matter, business and sorrow no longer concern him!

The dramatic works of Talfourd, except “Ion,” cannot be said to have succeeded, and even in that play there is too much of the absence of Greek character. There are charming passages, but too little that bears the stamp of the identity which the play by name and scene is expected to hold with the personalities of the renowned land of antique fame. Yet it carries about it a tranquil grace, the picture of a finely-modelled mind, and an elegance which renders it highly captivating. In his criticisms he was kind, truthful, lucid, ever ready to tolerate, through the goodness of his nature, that which in strictness he should not have spared. He seemed to feel that the sensibility of an author was of the most tremulous texture, and that if he spared unnecessary pain to others, he need not trouble himself about justification to that public which, instead of being grateful for the right view of the intellectual fare set before it by a judicious critic, is ever ready to make sport of the weaker party. He was in this respect strikingly magnanimous. He attached himself, in the earlier part of his career, to a particular school, and followed the limited views of a small circle of literary friends. Hence for a good while he exhibited a species of mannerism in his style. He had become attached to common and trivial things, as if he thought the most peace and kind-
liness dwelt with them, consequences that others could not perceive. He seemed at first to prefer the indefinite in writing, formless, shadowy, intangible objects, on which he could let loose his imaginings, endeavouring to bring them out in the shape his fancy dictated to himself, if obscure to others. He early possessed a full command of language, and than at times combined his sentences, as if he were on the search for real transpositions of words, rather than compression and perspicuity. Warm in friendship, he was not less so in advocating the particular views he held regarding the writers whom he supported against the censures, which, not always undeserved, were cast upon them, as if the very faults of those he regarded were, in his opinion, to be respected. The actor I have mentioned, who was a favourite with him during his early criticisms, used to draw forth the more extravagant of his encomiums. I could not agree in their justice; but I believe, as time passed, he moderated his sentiments greatly. It was on a gloomy evening, when London becomes in a moment enveloped in thick darkness, that I called in Elm-court at his chambers, having been in the city. When I entered I could scarcely distinguish their master, who was seated by the fire. When the first salutation was over, Talfourd said:

“I saw you at the theatre last evening; how did you like the performance?”

“Not at all; you know my opinion of tearing a passion to tatters, and ——”

Here he became fidgetty. I continued, until an unmistakeable uneasiness on the part of Talfourd, who was sitting upon thorns, warned me of something wrong, I
did not know what, and broke the thread of my observations. I had just entered upon a philippic against certain parts of the performance on which he had invited my opinion, and my objurgation was directed about a particular actor, who I had thought did not merit the praise he received from the critic. We had frequently a little good-natured sparring about our different opinions of his acting. At this moment the actor was in the room, looking out of the window into the darkness beyond; nothing could be more mal à propos.

The light was so little, that Talfourd’s first efforts to rein me in were unnoticed, placing him on sharper thorns. It was awkward on all sides. He then said something foreign to the subject, designed to raise a joke, but it was in vain. I beat a retreat as soon as I could. I afterwards recommended him to have candles a little earlier in future, when he was visited by the heroes of the buskin, as the London atmosphere was so capricious.

He, too, has passed away, and so suddenly! But, “he that lives the longest dies but young,” says Otway. We can only cherish for a time the recollection of the most worthy of our friends. Soon even that recollection must die, and “slip through our fingers like water, and nothing be seen but like a shower of tears on a spot of ground; there is a grave digged, and a solemn mourning, and a great talk in the neighbourhood, and when the days are finished, they shall be; and they shall be remembered no more; and that is like water, too—when it is spilt ‘it cannot be gathered up again.’”

Of Campbell, Talfourd knew next to nothing, and gave erroneous opinions of his editorship, mingled with
a few facts. I doubt whether he ever saw the poet, unless casually in
Colburn’s shop, all the time of his contributions. He could not, therefore, be acquainted with the mode in which the editor did his duties, except through myself. The first article Talfourd contributed was in the peculiar style of the school to which he had attached himself. It was a lamentation on the passing away of old things, and the loss of the poetry of life, by the suppression of mendicity, and other innovations. He was attached to Lamb and some of his particular friends in attempts to establish a periodical work, but none of the school were ever able to succeed in the adventure, though ready to make rules for others. A style more universal was necessary, with views of greater expansion than they possessed. The “London Magazine” was the great effort of that school, and it contained many good articles—but it failed. Hazlitt and Proctor wrote for it as well as Talfourd. I contributed three or four articles—but a coterie periodical will not do. The managers may suppose the eyes of the world are upon them, and that they make an impression commensurate with the high estimate they attach to their own principles and labours—but it will be unavailing. To please the world, we must be of the world, and show it to the world, while we fathom its depth, and deplore our being compelled to adapt ourselves to its character.

When Lord Brougham and some of his friends, many years ago, issued their series of instructive works for the poorer classes, Campbell and others asked me to join them. I expressed my doubts of their success, and told several members of the committee, I thought they were flattering themselves with the
hopes of a success they would not find. My labours and means forbade my joining them. I thought that the workman after his ten or twelve hours labour, was too much exhausted to apply his mind to that which he must study hard to comprehend. The works of the society were too good. The majority of people in easy circumstances could not comprehend them. Here, also, I was told that I was in error, but I was not without some experience in the mode of life of the classes for whom these publications were designed, with such good intention to benefit. They were not comprehended but by the few, the very few. Soon afterwards these truths were demonstrated beyond all impeachment.
Mr. Knight published his Penny Magazine. In this country there never was a work more easy of comprehension, more varied, better adapted to impart useful instruction, while at the same time it afforded amusement—yet it fell off until only the monthly parts were taken, a proof that they went to a class that could afford to pay for a number of the issues together. Many more people read now than formerly, but they read only works which are congenial to their habits and state of life. The Newgate Calender, extraordinary adventures, and childish stories multiply without end. Some imagine this reading will lead to better things, I do not believe it will ever lead men to right reasoning. The common mind looks only to self gratification, and takes the natural broad road to it, and when the temporary amusement is over, flings the toy aside. Intellectual power is as diverse as that which is corporeal. A conceit of superior knowledge is too often raised among the ill-informed, a very large tribe, and the standard of
literature is continually lowered to suit those who can tolerate none above them in their fallacious judgments. In this way genius is stiffled in the bud out of envy, jealousy, or a desire to assume judicial ability where there is no scintillation of pretence for it.

It is unfortunate that while the cheap press is declared essential to what is misnamed education, and the better works of this class are read, there is an under current running of a very different kind, much more captivating, of which little is said, but of which the mischief is enormous in extent. The moralist will not reason like the trader about such works. The Christian must lament over a state of things which views mental corruption as nothing in competition with lucre, while the individual of worthy literary character feels the disgrace. The works of Eugene Sue, and a host of profligate French writers are translated and circulated here by thousands. This is not all, their productions are imitated by unprincipled scribes of our own, and the garbage is read with avidity. We have our Sues, Sands, and Soulies, who paint damnation gaily, and are extolled by that class of writers here who exemplify the progress of what is miscalled “education,” that is merely the art of reading and writing, without training minds to principle of any kind, and destitute of regard for virtue and even decency. We cannot wonder at a multiplication of criminals, and a laxity of morals, when we see how common and agreeable everything vicious and odious is made by such writers. Vice is no longer regarded with distaste when it is dandled in our arms, warmed at our hearths, and made the continued burthen of conversation with the young and impressible.


When I first met Douglas Jerrold, it was to proffer me his assistance. His career in life closed while I was writing the preceding page. He was one of the most original writers of the present day, a clever satirist on existing manners, and a true son of genius. Shrewd, observant, extensively read in his country’s literature, he possessed the virtues and some of the failings of those on whom nature has lavished choice gifts. His writings owed less to others than to his own originality, a rare thing in the present time. He possessed great readiness of intellect, and a style framed by himself, with a power peculiarly his own, of catching the better portions and salient points of the subjects he handled without much apparent labour. In his dramatic works he scorned the hacknied system of borrowing or altering from foreigners. He had a well-founded confidence in his own abilities, and they did not deceive him. He was our last dramatic writer, in the sense of his plots and characters being his own, as in the good times of our better dramatists. In this he had stood alone, for no brief period, up to the hour of his decease.

Accident—perhaps I should rather say that mysterious bias which comes, we know not how, upon the mind, and indicates the particular track which will lead it to success—accident made him adventure an anonymous contribution to the press. It was successful, and decided his future career. The tendency of his writings is to a sympathy with humble life, warm, with a generous indignation at tyranny and injustice. He too often wrote from this impress, as if the poorer classes were continually oppressed by those more fortunate
in life; and hence, perhaps, the exaggeration. He started a
magazine bearing his own name, and a newspaper, both which were continued for some time, but his fame will rest chiefly upon his dramatic productions. He had much humour, his satire was keen, and readily elicited. His social temperament, quickness of repartee, and hearty conversational talents were conspicuous, and never slackened. His wit was superior to that of Hook, it was much more manly, and not followed out for the sake of the mere laugh alone—it was not a play upon words, so much as the sense of the satire couched beneath them, some concealed verity, or a bit of wit pregnant with worth. Good-natured, and full of philanthrophy, he still knew how to apply the lash to the forward fool, or the braggadocio. He did not lose sight of a moral meaning in his pleasantry, which made thinkers as well as talkers regard him with respect. In his society, time flew rapidly away, the party small and the occasion meet. Similar accelerations of time are rare in these days when gold grabbing engrosses the table conversation in company so largely, and the rich and racy in intellect must sit like statues and listen to the recital of Mark Lane prices, or the rise and fall of stock. Even the noble now talk of investments at their tables, and banish the “feast of reason and flow of soul.” To say nothing of literature, the loss at such a time, the loss of a happy companion, and so highly endowed in the social circle, is doubly felt in that of Jerrold—peace to his ashes—

“Lower him with gentle hand into the grave,
And deck the spot with flowers to Genius dear!”