LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 16: A. Conway

Vol. I. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Introductory
Ch. 2: Childhood
Ch. 3: Boyhood
Ch. 4: London
Ch. 5: Companions
Ch. 6: The Cypher
Ch. 7: Edinburgh
Ch. 8: Edinburgh
Ch. 9: Excursion
Ch. 10: Naval Services
Ch. 11: Periodical Press
Ch. 12: Periodical Press
Ch. 13: Past Times
Ch. 14: Past Times
Ch. 15: Literary
Ch. 16: War & Jubilees
Ch. 17: The Criminal
Ch. 18: Mr. Perceval
Ch. 19: Poets
Ch. 20: The Sun
Ch. 21: Sun Anecdotes
Ch. 22: Paris in 1814
Ch. 23: Paris in 1814
Ch. 24: Byron
Vol. I. Appendices
Scott Anecdote
Burns Anecdote
Life of Thomson
John Stuart Jerdan
Scottish Lawyers
Sleepless Woman
Canning Anecdote
Southey in The Sun
Hood’s Lamia
Murder of Perceval
Vol. II. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary
Ch. 2: Mr. Canning
Ch. 3: The Sun
Ch. 4: Amusements
Ch. 5: Misfortune
Ch. 6: Shreds & Patches
Ch. 7: A Character
Ch. 8: Varieties
Ch. 9: Ingratitude
Ch. 10: Robert Burns
Ch. 11: Canning
Ch. 12: Litigation
Ch. 13: The Sun
Ch. 14: Literary Gazette
Ch. 15: Literary Gazette
Ch. 16: John Trotter
Ch. 17: Contributors
Ch. 18: Poets
Ch 19: Peter Pindar
Ch 20: Lord Munster
Ch 21: My Writings
Vol. II. Appendices
The Satirist.
Authors and Artists.
The Treasury
Morning Chronicle
Chevalier Taylor
Foreign Journals
Vol. III. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary Pursuits
Ch. 2: Literary Labour
Ch. 3: Poetry
Ch. 4: Coleridge
Ch 5: Criticisms
Ch. 6: Wm Gifford
Ch. 7: W. H. Pyne
Ch. 8: Bernard Barton
Ch. 9: Insanity
Ch. 10: The R.S.L.
Ch. 11: The R.S.L.
Ch. 12: L.E.L.
Ch. 13: L.E.L.
Ch. 14: The Past
Ch. 15: Literati
‣ Ch. 16: A. Conway
Ch. 17: Wellesleys
Ch. 18: Literary Gazette
Ch. 19: James Perry
Ch. 20: Personal Affairs
Vol. III. Appendices
Literary Poverty
Ismael Fitzadam
Mr. Tompkisson
Mrs. Hemans
A New Review
Debrett’s Peerage
Procter’s Poems
Poems by Others
Poems by Jerdan
Vol. IV. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Critical Glances
Ch. 2: Personal Notes
Ch. 3: Fresh Start
Ch. 4: Thomas Hunt
Ch. 5: On Life
Ch. 6: Periodical Press
Ch. 7: Quarterly Review
Ch. 8: My Own Life
Ch. 9: Mr. Canning
Ch. 10: Anecdotes
Ch. 11: Bulwer-Lytton
Ch. 12: G. P. R. James
Ch. 13: Finance
Ch. 14: Private Life
Ch. 15: Learned Societies
Ch. 16: British Association
Ch. 17: Literary Characters
Ch. 18: Literary List
Ch. 19: Club Law
Ch. 20: Conclusion
Vol. IV. Appendix
Gerald Griffin
W. H. Ainsworth
James Weddell
The Last Bottle
N. T. Carrington
The Literary Fund
Letter from L.E.L.
Geographical Society
Baby, a Memoir
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What art thou, life, that we should court thy stay?
A breath, one single gasp must puff away!
A short-lived flower that with the day must fade!
A fleeting vapour, and an empty shade.
A stream that silently, but swiftly glides
To meet Eternity’s immeasured tides!
A being, lost alike by pain or joy.—Broome.

From poetry to realities, I was ever and anon called by those afflictions which mark the passing years of all human life. The dear old nurse of my infancy, whose prayers for my prosperity had never ceased to ascend to Heaven, was taken away a few months after her worthy husband. Papa and Mammy now, both were gone, and a sad void was created in my heart. Rich as we may be in the affections of those who remain with us, there is always a deep grief in the irretrievable parting from any one of that number whose love never knew change, who in weal or woe entertained the same anxious feeling for our happiness, and seemed to be utterly governed by a sentiment like predestination, which it was impossible to alter. The loss of my own Mammy, who made an idol of me in my boyhood and watched my after years with a yearning solicitude,
rejoicing in every good that befel me, and excusing, whilst deploring, any errors I committed, was a severe trial to me; and it was soon followed by another still more distressing to bear. My
eldest brother, to whom our family looked up with hope and confidence as a head for the re-establishment of its scattered members when he should return from India, as his letters had promised, almost immediately, was also taken from us at the moment when our expectations were the highest and brightest. He had served with honour and distinction (see Vol. I., p. 16, and Appendix D.), and was indeed publicly noticed by Sir W. Kier and Mountstuart Elphinstone and others in authority, as one of the most intelligent as well as most gallant soldiers in the service; and his position in Bombay was in the front rank for separate and important commands. He was a dashing horseman, and the ambition which kept him in the East, only too long for his health, was the prospect of succeeding to the Colonelcy of a cavalry regiment, of which several were then about to be formed at this Presidency. A campaign far up on the Gulf of Cutch, where a country, intersected by rapid rivers and defended by nearly unassailable mountain fortresses, seen almost within cannon-shot and yet requiring immense fatigue to approach across deep ravines and rugged precipices, wore out his constitution, and instead of the noble fellow on his Arab steed hunting the wild ass of Iran (the first ever chased on Indian ground*), sent him back to Bombay, a shattered invalid, whom the toils and anxieties of war had so fatally overthrown. He loved his Sepoys as his children, and they almost adored him. He was unfortunately detained some time before he could procure a vessel to bear him homeward;

* He penetrated the mountain land of Cutch so far to the north as to be the first English officer who met the wild ass among the sporting animals of Indian pursuit.

and he was landed and died at the Cape of Good Hope, esteemed and lamented by all who knew him. Thus ended his career where his first military ardour was elicited; for the reader may remember that on his outward voyage in 1795 he set the spirited example of a cadet volunteering to serve on the attack of the Dutch forces which defended that valuable colony.

Of my brother I never heard but one opinion from the many persons from India with whom I conversed about him, and who knew him in public and private life. His praise was on every lip, and it was a pride to claim kindred with such a man. His letters to me were of infinite interest, and gave the most vivid accounts of Indian warfare and the manners of the people that ever I read; and a yet stronger proof of his superior intellect was afforded in those parts of his correspondence which were of a private nature. His fraternal advice to me, founded on an exact appreciation of my character, and those foibles or weak points which he thought were calculated to affect my progress in life, showed wonderful discernment, and could hardly be explained with reference to the distance between us and the few opportunities he had of studying that which he certainly understood so well. I used to be surprised by his acumen; and it might have been better for me had I been as sensibly instructed by his wisdom as I was impressed by his fraternal earnestness and astute talent.

We are apt to reflect on such matters too late. I had been so used to hot water, that when a calm came, I forgot that there had been storm and might be more. Then “Hope told a flattering tale.” I had always conquered difficulties; and would conquer all that could occur. The spoiling of earlier years, though far from cropping out in idleness or recklessness, had not prepared a soil for a standard crop of prudence.

My endeavour to make these Memoirs light and enter-
taining—the reading of the times—does not bring out a true picture of the more imaginative, and serious, and feeling part of my character—nor even a fair measure of my capacities. Those who have been baffled in their aspirations and thwarted in their designs and undertakings by the call for unceasing labour and the distractions of life, can alone conceive what it is to have planned much, idealized much, begun much, and never completed: then to have sorrowed over the reflection of what they might have done under other circumstances—to have mistaken dreaming for action—and to have compared short forthcomings with vast desires, till the sense ached with vain and useless regret.

Such a condition of mind had at least one advantage. It taught me to look at what others accomplished with some appreciation of their difficulties and without envy of their success. It laid the flattering unction to the soul; if I had enjoyed similar favourable opportunities, I, too, might have achieved a similar victory. The gratifying deceit was deposited on the altar of self-love; and it is thus we cheat ourselves from the cradle to the coffin.

The marked division of mankind into two great orders, chiefly distinguished from each other by the characteristics of ideality and reality, or in other words, of spirituality and utilitarianism, has become far more obviously pronounced as civilisation has advanced and the conditions of the simpler states of nature been forgotten. The demarcation has made itself more and more distinct, as it is perfectly clear it must have done; but still we must not imagine that it can be mapped and separated by an abrupt line, and that there is not a wide middle space where the two divisions mingle and blend together in every possible shade and gradation. This is the world of the nineteenth
century—the world in which we live, breathe, and have our being.

But though there is this vast difference to be found among every civilised people on earth, it is, as an inevitable consequence, the most strikingly demonstrated in commercial communities, where busy pursuits engross the time and thoughts of the individual, and a constant struggle for the acquisition of gain prevails throughout the mass. The superiority of riches is never out of sight—for riches command respect, and purchase all sorts of enjoyment, and display every outward sign of happiness; and therefore it is no wonder that men seek riches with an avidity which leaves little or no room for the cultivation of intellectual pleasures. There is no disparagement to humanity in this: confined within honourable bounds, and kept free from the odious taint of unsympathising selfism, it is, on the contrary, an essential manifestation and portion of the grand system which Providence has ordained for all.

So far, therefore, from there being any just ground to censure the fair pursuit of wealth, it would seem to be more liberal to consider it as a means to an end, which, being attained, would establish a capability in the individual to do great good and become a benefactor to mankind. This is a noble aim, and worthy of perseverance and toil to accomplish.

At all events there cannot be a sound reason given for antagonism between the two orders; for the principles are not antagonistic, but, being alike founded on the nature of man, can only be considered as distinguishable modes of cultivating his powers.

In jocose moments my worthy friend, Sir Peter Laurie, has facetiously illustrated the two pursuits, and certainly to
the advantage of the pursuivant of the real as contrasted with the imaginative—
William and Jonathan came to town together,
William had learning, and Jonathan had leather;
Said William to Jonathan, “What d’ye mean to do?”
Said Jonathan to William, “I can sole a shoe.”
And of course, as the song proves, there is nothing like leather; but perhaps an allegorical illustration by the learned Rabbi Yehodah ben Israel, in one of his dissertations to his disciples, may be accepted by my readers as more poetical:—

“A very old man was sitting by the road-side, and, lifting up his eyes, perceived a youth coming towards him, whose countenance was lighted up with smiles, and whose bearing evinced the elasticity of a heart free from unhappiness. Following him was an incalculable number of servants and camels, carrying gold and silver and precious stones in such profusion, that to look upon them was like gazing on the sun when it pleases God to cause him to shine forth with his utmost brilliancy on the children of earth. The old man rising from his seat, and approaching him of few years, thus accosted him:—

“‘Peace be unto thee, and the guidance of the Almighty on thy path. Wilt thou, my child, tell me the name thou bearest, and whence comest thou, for surely never before did mine eyes behold such magnificence as that of which thou appearest the possessor?’

“‘Unto thee be peace,’ replied the youth, ‘and may thy resting-place in Heaven be with the Patriarchs. My name is Chalom Taub (Good Dream). I return from visiting the sleep of a very poor man; I have caused the riches thou seest to pass before him in his slumbers, and have told him that he shall be the owner of wealth such as this: much do
I now regret that Mirth should have led me to his couch, for when he awakes, his poverty will be felt the more. And now, Father, I pray thee tell him who honours thy age, thy name?’

“The old man replied, ‘I am called Mazol Taub (Good Fortune); man invokes my name, prays for my presence, promises to perform every good precept if I will but appear to him, and when I do appear, woe is in my heart to say, the promises that have been made are forgotten, the hungry depart from his gate unsatisfied, the naked unclothed: in my estimation, my son, thou art better than I.’

“‘Not so,’ replied Chalom Taub, ‘how can my pursuits, which are imaginary, be better than thy functions, which are real?’

“‘Hear me, my son,’ exclaimed Mazol Taub, ‘and thou wilt acknowledge, and the whole of men’s doings on earth bear witness to the truth of what I say. It pleased me to attend to the earnest solicitations of one who with prayers supplicates my presence. I watch over him, and perhaps for twenty years bring him every kind of good that can fall to the lot of man. I find that he does not make that proper use of my gifts that my liberality and his own feelings should prompt him to do, and I withdraw my protection: he then forgets all the benefits received from my hands, and only bewails his misfortune. But thou hast been passing over the slumbers of a poor man; at a future time, if I think him deserving of my presence, I may appear to him: the life of misery and wretchedness he has passed is then forgotten, and he remembers with gratitude that thou, Chalom Taub, visited him a long time ago, and said that one day riches such as followed thee should call him master. Thus, I, who was actually present, am thought of no more, whilst thou, who wast but imaginary, art remembered,
and thy name is blessed with thankfulness, for having fulfilled thy ideal promise.’”

From the apologue of the learned Rabbi I am now led to turn to the fate of a man I greatly esteemed, and whose life presented one of those sad romances which show the real in sadder colours than the ideal can paint. Many readers will remember a performer on the London stage, Mr. Conway, who appeared in the highest walks of tragedy, and in several leading parts made a very favourable impression upon the public. He was a tall, handsome, and manly person—too tall for the boards of a small theatre like the Haymarket, to which he went from the larger house—and owing to some cause unknown, he provoked the bitterest criticism of the “Examiner” newspaper, which preyed upon his sensitive mind and injured him in the opinion of the audiences. He was compared to Gog, and his height turned into ridicule; till at last, in a passion of disgust and despair, occasioned by private circumstances even more than by the constant satire of his remorseless critics, he rushed into what he deemed the menial office of prompter at the Haymarket, and courted the apparent degradation as the means for earning his daily bread. It was a sore conflict, for Conway was a perfect gentleman, and his history a calamitous one. He was the natural son of Lord William Conway by the daughter of a respectable farmer, who, to avoid the shame of her situation, had been sent to the West Indies, where her son was born. He was well educated, or had done much in that way for himself, and obtained an honourable position in society; but, alas, a change came over his prospects, which the following letters will explain. I have only to premise that I felt a warm regard for Mr. Conway, that ho was often a welcome guest at my house, and that, when made
acquainted with the particulars of his life, I could not but take the deepest interest in his future fortunes. After a confidential interview, I received the annexed from him:—

“Oct. 18th, 1822.
Dear Sir,

“I gladly avail myself of your kind permission to renew, through this medium, the subject of our last conversation, and though experience forbids me to entertain any sanguine hope from your promised interference, my most sincere acknowledgments will be yours for your friendly endeavours to serve me. In that conversation I spoke of Lord William Conway as my father, and I must now inform you that, owing to peculiar circumstances, he has never supported or assisted me, and though not formally disowned I am not acknowledged by him. My various letters soliciting that act of justice, or an interview to enable me to demonstrate my claims to it, remain unanswered. On one occasion I traced him to an inn at Ringwood, and in a note, which I prevailed upon the landlord to place in his hands, implored an audience, if only for a few minutes; instead of granting it, however, he referred me in general terms to his family. I then wrote to the late Marquis, and to give weight to my application, procured it to be conveyed by persons of rank—the Hon. Mr. Tollemache and his lady, the Duchess of Roxburgh, who had frequently distinguished me by their kindness and hospitality. The Marquis acknowledged that he had always understood me to belong to his family, but added, that unless Lord William became himself my advocate he did not feel called upon to render me assistance. I next sought Lord Robert, by whom I was very courteously received, and afterwards Lord George, but owing to their alleged disunion from their brother I could not obtain from
them any promotion of my object. My last effort was through the assistance of a particular friend, a gentleman eminent in the literary world, whose knowledge of my straitened circumstances and natural claims upon the Hertford family, induced him to seek an interview with the late Marquis for the purpose of pleading my pretensions. On account of ill health the Marquis declined seeing him, but intimated his readiness to receive a written communication. Such communication was accordingly made, but did not obtain an acknowledgment. I send you a copy of it, and of the request which preceded it, that you may be able to appreciate the strength of that application, which was not honoured even with a reply. I fear these details will have been sufficiently tedious, hut in justice to myself I could not be less circumstantial. My hopes now rest with
Lord Henry and the present Marquis, to neither of whom I have the honour of being personally known. By your strong representations, perhaps, these noblemen may bestow a closer consideration upon my very hard lot, than it has hitherto been deemed worthy of. Their lordships may be humane enough to feel, and candid enough to allow, that though Lord William chooses to estrange himself from his connections, it is most unjust that I should be the sole victim of his peculiarity. For though his legitimate children may not have a large share of his personal attention, they are at least supported by his purse, and enjoy the full benefit of that rank in society to which their birth entitles them; while I am not only without any mark of personal notice which might give me a decent respect with the world, but am also without the slightest pecuniary aid that would enable me to live without it. Little sanguine as repeated reverses have taught me to be, I cannot forbear to entertain some hope that their lordships will commiserate
my situation when reminded that while every member of their numerous family, legitimate or otherwise, enjoys some provision from the wealth or influence of their connections, I alone of all their blood am doomed to neglect and penury—am abandoned to struggle as I may with adversity, without assistance or encouragement—and left to battle or beg my way through the world unregarded and unrelieved! I hope, Sir, that what has fallen from my pen cannot justly subject me to a charge of vanity or presumption: it is far from my wish to urge a syllable that can be construed disrespectful to any member of their lordships’ family; but I find myself struggling with an undeservedly hard fate, and in a communication like the present it becomes me to dispense with reservation or disguise. Through your kind interference, therefore, I most respectfully solicit either that their lordships will be good enough to cause some annual provision to be allotted me, sufficient to remove the importunities of want, and which I may endeavour to increase by the exercise of any little talent it has pleased Heaven to give me—or that through their powerful interest such a situation in one of the public offices may be obtained as with my own industry will yield the means of a decent livelihood. But if this assistance is considered as beyond my claims, I do then most earnestly call upon their lordships to exert that influence which their seniority may naturally be supposed to afford them with their family, and prevail upon Lord William to grant me an audience. To this favour I am entitled upon every principle of natural justice. Lord William may then hear how much I need assistance, and I shall have the long desired opportunity of learning from himself his reasons for withholding it.

“Such, Sir, are my opinions and feelings upon this
disagreeable subject, and such the expectations I have ventured to build upon them. How far they are rash or reasonable experience must determine; but I request you will be good enough to expunge or alter any expression of my letter your judgment disapproves, before applying it to the intended purpose.

“I know it cannot quicken your zeal, though it may hasten your endeavours, to be informed that now the theatre is closed I am without any prospect of provision for the passing day. Of course I shall attend your answer with some solicitude, and hope that it will convey a permission for me to see Lord Henry.

“I am,
“Yours truly,

This painful statement was embodied in a letter which I addressed to the Marquis of Hertford, and of which I insert a copy:—

“Michael Grove, Brompton.
My Lord,

“Not having the honour to be known to your lordship, it becomes me to apologise for this intrusion; though I hope its motives and its object will plead my excuse. As the Editor of a Literary Periodical work it has happened to me to form the acquaintance of a very estimable individual, and to have taken that interest in his welfare which I think his merits and misfortunes can hardly fail to inspire. That individual, my lord, is Mr. Conway, who is known, as I believe, to your lordship, as he certainly is to Lord William Seymour, to Lord Robert, and to the rest of your lordship’s family. In his distress he has
entrusted me with the story of his birth and struggles in life; but I hope your lordship will do him the justice to believe that this was not done till necessity overcame the long-cherished sentiments of delicacy, pride, and honour; and me the credit to be assured that my interference is unprompted by any considerations but those of respect to the House of Hertford—of regard for a worthy man suffering undeservedly—and of humanity; perhaps I might add, if without offence, of natural justice. To your lordship, as the head of the family, I am, from your general public character, emboldened to appeal without fear of misconstruction. I write to solicit the favour of an interview, in which, should there be no insurmountable obstacle in the way, I am persuaded I shall be able to impress on your lordship the extreme hardship of his case, and persuade you even to overstrain a point to become his advocate and benefactor. That he has not been successful on the stage is not his fault, for to ability he joins industry, perseverance, and a respect for himself. May I be allowed to say, that that stature and personal appearance which gives dignity to a noble station (and which he inherits in a remarkable degree from his parentage) is not auspicious to dramatic effort.

“Still, my lord, Mr. Conway is in need of little help, and this is so honourable to his discretion that I do hope that what your lordship’s interest could do with a breath will not be withheld from one who has such peculiar claims, independently of his deserts, to consideration.

“The testimony of a stranger can have but slight weight; but I will not close my letter without expressing my opinion of the value and integrity of Mr. Conway. Had he no pretensions, I aver that I would deem it an act reflecting lustre on any nobleman to take him by the hand; and
sincerely do I pray that his father in acknowledging him will place him above the calamities of life, beyond which his humility looks for nothing.

“Should your lordship have the kindness to appoint a period when I can wait upon you, I shall be proud of the honour.

“My Lord,
“Your lordship’s most respectful and
“obedient humble servant,

Meanwhile poor Conway was compelled by adverse circumstances to quit London, and the negotiation was left entirely on my hands, and I did not allow it to stand still. The first steps were so favourable and promising that I became sanguine of success; though we received a shock by seeing a butler in the family gazetted to a good government appointment, which would have rendered my friend independent and happy. I had several notes from Hertford House, and was to have seen the Marquis, but his health did not admit of the interview, and even when my hope was firmest, the death of his Lordship crushed it all. Still pursued by Hazlitt and his other adversaries in the press, Conway could not bear up against this blow. He obtained an engagement and fled to America. From Liverpool he wrote me his last letter:—

“My passage is now secured in the ‘Columbia’ packet, Captain Rogers; my luggage on board, and I summoned to follow it early to-morrow morning. As this, then, may be the last time of my addressing you, accept the assurance of my unfeigned respect and devoted regard. Accept also my warm acknowledgment of the zeal and promptitude with
which you have on many occasions stood forward to vindicate my professional and improve my personal pretensions.”

Sorry was I that I could do no more for one so unfortunate and so truly worthy of a happier fate. But the melancholy tale has yet to be concluded. After some short time passed in America, Mr. Conway took a passage from New York to Charleston, but, in a paroxysm of temporary insanity, the effect of mental suffering, he threw himself from the deck of the vessel into the sea, and there found a refuge from all his sufferings on this weary earth. His body was recovered, and in his pocket-book was found a bill of exchange, endorsed to his mother. It was asserted of him, that he was so vain of his person and talents that he could not endure justifiable criticism; but this was not true. He was extremely sensitive, suffering under injury, and desponding; and the press persecuted him with gibes upon his tallness, disparagement of his talents, and satire upon his conceit, till he writhed under the torment: and a noble human creature was destroyed.

I have little more to add. Struck by his Apollo-like presence and dramatic powers, in her old age the celebrated Mrs. Piozzi transferred the last remnant of her regard for Dr. Johnson to Mr. Conway, the rest being previously sacrificed in resentment to his dictatorial interference with her Thrale widowhood, and on the altar of her second marriage. That she was enamoured of my friend would be too much to say at her period of life; but there was a warmth in her conduct and expressions towards him which would have warranted such a phrase, had she been a few years younger—but she had been a widow, a re-married lady, and an author so long ago as nearly forty years. Her first publication was the “Anecdotes of Johnson,” 1786; and the last (not hers, but posthumous, and the MSS. said to have been found among his effects on shipboard after his, Mr. Conway’s death),
Love Letters, addressed to W. Augustus Conway,” written when she was eighty—(J. Russell Smith, 1843.) After all, these effusions seem to be but the language of romantic enthusiasm, in which a Della-Cruscan Octogenarian would be likely to indulge, and without a spark of the physical passion ascribed to the rhodomontade. Her unbounded admiration of Mr. Conway, as a splendid specimen of the genus homo in body and soul, and the deep and constant interest which she took in his welfare, sweetened his bitter cup, and might well be imputed to pure and generous feelings.