LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 5: On Life

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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Show his eyes, and grieve his heart,
Come like shadows, so depart.—Shakspeare.
Oh, life! deceitful lure of lost desires!
How short thy period, yet how fierce thy fires.
Scarce can a passion start (we change so fast),
Ere new lights strike us, and the old are past.
Schemes following schemes, so long life’s taste explore,
That ere we learn to live, we live no more.—A. Hill.

George Colman has led me an arrow flight from my friend Thomas Hunt, the first of two individuals of the same name between whom and myself the warmest and most cordial relations subsisted, till death burst asunder the bonds of amity and affection; the last was Mr. Hunt, so justly celebrated for his treatment and cure of impediments in speech. With the former I spent many a joyous, with the latter many a pleasant day. The retrospect is tinged with a saddening and sombre, yet not darkly black, but tinted gloom. True it is that all these scenes and their grateful personal associations have passed away. Our brightest meetings and those who made them so delightful;
where are they? The merrier they were, the more poignant is the reflection that they never can return. Fun, frolic, wit, the interchange of glowing sentiments and friendships, and it may he loves—all gone, vanished into thin air, as if they had never been, and were only supernatural dreams. Veluti in speculum, and Memory the Bottle Imp.

There is a beautiful class of landscapes, in which is painted a vista through woody scenery, with the brilliant streaks of sunshine through the trees, alternating with the shades that fall upon the greensward from umbrageous density impervious to light. Even so it is when we look back on the vista of a long life. Alas, the sunny gleams belong but to the morning and noon. As the day draws towards its close, the shades thicken as the brightness departs, and soon the spreading darkness enshrouds the whole. Where are the jocund groups that enlivened the scene? You call and call in vain; and Echo through the tangled forest, answers, “where?” Hasten then before you are borne thither inanimate clay—hasten to the adjoining cemetery and take one last sweet lesson and fond farewell, communing with the lost of other years, as the long grass whispers, along with yours, the sighs and moanings of the cold wind into the graves below.

At this period I lost my immediately elder brother, Gilbert, the luckless Glasgow weaver, doomed to a harder fate than the pursuit of literature, by the change of times and habits incorporated upon them. In youth he was the sprightliest of the sprightly, wonderfully active, brave as a lion, fearless and kind-hearted. His lot was a lowly one, and it was only a few months before his death that he succeeded to a competency by a portion of family property falling to his share.


I also lost a distinguished friend to whom I was warmly attached, and of whom I must speak hereafter, Lord de Tabley, the noble exemplar of refined taste and munificent patronage of native art.

And yet nearer home, and consequently the more deeply felt, my youngest, Georgiana, the namesake and god-daughter of Lady de Tabley, was taken from me. I have no right, even in an autobiography, to intrude my private griefs upon the public ear, but I may give a few lines to the sympathies of those who have been bereft of their beloved offspring. My own love of children throughout my life has been so intense as to be almost a ruling passion; and long after I have gone to my rest, the memory of many a one, now parents themselves, as well as younger friends, will suggest a not unkindly recollection of the writer of this work. My little darling Georgiana was carried off by an affection of the mesenteric gland, and for some time before her death I was well aware that no medicaments could save her. But still I could not reconcile my mind to the approaching sacrifice, and I hoped against hope to the very end. In the enchanting light of a summer morning, my child, about twelve months of age, turned upon her pillow, put her arms around my neck, touched my lips with one soft kiss, and in that kiss breathed her soul to heaven. I never can forget the moment. I was not then accustomed to death. It was the first mortal breach upon the integrity of my happiness. Whilst whole in this respect, the trials of fortune were but passing breezes. In myself, my inner self, and mine, I was unhurt, and I fancied myself invulnerable. When the worst happened, my sanguine nature ever pointed to its being soon retrieved; but this stroke was beyond all flattering unction of the soul.
Despair was in my last farewell
As closed her eye,
Tears of my anguish could not tell
When she did die.
And truly might I add for the sentiment, though too infantile for the literal application, in
Moir’s affecting strain:—
Do what I may, go where I will,
Thou meet’st my sight;
There dost thou glide before me still,
A thing of light!
I feel thy breath upon my cheek,
I see thee smile, I hear thee speak,
Till, oh my heart is like to break,
My angel.

My emotions were, indeed, so intense that I almost imagine, to a certain extent, they were peculiar. I have seen and known how deeply others grieved on similar afflictions; but, for a season, I could taste no comfort, and if I could explain my feelings, it would he not that I lamented so irrationally the loss I had sustained, though that was bitter enough, as that the blow struck me as a hammer might a perfect sphere of glass, and, by shivering it to pieces, prove how frail and helpless it was to resist the calamities fated for all on earth. Till then, the stings and arrows of life, however outrageous, affected me most slightly, if at all; but now the spell was broken, and I was the stricken deer, exposed to be wounded and desolated by every accident. In this mood, I would not consent to part with my dead treasure. I loved her in her coffin, and morning after morning returned her last kiss to her pale lips, till at length mortality asserted its claim to the perished floweret, and I was forced to yield to the stronger power, decay. Since then, I have endured many a heavier grief; but none has ever produced a convincing sense of the utter helplessness of humanity, like the first.

The constant demand for literary occupation was a blessed
relief; and it is one of the counterpoises attendant upon pursuits of this kind, that if their idealities and boon of other worlds than the actual world in which you exist, in which to recreate the mind, have a tendency to cause injurious negligence, they are also potent in soothing sorrows and blunting the stings of worldly troubles. Oh, Dreamland is a happy land, and happy is he who can transport himself into it and enjoy all its visionary delights, shutting out from the aching sense, if but for a brief hour, the wrongs and afflictions of the crushing real. In that realm there are not even doubts or fears, and its air-built castles are far superior in splendour and enjoyments to the grandest palaces of substantial elements. No wonder that the literary temperament is prone to seek refuge within the baseless fabric, and range over the exhaustless bounds of its imagined treasures!

But whatever charms literature may encompass in posse, it is seldom without its annoyances in esse. I have produced thirty-three ample volumes, reflecting like a panorama the literature of England during as many years, and if there may not be genius enough to stamp them with high authority, there is, at least, honesty enough to entitle them to he consulted as faithful annals by those who are engaged, hereafter, in congenial inquiries. And I am the more desirous to affirm this truth, because, as the great success of my undertaking naturally provoked competition and rivalry, it was the marked object of some of those trading speculators, as I have previously stated, to represent the “Gazette” as a mere publisher’s organ and servile hack to parties who held interests in its property. I must except from this charge a very nice and honourable paper, called the “Somerset-House Gazette,” whose principal feature was art, criticism, and encouragement. But the
Fine Arts alone have never sufficed to support even a weekly expositor, and the “Gazette,” the first that ever broadly espoused and unintermittingly promoted the cause of our native school, was found to be sufficient to overcast the respectable claims of its tasteful contemporary. Of other rivals I care not now to speak. Some did dirty work enough to disparage their prototype, and try to build their own prosperity not so much on their own merits, as in prejudicing the public by false insinuations against its integrity. It was, in short, the poor sold instrument of the booksellers, whilst they were the most independent and impartial of critics. Were it worth while, I could a tale unfold, with marvellous illustrations; but in a few years all such things find their level, and the triumph of a season may be earned by unworthy means, without rendering exposure necessary or impeaching selfish pretensions. The honour of the truly literary tournament ought to be to excel by surpassing merits; the disgrace of the trading literary contest is to outstrip by mean cunning and conscious falsehood. The tricks of trade are bad enough in chandlery and petty-huckstering, but in Letters, absit omen, misrepresentation, envy, depreciation, malice, detract perniciously from the glory of pursuits which should refine and elevate the souls of its professors.

Perhaps this may sound like declamation, but if I could communicate to my readers a hundredth part of the data now lying around me, they would have a hundred fold more reason to be convinced of the discreditable principles and fallacious conduct of some of their would-be and partially accepted guides.

To mark my own hardly achieved position, and show in some measure the influences which all editors of, and writers in, the periodical press must be prepared to yield to
or resist, I cannot think, though personal, it will he out of place, in illustration of periodical literary history, in memoirs like mine, to place upon the record.

The following is a letter addressed by Mr. Colburn to “Wm. Jerdan, Esq., and Messrs. Longman and Co.,” on 31st December, 1827:—


“As my partners in the ‘Literary Gazette,’ I think it right to apprise you that I have joined Mr. Buckingham in the new literary journal, the ‘Athenæum.’

“I have determined on adopting this step in consequence of the injustice done to my authors generally (who are on the liberal side), by the ‘Literary Gazette.’ I cannot any longer consent to see my best authors unfairly reviewed, and my own property injured, and often sacrificed to the politics of that paper.

“At the same [time] I may state, that the step I am now taking does not seem to be likely to injure the sale of the ‘L. G.’ The ‘Athenæum’ will be published on another day in the week; it will address persons of other politics, and, when likely to he treated with impartiality in the ‘L. G.,’ early copies shall be supplied to both publications on the same day, leaving it to chance which shall anticipate the other in its notices of them.

“I remain, Gentlemen,
“Your very obedient servant,

As the writer of this epistle immediately paid the piper, and caused others ultimately to do the same, in consequence of this little suicidal act of pique and folly, I should not dwell further upon it, except for its weight in establishing
the honourable character of the “
Literary Gazette,” under my editing, and its right to be consulted as an independent reference in after days. At this period many of its reviews (as well as other contributions) were written by the most distinguished literary individuals then living, some, alas, since lost in the sad havoc of more than a quarter of a century; and I can affirm that no principle but that of, not severe and inexorable, but candid and truthful justice, and a sense of what was due to the public, ever led to the expression of censure in the pages of my publication. Indeed, one of its reproaches was its good-nature, and being indiscriminately favourable to everybody. The latter was not true, but it answered the purpose of depreciators, who aimed at rising by a course opposed to good-nature and abusive of everybody not of their own clique. I have taken the trouble to cast my eye over the year’s “Gazette” which inflamed Mr. Colburn to throw his purse and strength into an antagonist journal, which of course he expected to be more subservient to his views than the “L. G.,” which it never ceased to represent as a mere publisher’s hack! I may have overlooked some trifles, but I find the account to stand thus:—

Truckleborough Hall;” briefly described and ignored on account of its being political, which the “Literary Gazette” shunned discussing.

Buckingham’sTravels in Palestine;” warmly praised and largely quoted.

Count Segur’sRecollections;” the same.

The Natchez,” with critical remarks; much commended.

Vivian Grey,” by B. Disraeli; the same.

De Vere;” extolled as it merited.

Falkland,” with its genius and talent acknowledged, yet condemned for its immoral tendency.


Military Sketch Book;” commended and quoted.

Memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone” (a strong temptation to political bias); declared to be a valuable production, with pointed observations on questionable parts.

English Fashionables Abroad;” truly confessed to be trashy.

Dibdin’sReminiscences;” eulogised for its light anecdotical qualities, and much quoted.

Sir Jonah Barrington’sSketches;” still more praised. Cooper’sPrairie;” lauded.

Reuben Apsley;” praised, with two pages of quotation.

A high opinion expressed of the poem, entitled “O’Neill, or the Rebel.”

“Journal of an Officer in the German Legion;” “Van Halen’s Imprisonment in the Inquisition;” Cunningham’sNew South Wales;” Dr. Kitchener’s “Oracle” (Ah, me, posthumous!); “The Mummy,” by Miss Webb, now Mrs. Loudon; Lady Charlotte Bury’s “ Flirtation;” Allan Cunningham’sSir Michael Scott;” Cooper’sRed Rover;” Lord Normanby’sYes and No;” “The Clubs of London;” and “Herbert Lacy;” all spoken of favourably, some with very slightly modified, and some with great praise.

It might be thought that such a series of panegyric should have satisfied the most exigeant expectations; but towards the close of the year, when one number contained the highest eulogy on “The Clarendon Correspondence,” the number immediately adjoining gave a critique on Lady Morgan’sO’Briens and O’Flaherty’s,” which hurt the feelings of the publisher. Hinc iliæ lachrymæ, and hence his conjunction with the “Athenæum” and another Buckingham.
For when a lady’s in the case (the printer’s)
You know all other things give place.


Now, I confess never to have admired aught of Lady Morgan but her talents; and I fancy there was no love lost between us; for I remember at one of poor dear Lady Stepney’s soirées, that innocent being caught occasion to introduce Lady Morgan and myself formally to each other. I had a laugh in my sleeve, and I afterwards heard, through the kind communicativeness of the female coterie, that her ladyship signified her wonder at the “idea of presenting that odious man (i. e., me) to Her!” I believe it was on this so momentous evening that I incurred the displeasure of our lively hostess, with whom I was previously, especially at the time her novel of the “New Road to Ruin” was preparing, a prodigious favourite. But there was a literary dinner party on that day, at which she did me the honour to appoint me to the place usually occupied by the husband, and, on leaving the dining-room with two or three ladies, to be in readiness for the reception of the soiréean guests, to me was delegated the command of the cellar, and the charge of making her friends comfortable. Among the number were Captain Sir James Ross, just returned from one of his famous voyages, Mr. Lockhart, and others of note, amounting exactly to such a small phalanx as nearly absorbs a bottle of claret in one circuit round the table. It must be owned the wine was very good, the opportunity rare, the cellar little disturbed since it lost a master (whose London conspicuous mottled grey silk stockings were now quite forgotten), and his locum tenens pro tempore exceedingly well disposed to perform the rites of hospitality entrusted to his priesthood with religious liberality. I certainly contrived, through toast, sentiment, and the eliciting of interesting conversation, to do justice to my position and astonish the fine old butler by the frequency of his intercourse with the Bacchanalian regions. Yet, in
excellent order and not over-due time, after we had heard the knocker announce ten or a dozen arrivals, we ascended to the fair blue and miscellaneous assemblage above; but I found I had so cracked my credit, that I was never appointed a vice-president again.

My offence to Mr. Colburn was, therefore, not political as pretended in his letter, for there was not a single political notice within the year, such themes being, as appears by the list, systematically avoided, or liberally alluded to; but, as it seemed, Lady Morgan was, unknown to me at the time, an idol of his Heroine worship; hence, upon consultation with her ladyship, the schism took place and a more pliant organ was sought. Mr. C. paid dear for his whistle, and I have had no small reason to regret that ever I penned these honest strictures on the great O novel:

“We remember, two or three years ago, when we happened to dissent from Lady Morgan on some literary estimate of a work (we believe her own), that she published a replication, in which she elegantly threatened to ‘stir US up with a long pole.’ We have read the ‘O’Briens and the O’Flahertys;’ and we are convinced, by its length, that it is the identical pole which was then menaced. In spite of this conviction, however, there is neither feud nor faction on our side; and standing as we do on immovable principles, (allowance being made for difference of opinion and errors in judgment,) between the authors who appeal to our court, and the public which appreciates our decisions, we confess our sorrow to have to state many objections to this novel, which, deformed as it is, displays a masculine energy of mind and very considerable acquirements. But Lady Morgan has been too much before the world—and the critical world;—has, by the boldness of her positions, challenged too much animadversion; and, indeed, has
been too much an object of controversy as an individual (which ought seldom to be) and an author, to render it expedient for us to do more than consider her latest publication per se.

“It is no vain boast, but an honest excuse, when we say, that if the ‘Literary Gazette’ could recommend these volumes for the perusal of the females of England, many thousand young and interesting women would read them:—But we cannot and will not utter that recommendation. It may be equally true, we hope it is not, that curiosity to see what is condemned, may excite an equal number to haunt the forbidden ground: if it should be so, the fault is not ours,—and we have, painfully, done our censorial public duty.

“The novel is called a ‘National Tale;’ and for aught we know, it may be so, inasmuch as it may be a true picture of a profligate coterie, in high life: but we do know enough of the higher circles of society to know that all are not alike, and that if there are Catilines, there are also Aristides’; if there are Messalinas, there are also Cornelias; and therefore we will not receive this as a National Tale. Ireland has been, and is degraded enough, but surely its general character cannot be so abominably low and disgusting as is drawn here. And especially that Sex, the grace, the refinement, the purification of the other;—that Sex could not—cannot exist in a state so debased and revolting to manly feelings. We grieve that such a picture should have come from the pen of a woman; there is not only not a virtuous, but there is hardly a decent female character throughout the work. Ladies of rank are rank; abbesses and nuns are intriguing courtesans; and as for the lower orders they are lower than their stations. The libel, too, is wrought up with congenial spirit; and only
the plain words which are now forbidden to decorous writing, could tell what the ‘womankind’ are who figure in this saturnalia of Irish life. In all our reading, we never met with a description which tended so thoroughly to lower the feminine character. At the same time, we have to remark that it is impossible to paint unprincipled conduct and dissolute manners, without raising gross ideas and using indelicate language.
Mrs. Behn and Mrs. Centlivre, it is true, might be more unguarded; but the gauze veil cannot hide the deformities,—and Lady Morgan’s taste has not been of efficient power to filtre into cleanness the original pollution of her infected fountain. * * *

“Our strictures it will, we trust, be felt are not directed against the author of this work, but against the nature of the work itself. The very ability shown in grouping and placing in vivid lights such a number of worthless persons, aggravates the evil. A shadowy scoundrel, or a dimly seen demirep, make little impression on the mind; but when the scoundrel and demirep are brought out, in every detail, with the full force of a striking pencil, it is impossible to contemplate them without being defiled. Lady Morgan appears to have bestowed great labour upon her task.” * * * .

The fidelity of this criticism is confirmed by the fact that the objectionable novel fell much sooner and more into oblivion than any other fiction by this very clever writer. It is curious enough, that with Mr. Colburn’s new ally, Mr. Buckingham, I had occasion to have some slight explanations two years before, when he complained that a paragraph in my review of his “Travels among the Arab Tribes,” was susceptible of being misunderstood. The matter was easily put right, and years afterwards I had the satisfaction of acting cordially with Mr. Buckingham in
the first movement against intramural burial, against which infectious custom he and I convened the earliest public meeting, and addressed it, at the Golden Cross, Charing Cross. I have also co-operated with him for the furtherance of other objects of patriotic, moral, and philanthropic tendencies.

But to return for a moment to the firm and impartial spirit in which I conducted the “Literary Gazette,” in the midst of the dirty insinuations to the contrary; and to the difficulty of satisfying publishers when the least censure is demanded, and expressed in ever so candid and gentlemanly a tone, I will take the liberty to print here a letter from my old friend Mr. Cosmo Orme, then “private and confidential,” but having no seal of secresy requisite now.

My dear Sir,

“From the enclosed letter you will find that another friend of the house is offended with it in consequence of a very indiscreet article in the ‘Literary Gazette.’ I also beg leave to refer you to the manner in which a Mr. S—— is treated in a former number. This Mr. S—— is brother-in-law to * * *, one of our oldest and best friends—he is a most successful author, and one of our best connections—and he is lately elected * * *, and * * *, who took an interest in the election, states that no man could be more generally respected.

“The partners of the house have expressed themselves to you on the same subject, collectively, and you must be aware by this time that they act promptly. In confidence allow me to state to you that overtures have been made to the house respecting a Weekly Literary Journal, by one of the first publishing and carrying houses in the trade, who, in
conjunction with others of equal power, have determined to support such a paper, being careful that it is conducted with ability, discretion, and impartiality.

“Yours most truly,
“C. O.”

To all such reclamations, my reply was to assert the perfect integrity of my literary course, and request my partners to inform complainants that they had no control whatever over the conduct and opinions of the “Literary Gazette.” And thus the storms blew over, something like the disputes of Captain and Mrs. O’Wattell,
Sometimes a kicking, and sometimes a kissing;
and I have only apropos, to remark that in my general intercourse with publishers, I found them, one and all, much more inclined to be pleased with a smart handling bestowed upon the works of other parties, than with the best humoured tickling in the world applied upon their own.

The subject, and the foregoing mention of Mr. Colburn’s publications in 1827, put me in mind of the first literary coup d’essai of a now much more celebrated character, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. B. Disraeli’sVivian Grey,” in 2 vols, post 8vo., appeared in April, 1826, and the continuation, in three volumes, in March, 1827. In my notice of the first, I observed, “We will for once venture on a prediction relative to the work, namely, that ‘Vivian Grey’ is destined to occupy no trifling share of the attention of all those favoured persons, whose habits at once permit and impel them to fill up a regular and allotted portion of their time in turning over the leaves of those numerous piquant productions with which the press of the day so profusely teems.


“We shall not pretend to give a detailed account of this singular and original work; partly, because it is so singular that we might not he successful in conveying to the reader any very satisfactory notion of it; but chiefly because every body will read it who reads at all for amusement. We shall only say, therefore, that ‘Vivian Grey’ professes to depict the history of an ambitious young man, of first-rate talent, various accomplishments, and high fashion, on his entry on the path of life; and that, besides developing the strong character of the hero himself, it presents the reader with sketches of all the persons with whom his views and adventures bring him into contact; and that all these persons have the air of being depicted from living individuals, known to every one who is acquainted with London, and mixes with its social Corinthian architecture, be it genuine or spurious. The characters, indeed, seem to us to have more than ‘the air’ of being drawn from actual life; for that they are so drawn, and are even intended to be so considered, is pretty evident. But whether Vivian Grey and his friends and foes, are real or merely imaginary, certain it is that they are drawn with great spirit, vividness, and truth; we are afraid they belong to a class of which we never can approve in literature—personal portraits and satirical caricatures. . . . In short, the writer of ‘Vivian Grey’ is a person who says whatever he has to say in the language, and with the air, of a man conscious of his own powers, and practised enough to venture saying what he likes in his own sharp and desultory manner.”

The review occupied above three pages of the “Gazette,” in those days no slight tribute to the author’s talent; but when the additional three volumes were issued, four columns satisfied my sense of the tribute due, though the newspapers had never ceased to teem with conjectures about the
authorship, and whole coteries disputed about the application of the characters to living individuals. As the latter publication pursued a similar line in Germany as the former did in England, and the personal portraits were less amenable to guesswork, I simply expressed an opinion that more had been attempted than accomplished, and that with the recognition of great talent, I was at a loss to understand the purpose of “
Vivian Grey.” It seems now, that it was a foreshadowing of coming events, extraordinary enough for any romance, and furnishing matter for the “Edinburgh Review,” “Times,” “Morning Chronicle,” and half the press of England, for lucubrations in the present day. And as the matter of the identification of Mr. Disraeli’s dramatis personæ continues to excite so much public notice, I cannot do better, little though it be, than copy his own letter on the subject at the time, when a sly attempt was made to worm the secret out of him, and get a key to the characters. But the modern Samson was not to be taken in, and he wrote in answer:—


“I am very much surprised at Mr. Colburn’s request. How my knowledge of the characters in ‘Vivian Grey’ can be necessary to, or indeed in the slightest degree assist any one in understanding the work, is to me a most inexplicable mystery. Let it be taken for granted that the characters are purely ideal, and the whole affair tis settled. If any collateral information be required, in order to understand the work, either ‘Vivian Grey’ is unworthy to be read, or, which is, of course, an impossible conclusion, the reader is not sagacious enough to penetrate its meaning.

“Of course, I have no intention of denying that these volumes are, in a very great degree, founded on my own
observation and experience. Possibly, in some instances, I may have very accurately depicted existing characters. But ‘
Vivian Grey’ is not given to the public as a gallery of portraits, nor have I any wish that it should be considered as such. It will give me great pleasure if the public recognise it as a faithful picture of human nature in general. Whether it be anything further, rests with the author, and should only interest him. I cannot prevent surmises; but I shall always take care that from me they shall receive neither denial nor confirmation.

“In part of the former volumes, a number of names and characters were introduced which were evident portraits or caricatures. I can understand any reader of those pages being naturally desirous to comprehend their full meaning, and seeking auxiliary means to procure the desired knowledge; but to comprehend the full meaning of the present volumes, the public has only to read them; and if there be anything obscure or unsatisfactory, it is the author’s fault—he is a blunderer. All the notes and keys in the kingdom will not make him more intelligible.


Who could have foreseen or predicted that such was the primal start of a Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the Commons of England? The author first brought into public notice by the objectionable class of literature, the essence of which consisted of personal portraits and satirical caricatures—touched off with a sharp pencil, though in a desultory style—did not promise to become an eminent statesman and great financier; but so turned on its axis the wheel of human fortune, and so have been developed talent, qualities of an unsuspected nature, yet strongly tinctured with the obvious original leaven, and the Right Honourable
Benjamin Disraeli has worn the golden robe of one of the highest offices in the state, and may again appear in a lofty political position among the more distinguished of the land—a Star of the first magnitude and brilliancy.

A star, have I said? yes! And was there a presentiment of this, and of a coming event casting its shadow before, when the booksellers, Marsh and Miller, about 1828 or 1829, announced from his pen “The Star Chamber,” which, though advertised, never appeared, or perhaps it might have interfered with the writer’s progress to the exaltation of being a star in the Cabinet.

About the same time, if I remember aright, Ridgways published Mr. Disraeli’s first political essay, “A Peep into the Great World,” a massive three-and-sixpenny pamphlet, which I dare say is now out of print, and did not then create any considerable sensation.