LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[Horace Smith]
A Graybeard’s Gossip. No. I.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. 79  (March 1847)  303-08.
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Chap. I.
Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit.

Richard Cumberland—Commencement of our Acquaintance—The Bill of Exchange and Conversation Sharpe—The Pic-Nic Newspaper, its Editor and Contributors, Mr. Bedford, Colonel Greville, Sir James Bland Burges, Mr. John Wilson Croker, Mr. C. J. Herries, the Authors of "Rejected Addresses," and Mr. Combe—Whimsical Jeu d’Esprit.

The Parthian shot his arrows backwards, as he fled from Death;—it is my present purpose to do the same as I speed towards it, for at my advanced time of life the beneficent power that “rocks the cradle of declining age,” must soon hush me into the long and calm sleep that knows no dreams, and fears not a disturbance. Recollections there are, fond and trivial though they may prove, which I would fain rescue from the grave ere it closes around me. Many literary men have I known slightly, and some few intimately; but, alas! out of the whole galaxy, how many have gone to join the lost Pleiad! My memory can only exercise itself by walking through a cemetery. It must subsist, like the ghouls of oriental fable, by preying upon the dead: such is the penalty that we Graybeards pay for prolonged existence. Penalty?—I should have said privilege. What! Shall we regret the loss of literary friends, when we ought rather to rejoice that we once enjoyed their possession? The privation we share with the whole world; the acquaintanceship was an honour and a delight wherein we find but a few select participants. Oh! if men would but fairly measure their gains against their losses, and adapt their gratitude to the graciousness of Heaven, how rare would be their discontent, how general and how cordial their thanksgivings!
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,
says one of our poets, and if this be true, even of a material object, how immeasurably more joyous must be the recollection of any mental beauty that has once charmed us. As we grow older, this retrospective gratification becomes spread over a longer and more prolific period, while the prospective term for which we may have to endure vexations and annoyances is continually diminishing. So many, indeed, and so various are the advantages of senility, that I have ever considered life as a sort of Tontine for the benefit of survivors.

“How then!” methinks I hear the reader exclaim, “is it your purpose to present to us a prose ‘Elegy in a country churchyard?’” No, most excusable remonstrant! We are not about to deal with the illustrious obscure, either rural or metropolitan, but with men who have attained literary celebrity in their day, although a portion of them, unentitled to the name of master spirits, may, perhaps, be classed among the Dii Minores in the auctorial Pantheon. Others, we may incidentally notice who have never figured as writers, but have been so closely associated with the candidates for literary renown, as to warrant some passing allu-
304A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
Horace tells us but little about Maecenas, and the friends to whom his Odes are addressed; but even that modicum we “would not willingly let die,” for however slight may have been their collision with the magnet, it has imparted to them a portion of its own attractive power. “Before I was kiss’d by thee,” said the scented clay to the rose, in the Persian tale, “I was but a piece of common earth, whereas I am now endow’d with a delicious and enduring perfume.”

System and chronological order, in these discursive notices, I do not profess to observe with any rigour. When the drunken man was asked why he reeled from one foot-pavement to another, he replied, “Because I have business to do on both sides of the street.” Such be my excuse, if, in the garrulity produced by having drained life’s cup nearly to the bottom, I sometimes stagger, with an apparent tipsiness, from one subject to another. Such also be my extenuating plea, if in relating occurrences quorum pars minima fui, I am compelled to use the personal pronoun more frequently than may seem becoming to the fastidious. No pains shall I take to substitute the third for the first person. There is a degree of egotism even in disclaiming it, for conceit often wears the mask of humility.

First in eminence, and nearly the first in point of time, among the writers whom 1 have had the honour and the pleasure of knowing, was the celebrated Richard Cumberland; and the circumstances that led to our acquaintance remain vividly impressed upon my recollection, although nearly half a century has elapsed since their occurrence. At that period I was a clerk in a merchant’s counting-house, more attentive, I fear, to light literature and the drama, than to bills of exchange, invoices, and charterparties; but, young as I was, I felt much annoyed at the spectacles and gorgeous shows which then began to be so frequently substituted for the legitimate drama. As I had bought a ticket of admission to one of the two principal theatres, and was a very frequent visitant, the nightly repetition of pieces that would not bear being seen more than once or twice, was sorely trying to my patience, which at last fairly gave way before the continued exhibition of a worthless popular spectacle, the success of which arose from the novel introduction of real water on the stage, and the apparent saving of a child’s life by the sagacity of a Newfoundland dog.

In this discontented mood, I sat down one night, indignation being my muse, and composed a short poem, lamenting the decay of public taste, and the encouragement given to dumb shows, to the neglect of such, sterling productions as the “West Indian,” “The Jew,” “First Love,” “The Wheel of Fortune,” &c., to the author of which comedies I respectfully dedicated my effusion, and after having subscribed my name and address, forwarded it to him by the post. That so distinguished a writer as Mr. Cumberland would seek out, or even take any notice of a scribbler so utterly unknown as myself, never entered into my contemplation; but my complimentary tribute most unexpectedly laid the basis of a friendship with which he honoured me up to the time of his death in 1811.

Oh, how distinctly does memory conjure up, even out of the old world shadows of the last century, the scene of our first interview! In a large counting-house, exhibiting all the strict formality of the civic ancien régime, sat my employer, a stern, anxious-looking merchant, ensconsed in
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.305
a detached bureau, which opened into a small inner room for confidential parleys; opposite to him, at an elevated pulpit-desk, stood the grey-headed book-keeper, turning over the leaves of a gigantic ledger with as little noise as possible; at a large square desk below, surmounted by a brass rail, sat several powder-headed clerks, mostly in black; and upon high stools, against a mahogany slope, might be seen two youngsters, with long flowing locks, myself being one of the pair. All were busily occupied; not a sound was heard except the incessant scratching of quill pens upon coarse paper, when the door opened, and a person entered, whose appearance gave instant assurance that he belonged not to the skippers, brokers, and agents, nor even to any of the higher commercial classes of the city. It was an old gentleman of distinguished appearance, whose somewhat large and profusely powdered head was flanked with cannon curls, and endorsed with a substantial pig-tail; his corbeau-coloured suit was of antique cut, and he bore a gold-headed cane. The grey brows gave a dullish expression to his eyes, the nose prominent and well-shaped, was more than usually distant from the somewhat compressed mouth, which relaxed into a smile of the blandest courtesy as he peered round the room, and said, in a voice of winning suavity—

"Is Mr. —— at home?"

“We have two of that name,” replied the nearest clerk, “which of them do you want?”

With a strange deficiency of tact which, as I afterwards discovered, formed one of his characteristics, the visitant answered,

“I want Mr. ——, the poet.”

So totally unprecedented was the demand for such an article in that locality, that all the clerks gazed at the speaker with looks of a slightly contemptuous surprise, while the grave merchant, widening the aperture of the narrow curtain that fringed his tabernacle, frowned grimly out, and petulantly pronouncing the words—“We have no Poet here, sir,” again drew the curtain, and resumed his writing.

Now was it that the name and the object of the visitant, as well as the ridicule, and perhaps obloquy to which his disclosure would expose me, rushing suddenly upon my mind, I felt my cheeks burn with shame, and stooping close to my paper, I shook my profuse locks over my face, as if I would conceal myself, and deny my identity. A moment’s reflection convincing me that this was impossible, I jumped from my tall stool, hurried my unwelcome visitant into the ante-room, and carefully shut the door behind me, when he announced himself as Mr. Cumberland, and inquired my name.

“What!” he exclaimed, with a look of astonishment which, if not really felt, was exceedingly well feigned, “so young, and yet the writer of those beautiful verses!”

On my owning the soft impeachment, he overwhelmed me with a profusion of embraces, compliments, and thanks, concluding a glowing eulogium, to which I listened in blushing silence, by expressing a wish to be introduced to my father, at whose residence he had called, and had been referred to that of the merchant.

Here was a fresh source of embarrassment, for I knew that my parent, although he himself indulged in occasional dalliance with the Muse, was anxious to check such tendencies in his son, more especially when they assumed a theatrical turn. However, he kindly suppressed all feeling of
306A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
dissatisfaction, and was so much flattered by the encomiastic expressions of his visitant, whose manner was singularly polished and ingratiating, that he pressed him to stay dinner, an invitation which was accepted with renewed acknowledgments.

Such was the origin of an acquaintance, which eventually ripening into an enduring friendship, procured me the honour of being associated with this distinguished writer in more than one literary undertaking. Of the stanzas which first won his regard, I cannot recollect a single line, and as this may appear inconsistent with my vivid impression of all the accompanying circumstances, it may be right to state, that although my memory easily retains poetic passages from other writers, I quickly forget every thing of my own, an exercise of judgment which might deserve credit, were it not involuntary. That I encountered much ridicule, not unmingled with contempt, from my fellow clerks, may be easily imagined; and upon one occasion, when I had made an error in calculating the exchange upon an Irish bill, I was sneeringly asked by the merchant whether I had been thinking of poetry instead of arithmetic. Utterly disproportioned as must have been the laudations I received to the effusion by which they were elicited, they served to confirm my predilection for literature, and thus had a marked effect upon my subsequent career.

As our intimacy increased, my new friend always called upon me when he visited the city. Upon one occasion I accompanied him to the counting-house of Messrs. Boddingtons and Sharpe, with the latter of whom (the well-known conversation Sharpe) Mr. Cumberland was well acquainted. As his object was to borrow money upon a Bill of Exchange, I did not accompany him into the house, but awaited his return in Fenchurch-street, where he presently joined me, evidently in high dudgeon, buttoning up his coat with a nervous irritation, and muttering between his clenched teeth, “Shabby Sharpe!”—“Stingy Sharpe!”— “Close-fisted Sharpe!” winding up his abusive epithets with the loud and vehement expectoration of the words, “Hatter Sharpe!” As in this latter phrase a considerable portion of his anger seemed to have evaporated, I ventured to ask him, after a little delay, why the term had been so emphatically applied, when he informed me that his friend had refused the accommodation for which he had applied, and that he had originally been a hatter! At any other time he would have perceived that any man’s elevation, by his own talents and exertions, is an honour rather than a reproach; but the dramatist was irritable, and at the moment in question, was disappointed of assistance which he had confidently anticipated.

The first literary work in which I had the distinction of being connected, longissimo intervallo, with Mr. Cumberland, was the “Pic-Nic” weekly newspaper, established in 1802 by Colonel Greville, for the double purpose of vindicating the theatrical entertainments which he had given, in conjunction with M. Texier, and of checking the scandalous personalities with which some of the newspapers were in the habit of assailing the aristocracy. The principal contributors, in addition to Mr. Cumberland, were Colonel Greville, Sir James Bland Burges, Monsieur Peltier, Mr. Croker, Mr. J. C. Herries, Mr. Bedford, James and Horace Smith, and Mr. Combe; all of them writing gratuitously, except the last-mentioned gentleman, who was the editor, and who had long been living in the Rules of the King’s Bench. As he could not safely emerge
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.307
from that sanctuary during the daytime, our weekly meetings, for the arrangement of the paper, were held every Thursday night, at the residence of
Hatchard, the publisher, in Piccadilly, opposite to York House, then beginning to rejoice in its new name of the Albany. Of the party thus assembled in an obscure back room, for the conduct of an insignificant and short-lived periodical, several attained a subsequent eminence which at that time none could have anticipated. Mr. Herries, then a clerk in the Treasury, and contributing ponderous financial articles, little in accordance with the fashionable character of the newspaper, became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Croker, after attaining and holding for many years the important post of Secretary to the Admiralty, also distinguished himself as a writer. The two Smiths jumped into sudden and easy celebrity by their lucky hit of the “Rejected Addresses,” the younger brother becoming further known as a successful novelist, and living (a rare piece of good fortune) to see the twenty-first edition of the little work which originally made him known. In the biographical memoir prefixed to his deceased brother’s “Comic Miscellanies,” he has made brief allusion to those “Pic-Nic” meetings, as well as to the strange history of the editor, and has given extracts from some of James Smith’s contributions, under the title of “Endymion the Exile.”

Of Mr. Bedford I retain not the smallest recollection; the unfathomable vortex of London life whirled him out of my sight, when the newspaper was consigned to the great oblivion wallet of Time; but should he still be a dweller on this “visible diurnal sphere,” I hereby waft to him in his abiding place, a friendly, albeit an anonymous reminiscence.

Colonel Greville, once the handsomest and most successful of the gay Lotharios about town, though no longer young when I thus became acquainted with him, used so many appliances of art to conceal the ravages of time, that it would still seem to require many years to make a regular Sir Peter Teazle of him. When his constitution and his fortune were both shattered, he married a well-dowered dame of title, and took a handsome house in Manchester Square, where I occasionally dined, and still recollect the fashionable free and easy, but always urbane, manners which, although he did not possess any social qualities of high order, made him a pleasant companion, and imparted a grace to his hospitable board. At a subsequent period, owing, I believe, to a return of his old complaint,— impecuniosity—he accepted an appointment in one of our colonies, where the gay and handsome Harry, the admired of all beholders, found himself so completely out of his element, that he soon sank into the grave. To my young eyes, unaccustomed to contemplate any specimens of the beau monde, he then presented himself as a modification of the Sir Harry Wildairs, and similar rakes, who formed the life of our old comedies.

Sir James Bland Burges, who had once, I believe, occupied a subordinate government appointment, was a stiff, formal, gentlemanly person, whose principal contributions were a series of papers under the title of “The Man in the Moon,” meant to be satirical and smart, but which, like himself, were respectable and dull. At his house in Westminster, close to the Birdcage Walk, I occasionally met Cumberland at dinner, but our meetings were partially chilled by the frigid and somewhat stately fashion in which our host dispensed his hospitalities. When Sir James attempted to be playful, he suggested the idea of a Quaker on the tight rope, but the following jeu d’esprit, which appeared in the “Cabinet,” may,
308A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
perhaps, be thought worthy of republication, as an exercise for the youngsters who are just beginning their Greek grammar.

“Sir, I am but an ignorant girl myself, but my sister Winnifred, who was brought up by my uncle, the parson in Worcestershire, has learning enough to puzzle all the curates in the county. I got a letter from her by the last post, which I can make neither head nor tail of, so I send it to you, and beg you to print it, that somebody who can make out these pot-hooks and hangers, may be so good-humoured as to turn it into plain English, which will much oblige your dutiful servant to command.

Margery Daw.”

“Ω number of engagements have prevented me from writing to you sooner, and I had nothing Ν to send. I dined yesterday with Doctor Γ liel Φ lips, where we had a Β Δ maged by keeping, a carp whose Ρ was excellent, and A Π. The wine, as usual, was Δ bout, and the men drank whenever they Η Β meat. But as ill-luck would have it, the cat came in and began to Μ. I was afraid she would have flown in my face, or torn my Κs, she leaped upon Θble. This made a r Ι way I ran, but tumbled down the stΕg lay senseless, but soon revived, and roared out Ο. I know you will say Φ to all this, and therefore will conclude, for fear of Τology. Your loving sister,—

Winnifred Daw.

“P.S. You have not sent me the gaΖ a long while.”

Sir James became subsequently associated with Cumberland in an epic poem entitled the Exodiad, which not even the unction of religion could embalm. Of Sir James’s own exody, which could not have been long delayed after this joint publication, my mind retains no trace, whether as to time or circumstance. Requiescat in pace!

To the late James Smith I need not make allusion, as his memoirs have been so recently published by his brother. Peltier, whose trial in 1803 for a libel on the First Consul Buonaparte, and whose defence, by Mackintosh, excited so much public attention, hath long since passed away. The grim serjeant pallida mors hath shielded him from the consularis Lictor.
Non vultus instantis tyranni
Nec fulminantis magna Jovis manus,
can disturb him more, and we may now address him in the words of Arviragus,—
Fear no more the frown of the great
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke,
Care no more to clothe and eat,
To thee the reed is as the oak.
Combe long since obtained his legitimate discharge from the rules of the Bench by paying the debt—of Nature. To the others whom I have enumerated among the principal contributors to the “Pic-Nic,” I may not thus freely refer. Vivunt et vivant!

Their respective contributions, however, will be briefly noticed in a following paper, and I shall then continue my reminiscences of Cumberland.