LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Horace Smith]
A Graybeard’s Gossip. No. II.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. 79  (April 1847)  515-22.
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No. II.
Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit.

Recollections of Richard Cumberland continued—Contributions of Rogers, Moore, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and others to the Pic-Nic and Cabinet Newspapers—Epigram by James Smith—Duel between Colonel Montgomery and Captain Macnamara—Improvising a Leading Article—Pseudo "Original Letters"—Cumberland’s Attempt to secure for Authors a larger Share of Literary Profits—Its Failure.

The Pic-Nic newspaper soon came to an untimely end. With a careless, fashionable, and needy proprietor; with gratuitous, and therefore precarious contributors; and with an editor living within the Rules of the Bench, it was little calculated for longevity, and its doom was accelerated by differences of opinion among its staff officers. Some objected to the frivolity of Colonel Greville’s papers; others vilipended the dulness of Sir James Bland Burges’s “Man in the Moon;” Cumberland sneered at both; until the colonel, assuming despotic power in right of his proprietorship, and treating all remonstrance as open mutiny, informed us at one of our Thursday meetings, that he had no further occasion for our services, as he had engaged a young Irishman of surpassing talent, who, for a weekly honorarium, not exceeding what was paid to Combe, would undertake to get up and edit the whole paper. So saying he left the room, and returned with Mr. John Wilson Croker, who, under the impression that he was to be intellectually “trotted out” before the company, began instantly to exhibit his conversational powers, which were even then of a very high order, with all the ardour and copiousness of
516A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
an aspiring Hibernian. Cumberland, buttoning up his coat, preserved a sullen silence, until he had left the room, when Greville said to him,

“Well, what think you of my new friend? He talks a good deal, I must confess, but he talks well.”

“Half of that is true,” replied the dramatist, laying a malicious emphasis on the first word; after which he finished the fastening of his coat, with vehement twitches that threatened to tear off the buttons, twisted a comforter hastily round his throat, put on his broad-brimmed hat, pulled it over his eyes, and departed in dudgeon.

Much ridicule and misrepresentation having been attached to the Pic-Nic, the effect of an alias was tried, by conferring upon it the title of the Cabinet, to which most of the parties already mentioned still gave their support, a courteous invitation from the colonel inducing them to overlook their unceremonious dismissal. Want of aim, of method, of money, and even of the talent and political intelligence that give popularity to a newspaper, were impediments to success which not all the abilities of the new editor, varied as they were, could overcome; and the Cabinet, after a sickly existence of a few months, disappeared in the autumn of 1803.

Besides the names that I have recorded, stray articles were sometimes furnished by men of rank and likelihood. The well-known lines of Rogers,
Go—you may call it madness, folly,
You shall not chase my gloom away,
There’s such a charm in melancholy,
I would not, if I could be gay, &c.
appeared originally in the
Cabinet. Sir Thomas Lawrence, whose dalliance with the Muse, was then totally unsuspected, sent two poetical effusions to the Pic-Nic, and to Tom Moore was attributed a burlesque prose article, entitled, “The Lamp of St. Agatha: a Hint for a Romance.” It appeared with his initials in the Cabinet, but I know not whether it was ever recognised by its reputed author.

Cumberland’s articles, occasionally scholastic, as became the grandson of Doctor Bentley, but more frequently assuming the form of short essays, with classical signatures, upon the morals and manners of the day, were written in that smart, epigrammatic, antithetical style which he affected in later life, but of which he exhibited few traces in his earlier productions. In his comedies he did not commit the mistake of Congreve and Farquhar, whose interlocutors, like intellectual gladiators, were engaged in a perpetual combat of wit, attacking and defending, thrusting and parrying, with little or no distinction of individual character; but there was an elaboration, a polish, a glitter about his later productions, a greater attention to the workmanship than to the material, which seemed to betray that he deemed the sparkling of the mica more important than the general quality of the granite. In long and sustained works, such as his “Autobiography,” published in his declining years, this constant straining for effect defeated its purpose, readers not only doubting, when they saw them so thickly clustered,—“if those be stars that paint the galaxy,” but becoming soon wearied of accompanying a writer who loses the race, like Atalanta, by running after every glittering object that may cross his path. In shorter pieces, however, intended for
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.517
the narrow compass of a periodical, it may be questioned whether the spangled, piquant, and highly-varnished style be not excusable, and even preferable. This is a matter of taste. The pleasure which I derived, as a youth, from the perusal of Cumberland’s pointed and glittering essays, even though some of their adornments might have been tinsel, is not diminished when I recur to them in mine old age. In productions born but to die, and only read to be forgotten, it is better to produce sparks by incessant hammering, however evanescent the scintillations, than to wire-draw the ore, as is too much the modern fashion, into tenuity and flimsy diffusion. When authors, however, are paid by the sheet, we cannot wonder that they should write by it. In measurement literature, depth will always be sacrificed to width and breadth.

Mr. Croker’s contributions did not exhibit any of the brilliant banter and sly satire which obtained so much popularity for his “Familiar Epistles,” his poetical pieces being mostly of a political character, applicable to the circumstances of the times. One of these, in imitation of the Chatterton modern antiques, and entitled, “A Warre Songe, by Thomas Rowlie, penned for an entyrlud offe Kinge Johan Hys Reygne,” was quite equal to any of those pretended to have been discovered by the Bristol boy in the church of St. Mary, Redcliffe. Of the poetical pieces, however, the best and the most successful were from the pen of James Smith, whose “Mammoth—Harlequin’s Invasion—Witch Scene,” and others, though now forgotten, won a good deal of contemporary notice and favour. His prose contributions were hardly so good, but in one of them he has inserted an epigram not unworthy of preservation.

My spouse to auctions oft repairs,
Pleased to behold the biddings rise,
Doats on each lot of motley wares,
And ev’ry thing she doats on, buys.
I, with my lot am quite enchanted,
To see my house with gewgaws fraught,
Bought because they may be wanted,
Wanted because they may be bought.

His brother’s articles, whether in prose or verse, did not excite much notice, with the exception of some remarks on the duel between Colonel Montgomery and Captain Macnamara, which so delighted Cumberland that he pronounced them equal to any thing in the Spectator, and carried the paper for several days in his pocket, that he might read it to his friends. The following short extract will indicate the writer’s line of argument:—

“From the suavity of manners, the delicacy of demeanour, the refinement of sentiment which characterise the modern æra, proceed all the harmony of mutual intercourse, all the grace and delights of society and of civilised life. These constituents of human happiness require as much the aid and protection of laws and punishments, as the property, or lives, or freedom of the community. A social compact was therefore formed for their security, and as offences against this compact were not amenable to the legal tribunals of the country, a code of honour was established. No penal restraint, however, existed to bind men to the observance of its regulations, and it became, therefore, necessary to create
518A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
a mode of punishing any infringement of its law, which, by levelling all distinctions, should operate as a check upon the brutality of strength or the insults of petulance.”

What a strange, what an anomalous thing is the memory! Recent occurrences fade from an old man’s remembrance, as if they had been written on sand, to be presently washed out by the tide of time: early impressions, like inscriptions cut upon a rock, seem, as they grow older, to become more indelible. How fortunate that our youthful reminiscences, which are ever the pleasantest, should be the most enduring; while the records of that period when “the contraction of time and the diminution of hope throw a browner shade upon the sunset of life,” should be too superficial to wound, too evanescent to sully the mental tablet. Fortunate, did I say? Away with the word! Not to thee, O blind goddess of the blind, be the praise, but to the Great mother, all whose arrangements have a beneficent reference to the happiness of her children.

Oh! how well do I recollect the victim of the duel which occurred forty-four years ago, and has suggested these remarks! In my Sunday excursions to Hyde Park I had always admired Colonel Montgomery’s figure, as he careered up and down upon his beautiful white Arab, skirting closely the principal promenade, evidently seeking to “witch the world with noble horsemanship;” and not less evidently succeeding in his object, if conclusions might be drawn from the eyes of the fair pedestrians. His dog and that of Captain Macnamara became engaged in a fierce fight, each owner desired the other to call off his own animal; high words were exchanged; a duel was the consequence; and Colonel Montgomery was killed! If my recollection fail me not, he was in the wrong, but as he was generally known and admired, while his opponent was a stranger, he won all the sympathy of London. Captain Macnamara, in the manly speech that procured his immediate acquittal from a jury, declared that he would willingly have avoided the duel if the world would have let him.

Amid the other manifold improvements of the present æra, let us be thankful that the world now condemns this practice, as equally barbarous, absurd, and unjustifiable. When Cumberland was told that the catastrophe had for several days alienated the senses of a Mrs. Biggin, who was understood to be attached to the colonel, he replied, “Ha! very sad, very sad! but this public association of her name with his, will not, I fear, add much to her reputation; and, besides, the world cannot be expected to sympathise very deeply with a lady who has given her name to a coffee-strainer.”

This anecdote is recorded, because it is characteristic of Cumberland, who had strict notions of morality and decorum; while his connexions and previous occupations, for he had been secretary to the Board of Trade, and special ambassador to Madrid and Lisbon, all inspired him with somewhat aristocratic notions. Nor was he by any means insensible of his dignity as major-commandant of the volunteer infantry at Tunbridge Wells, of whose attachment to his person, and of the handsome sword they presented to him, he loved to discourse with a sensibility that sometimes bordered upon the mawkish.

With the prevalent Buonaparte-phobia, and the general odium Gallicum, he was more than sufficiently imbued. On one occasion the prin-
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.519
cipal contributors to the paper had agreed to dine together at Sablonière’s Hotel in Leicester Square, and at
Colonel Greville’s special request, the dinner was to be a specimen of French cookery. With the single exception of the colonel, we were all too John Bullish to find any thing palatable upon the table, but our most patriotic abhorrence was reserved for an unfortunate fricandeau, which, as one of the party declared, was only fit to be given to a dog. “A dog, sir,” exclaimed Cumberland, pushing away his plate with a look of infinite disgust, “not even fit for that, unless it were a French dog.”

While I am in my anec-dotage, let me record an occurrence to which I cannot even now recur without a smile. Calling at Hatchard’s one evening, I found the printers in great tribulation, owing to their not having received from Combe, the editor, the political article, which he had promised for the following morning’s paper. They had not been able to find him at bis residence in St. George’s Fields, the other contributors were out of town; there was no time to lose, and the publisher assured me that if I did not sit down, then and there, and write the leading article, the paper could not appear. Necessity has no law, so I hurried into a back room, seized sympathetically a goose quill, and sate myself down before a most appropriate sheet of foolscap. This was in 1803, when the public were intensely interested in the probability of renewed hostilities with France, so that I was at no loss for a subject. Thank Heaven! I have forgotten what I wrote; but that I, an ignorant youngster, made grave use of the solemn and mysterious We,—that I bespattered Buonaparte with a rampant and rancorous loyalty, predicting his speedy downfall and the glorious triumph of old England, if he dared us to a renewal of the war, I have not the smallest doubt. Cicero (what a sceptical fellow!) wondered that one Roman haruspex could ever look another in the face without smiling; and I must confess, that when I recall my own editorial vaticinations, and peruse the leading articles of our political soothsayers, a sense of the ridiculous will sometimes relax my muscles.

Let me here record a circumstance which has equally shaken my confidence in the “original letters” of celebrated persons. Combe, who made no secret that he wrote the two volumes of Lord Lyttleton’s letters, occasionally gave the Pic-Nic Paper the benefit of a spurious original, by inditing, whenever he was at a loss to fill up a column, an epistle from Sterne, dated from Sutton or Coxwould, so closely imitating the eccentricities of that mannerist, that no one doubted its authenticity. Combe was by means an over-scrupulous person. When employed by the booksellers to write a volume upon the River Thames, with illustrations and views of the seats visible from the water, he called with his credentials at the mansions so situated, for the ostensible purpose of collecting materials, and being a gentleman and a scholar, he was not only often invited to dinner, but occasionally requested to prolong his visit for a day or two. Having calculated, however, that if he strictly obeyed his commission, by merely taking the seats within view of the river, his list of hospitable boards would soon be exhausted, he pretended that his instructions extended to the vicinity of the Thames, and thus enlarged his dinner chances ad libitum. On complaint being subsequently made by some of the parties whose mansions were never noticed, and who had thus been most unwarrantably defrauded of their meals, he excused one untruth by
520A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
another, writing them word that the publisher, finding his materials too voluminous, had been obliged to alter his original plan, and contract the range of the work. The author of this discreditable hoax affected to think that he had done his victims a favour, and would say, with a smile, “Confound the blockheads! if I did not give them a place in my book, I gave them my company, and they ought to feel highly honoured in having a literary man at their tables.”

Notwithstanding his occasional abuse of an author’s privilege, Combe was tenacious of the respect due to the profession. I remember supping with him at his lodging in the Rules, when Colonel Greville, whose familiarity was sometimes exchanged for hauteur, applied some supercilious remark to our host, who immediately rose from his chair, tapped the colonel on his shoulder, and said, in an austere tone, “May I trouble you, sir, to accompany me for one minute into the next room?”

The invitation was accepted, the door was closed, and the guests looked at each other with some anxiety, for though we could hardly suspect that the author, a bald-headed old man, would assault the gallant colonel, we were not without fear of some unpleasant altercation. No loud or angry words however were heard, the parties presently returned to us with amicable faces, and I subsequently learnt that Combe, on shutting the door behind them, pointed to a shelf containing a goodly row of books, and said to his companion, “Sir, I beg to inform you that I wrote everyone of those volumes. Do you think such a man ought to be treated with indignity? If you do, I pity you. If you do not, I am sure you will be sorry for what you have just said.” With these words he rejoined the company, followed by Greville, who had so far benefited by the rebuke, as to avoid similar cause of offence during the remainder of the evening.

In his memoirs, published in 1806, Cumberland omits all mention of his contributions to the Pic-Nic and Cabinet, but he republished some of the shorter poems, as well as the whole of John de Lancaster, portions of which were originally inserted in those newspapers.

The next literary undertaking in which I had the honour of being associated with this distinguished writer, was a new edition of “Bell’s British Theatre,” in small numbers, published by Cooke, a bookseller, then living in Paternoster Row. Cumberland was the editor, and the critical prefaces to each play were announced as coming from his pen; but his other avocations at that time, not giving him leisure to compose them, he applied to one of my near relations and to myself for assistance, which we were proud to supply, receiving his high laudations for the manner in which we executed our task, as well as for our refusal to share the liberal remuneration which he received from the publisher.

The worthy bibliopolist had built himself a Tusculum in some sequestered part of Epping Forest, where there was a great difficulty of procuring water; to guard against which inconvenience he constructed a lofty tank of brickwork,—a peculiarity which, in conjunction with other architectural oddities, procured for the structure the name of Cooke’s Folly. When I mentioned this to Cumberland, he exclaimed,—

“My dear boy!” (such was his usual mode of addressing me,) “it should be called our folly, not his; for it is we who enable him thus to play the fool. Ha! the bookseller in his carriage splashes the poor pedestrian author who put him into it, and lolls, like Tityrus, under the
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.521
beeches of a Tusculum, for which a Grubb-street scribbler, perchance, has furnished the purchase-money. Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes. The Scandinavian warriors in the hall of Odin were much more honest and humane. They drank their wine out of the skulls of their enemies only, but these ruthless fellows drink out of the skulls of their best friends.
Cooke’s Folly, indeed! Why, if the man had no brains, how could he contrive to feast upon ours?”

“But they cannot rob you of your laurels,” I remarked.

“Oh, no!” replied my companion, bitterly; “they allow their victim to wear a chaplet when they sacrifice him.”

This was a question which deeply concerned him, both as a matter of principle and of interest. The monstrous inequality in the division of the profits of literature; the system which enables the brainless drones to monopolise the brain-honey of the working bees; the outwitting of the witty by the witless; the triumph of craft over genius, of Mercury over Minerva,—these were subjects upon which Cumberland, who was usually quiet and sarcastic, rather than declamatory, could not speak without vehement indignation. Nothing, indeed, can be more anomalous as well as unfair than the basis of the book-trade. At a time when other men of business are generally adopting the practice of quick returns and small profits, the publishers, giving long-winded credits, will allow a deduction to booksellers of twenty-five per cent., or even more, charging, moreover, a commission of ten per cent., with an ad libitum addition for minor expenses, to any man who ventures to publish on his own account; so that the public, who pay full price, are victimised in the first instance to the extent of about fifty per cent. That they really suffer to a much larger amount, is manifest from the fact that a publisher, after exacting a guinea and a half for three volumes, will republish the same, word for word, in a single volume, for five or six shillings, out of which reduced sum he will still derive a profit. With the maintenance of these exorbitant advantages; with the concomitant increase of an educated population; with constant addition to our reading-rooms, until every petty village has at least one circulating library,—it might reasonably be expected that the value of authors’ copyright should be maintained; whereas it is notorious that in the last few years it has gradually dwindled away, until it has ceased to be worth the attention of any man who is not prepared to enroll himself among the penny-a-liners of the press, or to play at chuck-farthing with booksellers’ helots. Does any man doubt the fact, that authors are the slaves who dig the gold for the enrichment of their hard task-masters? Let him show me a single living man of literature, who has realised even a moderate fortune by his writings. I could point out half-a-dozen publishers who are opulent; and it is well known that the late Mr. Longman, as well as Mr. Tegg, to say nothing of less recent instances, died in the possession of enormous wealth. He who would contrast such easily-won opulence with the utter destitution in which several, even of our most popular writers, have lately sunk under their labours, have only to recall the names of Laman Blanchard, of Thomas Hood, and of J. T. Hewlett, none of whom, be it remembered, were men of self-indulgent or unthrifty habits.*

* Lord Brougham, in his “Life of Hume,” states that Dr. Robertson only received 600l. for his “History of Scotland,” the publishers having cleared 6000l. For “Charles V.,” and his “America,” he received respectively 3600l. and 2400l., while 50,000l., at least, must have been realised by the sale of those works!
522 A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.

Nor are the injurious effects of this system confined to the two apparent victims—authors and the public, for the standard of literature is reduced to the degraded standard of copyright. Quality is diminished, in order to increase the quantity; and the writer who used to produce one sterling, because well-paid, work in a year, now furnishes three washy ones, justly urging in his defence, that they are at least worth what he gets for them. Periodicals pay better than any other description of literature; as a natural consequence, they have been less deteriorated; and our best novelists, as the columns of the New Monthly and Ainsworth’s Magazines strikingly testify, now pass their best works through the pages of a magazine.

Signal is the instance afforded by France of the benefits derived both by writers and by the public, from a liberal, as compared with a beggarly scale of copyright. A few years ago our neighbours, having few or no novelists of their own, imported and translated all our works of fiction that had obtained any popularity. At length, some of their own writers entered into competition with us; a munificent remuneration tempting others of first-rate genius into the field, they obtained a payment which, to their English brethren, seems almost incredible; and the result is, that the French works of fiction, fully admitting the objection to which some of them may be liable on the score of decorum, which, however, is rather a conventional than a moral question, surpass ours both as to conception and execution, in the full proportion of the difference between the copyrights of London and Paris.

Suffering in his purse from this unequal distribution of literary spoils, as well as stung by a sense of its flagrant injustice, Cumberland determined to form an association for the purpose of preventing, if possible, such wholesale pillage of the auctorial hive. Circulars were forwarded to all the leading writers,—a meeting was called, its summoner took the chair, and, in a speech of some length, propounded his remedy; which was neither more nor less than that authors, discarding all subordinate agents, should sell their own works at their own houses. Alas! “most lame and impotent conclusion!” Many of the aggrieved scribblers had a name without a local habitation which they would choose to avow; Grub-street was not very accessible, garrets still less so; it would be necessary to have agents in every country-town; the local booksellers, deeming the wrongs of authors their vested right, would crush any one who should attempt to invade their monopoly. The project, in short, however praiseworthy as an attempt to remedy a gross and admitted abuse, was found utterly impracticable in detail; and its concoctor contented himself with an energetic appeal to the public; in answer to which, the aforesaid public contented itself with quoting the stanzas of Hall Stevenson:—

You think yourself abused and put on,
’Tis natural to make a fuss;
To see it, and not care a button,
Is just as natural for us.
Like some one viewing at a distance,
Another thrown from out a casement,
All we can do for your assistance,
Is to afford you our amazement!