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[Horace Smith]
A Graybeard’s Gossip. No. XI.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. 82  (January 1848)  14-20.
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No. XI.
Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit.

John Taylor—His Tale of “Monsieur Tonson”—His Bad Puns and forgotten Jests—His Autobiographical Records—The King of Grief—James Cobb—Silencing a Newspaper.

Of the merry crew whom I used to encounter in Hill’s Court of Momus, at Sydenham, I shall only notice one more—the late John Taylor, commonly called Jack Taylor, and sometimes Sun Taylor, from his having been, during many years, the proprietor of that newspaper. At different times, he was also part owner of the True Briton, and editor of the Morning Post; at every period he was Prologue and Epilogue writer in general for all the theatres of London, which, however, were not so nu-
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.15
merous in his days as they have since become. After this preamble, it is hardly necessary to state, that he had an almost universal acquaintance with authors, artists, actors, and actresses of all denominations—a fact, of which abundant evidence may be found in the two pleasant volumes of autobiography, published after his decease, and entitled “
Records of my Life.” By some accident, the lines which he had intended for the title-page, were omitted; but, as they were subsequently sent to me by his widow, I insert that portion which describes the scope and purpose of his work.

Go, faithful Record of my former days,
Regard not censure, and expect not praise.
To rescue merit from Oblivion’s shade,
That else unknown might there in darkness fade,
Such is thy purpose, such thy leaves will show,
To honour friends, but not to wound a foe.

“Thus much may serve by way of proem,” for, though there might be perfect truth in the further assertion that he had mingled largely in the haunts of men, and that virtue might read his work without a fear, the averments were hardly made in a sufficiently poetic form to justify further quotation.

They who could have divined his mental character from his personal appearance, must have read him backwards like a Hebrew book. Somewhat rusty was the suit of black which always invested his tall lean figure, carelessly powdered was his hair, deeply furrowed were his cheeks, dark and saturnine were his features, husky and sepulchral was his voice; yet, this lugubrious-looking personage was always ready, however late the hour, for a freak or a jollification, and rarely opened his mouth, except to relate an anecdote, to repeat a witticism of others, or to attempt one of his own. Nothing, in short, could be more grave than his aspect and outward showing, nothing less so than his discourse and his occasional pursuits. Let it not be supposed, however, that Mr. Taylor was a frivolous character, thinking of nought but social dissipation, and the retailing of facetiæ. His companionable qualities warranted a much higher ambition than that of being a successful punster, and even they who smiled at his occasional failures as a wag, could not help respecting him as a well-conducted, honourable, and kind-hearted man. That he should have exercised his editorial functions during so many years, with so little cause of offence, is doubly creditable to him, if there be any truth in his own averment, when speaking of Sir Henry Bate Dudley, the proprietor of the Morning Post, that it is almost impossible for those who have not been occupied as newspaper editors, to imagine the folly, depravity, and offensive qualities which must inevitably be brought within their cognizance; and that they ought, therefore, to stand excused if their temper sometimes become soured, and their strictures assume a tone of splenetic reproof. Let it be recorded, to the honour of John Taylor, the editor of so many papers, that he needed no vindication of this sort, the natural amenity of his disposition having resisted all the embittering influences of his pursuits.

And yet he had some reason for mistrusting his fellow-creatures, his hard-earned savings of many years having been lost by the misconduct of his partner in one of the newspapers; a reverse of fortune that induced him, in the year 1827, to publish two volumes of “Poems on Various Subjects,” for which the wide circle of his acquaintance enabled him to
16A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
procure an extensive list of subscribers. In the whole long array of prologues, epilogues, sonnets, epistles, imitations, elegiacs, tales, and rhyming effusions upon all sorts of occasions, there were but rare exceptions from that order of poetical mediocrity, which, according to
Horace, is equally repudiated by gods, men, and bookstalls. Prolific as was his muse, it is very possible that the reader may never have encountered any other of her bantlings than the comic tale of “Monsieur Tonson,” which became so popular that it was often recited at the Freemasons’ Tavern, by Fawcett, and was always received with applause; a success which so deeply endeared it to the writer, that he records himself in the title-page of his biography as the “Author of Monsieur Tonson,” and subjoins the same badge of distinction to the portrait with which the work is embellished. How fondly he doted upon this poetical bantling, the only one of a most numerous family that ever became known to fame, may be judged by the following extract from his “Records,”—

“Several of the actors, among whom were Mr. John Palmer, Mr. Burton, and many provincial performers, called on me, requesting that I would read it to them that they might better understand the conceptions of the author. They should rather have applied to Mr. Fawcett, whose example would have been a more instructive lesson. As I was one morning knocking at the door of a friend, a decent looking person, but with a rough manner, addressed me abruptly, saying,

“‘Are you the author of ‘Monsieur Tonson?’

“I simply answered, ‘I own my guilt.’

“‘I thought so,’ said he, and went away with equal abruptness. And if this may be considered a species of fame, I have seen myself pointed at in coffee-houses on the same account.”*

In another place he is careful to tell the reader that the tale is founded on an actual occurrence of former days, and that the Tom King who forms its hero was not Tom King the actor, of whom Churchill says, “’Mongst Drury’s sons he comes and shines in brass.” Indeed, one can hardly read his numerous and complacent allusions to this subject, and the effect produced by his tale, without being reminded of Swift’sMemoirs of P. P., Clerk of this Parish.”

Mr. Northcote, however, no incompetent critic, to judge by Hazlitt’s published conversations with him, thought very favourably of the theatrical poems, if the following extract from an epistle to their writer is to be taken au pied de la lettre:—

“I can scarcely find words to express to you my admiration of your excellent Prologues, and Epilogues, so various, so witty, so moral, so natural, and so poetic. I wish the whole work had contained nothing else, it would then indeed have been a jewel of the first water; but when you make verses on Mr. ——, Mr. ——, Mr. Northcote, and Mr. ——, my G—d! what a change! I no longer know the same author. It seems to me like a change in a farce, where we see a regal throne quickly turned into a wheelbarrow, &c., or as if somebody had blown your brains out! If ever you write any more verses upon me, pray suppose me to be either a Tragedy or a Comedy, and make a Prologue or an Epilogue for me. But I can easily account for the great difference. When you write a Prologue or an Epilogue, you feel all the terror of that powerful and re-

* “Records,” vol. ii., p. 27.
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.17
morseless beast, a full assembled audience before your eyes, which keeps you tremblingly alive in fear of immediate public shame. But when you write verses to flatter a fool, you sleep over them, and think any thing is good enough.”

As the subject of this notice had his pet comic tale, to which he delighted to refer, so had he two or three favourite puns of his own concoction, to each of which he thought he might apply the decies repetita placebit. More than once or twice have these old friends revisited mine ear. Methinks I now see their fond parent as he used to reiterate them in days of yore. A smile wrenches his cast-iron features out of their forlorn grimness: with his fore-finger and thumb he flicks away the snuff from his shirt frill, as he huskily exclaims, or rather croaks, “I think you knew Ozias Humphrey, the artist, if not, you must have heard of him. He was fond of raillery, and one day, I think it was at Opie’s, in Berners-street, when a little sportive contest took place between him and me, he said, ‘Taylor, you are an every-day man.’

“‘Very well,’ said I, ‘and you are a weak one.’ “This retort excited a loud laugh, as you may well suppose, and completely silenced my friendly opponent. Some people call this my best pun, but I myself don’t think it so good as one that I made to Sheridan, who you know, married a Miss Ogle. Well, we were supping together, on burned bones and claret, at the Shakespeare Tavern, in Covent Garden, when the conversation turning on Garrick, I asked him which of his performances he thought the best. “‘Oh,’ said he, ‘the Lear, the Lear.’

“‘No wonder,’ said I, ‘you were fond of a Leer, since you married an Ogle:”

From these specimens of his best puns the reader may guess the quality of the myriad others constantly popping out of a melancholy-looking mouth that seemed little fitted for emitting such sportive frivolities. It was Saturn pelting you with sugar plums.

Such, however, was his store of pleasant anecdote, so wide had been his acquaintance with men and measures, that his hearers were well content to forgive a twice-told tale, a wretched pun, or his too liberal use of what Gibbon calls the vainest and most disgusting of the pronouns. They could pardon him for remembering a joke too well, but it required a greater degree of forbearance when he insisted, as was occasionally the case after his memory had become less retentive, upon relating anecdotes that he had forgotten. “My dear friend,” I once heard him say to James Smith, “did I ever tell you of my famous repartee to Dubois? Some allusion having been made to my original profession of an oculist, he said, no wonder that you failed in that pursuit, for a man must have been blind indeed who could think of coming to you for a cure. Well, that made a laugh against me, but I quickly turned the tables upon him, blew him to atoms, demolished him, annihilated him on the spot by a retort I made. I don’t recollect just now what it was, but you may depend upon it, my dear Smith, it was a capital thing, and was received with a loud roar.” Such slips of memory may easily happen, especially to an elderly man, in the excitement of social intercourse; but in the following extract it will be seen that Taylor could deliberately commit to writing a repartee of which he had forgotten the point, taking care, moreover, to add a voucher for its probable sharpness. “The Baron de
18A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
Wenzel, in the earlier part of his life, had been the pupil of my grandfather (the
Chevalier Taylor), who, on hearing of the baron’s extraordinary fame in London, privately hinted to him that when he was his pupil he had not discovered such docility as to promise so high a degree of professional repute. The baron, piqued at this remark, pointed to his shoes, which were decorated with brilliant diamonds. What answer the chevalier made I know not, but it was probably very sharp, as he was well known to excel in repartee.”* Numerous must have been the jokes obliterated from the tablet of his memory. Pity that he did not collect the good things which had thus escaped his recollection, and publish them under the title of “Unremembered Memorabilia; or, the Forgotten Joe Miller.” We may depend upon the “capital hits,” whose oblivion it would have commemorated.

Enough, however, and more than enough, were preserved in the “Records of my Life,” by the late John Taylor, Esquire, author of “Monsieur Tonson,” to make the volumes very pleasant reading, at least, for a graybeard contemporary like myself. Among the many advantages of old age, it is not the least that we can sit in our fireside corners, chew the cud of thought, and recall the pleasures, while we forget the dangers and anxieties of our by-gone years. Youth lives in the future, age in the past, and I rather think we seniors have the best of it. When Taylor, for instance, showed me the room in old Slaughter’s Coffee-house, where he had so often enjoyed merry meetings with Holman, Morton, Reynolds, Fawcett, and other boon companions, it was manifest that the actual occurrence of these symposia could hardly have been more delightful than their recollection, which was free, moreover, from all apprehension of a morning head-ache. As his ”Records” are not very widely known, I will glean from them two or three anecdotes that may not be uninteresting to the general reader.

The original of Kenney’s Jeremy Diddler in the admirable farce of “Raising the Wind,” was a man of the name of Bibb, who had once been an engraver, and after renouncing that occupation, without adopting any other, had contrived to support himself by borrowing half-crowns from all whom he could prevail upon to lend them, a practice which procured for him the nick name of “half-crown Bibb,” and was supposed to have put in his pocket, first and last, not much less than 2000l. His solicitations, however, were judiciously apportioned to the supposed means of his victims. When Taylor was young, and not very flourishing in circumstances, he met Bibb, and commenced a modest panegyric upon Dr. Johnson, whose death had been announced in the papers of that day, an eulogium which was quickly interrupted by the exclamation of—“Oh! never mind that old blockhead. Have you got such a thing as ninepence about you?” The same party encountering Morton, the dramatist, after the success of one of his plays, and concluding that a prosperous author must have plenty of cash, ventured to ask him for the loan of a whole crown. Morton assured him that he had no more silver than three and sixpence, which the applicant readily accepted, of course, but said on parting,—“Remember, I intended to borrow a crown, so you owe me eighteen-pence.”

Lewis, a provincial actor, and no relation to the celebrated comedian of

* “Records,” vol. i., p. 15.
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.19
Covent Garden, published a small volume of poems with the following motto:—
The Muses forced me to besiege ’em,
Necessitas non habet legem.
He was generally known by the title of “The King of Grief,” as he had watery eyes, which made him always appear to be weeping, and was continually predicting misery to himself. Of this tristful grumbler,
Taylor relates the following anecdote. ”Mr. Younger, who was a very friendly man, invited old Lewis to dine with him at Liverpool. Lewis declined the invitation, alleging the indifferent state of his attire. Mr. Younger desired him to go into the wardrobe of the theatre, and gave orders he should receive any suit of clothes that fitted him. As soon as he was properly accommodated, he rejoined Mr. Younger at dinner. After a few glasses of wine, which, instead of raising his spirits, depressed him, he began weeping. Mr. Younger, with great kindness, asked him the cause of his sudden grief—‘Why,’ said he, ‘is it not lamentable that such a man of genius as myself should be obliged to such a stupid fellow as you are for a suit of clothes, and a dinner?’ Far from being offended, Mr. Younger only laughed at his ludicrous and untimely ingratitude.”

Mr. James Cobb, whose operas and dramatic works were so long and «o deservedly popular, was requested by Sheridan, after the destruction of Drury Lane Theatre, to write a prelude on the removal of the company of actors to the King’s Theatre. This was done, Sheridan introducing one whimsical stroke. One of the characters describing the difficulty of removing the scenes, properties, &c., said there was so pelting a storm at the moment, that they were obliged to carry the rain under an umbrella.

Let me not record the name of James Cobb without a passing tribute of respect to his memory. During the latter years of his secretaryship to the East India Company I knew him well, and often shared the hospitalities which he so liberally dispensed in Russell-square, especially on the nights of a new piece at either of the theatres, when he invariably had a box. His better-half, who always accompanied him, was apt to be behind-hand with her toilet, and on one occasion, when the servant brought a message from his mistress that she would be down as soon as she had changed her cap, his master replied,

“Oh, if that’s all, you may bring another bottle of port.”

Mr. Cobb was a man of business, a successful dramatist, a good musician, a pleasant companion, a warm friend, and in every respect a most estimable person. His industry must have been not less signal than his other good qualities, for while he punctually discharged the duties of a most responsible office, he found time to compose upwards of twenty farces, operas, and musical dramas, some of which, such as “Paul and Virginia,” “the Haunted Tower,” “The Siege of Belgrade,” and others, retained their popularity for many years, and are not yet entirely banished from the stage.

To return to John Taylor. As he was a man of strict veracity it may not be uninteresting to give his authority for the mode in which troublesome newspapers were silenced in the good old days of our own times, when the Prince of Wales, afterwards George the Fourth (of happy and pious memory!) was seeking to be appointed Regent. The reader will instantly see that the allusions in the following cautiously worded extract refer to Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales:—

20 A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.

“It appeared that a lady, supposed to be in great favour with a high personage, and not merely connected by the ties of mutual affection, had determined to assert claims not sanctioned by law, but which, if openly developed, or rather promulgated, would perhaps have been attended by a national agitation. It was stated in the Morning Post, that the lady in question had demanded a peerage and 6000l. a year, as a requital for the suppression of a fact which might have excited alarm over the empire, and have put an effectual stop to all further proceedings on the subject of the pending regency.”

Permanently to silence such ill-timed paragraphs, Taylor was requested, by a confidential servant of the “high personage,” to inquire whether the person who farmed the paper, and who was also part proprietor, would dispose of his share, and also of the term for which he was authorised to conduct it. “The party in question,” writes Taylor, “struck while the iron was hot, received a large sum for his share of the paper, another for the time that he was to hold a control over it, and an annuity for life. The Morning Post was purchased for the allotted period, and I was vested with the editorship. I may here mention a circumstance that illustrates the character, or rather the opinion of Dr. Wolcot. When the confidential agent to whom I have alluded first communicated to me the extravagant claims of the lady in question, and the public commotion which she was likely to occasion, if she persevered in her pretensions, the doctor, who was present, laughed, and said,

“‘Oh! there is no reason to be alarmed, the matter is easily settled.”

“When I asked him what was to be done, his answer was,

“‘Why, poison her.”

“‘What, doctor,” said I, “commit murder?”

“‘Murder!” rejoined he, “there is nothing in it; it is state policy, and is always done.”

“He certainly had no intention to suggest such an expedient upon the present occasion; but if there were any temptation for a joke it was impossible for him to resist it.”*

John Taylor was profoundly loyal, which explains his appointment as editor, but when, at a later period, the life-involving charges against the persecuted Queen Caroline were sought to be established per fas aut nefas, he may, perhaps, have thought that their manifest object was hardly more justifiable than the expedient suggested by the doctor.

As it would not be fair to dismiss two volumes, containing more than 600 pages, of Taylor’s poetry without quotations, I will cite the following lines, which are doubly entitled to selection as forming the shortest of all his poems, and as bearing reference to another of my “literary acquaintance.”

on hearing that j. w. croker, esq., secretary to the admiralty,
had fallen from his horse
Learn from this danger to beware
Of horses of the vulgar breed,
And hence unbend from public care,
By mounting thy Parnassian steed.
Then, if o’er sea or land† he course,
He’ll ne’er thy skilful guidance spurn,
But taste will regulate his force,
And Fame shall welcome his return.

* “Records,” vol. ii., p. 267.