LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of Writers
Chapter IV.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
‣ Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX
John Keats
Charles Lamb
Mary Lamb
Leigh Hunt
Douglas Jerrold
Charles Dickens
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Leigh Hunt—William Hone—The elder Mathews—John Keats—Charles and Mary Lamb—Sheridan Knowles—Bryan Waller Procter.

Late in the year 1825 Leigh Hunt returned from Italy to England. The enthusiastic attachment felt for him by his men friends was felt with equal ardour by the young girl who had always heard him spoken of in the most admiring terms by her father, her mother, and many of those she best loved and esteemed. His extraordinary grace of manner, his exceptionally poetic appearance, his distinguished fame as a man of letters, all exercised strong fascination over her imagination. In childhood she had looked up to him as an impersonation of all that was heroic in suffering for freedom of opinion’s sake, of all that was comely in person, of all that was attractive in manner, of all that was tasteful in written inculcation and acted precept. He was her beau-ideal of literary and social manhood.

As quite a little creature she can well remember creeping round to the back of the sofa where his shapely hand rested, and giving it a gentle, childish kiss, and his peeping over at her, and giving a quiet, smiling nod in acknowledgment of the baby homage, while he went on with the conversation in which he was engaged. Afterwards, as a growing girl, when she used to hear his
removal to Italy discussed, and his not too prosperous means deplored, she indulged romantic visions of working hard, earning a fabulously large sum, carrying it in fairyland princess style a pilgrimage across the Continent barefoot, and laying it at his feet, amply rewarded by one of his winning smiles. Strange as it seems now to be recounting openly these then secretly cherished fancies, they were most sincere and most true at the time they were cherished. If ever were man fitted to inspire such white-souled aspirations in a girl not much more than a dozen years old, it was Leigh Hunt. Delicate-minded as he was, rich in beautiful thoughts, pure in speech and in writing as he was ardently eloquent in style, perpetually suggesting graceful ideas and adorning daily life by elevated associations, he was precisely the man to become a young girl’s object of innocent hero-worship. When therefore I met him for the first time after his return from Italy, at the house of one of my parents’ friends, all my hoarded feeling on behalf of him and his fortunes came so strongly upon me, and the sound of his voice so powerfully affected me, that I could with difficulty restrain my sobs. He chanced to be singing one of the pretty Irish melodies to which his friend
Moore had put words, “Rich and rare were the gems she wore,”—and, as I listened to the voice I remembered so well and had not heard for so long, the silent tears fell from my eyes in large drops of mingled pain and pleasure. He was the man in all the world to best interpret such an ebullition of feeling had he observed it; but I was thankful to perceive that he had no idea of the agitation I had been in, when he finished his song and began his usual delightful strain of conversation. Leigh Hunt’s conversation was simply perfection. If he
were in argument—however warm it might be—he would wait fairly and patiently to hear “the other side.” Unlike most eager conversers, he never interrupted. Even to the youngest among his colloquists he always gave full attention, and listened with an air of genuine respect to whatever they might have to adduce in support of their view of a question. He was peculiarly encouraging to young aspirants, whether fledgling authors or callow casuists; and treated them with nothing of condescension, or affable accommodation of his intellect to theirs, or amiable tolerance for their comparative incapacity, but, as it were, placed them at once on a handsome footing of equality and complete level with himself. When, as was frequently the case, he found himself left master of the field of talk by his delighted hearers, only too glad to have him recount in his own felicitous way one of his “good stories,” or utter some of his “good things,” he would go on in a strain of sparkle, brilliancy, and freshness like a sun-lit stream in a spring meadow. Melodious in tone, alluring in accent, eloquent in choice of words, Leigh Hunt’s talk was as delicious to listen to as rarest music. Spirited and fine as his mode of narrating a droll anecdote in written diction undoubtedly is, his mode of telling it was still more spirited, and still more fine. Impressive and solemn as is his way of writing down a ghost-story or tragic incident, his power in telling it was still better. Tender and affecting as is his manner of penning a sad love-story, or a mournful chapter in history, and the “Romance of Real Life,” his style of telling it went beyond in pathos of expression. He used more effusion of utterance, more mutation of voice, and more energy of gesture, than is common to most Englishmen when under the excitement of recount-
ing a comic story; and this produced corresponding excitement in his hearers, so that the “success” of his good stories was unfailing, and the laughter that followed him throughout was worked to a climax at the close. Those who have laughed heartily when merely reading his paper entitled “
On the Graces and Anxieties of Pig-driving,” will perhaps hardly credit us when we assert that Leigh Hunt’s own mode of relating the event he there describes of the pig-driving in Long Lane far surpassed the effect produced by the written narration,—polishedly witty and richly humorous as that written narration assuredly is. The way in which Leigh Hunt raised his tone of voice to the highest pitch, hurling himself forward the while upon air, as if in wild desire to retrieve the bolting pig, as he exclaimed, “He’ll go up all manner of streets!” brought to the hearers’ actual sight the anguish of the “poor fellow,” who was “not to be comforted in Barbican,” and placed the whole scene palpably before them.

In the summer of 1826 my father and mother went down to a pretty rural sea-side spot near Hastings called Little Bohemia, taking me, the eldest of my brothers, and one of my younger sisters, with them for the change of air that these members of our family especially needed; I and when we returned home to Shacklewell it chanced that Charles and I met very frequently during the autumn; so frequently, and with such fast-increasing mutual affection that on the 1st of November in that year we became engaged to each other. As I was only seventeen, and my parents thought me too young to be married, our engagement was not generally made known. This caused a rather droll circumstance to happen. Charles, having occasion to call on business connected with the
Every-day Book,” upon William Hone,—who was then under temporary pressure of difficulties and dwelt in a district called “within the rules” of the King’s Bench prison,—took me with him to see that clever and deservedly popular writer. Our way lying through a region markedly distinguished for its atmosphere of London smoke, London dirt, London mud, and London squalor, some of the flying soots chanced to leave traces on my countenance; and while we were talking to Mr. Hone, Charles, noticing a large smut on my face, coolly blew it off, and continued the conversation. Next time they met, Hone said to Charles, “You are engaged to Miss Novello, are you not?” “What makes you think so?” was the rejoinder. “Oh, when I saw you so familiarly puff off that smut on a young lady’s cheek, and she so quietly submitted to your mode of doing it, I knew you must be an engaged pair.”

By the time Hone’sEvery-day Book” had been succeeded by his “Table Book,” I resolved that I would quietly try whether certain manuscript attempts I had made in the art of composition might not be accepted for publication; and I thought I would send them, on this chance, to Mr. Hone, under an assumed signature. The initials I adopted were “M. H.”—meaning thereby “Mary Howard;” because my father had once when a young man enacted Falstaff, in a private performance of the First Part of Henry IV., as “Mr. Howard.” Taking into my confidence none but my sister nearest to me in age (whom I always called “my old woman” when she did me the critical service rendered by Moliere’s old maidservant to her master), and finding that she did not frown down either the written essay or the contemplated enterprise, I forwarded my first paper, entitled “My
Armchair,” and to mine and my sister Cecilia’s boundless joy found it accepted by Hone, and printed in one of the numbers of the “Table Book” for June, 1827, where also appeared some playful verses by Elia, headed “Gone, or Going,” and No. XXII. of his series of extracts from the old dramatists, which he called “Garrick Plays.” I shall not easily forget the novice pride with which I showed the miniature essay to Charles, and asked him what he thought of it as written by a girl of seventeen; still less can I forget the smile and glance of pleased surprise with which he looked up and recognized who was the girl-writer.

These are some of the bygone self-memories that such “Recollections” as we have been requested to record are apt to beguile us into; and such as we must beg our readers to forbear from looking upon in the light of egoism, but rather to regard as friendly chit-chat about past pleasant times agreeable in the recalling to both chatter and chattee.

My father and mother had left Shacklewell Green and returned to reside in London when Mr. and Mrs. Leigh Hunt and their family lived at Highgate, and invited me (M. C. C.) to spend a few days with them in that pretty suburban spot, then green with tall trees and shrub-grown gardens and near adjoining meadows. Pleasant were the walks taken arm-in-arm with such a host and entertainer as Leigh Hunt. Sometimes towards Holly Lodge, the residence of an actress duchess,—successively Miss Mellon, Mrs. Coutts, and the Duchess of St. Albans; of whose sprightly beauty, as Volante in the play of “The Honeymoon,” Leigh Hunt could give right pleasant description: or past a handsome white detached house in a shrubbery, with a long low gallery
built out, where the elder
Mathews lived, whose “Entertainments” and “At Homes” I had often seen and could enjoyingly expatiate upon with Leigh Hunt, as we went on through the pretty bowery lane—then popularly known as Millfield Lane, but called in his circle Poets’ Lane, frequented as it was by himself, Shelley, Keats, and Coleridge—till we came to a stile that abutted on a pathway leading across by the ponds and the Pine-mount, skirting Caen Wood, to Hampstead, so often and so lovingly celebrated both in prose and verse by him I was walking with. Then there was the row of tall trees in front of Mr. Gilman’s house, where Coleridge lived, and beneath which trees he used to pace up and down in quiet meditation or in converse with some friend. Then there was Whittington’s Stone on the road to the east of Highgate Hill, in connexion with which Leigh Hunt would discourse delightfully of the tired boy with dusty feet sitting down to rest, and listening to the prophetic peal of bells that bade him tarry and return as the best means of getting forward in life. And sometimes we passed through the Highgate Archway, strolling on to the rural Muswell Hill and still more rural Friern Barnet, its name retaining an old English form of plural, and recalling antique monkish fraternities when rations of food were served forth, or rest and shelter given to way-weary travellers. Leigh Hunt’s simultaneous walk and talk were charming; but he also shone brilliantly in his after-breakfast pacings up and down his room. Clad in the flowered wrapping-gown he was so fond of wearing when at home, he would continue the lively subject broached during breakfast, or launch forth into some fresh one, gladly prolonging that bright and pleasant morning hour. He himself has somewhere spoken
of the peculiar charm of English women, as “breakfast beauties” and certainly he himself was a perfect specimen of a “breakfast wit.” At the first social meal of the day he was always quite as brilliant as most company men are at a dinner party or a gay supper. Tea to him was as exhilarating and inspiring as wine to others; the looks of his home circle as excitingly sympathetic as the applauding faces of an admiring assemblage. At the time of which I am speaking, Leigh Hunt was full of some translations he was making from
Clement Marot and other of the French epigrammatists; and as he walked to and fro he would fashion a line or two, and hit off some felicitous turn of phrase, between whiles whistling with a melodious soft little birdy tone in a mode peculiar to himself of drawing the breath inwardly instead of sending it forth outwardly through his lips. I am not sure that his happy rendering of Destouches’ couplet epitaph on an Englishman,—
Ci-gît Jean Rosbif, Ecuyer,
Qui se pendit pour se désennuyer,
Here lies Sir John Plumpudding of the Grange,
Who hung himself one morning, for a change,
did not occur to him during one of those after-breakfast lounges of which I am now speaking. Certain am I that at this time he was also cogitating the material for a book which he purposed naming “Fabulous Zoology;” and while this idea was in the ascendant his talk would be rife of dragons, griffins, hippogriffs, minotaurs, basilisks, and “such small deer” and “fearful wild fowl” of the genus monster, illustrated in his wonted delightful style by references to the classic poets and romancists.


Belonging to this period also was his plan for writing a book of Fairy Tales, some of the names and sketched plots of which were capital—“Mother Fowl” (a story of a grimy, ill-favoured old beldam) being, I remember, one of them. Leigh Hunt had an enchanting way of taking you into his confidence when his thoughts were running upon the concoction of a new subject for a book, and of showing that he thought you capable of comprehending and even aiding him in carrying out his intention; at any rate, of sympathizing heartily in his communicated views. No man ever more infallibly won sympathy by showing that he felt you were eager to give it to him.

The one of Leigh Hunt’s children who most at that period engaged my interest and fondness was his little gentle boy, Vincent; who, being a namesake of my father’s used to call me his daughter, while I called him “papa.” Afterwards, when the news of my being married reached the Hunt family, Vincent was found crying; and when asked what for, he whimpered out, “I don’t like to have my daughter marry without asking her papa’s leave.”

Our marriage took place on a fine summer day—July 5th, 1828. The sky was cloudless; and as we took our way across the fields that lie between Edmonton and Enfield—for we had resolved to spend our quiet honeymoon in that lovely English village, Charles’ native place, and had gone down in primitive Darby-and-Joan fashion by the Edmonton stage, after leaving my father and mother’s house on foot together, Charles laughingly telling me, as we walked down the street, a story of a man who said to his wife an hour after the wedding, “Hitherto I have been your slave, madam; now you are mine”—we lingered by the brook where John Keats
used to lean over the rail of the foot-bridge, looking at the water and watching
Where swarms of minnows show their little heads,
Staying their wavy bodies ’gainst the streams,
To taste the luxury of sunny beams
Temper’d with coolness:
and stayed to note the exact spot recorded in Keats’
Epistle to C. C. C., where the friends used to part
Midway between our homes: your accents bland
Still sounded in my ears, when I no more
Could hear your footsteps touch the grav’ly floor.
Sometimes I lost them, and then found again;
You changed the footpath for the grassy plain;
and loitered under a range of young oak-trees, now grown into more than stout saplings, that were the result of some of those carefully dropped acorns planted by Charles and his father in the times of yore heretofore recorded. So dear to us always were Enfield and its associations that they were made the subject of a paper without C. C. C.’s signature entitled “
A Visit to Enfield,” and a letter signed “Felicia Maritata,” both of which were published by Leigh Hunt in his Serials: the former in the number of his Tatler for October 11, 1830; the latter in the number of Leigh Hunt’s London Journal for January 21, 1835

Dear Charles and Mary Lamb, who were then residing at Chase Side, Enfield, paid us the compliment of affecting to take it a little in dudgeon that we should not have let them know when we “lurked at the Greyhound” so near to them; but his own letter,1 written soon after that time, shows how playfully and how kindly he really

1 See page 164.

took this “stealing a match before one’s face.” He made us promise to repair our transgression by coming to spend a week or ten days with him and his sister; and gladly did we avail ourselves of the offered pleasure under name of reparation.

During the forenoons and afternoons of this memorable visit we used to take the most enchanting walks in all directions of the lovely neighbourhood. Over by Winchmore Hill, through Southgate Wood to Southgate and back: on one occasion stopping at a village linen-draper’s shop that stood in the hamlet of Winchmore Hill, that Mary Lamb might make purchase of some little household requisite she needed; and Charles Lamb, hovering near with us, while his sister was being served by the mistress of the shop, addressed her, in a tone of mock sympathy, with the words, “I hear that trade’s falling off, Mrs. Udall, how’s this?” The stout, good-natured matron only smiled, as accustomed to Lamb’s whimsical way, for he was evidently familiarly known at the houses where his sister dealt. Another time a longer excursion was proposed, when Miss Lamb declined accompanying us, but said she would meet us on our return, as the walk was farther than she thought she could manage. It was to Northaw; through charming lanes, and country by-roads, and we went hoping to see a famous old giant oak-tree there. This we could not find; it had perhaps fallen, after centuries of sturdy growth; but our walk was delightful, Lamb being our conductor and confabulator. It was on this occasion that—sitting on a felled tree by the way-side under a hedge in deference to the temporary fatigue felt by the least capable walker of the three—he told us the story of the dog2 that he had tired

2 See the chapter “Some Letters of Charles Lamb,” page 170.

out and got rid of by that means. The rising ground of the lane, the way-side seat, Charles Lamb’s voice, our own responsive laughter—all seem present to us as we write. Mary Lamb was as good as her word—when was she otherwise? and came to join us on our way back and be with us on our reaching home, there to make us comfortable in old-fashion easy-chairs for “a good rest” before dinner. The evenings were spent in cosy talk; Lamb often taking his pipe, as he sat by the fire-side, and puffing quietly between the intervals of discussing some choice book, or telling some racy story, or uttering some fine, thoughtful remark. On the first evening of our visit he had asked us if we could play whist, as he liked a rubber; but on our confessing to very small skill at the game, he said, “Oh, then, you’re right not to play; I hate playing with bad players.” However, on one of the last nights of our stay he said, “Let’s see what you’re like, as whist-players;” and after a hand or two, finding us not to be so unproficient as he had been led to believe, said, “If I had only known you were as good as this, we would have had whist every evening.”

His style of playful bluntness when speaking to his intimates was strangely pleasant—nay, welcome: it gave you the impression of his liking you well enough to be rough and unceremonious with you: it showed you that he felt at home with you. It accorded with what you knew to be at the root of an ironical assertion he made—that he always gave away gifts, parted with presents, and sold keepsakes. It underlay in sentiment the drollery and reversed truth of his saying to us, “I always call my sister Maria when we are alone together, Mary when we are with our friends, and Moll before the servants.”


He was at this time expecting a visit from the Hoods, and talked over with us the grand preparations he and his sister meant to make in the way of due entertainment: one of the dishes he proposed being no other than “bubble and squeak.” He had a liking for queer, out-of-the-way names and odd, startling, quaint nomenclatures; bringing them in at unexpected moments, and dwelling upon them again and again when his interlocutors thought he had done with them. So on this occasion “bubble and squeak” made its perpetual reappearance at the most irrelevant points of the day’s conversation and evening fire-side talk, till its sheer repetition became a piece of humour in itself.

He had a hearty friendship for Thomas Hood, esteeming him as well as liking him very highly. Lamb was most warm in his preferences, and his cordial sympathy with those among them who were, like himself, men of letters, forms a signal refutation of the lukewarmness—nay, envy—that has often been said to subsist between writers towards one another. Witness, for example, his lines to Sheridan Knowles “on his Tragedy of Virginius.” Witness, too, his three elegant and witty verse compliments to Leigh Hunt, to Procter, and to Hone. The first he addresses “To my friend the Indicator,” and ends it with these ingeniously turned lines:—
I would not lightly bruise old Priscian’s head,
Or wrong the rules of grammar understood;
But, with the leave of Priscian, be it said,
The Indicative is your Potential Mood.
Wit, poet, prose-man, party-man, translator—
Hunt, your best title yet is Indicator.
The second, addressed “
To the Author of the Poems published under the name of Barry Cornwall,” after
praising his “
Marcian Colonna,” “The Sicilian Tale,” and “The Dream,” bids him
No longer, then, as “lowly substitute,
Factor, or Procter, for another’s gains,”
Suffer the admiring world to be deceived;
Lest thou thyself, by self of fame bereaved,
Lament too late the lost prize of thy pains,
And heavenly tunes piped through an alien flute.
And the third, addressed “
To the Editor of the ‘Everyday Book,’” has this concluding stanza:—
Dan Phœbus loves your book—trust me, friend Hone—
The title only errs, he bids me say;
For while such art, wit, reading there are shown,
He swears ’tis not a work of every day.

There is another point on which we would fain say a word in vindication of noble, high-natured, true-hearted Charles Lamb; a word that ought once and for ever to be taken on trust as coming from those who had the honour of staying under his own roof and seeing him day by day from morning to night in familiar home intercourse—a word that ought once and for ever to set at rest accusations and innuendoes brought by those who know him only by handed-down tradition and second-hand report. As so much has of late years been hinted and loosely spoken about Lamb’s “habit of drinking” and of “taking more than was good for him,” we avail ourselves of this opportunity to state emphatically—from our own personal knowledge—that Lamb, far from taking much, took very little, but had so weak a stomach that what would have been a mere nothing to an inveterate drinker, acted on him like potations “pottle deep.” We have seen him make a single tumbler of moderately strong spirits-and-water “last through a long evening of
pipe-smoking and fireside talk; and we have also seen the strange suddenness with which but a glass or two of wine would cause him to speak with more than his usual stammer—nay, with a thickness of utterance and impeded articulation akin to Octavius Cæsar’s when he says, “Mine own tongue splits what it speaks.” As to Lamb’s own confessions of intemperance, they are to be taken as all his personal pieces of writing—those about himself as well as about people he knew—ought to be, with more than a “grain of salt.” His fine sense of the humorous, his bitter sense of human frailty amid his high sense of human excellence, his love of mystifying his readers even while most taking them into his confidence and admitting them to a glimpse of his inner self—combined to make his avowal of conscious defect a thing to be received with large allowance and lenientest construction. Charles Lamb had three striking personal peculiarities: his eyes were of different colours, one being greyish blue, the other brownish hazel; his hair was thick, retaining its abundance and its dark-brown hue with scarcely a single grey hair among it until even the latest period of his life; and he had a smile of singular sweetness and beauty.