LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of Writers
Chapter V.

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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Godwin—Horace Smith—William Hazlitt—Mrs. Nesbitt—Mrs. Jordan—Miss M. A. Tree—Coleridge—Edmund Reade—Vincent Novello—Extracts from a diary; 1830—John Cramer—Hummel—Thalberg—Charles Stokes—Thomas Adams—Thomas Attwood—Liszt—Felix Mendelssohn.

We had the inexpressible joy and comfort of remaining in the home where one of us had lived all her days—in the house of her father and mother. Writing the “Fine Arts” for the Atlas newspaper, and the “Theatricals” for the Examiner newspaper, gave us the opportunity of largely enjoying two pleasures peculiarly to our taste. Our love of pictorial art found frequent delight from attending every exhibition of paintings, every private view of new panorama, new large picture, new process of colouring, new mode of copying the old masters in woollen cloth, enamel, or mosaic, that the London season successively produced, while our fondness for “going to the play” was satisfied by having to attend every first performance and every fresh revival that occurred at the theatres.

This latter gratification was heightened by seeing frequently in the boxes the bald head of Godwin, with his arms folded across his chest, his eyes fixed on the stage, his short, thick-set person immovable, save when some absurdity in the piece or some maladroitness of an actor
caused it to jerk abruptly forward, shaken by his single-snapped laugh; and also by seeing there
Horace Smith’s remarkable profile, the very counterpart of that of Socrates as known to us from traditionally authentic sources. With these two men we now and then had the pleasure of interchanging a word, as we met in the crowd when leaving the playhouse; but there was a third whom we frequently encountered on these occasions, who often sat with us during the performance, and compared notes with us on its merits during its course and at its close. This was William Hazlitt, then writing the “Theatricals” for the Times newspaper. His companionship was most genial, his critical faculty we all know; it may therefore be readily imagined the gladness with which we two saw him approach the seats where we were and take one beside us of his own accord. His dramatic as well as his literary judgment was most sound, and that he became a man of letters is matter of congratulation to the reading world; nevertheless, had William Hazlitt been constant to his first intellectual passion—that of painting, and to his first ambition—that of becoming a pictorial artist, there is every reason to believe that he would have become quite as eminent as any Academician of the eighteenth century. The compositions that still exist are sufficient evidence of his promise. The very first portrait that he took was a mere head of his old nurse; and so remarkable are the indications in it of early excellence in style and manner that a member of the profession inquired of the person to whom Hazlitt lent it for his gratification, “Why, where did you get that Rembrandt?” The upper part of the face was in strong shadow, from an over-pending black silk bonnet edged with black lace, that threw the forehead and eyes into darkened effect; while
this, as well as the wrinkled cheeks, the lines about the mouth, and the touches of actual and reflected light, were all given with a truth and vigour that might well recall the hand of the renowned Flemish master. It was our good fortune also to see a magnificent copy that Hazlitt made of
Titian’s portrait of Ippolito dei Medici, when we called upon him at his lodgings one evening. The painting—mere stretched canvas without frame—was standing on an old-fashioned couch in one corner of the room leaning against the wall, and we remained opposite to it for some time, while Hazlitt stood by holding the candle high up so as to throw the light well on to the picture, descanting enthusiastically on the merits of the original. The beam from the candle falling on his own finely intellectual head, with its iron-grey hair, its square potential forehead, its massive mouth and chin, and eyes full of earnest fire, formed a glorious picture in itself, and remains a luminous vision for ever upon our memory. Hazlitt was naturally impetuous, and feeling that he could not attain the supreme height in art to which his imagination soared as the point at which he aimed, and which could alone suffice to realize his ideal of excellence therein, he took up the pen and became an author, with what perfect success every one knows. His facility in composition was extreme. We have seen him continue writing (when we went to see him while he was pressed for time to finish an article) with wonderful ease and rapidity of pen, going on as if writing a mere ordinary letter. His usual manuscript was clear and unblotted, indicating great readiness and sureness in writing, as though requiring no erasures or interlining. He was fond of using large pages of rough paper with ruled lines, such as those of a bought-up blank account-book—as they
were. We are so fortunate as to have in our possession Hazlitt’s autograph title-page to his “
Life of Napoleon Buonaparte,” and the proof-sheets of the preface he originally wrote to that work, with his own correcting marks on the margin. The title-page is written in fine, bold, legible hand-writing, while the proof corrections evince the care and final polish he bestowed on what he wrote. The preface was suppressed, in deference to advice, when the work was first published: but it is strange to see what was then thought “too strong and outspoken,” and what would now be thought simply staid and forcible sincerity of opinion, most fit to be expressed.

Hazlitt was a good walker; and once, while he was living at Winterslow Hut on Salisbury Plain, he accepted an invitation from a brother-in-law and sister of ours, Mr. and Mrs. Towers, to pay them a visit of some days at Standerwick, and went thither on foot.

When Hazlitt was in the vein, he talked super-excellently; and we can remember one forenoon finding him sitting over his late breakfast—it was at the time he had I forsworn anything stronger than tea, of which he used to take inordinate quantities—and, as he kept pouring out and drinking cup after cup, he discoursed at large upon Richardson’sClarissa” and “Grandison,” a theme that had been suggested to him by one of us having expressed her predilection for novels written in letter-form, and for Richardson’s in particular. It happened that we had once heard Charles Lamb expatiate upon this very subject; and it was with reduplicated interest that we listened to Hazlitt’s opinion, comparing and collating it with that of Lamb. Both men, we remember, dwelt with interest upon the character of John Belford, Love-
lace’s trusted friend, and upon his loyalty to him with his loyal behaviour to Clarissa.

At one period of the time when we met Hazlitt so frequently at the theatres Miss Mordaunt (afterwards Mrs. Nesbitt) was making her appearance at the Haymarket in the first bloom and freshness of her youth and beauty. Hazlitt was “fathoms deep” in love with her, making us the recipients of his transports about her; while we, almost equal fanatics with himself, “poured in the open ulcer of his heart her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice,” and “lay in every gash that love had given him the knife that made it.” He was apt to have these over-head-and-ears enamourments for some celebrated beauty of the then stage: most young men of any imagination and enthusiasm of nature have them. We remember Vincent Novello ecstasizing over the enrapturing laugh of Mrs. Jordan in a style that brought against him the banter of his hearers; and on another occasion he, Leigh Hunt, and C. C. C. comparing notes and finding that they had all been respectively enslaved by Miss M. A. Tree when she played Viola in “Twelfth Night;” and, on still another, Leigh Hunt and C. C. C. confessing to their having been cruelly and woefully in love with a certain Miss (her very name is now forgotten!)—a columbine, said to be as good in private life as she was pretty and graceful in her public capacity,—and who, in their “salad days,” had turned their heads to desperation.

William Hazlitt was a man of firmly consistent opinion; he maintained his integrity of Liberal faith throughout, never swerving for an instant to even so much as a compromise with the dominant party which might have made him a richer man.

In an old diary of ours for the year 1830, under the
date Saturday, 18th September, there is this sad and simple manuscript record:—“
William Hazlitt (one of the first critics of the day) died. A few days ago when Charles went to see him during his illness, after Charles had been talking to him for some time in a soothing undertone, he said, ‘My sweet friend, go into the next room and sit there for a time, as quiet as is your nature, for I cannot bear talking at present.’” Under that straightforward, hard-hitting, direct-telling manner of his, both in writing and speaking, Hazlitt had a depth of gentleness—even tenderness—of feeling on certain subjects; manly friendship, womanly sympathy, touched him to the core; and any token of either would bring a sudden expression into his eyes very beautiful as well as very heart-stirring to look upon. We have seen this expression more than once, and can recall its appealing charm, its wonderful irradiation of the strong features and squarely-cut, rugged under portion of the face.

In the same diary above alluded to there is another entry, under the date Friday, 5th March:—“Spent a wonderful hour in the company of the poet Coleridge.” It arose from a gentleman—a Mr. Edmund Reade, whose acquaintance we had made, and who begged we would take a message from him to Coleridge concerning a poem lately written by Mr. Reade, entitled “Cain,”—asking us to undertake this commission for him, as he had some hesitation in presenting himself to the author of “The Wanderings of Cain.” More than glad were we of this occasion for a visit to Highgate, where at Mr. Gilman’s house we found Coleridge, bland, amiable, affably inclined to renew the intercourse of some years previous on the cliff at Ramsgate. As he came into the room, large-presenced, ample-countenanced, grand-fore-
headed, he seemed to the younger visitor a living and moving impersonation of some antique godlike being shedding a light around him of poetic effulgence and omnipercipience. He bent kindly eyes upon her, when she was introduced to him as
Vincent Novello’s eldest daughter and the wife of her introducer, and spoke a few words of courteous welcome: then, the musician’s name catching his ear and engaging his attention, he immediately launched forth into a noble eulogy of music, speaking of his special admiration for Beethoven as the most poetical of all musical composers; and from that, went on into a superb dissertation upon an idea he had conceived that the Creation of the Universe must have been achieved during a grand prevailing harmony of spheral music. His elevated tone, as he rolled forth his gorgeous sentences, his lofty look, his sustained flow of language, his sublime utterance, gave the effect of some magnificent organ-peal to our entranced ears. It was only when he came to a pause in his subject—or rather, to the close of what he had to say upon it—that he reverted to ordinary matters, learned the motive of our visit and the message with which we were charged, and answered some inquiries about his health by the pertinent bit already quoted in these Recollections respecting his immunity from headache.

A few other entries in the said old diary,—which probably came to be exceptionally preserved for the sake of the one on Coleridge, and the one on Hazlitt,—are also of some interest:—“15th February. In the evening we saw Potier, the celebrated French comedian, in the ‘Chiffonnier,’ and ‘Le Cuisinier de Buffon;’ a few hours afterwards the English Opera House was burnt to the ground. God be praised for our escape!” “4th March.
One of the most delightful evenings I ever enjoyed,—
John Cramer was with us.” “25th March. Saw Miss Fanny Kemble play Portia, in the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ for her first benefit.” “21st April. Went to the Diorama, and saw the beautiful view of Mount St. Gothard. In the evening saw the admirable Potier in ‘Le Juif’ and ‘Antoine.’” “21st June. Heard the composer Hummel play his own Septet in D Minor, a Rondo, Mozart’s duet for two pianofortes, and he extemporized for about twenty minutes. The performance was for his farewell concert. His hand reminds me of Papa more than of John Cramer.” “21st September. Witnessed Miss Paton’s first reappearance in London after her elopement. She played Rosina in ‘The Barber of Seville.’ Mr. Leigh Hunt was with us.” “1st October. Saw a little bit of Dowton’s Cantwell on the opening of Drury Lane; the house was so full we could not get a seat.” “18th October. Saw Macready in ‘Virginius’ at Drury Lane.” “21st October. Saw Macready’s ‘Hamlet.’”

The references to two great musical names in the above entries recall some noteworthy meetings at the Novellos’ house. John Cramer was an esteemed friend of Vincent Novello, who highly admired his fine talent and liked his social qualities. Cramer was a peculiarly courteous man: polished in manner as a frequenter of Courts, as much an adept in subtly elegant flattery as a veteran courtier; handsome in face and person as a Court favourite, distinguished in bearing as a Court ruler, he was a very mirror of courtliness. Yet he could be more than downright and frank-spoken upon particular occasion: for once, when Rossini and Rossini’s music were in the ascendant among fashionable coteries, and
Cramer thought him overweening in consequence, when he met him for the first time in society, after something of Rossini’s had been played, and he looked at Cramer as if in expectation of eulogy—the latter went to the pianoforte and gave a few bars from
Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro” (the passage in the finale to the 2nd Act, accompanying the words, “Deh, Signor, nol contrastate”); then turned round and said in French to Rossini, “That’s what I call music, caro maestro.”

As a specimen of his more usually courtly manner, witty, as well as elegant, may be cited the exquisitely-turned compliment he paid to Thalberg, who, saying with some degree of pique, yet with evident wish to win Cramer’s approval, “I understand, Mr. Cramer, you deny that I have the good left hand on the pianoforte which is attributed to me; let me play you something that I hope will convince you;” played a piece that showed wonderful mastery in manipulation on the bass part of the instrument. Cramer listened implicitly throughout, then said, “I am still of the same opinion, Monsieur Thalberg; I think you have no left hand—I think you have two right hands.”

John Cramer’s own pianoforte-playing was supremely good, quite worthy the author of the charming volume of Exercises—most of them delightful pieces of composition—known as “J. R Cramer’s Studio.” His “legato” playing was singularly fine: for, having a very strong third finger (generally the weak point of pianists), no perceptible difference could be traced when that finger touched the note in a smoothly equable run or cadence. We have heard him mention the large size of his hand as a stumbling-block rather than as an aid in giving him command over the keys; and probably it was to his con-
sciousness of this, as a defect to be overcome, that may be attributed his excessive delicacy and finish of touch.

Hummel’s hand was of more moderate size, and he held it in the close, compact, firmly-curved, yet easily-stretched mode which forms a contrast to the ungainly angular style in which many pianists splay their hands over the instrument. His mere way of putting his hands on the key-board when he gave a preparatory prelude ere beginning to play at once proclaimed the master—the musician, as compared with the mere pianoforte-player. It was the composer, not the performer, that you immediately recognized in the few preluding chords he struck—or rather rolled forth. His improvising was a marvel of facile musical thought; so symmetrical, so correct, so mature in construction was it that, as a musical friend—himself a musician of no common excellence, Charles Stokes—observed to us, “You might count the time to every bar he played while improvising.”

Hummel came to see us while he was in London, bringing his two young sons with him; and we remember one of them making us laugh by the childish abruptness with which he set down the scalding cup of tea he had raised to his lips, exclaiming in dismay, “Ach! es ist heiss!”

The able organ-player Thomas Adams, and Thomas Attwood, who had been a favourite pupil of Mozart, by whom he was pettingly called “Tommasino,” were also friends of Vincent Novello; and Liszt brought letters of introduction to him when he visited England. The first time Liszt came to dinner he chanced to arrive late: the fish had been taken away, and roast lamb was on table, with its usual English accompaniment of mint sauce. This latter, a strange condiment to the foreigner, so
pleased Liszt’s taste that he insisted on eating it with the brought-back mackerel, as well as with every succeeding dish that came to table—gooseberry tart and all!—he good-naturedly joining in the hilarity elicited by his universal adaptation and adoption of mint sauce.

Later on we had the frequent delight of seeing and hearing Felix Mendelssohn among us. Youthful in years, face, and figure, he looked almost a boy when he first became known to Vincent Novello, and was almost boyish in his unaffected ease, good spirits, and readiness to be delighted with everything done for him and said to him. He was made much of by his welcomer, who so appreciated his genius in composition and so warmly extolled his execution, both on the organ and on the pianoforte, that once when Mr. Novello was praising him to an English musical professor of some note, the professor said, “If you don’t take care, Novello, you’ll spoil that young man.” “He’s too good, too genuine to be spoiled,” was the reply.

We had the privilege of being with our father when he took young Mendelssohn to play on the St. Paul’s organ; where his feats (as Vincent Novello punningly called them) were positively astounding on the pedals of that instrument. Mendelssohn’s organ pedal-playing was a real wonder,—so masterful, so potent, so extraordinarily agile. The last piece we ever heard him play in England was Bach’s fugue on his own name, on the Hanover Square organ, at one of the concerts given there. We had the good fortune to hear him play some of his own pianoforte compositions at one of the Dusseldorf Festivals; where he conducted his fine psalm “As the hart pants.” On that occasion, calling upon him one morning when there was a private rehearsal going on, we had the singular
privilege of hearing him sing a few notes,—just to give the vocalist who was to sing the part at performance an idea of how he himself wished the passage sung,—which he did with his small voice but musician-like expression. On that same occasion, too, we enjoyed the pleasure of half an hour’s quiet talk with him, as he leaned on the back of a chair near us and asked about the London Philharmonic Society, &c, having, like ourselves, arrived at an exceptionally early time before the Grand Festival ball began that evening. And on the same occasion likewise, we spent a pleasant forenoon with him in the Public Gardens at Dusseldorf, where he invited us, in true German social and hospitable style, to partake of some “Mai-Trank” sitting in the open air, listening to the nightingales that abound in that Rhine-side spot; he laughing at us for saying this Rhenish beverage was “delicious innocent stuff,” and telling us we must beware lest we found it not so “innocent” as it seemed. Once in England, he came to us the morning after
Beethoven’s opera of “Fidelio” had been produced for the first time on the English stage, when Mdme. Schroeder-Devrient was the Leonora, and Haitzinger the Florestan. Mendelssohn was full of radiant excitement about the beauty of the music: and as he enlarged on the charm of this duet, this aria, this round-quartet, this prisoner’s chorus, this trio, or this march,—he kept playing by memory bits from the opera, one after another, in illustration of his words as he talked on, sitting by the pianoforte the while. On his wonderful power of improvisation, and that memorable instance of it one night that we witnessed we have elsewhere enlarged;1 and certainly that was a triumphant specimen of his skill in extempore-playing.

1Life and Labours of Vincent Novello,” page 37.


Felix Mendelsohn was a gifted man, a true genius; and he might have shone in several other fields, as well as in that of music, had he not solely dedicated himself to that art. He was a good pictorial artist, and made spirited sketches. He was an excellent classical scholar; and once at the house of an English musical professor, whose son had been brought up for the Church, and had been a University student, there chancing to arise a difference of opinion between him and Mendelssohn as to some passage in the Greek Testament, when the book was taken down to decide the question Mendelssohn proved to be in the right. He was well read in English literature, and largely acquainted with the best English poets. Once, happening to express a wish to read Burns’s poems, and regretting that he could not get them before he left, as he was starting next morning for Germany, Alfred Novello and C. C. C. procured a copy of the fine masculine Scottish poet at Bickers’s, in Leicester Square, on their way down to the boat by which Mendelssohn was to leave, and reached there in time to put into his hand the wished-for book, and to see his gratified look on receiving the gift. It is perhaps to this incident we owe the charming two-part song, “O wert thou in the cauld blast.”