LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter VIII

Contents Vol. I
Prelude 1
Prelude 2
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
‣ Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Contents Vol. II
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Note to Chapter XV
Contents Vol. III
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Note to Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Note to Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Note to Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Index of Persons
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THE Etonians of 1819 had set on foot a “College Magazine,” which was circulated in manuscript amongst a favoured circle of schoolfellows. At the office of “The Windsor and Eton Express” we printed for them a selection from their contributions, which was entitled “The Poetry of the College Magazine.” As this pamphlet came under my view in its course through the press, I was much struck by the exceeding beauty of some of these compositions—striking in themselves, but more remarkable as the productions of young men, who seemed to have escaped from the classical trammels of the “Musæ Etonenses” to wear a modern English garb with grace and freedom. Amongst the most remarkable of these poems were “The Hall of my Fathers” and “My Brother’s Grave.” These were reprinted in the more ambitious work which grew out of the manuscript periodical.

In the latter half of September, 1820, the Eton vacation was at an end. The proceedings against the Queen had been suspended till the 3rd of October. The evidence to support the Bill of Pains and Penalties had been concluded. Gladly did I hail the prospect of some pleasant occupation—some relief from the routine of the filthy journalism of that time—when, arriving from London, I found two
youths waiting for me at my cottage by the side of the Thames, who proposed to me to print and publish an Eton Miscellany. The one was
Walter Blunt, the other Winthrop Mackworth Praed. There was nothing to discuss beyond the estimate for printing; for if the magazine did not pay its expenses the deficiency was to be met by a subscription. It was not to be a weekly essay, such as “The Microcosm,” but a magazine of considerable size, that might aspire to take its place amongst the best of the monthly periodicals. On the 1st of November appeared “The Etonian,” No. I.

The remembrance of my intercourse with the two youthful editors, and with a few of their contributors, takes me back to a delightful passage of my working life. I have before me the bright, earnest, happy face of Mr. Blunt, who took a manifest delight in doing the editorial drudgery. The worst proofs (for in the haste unavoidable in periodical literature he would sometimes catch hold of a proof unread) never disturbed the serenity of his temper. To him it seemed a real happiness to stand at a desk in the composing-room, and laugh over the blunders which others more experienced in the editorial craft would have raved at as stupidity unbearable. In our printing-office there was a most intelligent overseer and reader, who soon grew into favour with the editors, one of whom did not forget, after forty years had passed, the man who delighted to anticipate their wishes. The Rev. Mr. Blunt, in a letter full of his wonted kindliness, invited me, in 1859, to his house, and thus recalled the old days: “The fact of my writing this from a sofa, with gout in both legs, bespeaks the lapse of time since I used to skurry up
to Windsor to M’Kechnie, with the proofs of ‘
The Etonian.’” Mr. Praed came to the printing-office less frequently. But during the ten months of the life of this Miscellany—which his own productions were chiefly instrumental in raising to an eminence never before attained by schoolboy genius similarly exerted—I was more and more astonished by the unbounded fertility of his mind and the readiness of his resources. He wrote under the signature of “Peregrine Courtenay,” the President of “The King of Clubs,” by whose members the magazine was assumed to be conducted. The character of Peregrine Courtenay, given in “An Account of the Proceedings which led to the Publication of the ‘Etonian,’” furnishes no satisfactory idea of the youthful Winthrop Mackworth Praed, when he is described as one “possessed of sound good sense, rather than of brilliance of genius.” His “general acquirements and universal information” are fitly recorded, as well as his acquaintance with “the world at large.” But the kindness that lurks under sarcasm; the wisdom that wears the mask of fun; the half-melancholy that is veiled by levity;—these qualities very soon struck me as far out of the ordinary indications of precocious talent.

It is not easy to separate my recollections of the Praed of Eton from those of the Praed of Cambridge. The Etonian of 1820 was natural and unaffected in his ordinary talk; neither shy nor presuming; proud, without a tinge of vanity; somewhat reserved, but ever courteous; giving few indications of the susceptibility of the poet, but ample evidence of the laughing satirist; a pale and slight youth, who had looked upon the aspects of society with the keen perception
of a clever manhood; one who had, moreover, seen in human life something more than follies to be ridiculed by the gay jest or scouted by the sarcastic sneer. I had many opportunities of studying his complex character. His writings then, especially his poems, occasionally exhibited that remarkable union of pathos with wit and humour which attested the originality of his genius, as it was subsequently developed in maturer efforts. In these blended qualities a superficial inquirer might conclude that he was an imitator of
Hood. But Hood had written nothing that indicated his future greatness, when Praed was pouring forth verse beneath whose gaiety and quaintness might be traced the characteristics which his friend Mr. Moultrie describes as the peculiar attributes of his nature—
“drawing off intrusive eyes
From that intensity of human love
And that most deep and tender sympathy
Close guarded in the chambers of his heart.”

I soon had many opportunities of observing the Praed of Eton in other relations than those of our business intercourse. Whilst the first number of “The Etonian” was growing into shape, I often breakfasted with the two young editors in Mr. Blunt’s room out of the College bounds; it being then the practice, as all familiar with Eton know, for the scholars of the foundation to get a breakfast as they best could from their own means, or go without. There were sometimes three or four at this social meal. I had perhaps been in the House of Lords, attending the Queen’s trial on the previous afternoon, and could tell them something of the withering
eloquence of
Brougham and the searching subtlety of Copley. Praed took far more than a schoolboy’s interest in the questions of the day, and his sly or sharp commentary would show how well he understood them. To me it was a rare pleasure to have an occasional companionship with these fresh young men, so fearless in the expression of their opinions; so frank in the display of their sympathies or antipathies; full of the best associations of ancient learning without a particle of pedantry; quizzing each other with the most perfect good temper; passing rapidly from an occasional argument of mock solemnity to talk of their theatre in Datchet Lane, and “the best bat in the school”—these blithe spirits, some of whom, in after years, might be wrangling at Nisi Prius, or struggling in the muddy waters of party politics. Upon these Eton days Praed looked lovingly back in verses which he wrote for me when he had taken his place in the great world:—
“I wish, that I could run away
From house, and court, and levee,
Where bearded men appear to-day-
Just Eton-boys grown heavy;
That I could bask in childhood’s sun,
And dance o’er childhood’s roses;
And find huge wealth in one pound one,
Vast wit in broken noses;
And play Sir Giles at Datchet Lane,
And call the milk-maids houris;—
That I could be a boy again,
A happy boy at Drury’s.”

A boy such as Praed, who possessed his genius, and was not possessed by it (as I once heard the great Coleridge say in comparing the peculiarities of
two young men), was sure to be happy at Eton. He was in every respect the opposite, in certain qualities which may be called physical rather than intellectual, to another contributor to “
The Etonian.” William Sidney Walker was in 1820 a Fellow of Trinity College. I had no acquaintance with him till the end of 1822, but I saw a great deal of him in after years, both at Cambridge and in my family circle. I may say that I never beheld in any man, even of the lowest ability, such a striking example of the every-day want of “decision of character”—that most valuable quality, which is the subject of one of Foster’s interesting “Essays.” Irresolute, even in the most trivial actions of life; hesitating in the utterance of the commonest colloquial forms; utterly incapable of sustaining a share in conversation even amongst his familiar friends—Sidney Walker was inferior to very few in some of the higher qualities of genius—second to none in a marvellous power of memory—and, having won his Fellowship by his brilliant scholarship, might have left an imperishable reputation, if his will had been sufficiently strong to counteract the morbid tendencies of his feelings. As an Eton boy, there was no one in the school who had given such an early promise of poetical ability, apart from his school studies. At seventeen, his epic poem of “Gustavus Vasa” was published by subscription. And yet this wonderful boy was the subject of the direst persecution by the common herd of his schoolfellows. Mr. Moultrie, who was his junior by four years, has, in a beautiful Memoir prefixed to Walker’s “Poetical Remains,” described him at Eton as flying for refuge from his tormentors, even into the private apartments of the assistant-masters. Another friend, Mr.
Derwent Coleridge, alludes to this victim of schoolboy-tyranny, as “one of the very largest natural capacity, whose whole moral and intellectual nature had been dwarfed and distorted by the treatment he received at school.” Mr. Walker had a profound admiration for female loveliness, and yet he induced no sentiment but pity in his grotesque approaches to ladies, and his extraordinary modes of testifying his devotion. When one of the most beautiful, as well as the most gifted, women of her time appeared at a public ball at Cambridge, he peered into her face, and clapped his hands in an ecstasy of delight. “It was the joy of the savage,” said Macaulay, “when he first sees a tenpenny nail.” His admiration was too deep for words. I once, however, witnessed a demonstration at a social meeting of his friends at Trinity, which took every one by surprise. The wine was passing round, when he suddenly jumped upon a chair, and flourishing his glass, exclaimed, “The Greeks!” The introduction of the toast by the most brilliant harangue of Macaulay, who was present, could not have produced a more profound sensation. Incapable as he was of expressing it, there was a tenderness in Walker’s appreciation of the pure and beautiful in Women, as there was of loftiness in his estimate of the heroic in Nations. If the author of “The Lover’s Song,” in “The Etonian,” could have spoken as he wrote, his terror of a life of perpetual celibacy as the Fellow of a College might have been happily ended, in spite of his slovenly dress, his pirouetting walk, his want of the outward attributes of manliness. When “the toils of day are past and done,” and he invokes the image of his “lost, remember’d Emily,” few passages of the best amatory lyrics
may compare with four lines of this exquisite little poem:—
“Too solemn for day, too sweet for night,
Come not in darkness, come not in light;
But come in some twilight interim
When the gloom is soft and the light is dim.”
Mr. Praed and Mr. Moultrie were the life-long friends of this unhappy man. Praed made the most noble exertions to clear off his debts, and to place him above actual want, when he had lost his Fellowship from his honest scruples as to taking Orders, bewildered as he ever was by his habitual scepticism on all subjects. Moultrie cherished him living, and he has done justice to his memory when dead—touching lightly upon his foibles—lamenting over the “shapeless wreck” of a lost mind—
“by what mysterious bane
Of physical or mental malady
Disorder’d, none can tell.”

Let me turn to Mr. Moultrie himself, as a contributor to “The Etonian.”

In the collected edition of “Poems by John Moultrie,” amongst the “Poems composed between the years 1818 and 1828,” there are found those most touching and graphic lines which first gave assurance to the world of his rare qualities as a poet. “My Brother’s Grave” is one of those outpourings of the heart that never fail to command human sympathy. The two longer poems in “The Etonian,” of “Godiva” and “Maimoune,” are not reprinted in this collection. When, in 1837, Mr. Moultrie was looking back upon the productions of 1820, he might probably have
considered that the occasional levities of the young student of nineteen might scarcely be deemed fit for republication by the clergyman of six-and-thirty. Yet it is to be regretted that these poems should not have been preserved, other than as a portion of a Miscellany now scarce and little known. The same minute and careful excisions which have been bestowed upon the long poem of “Sir Launfal” (the “
La Belle Tryamour” of “Knight’s Quarterly Magazine”) might have given these two productions a wider celebrity. The two or three fragments which are republished offer no adequate idea of the more than cleverness of these early poems. In the stanzas which tell the well-known story of the gentle lady of Coventry, there are passages of rare beauty, which may justly compete with the “Godiva” of Tennyson, written ten years afterwards. “Maimoune” is more unequal; and there are occasional licences in it which now would call up frowns from some, which might have been smiles forty years ago. But the author may justly claim never to have written a verse that was really corrupting, even in the unpruned luxuriance of his spring-time. Looking back upon his Eton experiences he describes his chief poetical characteristics:—
“If my song
Hath ever found its way to gentle hearts,
’Twas by the nurture and development
Of dormant powers, then first and only found,
That its wild notes were fashioned to express
A natural tenderness.”

Henry Nelson Coleridge was in 1820 a scholar of King’s College, Cambridge. At the time when he was
a contributor to “
The Etonian” he had given evidence of his great abilities and scholarship, by winning two of Sir William Brown’s medals—one for the Greek ode and one for the Latin ode. His poetical faculty, although not of a common order, was less remarkable than his literary taste. The nephew of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his admiration of those who were then sneered at as “the Lake School” was only natural. But it required some courage in the young critic to stand up to defend Wordsworth and Coleridge from that never-ceasing ridicule of the Edinburgh Reviewers, which, it appears, was in some favour at Eton. He did more than this. He endeavoured to explain and illustrate Wordsworth as a very singular and peculiar poet, quite set apart from the troop of every-day metrists, and living and breathing in a world of his own. When Wordsworth was then spoken of as a great poet, the ordinary question was, “Why is he not more popular?” The process through which public opinion gradually turns from an ephemeral popularity, permanently to repose upon works of imagination that are not extravagant stimulants, is admirably illustrated by his own experience:—“I remember distinctly, when ‘Lalla Rookh’ first came out, I read it through at one sitting. To say I was delighted with it is a poor word for my feelings; I was transported out of myself—entranced, or what you will. The men did not appear to me half fierce and beautiful enough, and the women had nothing in their eyes at all like those of the gazelle;—not to mention that the flowers were very meagre, and the wind cold, and the chapel-organ out of tune, and ‘the blessed Sun himself’ but a poor substitute for the god of the Guebres. This seems extravagant,
and yet I believe that many a young heart has felt nearly the same, if those feelings were uttered. Well—after a few days it occurred to me as something very odd that I had no patience now with old
Homer, or Virgil, or even Milton, and scarcely with Shakspere;—they were not transporting enough. This made me reflect upon the causes which could work such a revolution in me; for I used to think the aforesaid poets the very first in their lines, and lo! now a greater than they had swept them out of my favour! After the cooling interval of three weeks I sat down to read this book again—but oh! ‘quantum mutatus ab illo Hectore!’ I cannot describe my feelings, but suffice it to say, the potent charm had vanished; but still I was bewitched in a minor degree by the glare and dazzle of the scenery and the music of the versification. Will you believe me, that a whole year afterwards I read this same book a third time; and then I felt and knew, as all will feel and know who will take the trouble of making the experiment, that the only parts of the work that are worth a farthing are precisely those which are the simplest, the most plain, and free from the beauties of the author, and which, on that very account, I, on my first acquaintance with him, disliked or neglected.”

Henry Coleridge, by his republication of “The Friend,” and other materials for a proper estimation of his illustrious uncle’s labours, testified in his maturer years a profound admiration of his character as a philosopher and a critic. But the Cambridge scholar, while regarding him as the greatest poetical genius of that day, does not hesitate to ask, “Where are we to find in Mr. Coleridge’s philosophy that solid, sensible ground upon which we may venture to
build up an abiding-place for our doubts and our desires?” Such are the changes which years produce in every mind in which the process of educating itself is always going on.

There were altogether fifteen contributors to “The Etonian.” I have mentioned the more prominent. But there was no one who, in the extent and variety of his articles, approached Mr. Praed. They occupy more than a fourth of the whole Miscellany. His prose contributions are far less striking than his poetical. His verse bore a remarkable resemblance to his handwriting. It was the most perfect caligraphy I ever beheld. No printer could mistake a word or letter. It was not what is called a running-hand, and yet it was written with rapidity, as I have often witnessed. Such, too, was the flow and finish of his compositions. In the poems which earliest appeared in “The Etonian” we scarcely trace that peculiar vein which peeps out in his later verse in the same work. And yet these first of a numerous series are essentially different from the common run of classical imitations or juvenile sentimentalities. “The Eve of Battle” is an example. Eighteen hundred and twenty was sufficiently nigh the year of Waterloo to have suggested recollections of many an Etonian who there fell. For those who closed their career in the Crimea there is a memorial-window at Eton. Praed’s poem is most probably a memorial, in some particulars, of real persons who had left memories of their happy boyhood. Yet how strikingly has he varied their characters! There, is “the beau of battle;” there, is the would-be poet, who “on the fray that is to be” is writing “a Dirge or Elegy;” there, is “the merriest soul that ever loved
the circling bowl;” there, is “Etona’s wild and wayward son” who will “break Frenchmen’s heads, instead of
Priscian’s;” there, is “Sir Matthew Chase,” in whose dreams “blood and blood-horses smoke by turns.” How unlike the thoughts of eighteen is the description of a youth who was “all by turns, and nothing long:”—
“A friend by turns to saints and sinners,
Attending lectures, plays, and dinners,
The Commons’ House, and Common Halls,
Chapels of ease,—and Tattersall’s;
Skilful in fencing and in fist,
Causeless alike in joy—or sorrow,
Tory to-day and Whig to-morrow,
All habits and all shapes he wore,
And lov’d, and laugh’d, and pray’d, and swore.”
In the eighth Number of “The Etonian,” Praed found out his forte of poetical narrative, in which the legendary stories of the old Romances are told with touches of wit and humour, far more effective than the coarse burlesque of such forgotten modernizations as “
The Dragon of Wantley.” As an example of his clever management of antithetical images take these lines of “Gog:”
“Oh! Arthur’s days were blessed days,
When all was wit, and worth, and praise;
And planting thrusts and planting oaks,
And cracking nuts and cracking jokes,
And turning out the toes and tiltings,
And jousts, and journeyings, and jiltings.
Lord! what a stern and stunning rout
As tall Adventure strode about,
Rang through the land; for there were duels
For love of dames and love of jewels;
And steeds that carried knight and prince
As never steeds have carried since;
And heavy lords and heavy lances;
And strange unfashionable dances;
And endless bustle and turmoil,
In vain disputes for fame and spoil.
Manners and roads were very rough;
Armour and beeves were very tough;
And then—then brightest figures far
In din or dinner, peace or war—
Dwarfs sang to ladies in their teens,
And giants grew as thick as beans!”

Mr. Praed left Eton for Trinity College at the summer vacation of 1821. In his parting poem of “Surly Hall” he thus apostrophizes Eton:
“A few short hours, and I am borne
Far from the fetters I have worn;
A few short hours, and I am free!
And yet I shrink from liberty;
And look, and long to give my soul
Back to thy cherishing control.
Control! ah, no! thy chain was meant
Far less for bond than ornament;
And though its links be firmly set,
I never found them gall me yet.
Oh! still, through many chequer’d years,
’Mid anxious toils, and hopes, and fears,
Still I have doted on thy fame,
And only gloried in thy name.”
Mr. Moultrie’sMaimoune,” of the same concluding Number of “The Etonian,” he half seriously alludes to the approaching privation of that vehicle for his poetical effusions which had grown out of the manuscript “College Magazine” which he conducted. “Sweet Muse,” he says,
“‘Tis a sad bore to have thy fancies pent
Within my brain—all joys of printing flown—
No praise my dear anonymous state to sweeten,
And all because some folks are leaving Eton.”


In the concluding Number of “The Etonian” the list of fifteen Contributors is signed, as Editors, by “Walter Blunt, Winthrop Mackworth Praed.” In a parting address, Peregrine Courtenay thus gracefully records his obligations to his editorial coadjutor: “Most of all, I have to speak my feelings to him, who, at my earnest solicitations, undertook to bear an equal portion of my fatigues and my responsibility,—to him, who has performed so diligently the labours which he entered upon so reluctantly,—to him, who has been the constant companion of my hopes and fears, my good and ill fortune,—to him, who, by the assiduity of his own attention, and the genius of the contributors whose good offices he secured, has ensured the success of ‘The Etonian.’”

Deeply did I regret my separation from two or three with whom an intimacy had grown up, which, in spite of the differences of ages and pursuits, was something higher than the cold intercourse of business. Some months had passed away. Mr. Praed was now a Brown’s medallist for the Greek ode and for Epigrams. In December, 1822, I received from him a letter which materially influenced my determination to enter upon a new career: “I shall labour in no periodical vocation until you publish one in which I can be of service to you; and divers other Etonians long to hear of your happy establishment in town.” I spent a week most pleasantly at Cambridge. I was welcomed by a knot of young men who belonged, as one of them has described, to
“a generation nobler far
Than that which went before it—more athirst
For knowledge—more intent on loftiest schemes
And purposes of good—and if more prone
To daring speculation—apt to tread
More venturous paths—yet purer from the stain
Of gross and sensual vice.”
In addition to those I had previously known in connexion with “
The Etonian,” I was introduced to Mr. Derwent Coleridge, Mr. Malden, and Mr. Macaulay. It was a cold and wet season, but I was well pleased to wander with such intelligent guides amongst those venerable buildings, which had then lost little of their antique character; to look into libraries and museums; to see something of the observances of College life, in prayers at Chapel and dinners in Hall; to ride to Ely along slushy causeways, which were in parts flooded by the waters of the fens, with baby-windmills striving to keep them down. In the mornings there were pleasant breakfasts and luncheons; in the evenings cheerful wine-parties,—and sometimes the famous milk-punch of Trinity and of King’s. But there was no excess. Amongst my enjoyments the general plan of “Knight’s Quarterly Magazine” was settled.