LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter VII

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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ON the 13th of June, 1820, I received an offer, conveyed to me in confidence by my zealous friend Mr. Locker, to become the Editor and part Proprietor of a London Weekly Paper, “The Guardian.” The tone of my political opinions had been collected from the “Retrospect of Public Affairs” in “The Plain Englishman.” The violence of political agitation appeared to be fast subsiding. Some of the physical-force Reformers were in prison. The miscreants who had contemplated assassination as a cure for political evils were hanged. There was only one chance of a convulsion. The Queen, contrary to all reasonable expectation, had landed at Dover, and on the 6th of June had entered London amidst the shouts of thousands. On that evening a Message from the King was presented to the Lords and Commons, and a green bag was laid on the table of each House, containing papers respecting the conduct of Her Majesty when abroad, which the King had thought fit to communicate to Parliament. When I entered upon my new editorial duties at the end of the month, the hope was at an end which wise men of all parties had entertained, that a compromise would avert the scandal and danger of a public inquiry. Through July, after the Secret Committee of the House of Lords had made its Report, and a Bill of Pains and Penalties was read
a first time, the mob excitement of London was such as few had before witnessed. When the Queen took up her residence at Brandenburgh House on the 3rd of August, there began a series of processions, from the extreme East to the extreme West, that manifested at once the energy and the folly of democracy in its wildest hour of excitement. Often riding to Windsor have I been detained by the impossibility of passing through an army of working men, with bands, and banners, and placards, headed by deputations of their several committees with wands of office—all terribly in earnest—all perfectly convinced of the Queen’s immaculate purity—all resolved that oppression should not triumph—a peaceful multitude, but one that in any other country would have seemed the herald, if not the manifestation, of Revolution. In the fierce battle of journalism which was then fought throughout the year, I was not called upon for a declaration of extreme opinions. If such a course had been insisted upon I should have resigned my charge. I wrote to my co-proprietor, when it was suggested that a stronger tone ought to be adopted with regard to the Queen, “I can only say that I feel confident that the language of moderation ought to be most aimed at, as the likeliest to prevent the existing ferment increasing into a state of perpetual division and anarchy.” This was written at the end of November; when, although the Government had terminated this unhappy contest, the political animosities that had grown up with it were raging in a flood of personality such as had never before disgraced the Press of England. The “Guardian” had not flourished under the gross mismanagement of its early career, nor under my too conscientious
interpretation of the duties of a journalist. I became its sole proprietor upon easy terms. Gladly did I leave the rough work of party to
John Bull, which, established in December, 1820, soon obtained an influence which was earned by something more than its cleverness. A year after, in both the papers which I then conducted, I expressed my opinion of the danger and disgrace of the prevailing tone of the “public instructors.” This opinion is perhaps worth transcribing, as affording a contrast between the London newspapers of 1821—with a fourpenny stamp, paying a duty of 3s. 6d. on every advertisement, printed on heavily-taxed paper, hemmed round by all imaginable safeguards against libel—and the newspapers of 1863, with no stamp whatever and no advertisement-duty, paying no tax upon paper, fettered by no securities; between the London newspapers whose aggregate circulation in one week was about a quarter of a million, and the newspapers that upon a moderate estimate may be held to circulate five millions weekly. In the country newspapers the contrast is perhaps still greater. Much as I believed in the regenerating power of the Press, I could scarcely have imagined that some distant age of cheapness would have been an age when the impure, seditious, violent, intolerant, and libellous writer would have become a rare exception amongst journalists. Nevertheless, I rightly considered that out of the increase of knowledge amongst the people would arise a better spirit of journalism; which, in its turn, would become one of the most efficient instruments of education.

Thus I wrote in 1821: “A general view of the influence of the Press would lead us to judge that
very much of that influence is injurious to the safety of the Government; opposed to the happiness of the people; and destructive of that real freedom of thought and writing upon which the glory and prosperity of England have been built. But we believe that a great deal of the evil will cure itself. It is the half-knowledge of the people that has created the host of ephemeral writers who address themselves to the popular passions. If the firmness of the Government, and, what is better, the good sense of the upper and middle classes who have property at stake, can succeed for a few years in preserving tranquillity, the ignorant disseminators of sedition:and discontent will be beaten out of the field by opponents of better principles, who will direct the secret of popular writing to a useful and a righteous purpose. But this change in the temper of the multitude is not to be effected by borrowing the dirty weapons of those who are engaged in stimulating them to acts of atrocity. It is not to be effected by raking up scandalous stories against the demagogues of a faction—by penetrating into the recesses of private life to drag forth the evidence of a forgotten fault or an expiated folly—by pouring forth the coarsest abuse against the principles and practice of eminent men of adverse opinions, with a blind and levelling fury. There is a revolutionary temper in such ultra-publications which degrades the cause it affects to support, and furnishes an example to the dangerous doctrines it pretends to resist. The
Black Dwarf and John Bull are scions from the same stock. The dictates of interest only have made the one a pander to the passions of the little vulgar; the other, a hunter of scandal for the vulgar great.”


It was time to speak out when a Society had started up to do the work of a Censorship, in the blindest fashion of ultra-loyal partisanship. In March, 1821, the “Constitutional Association” was formed, for the purpose of prosecuting printers and publishers who went beyond what they deemed the proper bounds of political discussion. This despicable Association—despicable, however supported by rank and wealth—saw no mischief in the gross libels of one set of writers who professed to be the friends of the Government, but instituted the most reckless prosecutions against “liberal” newspapers. The term “liberal” had then begun to mark a certain set of opinions which had outgrown their former title of “Jacobinical.” This Association acquired the name of “The Bridge Street Gang.” After three or four months of a hateful existence—denounced in Parliament—execrated by every man who had inherited a spark of Milton’s zeal for “the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing”—this Association was prosecuted for oppression and extortion. The grand jury found a true bill against its members. They were acquitted upon their trial; but practices were disclosed which showed how dangerous it was for a crafty attorney and a knot of fanatical politicians to play at attorney-generalship. The true public of this country was getting as sick of outrageous Loyalty as of desperate Radicalism.

Looking around me at the Newspaper Press of London, I saw very few papers that attempted to combine the literary and the political character. John Hunt was still the editor of “The Examiner;” but his brother Leigh, who had raised the critical department of the paper to the highest eminence,
might well be tired of newspaper occupation, and was meditating the unfortunate union with
Byron in “The Liberal.” John Hunt, in May, 1821, was prosecuted for a libel on the House of Commons, and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. “The Champion,” “The News,” and one or two others, had literary pretensions, but they made their criticism little more than a vehicle for their politics. I fancied there was an opening for a paper that, giving a temperate support to the Government, might deal with Literature in a spirit of impartiality. I panted for a region of pure air and clear skies, lifted out of the heat and fever of the plains, where public writers lost all natural freedom and vigour in a constant round of controversial dram-drinking.

I have the merit, humble as it may be, of having created a new department of Newspaper Literature. On the 3rd of March, 1821, “The Guardian” had the first of a series of articles, regularly continued month by month, entitled “Magazine-Day.” This paper opens with a glimpse of “The Row,” forty-two years since. What changes have come over the then narrow world of Magazines! Periodical writing had then a few able workmen, and some, rather more numerous, of the “Ned Purdon” school. But now! Let me copy from this paper a few sentences of what then struck me as one of the remarkable indications of a new “Reading Age,” upon which age Coleridge made some lumbering jokes:—“There is no bustle, to our minds, half so agreeable as the bustle of Paternoster Row on the last day of the month. This is Magazine Day—the most important division in the life of a bookseller’s collector; as important as settling day to the stock-broker, or quarter-day to
the annuitant. We delight, on these memorable mornings, to lounge through the narrow approaches of Ave-Maria or Warwick Lanes, and then to make a dead stop in the Paradise of Publishers—to hear the hum of the great hive of literature—to see its bees going forth in search of, or returning with, their spoils. As the dusky porter, catching the rapid step of the periodical lore which he bears, brushes past us, we delight to speculate upon the component parts of his burden—to estimate the relative proportions of
Blackwoods and Baldwins, of Monthlies (Old and New), of Gentleman’s and Ladies’, of Belle Assemblies and Evangelicals. It is a special pleasure to us to dive into some of the celebrated penetralia of the Row, and there learn to estimate the merits of these monthly candidates for applause, not by the beauty of their styles, but by the bulk of their heaps.” I then described how, by these walks, I obtained possession of half a dozen periodicals, and was able to taste the fruit, not before it was ripe, but before it was brought into the market. I had long thought, I said, of turning this passion to account; and at length resolved to give my readers some of the chit-chat of Magazine Day. “With a fearless hand we will twitch your mantles, blue, or drab, or green, ye
‘Abstract and brief chronicles of the time.’
Your days of dulness are overpast. Ye are no longer the reversionary property of the pastry-cook and the trunk-maker. Ye are well worth a regular monthly notice; aye, and much better worth than many a lumbering quarto.” This article made a stir in “The Trade,” and before next Magazine Day, these “squires of the moon’s body” trooped into my office without
giving me the trouble of a journey to Paternoster Row.

The new era of Magazines may be said to have commenced in 1817. In that year “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine” startled the London publishers into a conviction that for a new generation of readers more attractive fare might be provided than at some of the old established restaurateurs, whose dishes were neither light, nor elegant, nor altogether wholesome. When Blackwood was started—apparently without any very correct knowledge that something was wanted in periodical literature beyond political bitterness—the old magazines and their new rivals had gone on without much deviation from the hackneyed paths in which they had first walked. The possibility was then scarcely conceived that they could afford to pay handsomely for contributions; and thus their chief dependence was upon their gratuitous correspondence. They were the vehicles for the communication to the world of all sorts of opinions, theological, moral, political, and antiquarian. They were the tablets upon which the retired scholar or the active citizen might equally inscribe their theories or their observations, in a familiar and unpretending style; and they at once kept alive the intelligence of their own generation, and formed valuable records for succeeding eras. In one magazine, “The Gentleman’s,” which had lived the most respectable of existences for nine decades, the antiquarians stoutly held their own. In its volumes from 1731 there is more valuable “tombstone information” to be found than in any other work in our language; and this, to speak truly, is not knowledge to be despised. The honest printer of St. John’s
Gate, of whom
Johnson said that he scarcely ever looked out of the window without a view to the improvement of his magazine, had seen the births and the deaths of many rivals. There was a “London” to enter the lists against him when the booksellers had discovered the value of this new lode in the mine of literature. There was a “Monthly.” There was a “Ladies’.” The old names were supposed to retain their old influences; and so at the time of my “Magazine Day” there was a “Monthly,” and there was a “New Monthly;” there was a “London,” and there was a “Ladies.” Mr. Phillips, afterwards Sir Richard, had revived the “Monthly” in 1796, pretty much upon the ancient “correspondence” principle. The “New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register” had scarcely more ambitious pretensions, when set up in 1814. The “London,” of all the metropolitan magazines, was the most distinguished for its literary excellence. It had been re-established in 1820 by Mr. Robert Baldwin, and was as often called “Baldwin,” as the Edinburgh Magazine was called “Blackwood.” A controversy between the two leading Miscellanies, conducted with that bitterness on both sides which was an evil characteristic of the periodical literature of those days,—when writers of all grades readily plunged into the waters of strife and there wallowed like the heroes of “The Dunciad” in Fleet Ditch—led to the fatal catastrophe of the death in a duel of Mr. John Scott, the amiable and accomplished editor of the “London.” I knew not Mr. Scott; but in common with all who felt that the pistol was the worst arbiter of differences, literary or political, I deeply grieved for such an end of his career, in which he had in various ways shed a lustre upon journalism.
In my first article of “Magazine Day,” I said, “Looking at the melancholy circumstances under which the present “London” has been brought out, we are surprised that there is so much excellent matter in it; and argue thence that the fatal termination of a foolish affair will not greatly impair the future gratification of the public in this very agreeable miscellany.”

The “Blackwood” of this period had attained a reputation which made all successful rivalry very difficult. “Nothing,” says Mrs. Gordon, “was left undone to spread the fame and fear of Blackwood.” The indefatigable publisher, who, as we now learn, was its real editor, was as careful to propitiate a favourable opinion of his “Maga” amongst periodical writers who admired its talent, as its great supporters, Wilson and Lockhart, were ever ready for a warfare in which no quarter was given or expected. It was a surprise to me when I received from the dreaded William Blackwood a letter of thanks for “your kind and early notices of my magazine.” Still more was I surprised when he wrote, “Permit me to return you the author’s and my own best thanks for your splendid critique upon ‘Valerius.’ Your opinion (which was the first given upon the work) seems to be fully confirmed by the public voice.” Was this the style, I thought, in which it was necessary for a publisher to administer small doses of flattery to periodical critics, however humble, for what ought only to be considered an act of justice? In after years, occasionally coming across the cold and proud author of “Valerius,” when he had become Editor of the “Quarterly Review,” I have thought of “the author’s best thanks,” &c.; and have suspected
that the ultra-courteous phrase was a mere façon de parler of the skilful charioteer who could show such a high-mettled racer in his team. Of Professor Wilson I could readily have believed that any cordial acknowledgment of a supposed courtesy would be in accordance with his genial nature. In later years, he and I may be judged to have adopted very different opinions upon public questions, but his hand of kindness was always held out to me; and in his social hour, when I first knew him, and in those days when sorrow and sadness had impaired but not subdued the elasticity of his nature, I had a confirmation of my belief, established in many instances before and since, that a political partisan and satirist may have the warmest heart and be capable of the truest friendship.

In “Blackwood” at this time was finished “The Ayrshire Legatees,” in which Galt first opened his rich vein of observation and humour. Had that publishing economy of the present day been then fully established, which consists in making a work of fiction do double service, originally as a series of magazine papers and then as a complete work, Galt would have spread his next venture over a dozen numbers of the closely printed pages that had rendered Buchanan’s head so familiar to the Southern public, and then have made his more dignified appearance. The canny publisher seems to have had some doubts of our metropolitan tastes, for he writes to the editor of “The Guardian:”—“With this you will receive a very singular book, which I shall publish in a few days, ‘Annals of the Parish.’ How it may be liked in England I cannot exactly say; but I am sure it will be highly relished by all
Scotsmen, because the sketches of Scottish country life are so true to nature.” Do any of the younger readers of the present day care to look into a book whose chief merit is that it is “so true to nature?” Do they care to turn to that storehouse of quiet humour, “
Sir Andrew Wylie, of that ilk,” which came in rapid succession? Perhaps some of my Georgian-era contemporaries who are sick of sensation novels, may turn again to what afforded them delight forty years ago. Proud as he was of the men of genius that he had gathered around him, Mr. Blackwood could not forego his political antipathies; and, somewhat too confidently, fancied that the “able editor” whom he flattered would partake them. He wrote, “As the magazine has been so much attacked and misrepresented by the Whig and Radical press, I would be particularly obliged to you if you could notice the article on ‘The Personalities of the Whigs,’” I did notice it in these words: “The letter on ‘The Personalities of the Whigs’ is forcible, and convincing enough—to a partizan. The object of the writer is to prove that the Whigs commenced this species of warfare, and that those opposed to their principles have a right to bring the same weapons into the field which their enemies have so long been exclusively permitted to employ. For our own parts, we had rather that political contests were conducted according to the usual rules of honourable warfare; but if one party use catamarans and infernal machines, it would be hard to restrict the other to simple steel and gunpowder.”

The new facilities of communication were beginning to tell upon the commerce of Literature as upon all other commerce. Railroads were yet ten years off
in an undreamt-of future. But in 1821 the potent agency of steam-packets was breaking down the difference between Paternoster Row and Princes Street. On the 28th of September I was reading “
Blackwood,” when the magazines of our metropolis were just getting on their outer garments; while their northern brethren were quietly reposing, in well arranged heaps, in our southern warehouses, perfectly sleek and dry, after a happy voyage of sixty hours. This new condition upon which competition was to be carried on made the London publishers more solicitous for the excellence, rather than the cheap cost, of their periodical offerings to a public that had begun to be clamorous for novelties, and somewhat more critical than a previous generation. Unmoved amidst the general rivalry was that staid and sober brown-coated companion of our forefathers, who scorned the fluctuations of fashion, and was still the Gentleman of the days of Pulteney and Walpole. His costume was preserved as unchangeably as that of the statue of George the Second in Leicester Square. He still gloried in being one of the staunchest cocked hats of the Society of Antiquaries; knew nothing of Wellington boots or Cossack trousers; dined at one o’clock; and if he could have been persuaded to go to the play, would have been at the pit-door at five, as in his spring-time. It would have puzzled the dandyism of the days of George the Fourth and Brummell to have found Mr. Urban an endurable companion; but he was eminently respectable; and no magazine critic could honestly pass over this excellent hermit of modern literature. One of his old companions, ”The European,” was smartening up. Mr. Colburn,
not to be left behind in the periodical race, had, in 1821, engaged
Campbell to be the avowed editor of “The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal.” Campbell’s own lectures on poetry were elegant and dull. His contributors had not caught the spirit of liveliness by which even the old stock of ideas could be successfully reproduced. The poet made, as we then thought, a mistake in proclaiming his acceptance of the editorial office. There is a good deal to be argued for and against anonymous editorship and anonymous contributorship. We then said, and we are not quite sure that we were wrong—“His power of selection from the contributions of his assistants must be fettered, and the freedom and boldness of his own opinions encumbered, by a thousand personal considerations, which ought not to weigh, and would not have weighed, a feather in the scale, had he preserved that best of all forms of government in periodical literature—a secret despotism.”

After the unhappy death of John Scott, the “London” had passed from Mr. Baldwin into the hands of Messrs. Taylor and Hessey. These were its palmy days—the days of Lamb and De Quincey; of John Hamilton Reynolds; of Thomas Hood, whose first introduction to the literary world was that of its sub-editor. I wrote, in September, 1821: “We never read anything more deeply interesting than the ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.’ We can put implicit faith in them. They have all the circumstantial sincerity of Defoe. They are written in a fine flowing style, in which the author is perfectly forgotten.” After the publication of two articles on the Pleasures and Pains of Opium, the majority of
their readers doubted the reality of these Confessions. The author, in a letter to the editor of the magazine, declared that the narrative contained a faithful statement of his own experience as an Opium-Eater, drawn up with entire simplicity, except in some trifling deviations of dates and suppression of names which circumstances had rendered it expedient should not be published. I had ample opportunities, a few years after, of knowing how unexaggerated were Mr. De Quincey’s statements of his extraordinary power of taking opium, injurious indeed to his health, but without any perceptible deterioration of his wonderful intellect. Of “Elia” I was almost extravagant in my admiration. I sometimes: ventured upon verse in my “Magazine Day,” and thus I wrote, in 1822, after speaking dispraisingly of some articles:
“But Elia, Elia, he is half divine,
Fragrant as woodbines in the evening sun,
Fresh as the jasmines round his porch that twine,
Happy as school-boy when his task is done,
And simple as the village-maid that sings
Her bubbling song of old forgotten things.”
I can scarcely understand De Quincey when he says of Charles Lamb, and particularly of his delightful prose essays under the signature of Elia, that “he ranks amongst writers whose works are destined to be for ever unpopular, and yet for ever interesting; interesting, moreover, by means of those very qualities which guarantee their non-popularity” (
De Quincey’s Works, 1st edit., Leaders in Literature, p. 109). If De Quincey be right, is popularity worth having?

My life, during the period of my London editorship was one of very pleasurable excitement. My
solitary musings, my morbid fancies, had reached their term. I had ample occupation—perhaps too much for tranquil thought. We had a branch-office of our newspaper at Aylesbury, where the last page of “The Bucks Gazette” was printed, whilst three pages were supplied by the printed sheets of “
The Windsor Express.” To despatch these sheets by a special conveyance thirty miles, so as to be in time for the due appearance of the secondary paper, required careful organization. This I had to accomplish on a Saturday morning, leaving my Windsor paper in a state fit for publication. To ride up to London, or to mount one of the long coaches in the afternoon, so as to be at the “Guardian” office for new work, was my next exertion. The day had perhaps brought forth fresh aspects of political affairs. Often, before writing my leader, have I discussed the great topics of the hour with two valued friends, whose opinions were not entirely in accordance with my own. Mounted upon stools at my editorial desk, have Matthew Davenport Hill and John Steer (who was my sub-editor), argued with me about the delinquencies and short-comings of the Government, the necessity of Parliamentary Reform, the degradation of England in all matters of foreign policy. My work done, we have gladly foregone all disputation, to place ourselves under the genial presidency of the worthy immortalized by Tennyson—“the waiter at the Cock.” In the lapse of time we gradually grew nearer in our opinions. The world was changing. The miserable convulsion on the subject of the Queen was terminated by her death. Lord Castlereagh was no more, carrying with him a good deal of undeserved obloquy. Canning was come back to
power. He was to inaugurate a new era of liberty for the nations. I had access to one who was at that time Canning’s political adherent upon the subject of Catholic Emancipation, and that of the pretensions of a Congress to decide upon the destinies of Europe.
Mr. John Wilson Croker was always ready to give me his opinions, as I believed, honestly. They were to a great extent liberal, as liberalism was then understood by those opposed to extreme views. He was always glad to gossip upon subjects of literature, and he earnestly counselled me to settle in London as a publisher. I am bound to say, advisedly, that I think his character has been misrepresented; and that the “Rigby” of “Coningsby” is an ebullition of personal spite.

My occupation as the editor of a literary paper necessarily made me somewhat familiar with the aspects of the Publishing Trade of London. I gradually looked at the great establishments and the small, somewhat more closely, through my vague desire to find a place amongst them. There was a new world all before me “where to choose,” not my “place of rest,” but my sphere of action. Let me glance back at my rough survey of this terra incognita.

Paternoster Row, and the immediate neighbourhood of St. Paul’s Churchyard and Ave-Maria Lane, were the principal seats of the wholesale book-trade. At the beginning of the century, according to Mr. Britton, “most of the tradesmen attended to their respective shops, and dwelt in the upper part of their houses.” He had lived to see “the heads of many of the large establishments visit their counting-houses only for a few hours in the day, and leave
the working part to junior partners, clerks, and apprentices.” The greater number of city booksellers did not carry on the business of publisher pur et simple. They were factors of books for the London collectors; they were the agents of the country booksellers; they almost all were shareholders of what were called Chapter Books, from the business concerning them being conducted at the Chapter Coffee House. If we open a book of fifty years ago, which had become a standard work in its frequent reprints, we find the names of twelve or twenty or even more booksellers on the title-page. The copyright had probably long expired. But these shareholders, who formed a Limited Liability Company (not registered), were considered as the only legitimate dealers, and their editions the only genuine ones. It was long before their monopoly was broken up by a few daring adventurers who defied these banded hosts, and were ready to pounce upon an expired copyright before it could be appropriated by the large and small potentates who had parcelled out the realms of print, with absolute exclusiveness, in the good times before Innovation. Trade Sales, as they were called, were frequent and general amongst the primitive race of booksellers; at which sales these share-books were sold, amongst other wares, to the best bidders. The company was not attracted by elegant banquets, such as those at which, in later times, I have assisted as a guest and as a host. There was a plain dinner of substantial beef and mutton, which the bookseller ordered at an adjacent tavern, directing what dishes should be provided to meet the number of his expected guests. I have heard an illustrative anecdote—I do not
vouch for its truth—of one of the respectable firm that lived under the sign of the Bible and Crown. In the midst of family prayer he suddenly paused, and exclaimed, “John, go and tell Higgins to make another marrow-pudding.”

The “legitimate” trade had its code of “protection,” on which it had reposed since the days of the Tonsons and Lintots. Its system of associating many shareholders in the production and sale of an established work kept up its price. The retailers were only allowed to purchase of the wholesale houses upon certain conditions, which had the effect of making it difficult, if not impossible, for the private purchaser to obtain a book under the sum advertised. No publisher had discovered that it was to his interest that the profit of the middle-man should be small, so that a book should be vended at the cheapest rate. The very notion of cheap books stank in the nostrils, not only of the ancient magnates of the East, but of the new potentates of the West. For a new work which involved the purchase of copyright, it was the established rule that the wealthy few, to whom price was not a consideration, were alone to be depended upon for the remuneration of the author and the first profit of the publisher. The proud quarto, with a rivulet of text meandering through a wide plain of margin, was the “decus et tutamen” of the Row and of Albemarle Street.* Conduit Street now and then vied in this grandiosity; but more commonly sent forth legions of octavos, translated from the French with a rapidity that was not very careful about correctness or elegance

* The Albemarle Street of Mr. Murray is still famous. The Conduit Street of Mr. Colburn is no longer renowned.

—qualities which were not contemplated in the estimate of the literary cost. These were the books whose cheapness was deceptive, like the books issued by the Number-publishers. One of these successful tradesmen, who, although he became Lord Mayor, was once “
Thomas” the porter in an old concern for the production of the dearest books in folio—such as we may still find amongst the heir-looms of a humble family in some remote village—was never solicitous to buy an author; his great object was to buy “a ground.” “A ground” was like a milk-walk—there were a body of customers to be transferred to the new capitalist. He was once tempted into the employment of original authorship. When his press one day stood still for want of a sufficient supply of the commodity for which he had indiscreetly bargained, he exclaimed, “Give me dead authors!—they never keep you waiting for copy.”

The publishers of classical books were not numerous. Amongst the most celebrated was Richard Priestley, who undertook many reprints of Greek and Roman authors and ponderous lexicons. His career was not a successful one. In 1830, I occupied for the summer a cottage near Hampstead. My landlord, who had become rich by a bequest, had been a sheriff’s officer. “Did you know poor Dick Priestley?” he said. “He was a good fellow. I had him often under my lock. We were great friends; and after I left my calling I lent him a couple of thousand.” Was a sentimental friendship ever before or since formed under circumstances so unromantic? Amongst the new class of publishers there were several whose republications of standard works were as beautiful as they were cheap. The names of Major and
Pickering are still deservedly in repute. But till Constable started his “Miscellany,” in 1827, no one had thought it possible that an original work could be produced in the first instance at the price of the humblest reprint. His three-and-sixpenny volumes, and his grand talk of “a million of buyers,” made the publishing world of London believe that the mighty autocrat of Edinburgh literature had gone “daft.” And so the Row sneered, and persevered in its old system of fourteen-shilling octavos and two-guinea quartos. The Circulating Library was scarcely then an institution to be depended upon for the purchase of a large impression, even of the most popular Novels. Travels and Memoirs rarely then found a place on the shelves of which fiction had long claimed the exclusive occupation. There were Book-Clubs, whose members aspired to be patrons of a more solid literature; but they were far from universal. All circumstances considered, it was extremely difficult for one like myself, very imperfectly acquainted with the Trade, to form a correct estimate of what number of a new book he might venture to print. Caution and common-sense might save inexperience from ridiculous ventures, such as had ruined many who fancied there were no blanks in that tempting lottery. I had known an unhappy man, who had come into the possession of a considerable fortune, rush into the wildest dealings with literary schemers, who regarded him as a whale cast upon the shore, to be cut up as speedily as possible. Poor fellow! he was always ready to buy—he would even buy a title-page, the more absurd the more attractive. “Mumbo Jumbo,” in the egg, was held by him cheap at a few hundreds. I looked upon his fate as a warning. But yet I could
not resist the temptation to enter upon a career of usefulness, in which there was reputation, and possible wealth, to be won by diligence and integrity. Not to be embarrassed with conflicting occupations, I sold my pet “
Guardian” at the end of 1822, and in the season of 1823 I had taken my position in Pall Mall East.