LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter I

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 Second Epoch.


IN 1824, I am settled as a Publisher in a newly-built house in Pall Mall East, the next house to the College of Physicians. I had occupied for a year a much smaller place of business on the opposite side of the way. This was altogether a new neighbourhood. The “neglected open space, on the north of which stands the King’s Mews” (vol. i. p. 117), was still open and still neglected. On the west side of what is now called Trafalgar Square, houses had grown up, which were terminated towards Charing Cross by the Union Club. But there was as yet no Nelson’s column; no fountains in the centre, to be ridiculed as dumb-waiters. In the open space, there was an exhibition of the skeleton of a whale. The King’s Mews was still there—a building of higher architectural pretensions than the National Gallery; for the architect, Kent, has left his mark upon his age as the professor of an Art with higher capabilities than consist in copying ancient models. The Mews was silent and desolate till a year or two later, when it was occupied, not by the Royal Hawks, as of old, but by Mr. Cross’s Menagerie, removed from Exeter Change.
The lions and tigers were not very agreeable neighbours—for they began to roar before day-break, and on Sundays they roared from morning till night, that being their fast-day. The wild beasts went their way to more appropriate quarters, when the Zoological Gardens sprang into existence. Part of the Mews was then given up to the Public Records, which seem to have been always in a state of migration; like the
Lord Sandwich, who was compared to a man hung in chains who wanted to be hanged somewhere else. An upper floor of the Mews was next devoted to an exhibition of Manufactures and Machinery—the acorn from which sprang the great tree beneath whose shade all nations were to repose in a commercial millennium. The “neglected open space” has been growing into something like shape during these forty years, after the fashion in which England carries on her improvements, bit by bit, and not a bit that can be deferred to a more convenient season.

During the first years of my residence in Pall Mall East, Saint James’s Park was getting rid of its old squalidness. The unenclosed ground about the Canal was railed in and made ornamental. Shrubberies were planted. The road after nightfall had ceased to be a place of danger and licentiousness. “There is gas in the Park.” At the time of the Stuarts the Mall had been the lounging place of the highest—the favourite ground of assignation of the Comedies in which Wit and Profligacy long maintained a flourishing co-partnership. Forty years ago the fashionable idlers had given place to happy children and smart nursery-maids. Mechanics out pf work, and street vagabonds, always formed a
crowd to see the relief of the Guard. Gapers from the country stood wonderingly upon the Parade, watching the working of the Telegraph at the top of the Admiralty. The old machine, which told its story by the opening and closing of shutters, was superseded by a greater wonder, the Semaphore, which threw out an arm, first on one side and then on another, and at varying heights. Very tedious was the transmission of the message, even by this improved instrument; sometimes impossible from the state of the atmosphere. About 1824 I was summoned as a witness upon a trial in which
Mr. Croker was also required to give his testimony. I walked with him for an hour or more up and down Westminster Hall. So full of anecdote was his talk, that I could scarcely agree with him when he said, “The French are right in calling the vestibule to their Palace of Justice la salle des pas perdus.” My steps with him were neither lost nor wearisome. At last, looking at his watch, he exclaimed, “Go I must. There is a frigate waiting at Portsmouth for orders to sail, and it will be dark before I can set the Telegraph in motion if I stay longer.” The Secretary of the Admiralty writes a few words now, regardless of dark or light, and the faithful wire conveys his orders from port to port, and from sea to sea, far quicker than the flight of Ariel.

The neighbourhood in which I am seated is not as yet a very busy or a very lively one. It is gradually growing into a region dedicated to the Fine Arts. The Society of Painters in Water Colours have fixed their Gallery opposite me. The Society of British Artists have their Exhibition close at hand in Suffolk Street. My next-door neighbour is Mr. Colnaghi,
the printseller. From him, and from his excellent son
Dominick, I had some lessons in taste, as they would occasionally show me a few of their choice importations. Their connection was amongst the rich cognoscenti, and they cared little for the chance purchasers that are attracted by the furniture prints of later times of diffused art. Messrs. Colnaghi and I then dwelt in a corner. Not many pedestrians passed our doors. But in a few minutes I could be amongst the crowd in the busy world of Charing Cross and the Haymarket. The great thoroughfare where “the Little Theatre” had stood for a century still retained its ancient market for hay, which had been a nuisance in the heart of the town for a much longer period. There I very often found myself staring into a window, if I could possibly get a nook amidst the multitude which daily crowded about the shop of “T. McLean, 26, Haymarket, where Political and other Caricatures are daily publishing.” Thus runs the imprint of one who was the chief patron of humourists for the age who were famous before “Punch.” A daily Caricature? Yes; and a wilderness of Caricatures, issuing in endless succession out of shops round which crowds gathered from Piccadilly to Cheapside. Let me refresh my recollections of some of these notable productions, by referring to a small collection rescued from heaps of rubbish.

The latter six or seven years of “the first gentleman in Europe” seem to have been the golden age of Caricaturists—some destined to historical fame like George Cruikshank and H. B.;—many, even in their vulgarity, presenting curious traits of manners that might otherwise have had no record. There is, of course, a ludicrous aspect of all human affairs; and
thus Cruikshank’s “Mornings at Bow Street” are wondrous exciters of mirth in 1824-5, although the people are still shuddering with horror at the story of
Mr. John Thurtell’s murder of Mr. William Weare; many, nevertheless, having calmed their spirits by the enjoyment of a dramatic representation of the tragedy of Gill’s Hill, with the real horse and gig that drew the victim to his slaughtering-place. But there is higher game to shoot flying than Old Bailey ruffians. Marvellous are the portraits of H. B. What R. A. has so faithfully depicted the Eldon and Lyndhurst and Brougham—the Wellington and Peel and Cumberland—of the later years of George IV. as he has? The picture of Mr. Brougham’s back, as he moves along the passage of the Common Pleas, is a triumph of art. The highest personage of the realm is left to the mercy of inferior hands. He is, “Mr. George King, the Parish Overseer”—fat and cadaverous, with a padded and tightly-buttoned blue coat and silk stockings; or he is “The slap-up Swell, wat drives when hever he likes;” or he is writhing in an easy-chair, his gouty leg on a cushion, with a bottle and a cheval-glass at his side. As for costume—what can be more trustworthy than these gaudily-coloured extravagancies? The bonnet stretching over the manches à gigot like a vast umbrella—the waist compressed into stays that sever the fair one’s body into two portions wasp-like—the mountains of ribbon at top, and the acres of flounces below—these were the decorations that made the prettiest Englishwoman as hideous as a Hottentot Venus. The gentleman, on whose arm hangs the expansive lady, is reduced to the smallest possible dimensions by his own stays, over
which the closely-fitting coat is buttoned with the utmost exertion of the valet’s strength—nothing loose about him but the enormous shirt frill, which flutters on the breeze, despite the massive brooch. How these creatures move is not easy to comprehend. When the surtout was slowly superseding the swallow-tailed coat, it was equally close-fitting over the compressed ribs; but the exquisite sometimes condescended to veil his beautiful proportions in a vast cloak with a gorgeous fur cape, somewhat out of harmony with his tiny hat, but quite in keeping with his iron-heeled boot which clanked on the pavement like the obsolete patten. These were the days when whiskers came in—timid precursors of the ample beard. Cigar-smoking in the streets was then a novelty; and the caricaturist shows us how the fashion was extending from the made-up dandy to the slovenly dustman.

Amidst these palpable hits at passing follies, we have glimpses of what had begun to be called “The March of Intellect.” The “Breakfast and Reading-Room” has on its door-post a list of works within, including “all the Classics;” the bricklayer’s labourer sits on his turned-down hod holding a book on which is labelled “St. Giles’s Reading Society;” a coach is announced by placard to go from London to York in four hours; and the coming reign of Equality is typified by the sweep carrying a pink umbrella. When the caricaturist exhibited the Duke of Wellington in a stage coachman’s garb, as “The Man wot drives the Sovereign,” there was a pendant to the picture, in a walking monster with the sturdy legs of the conventional John Bull, and the body of a Stanhope printing-press, surmounted with the cap
of Liberty: “This is the Man wot’s got the whip hand of ’em all.” The shadowy era of Steam is typified by all sorts of chimeras, representing “Walking by Steam, Riding by Steam, and Flying by Steam,” with a prophetic warning of some machine blown up, and limbs and trunks of hapless adventurers scattered in the air. Amidst the March of Intellect we have glimpses of the old reign of uncivilisation. “Crowding to the Pit” exhibits “Theatrical Pleasures,”—women trodden under foot; men fighting; and the pickpocket easing the struggling countryman of his watch. At every place where crowds assemble to be amused, ill-humour, incivility, pushing for the best seats, oaths, and fistycuffs, are the rule, in the common want of the social refinement produced by education, and in the absence of all police control. The burglar still prowls about London, and having robbed a jeweller’s shop divides his spoil with the watchman. The interior of the parish watch-house still shows the constable of the night dozing over his pipe and his pot of porter. There are still street sights, such as were somewhat more numerous in the earlier part of the century, but which are far from obsolete, even though cocked hats and wigs are exploded. The ragged jade is crying “the last dying speech and confession of six unfortunate malefactors executed this morning,” while the London-bred urchin is picking the fat citizen’s ample pocket. I hope we have no longer to doubt which is the better teacher, the schoolmaster or the hangman.

It is forty years ago since the Londoners began seriously to think that their traffic was becoming too large for their streets. And yet, what had they to endure in 1824 compared with the obstructions of
1864? The ponderous brewer’s dray often blocked up the Strand; but there were no mighty vans, threatening destruction to all the smaller craft that impeded their swift sailing. The broad-wheeled waggon generally crept in and out at nightfall, as it had crept since the days of
Fielding and Hogarth. The hackney-coach, never in a hurry, went on “melancholy, slow,” patient under every, stoppage. No meddling policeman yet presumed to regulate the movements of the driver with a dozen capes, who pulled up when he pleased, unheeding his silk-stockinged fare who was too late for dinner, and sat in the damp straw, shouting and cursing. The omnibus appeared not in our streets till 1831, and when it came, the genteel remained faithful to the foul and stinking hackney-coach, mounting its exclusive iron steps with the true English satisfaction at not being in mixed company. Altogether, the streets were passable, except when the pavement was up for the repair of gas and water pipes—which it was at all seasons. There were schemes of sub-ways, but they met no encouragement. Colonel Trench obtained an audience at the Mansion House, to listen to his proposal of a terrace, eighty feet wide, from London Bridge to Westminster Bridge. Some thought the scheme a good one, but far too grand. Most sneered at such projects of Laputa. The sneerers and doubters kept their ground through a generation; and now we are thinking in reality about such an obvious improvement.

In the semi-thoroughfare of Pall Mall East we had few passing sights. But on the 12th of July, 1824, I stand with my family on our balcony, looking out for a grand funeral procession that is to come from
Great George Street, Westminster, and to pass from Charing Cross up the Haymarket. On the 19th of April
Lord Byron had died at Missolonghi. The hearse which was moving up the Haymarket, to end its journey at Newstead Abbey, was followed by a few who loved him, and by many who reverenced his genius. Poets were there—Moore, Campbell, Rogers; statesmen—Grey, Lansdowne, Holland; Greek Deputies, who thought he was to have been the saviour of their country; and English guardians of his fair fame, who had honoured his memory by burning his autobiography. His sudden death—in the land where he was attempting to express by heroic deeds that sympathy with the “Cause of the Greeks” which other eminent men were content to associate with their speeches and their writings—had moved all (excepting a few who refused his body Sepulture in our temple of the illustrious dead) to forget how he had latterly abused his great powers, and to remember only how ineffaceably he had inscribed his name amongst the immortals of literature. The pageant is over. Forty years have passed away, and Byron is now judged with the impartiality of posterity. He is not held to be the greatest poet that modern England has produced; he is not execrated as amongst the most immoral. There was much to pity and forgive in his frailties. The mellowing influence of a few more years might have lifted his words and his deeds out of the slough in which he sometimes seemed unwilling to strive for a firmer footing.

At the time of Lord Byron’s funeral I was involved in a matter of public interest connected with the career of the deceased poet. I was enduring a disappointment, such as I had scarcely contemplated as
a possible incident of my publishing career. I will relate, as briefly as I can, the story of a Chancery Injunction to restrain me from publishing certain Letters of Lord Byron, which was served upon me five days before the funeral procession which I witnessed on the 12th of July.

Robert Charles Dallas was connected by marriage with the family of the poet. Captain George Anson Byron, the uncle of Lord Byron, married the sister of Mr. Dallas. In 1824, through the intervention of my kind friend, the Rev. Charles Richard Sumner, then residing at Windsor as Domestic Chaplain to George IV., I was offered the publication of a book to be entitled “Correspondence of Lord Byron.” Upon receiving intelligence of the death at Missolonghi of the eminent man of whom he had some interesting memorials, Mr. Dallas came from Paris to England to arrange for the publication of some work in which should be exhibited his “Recollections of the Life of Lord Byron from 1808 to the end of 1814.” I saw him at the house of his son Alexander, who, having been formerly in the army, had taken orders, and was in 1824 in the ministerial charge of the village of Wooburn, near Beaconsfield. The elder Dallas was then in his seventieth year—a handsome old man, of refined manners, of varied and extensive information; manifesting an affectionate attachment to the memory of the poet, but with a strong religious feeling as to his moral aberrations since the period of their intimate acquaintance, which in some respects might have been called friendship. That intimacy ceased after 1814. Mr. Dallas had many times heard Lord Byron read portions of a book in which he inserted his opinion of the persons with whom he mixed,
which book, he said, be intended for publication after his death. This, I conceive, was the
Memoir upon which Mr. Murray advanced two thousand guineas to Thomas Moore; and which was torn and burned, under advice, in the presence of Moore, the advance being repaid to Mr. Murray. Such is Mr. Moore’s account of this mysterious transaction.* From hearing some of Lord Byron’s opinions of his contemporaries, Mr. Dallas took the hint of writing a volume to be published after his own death and that of Lord Byron, which should present a faithful delineation of the poet’s character as he had known him. The judicious advice of the elder author—for Dallas had been a not unsuccessful historian and novelist—was useful to Byron in his tentative walk to fame; and the obligation was amply repaid by the present of the copyright of the first two cantos of “Childe Harold,” which, strange to say, Byron was unwilling to publish till encouraged by the judgment of his experienced friend. Byron died at the age of thirty-seven; Dallas could have scarcely contemplated to have been his survivor. The world was eager to learn all it could about the man who had filled so large a space in its thoughts for fourteen years; and Mr. Dallas, not from mere sordid motives, remodelled his Memoir into “Correspondence of Lord Byron.” I purchased the manuscript for a large sum; and in June it was advertised for publication. On the 30th of that month Mr. Hobhouse called on me with a friend who, as it subsequently appeared, was to be a witness to our conversation. I was not aware of the disadvantage under which the presence of a witness

* See his letter, dated May 26, in “Annual Register” for 1824.

was intended to place me, but immediately after the interview I made a full note of what took place. Mr. Hobhouse came to protest, as one of the executors of Lord Byron, against the publication of this correspondence. I stated that I had read the manuscript carefully, and that the family and the executors need feel no apprehension as to its tendency, as the work was intended to elevate Lord Byron’s moral and intellectual character. Mr. Hobhouse observed, that if individuals were not spoken of with bitterness, and if opinions were not very freely expressed in these letters, they were not like Lord Byron’s letters in general. The result was, that the Vice-Chancellor granted an injunction upon the affidavits of Mr. Hobhouse and
Mr. Hanson, co-executors, that such contemplated publication was “a breach of private confidence, and a violation of the rights of property.” There was an appeal. Our counter-affidavits affirmed that the letters were not of a confidential character. After two months of anxiety, Lord Eldon, the Chancellor, decided “that if A. writes a letter to B., B. has the property in that letter for the purpose of reading and keeping it, but no property in it to publish it.” The unfortunate quarto volume, as printed to p. 168, is before me. In a few years, Mr. Moore, in his “Life of Byron,” gave his testimony to the value of “a sort of Memoir of the noble Poet, published soon after his death, which, from being founded chiefly on original correspondence, is the most authentic and trustworthy of any that have yet appeared.” That Memoir was published by me at the end of 1824, after the death of Mr. Dallas on the 21st of October. It was edited by his son, the Reverend Alexander Dallas, who,
throughout the whole of this affair, acted in the most honourable and conscientious spirit. In the omission of passages of the original manuscript, he evinced a truly Christian temper of moderation towards those who had endeavoured to damage his father’s character, by the imputation of unworthy motives in seeking to publish this Correspondence. I was never brought so near to Lord Eldon as during the hours when this case was argued in his private room. I observed with admiration the patient spirit of inquiry; the desire to uphold the authority of previous cases; but with a strong inclination not to decide against the right of publication, when no satisfactory reason could be shown but that of individual caprice or self-interest for suppressing the work.
Mr. Kindersley, now a Vice-Chancellor, was our Counsel, and most ably did he perform his duty. At times I thought that the “I doubt” of the great Chancellor would have terminated in our favour. He seemed, even in pronouncing judgment, to have some hesitation about affirming the principle upon which he ultimately decided as to the property in letters, as settled by the law. “Whether that was a decision that could very well have stood at first or not I will not undertake to say.” But for most purposes of public utility his judgment was valuable. “It is a very different thing, as it appears to me, publishing as information what these letters contain, and publishing the letters themselves.” Upon this principle we acted, in regard to the volume which was published at the end of 1824, as “Recollections of Lord Byron.” Mr. Moore reaped the full advantage of the suppressed Correspondence, by filling many pages, in 1829, with the letters of Dallas and
Byron that the executors had thought fit to suppress in 1824.

In the midst of these Chancery proceedings a Captain Parry was announced. “A fine rough subject”—as Byron designated this “fire-master who was to burn a whole fleet,”—came into my private room, with a leathern bag slung over his shoulder. He threw it on the table, exclaiming, “There you have the best book that any one can write about the Right Honourable George Gordon, Lord Byron.” He opened the wallet; handed me some of the illiterate scrawl; vaunted again and again his friendship with the Right Honourable George Gordon, Lord Byron—always naming him by his titles at full length; and was very much astonished when I declined having anything to say to the affair. Captain Parry found some person to prepare his MS. for the press. An action of some sort arose out of the publication; and I was called as a witness to prove the nature of the contents of that leathern bag, Parry having maintained that he was the sole author of the book. The most remarkable part of this piece of literary manufacture was a ribald description of Jeremy Bentham, running up Fleet Street pursued by a notorious woman called “The City Barge.” Parry had indoctrinated his scribe with his own hatred of the Utilitarians of the Greek Committee in London, who sent out printing-presses and pedagogues in more plentiful supply than Congreve-rockets. Byron writes on the 8th February, “Parry says B . . . . . [? Bentham] is a humbug, to which I say nothing. He sorely laments the printing and civilizing expenses, and wishes that there was not a Sunday school in the world.”


The business-house of a young publisher had, at the time of which I am writing, the sort of attraction for flights of authors as a saltcat has for pigeons. The whole commerce of Literature is, happily, so changed; the buyers of books and the vendors of books have become so numerous; the competition for the power of securing literary merit, when it first imps its wing, has so enlarged,—that the publishers have now to seek the authors—if they be worth seeking. I am not sure, even, that mediocrity is now the thing abhorred by gods, men, and booksellers. However this may be, I had, in 1824, heaps of unpublished manuscripts to look over; and, what was more troublesome, a good many indignant writers to bow out. There were strange small fishes trying to swim in the wake of the Leviathans in that “yeasty main.” Some brought their wares in bulk, and some offered their samples. I honestly think that I tried to be conscientious in my refusals to deal, for I had experienced myself a little of the unknown author’s difficulty of obtaining a publisher. Yet it was hard work. I had not learnt the art of refusing in terms that should be meaningless and yet effective. One eminent publisher was the most skilful practitioner of that art with whom I was acquainted. I have heard some such dialogue as this: A. “I presume, Sir, you have at length been able to peruse my novel?”—C. “H’m! chair . . . my reader . . . clever . . . . not quite adapted to public taste . . . . glut . . . . trade very dull. . . perhaps next season.”—A. “Would a volume of poems?”—C. “Poems? . . . . oh! . . . . drug . . . .”—A. “But so many come out!”—C. “Yes . . . . on commission . . . . Messrs. —— will publish for you . . . . print on your own account . . . . sell five
and-twenty . . . . not our line . . . . excuse . . . . gentleman waiting.” I began at last to think that for a fashionable publisher there was a grand subject for imitation in
Lord Burleigh’s shake of the head. Sometimes a book would be offered me that appeared really worth a venture. A huge ungainly Scot walks in, dressed in a semi-military fashion,—a braided surtout and a huge fur cape to his cloak; spluttering forth his unalloyed dialect, and somewhat redolent of the whiskey that he could find south of the Tweed. He at length interested me. He had come to London a literary adventurer. He had been his own educator, for he was once a working weaver. Many were the schemes of books that he was ready to write—schemes that had been in the hands of most publishers, famous or obscure. He was known, I found, to one of the ablest of the staff of the “Times,”—a gentleman to whom was committed the charge of the Foreign department of that Journal, which, even forty years ago, founded its success upon the marked talent and reliable knowledge of its writers. Out of the budget of Robert Mudie I selected a plan for a book on London—something in the manner of one which he had published, “The Modern Athens.” It was to be called “Babylon the Great.” The work was a success. I was acquainted with this singular man for some years. He would occasionally use his powers to good purpose; but his writings were too often inaccurate. He approached nearer to the idea of a hack author of the old times than any man I ever saw. He would undertake any work, however unsuited to his acquirements or his taste. Late in his career, he produced a book—forgotten now perhaps, and too much overlooked by scientific naturalists
in his own day—which exhibits remarkable powers of observation and description. Before he had been condemned to a life of incessant literary toil in London—only made more heavy by sottish indulgence—he was a genuine naturalist, who had looked upon the plants, the insects, the birds, and other animal life of his own moors and mountains, with a rare perception of the curious and beautiful. “
The Feathered Tribes of the British Islands” is not an every-day work of science without imagination.

I used sometimes to avail myself of the privilege of propinquity to have a gossip with the worthy old gentleman who first made the name of Colnaghi famous amongst collectors. He once gave me a piece of advice, which to some extent made me shy of pursuing an interesting study of human character. He had seen William Henry Ireland entering my door, and sometimes making a long visit. I delighted to talk with the author of the Shakspere forgeries, having no very harsh opinion of the man who, when a lad of eighteen, had hoaxed the big-wigs of his day, and had laughed in his sleeve when Dr. Parr reverently knelt and rendered thanks that he had lived to read a prayer by the divine poet, finer than anything in the Liturgy. How joyously would he now look back upon his imposture of 1795, preserved by his inordinate vanity from any compunctious visitings that might lead him to think that a fraud was not altogether to be justified by its cleverness! He was now nearly fifty years of age; doing hard work of authorship wherever he could find employment; wretchedly poor, and perhaps not altogether trustworthy. “Take you care of that Mr. Ireland,” says my kind neighbour the printseller. “He used to be
very fond of looking over my
Rembrandt etchings and other portable rarities. But—I will say no more.” I was not taken with any of poor Ireland’s schemes. He had outlived his very questionable fame as the author of Shakspere’s “Vortigern and Rowena.” Thirty years had passed since he made his “Confessions.” Unhappily I had at this time transactions with a forger of a very different class.

At the period when I settled as a publisher in London, translations from the French were in far greater demand than at present, when an acquaintance with modern languages is much more general. I had published two very interesting versions of memoirs connected with the war in La Vendée, which were profitable; and I was desirous thus to extend my business operations in a way which involved less risk than the purchase of original works. I procured two quarto volumes by M. Charles Dupin, who had collected his materials in this country with considerable industry, and had used them with rare impartiality. I quickly brought out “The Commercial Power of Great Britain,” by the employment of “several hands,” as old title-pages express such a division of intellectual labour, without attaching to the term “hands” the offensive signification it is now thought to imply when used with regard to factory workers. Amongst the “hands” that I called in was a well-known writer, described as “a very clever, accomplished, and gentlemanly fellow, who won golden opinions of every body.”* W. G. Graham was the most superlative coxcomb that ever took his daily lounge through Bond Street

* Autobiography of William Jerdan, vol. iii. p. 211.

or the Park—his Hessian boots of the nicest fit—his lavender gloves of the most spotless hue—his tie perfect—his “conduct of a clouded cane” more than “nice.” I scarcely dared to talk of common literary drudgery to the exquisite editor of “
The Museum,” but I was not repulsed with scorn. Yes, he would endeavour to find time to do what I wanted. Very rapidly did he accomplish his task. He got out of a hackney-coach in all imaginable haste, placed a sealed packet in my hands, explained that he was suddenly called from town, and—would I give him a check on account. The bulk of the parcel was an evidence of his industry—of his talent I had no doubt; so he went off with his check, and very quickly cashed it. I am not sure that I ever saw him again. Indeed, I never desired to see him; for when I opened the packet, guarded with seal after seal as a most precious treasure—lo! the half-dozen quires of paper of which it was composed, though seeming to be as honest copy as ever went to the printer, were as false as the coin with which the magician in the “Arabian Nights” deluded the stall-keepers of the oriental bazaars. The outer leaves of each section were the fairest of manuscripts; the inner leaves were blank paper. Months passed away. I had found more trustworthy “hands.” One day I received a letter, which is now before me: “If you can give me your check for as much of the enclosed as may not be due to you I should feel greatly obliged.” I might have exclaimed “Not so bad as we seem,” had I then been familiar with the phrase. The “enclosed” is also before me—a Bill drawn by W. G. Graham on Mr. G. B. Whittaker, at two months for £60, dated September 16th,
1825, duly accepted by the eminent bookseller, and endorsed by the drawer. The “clever, accomplished, and gentlemanly fellow,” had from me what he asked for. On the 19th of November the acceptance became due, and when presented had a terrible word written across the face in ominous red ink, “Forgery.” That November was a time of dread for commercial men. The panic came in the next fortnight, involving several publishers in its ruin. The wretched man of whom I write had committed other forgeries upon the house of Mr. Whittaker, whose bankers, for their own safety, requiring a list of all his acceptances, were surprised to find some of a speculative character—such as large engagements for hops. His business, though otherwise intrinsically sound, was denied the usual amount of discount, and he was compelled to stop payment. The bold swindler had defrauded many connected with the publishing trade besides myself. One victim was resolved to shew no mercy if Graham could be apprehended. He was saved an ignominious end by escaping to New York, where his career of fraud was quickly closed. He was shot in a duel soon after he landed.

When I was first planted in the West End as a Publisher of Miscellaneous Works, I adopted the honest, but somewhat impolitic, rule of never suffering myself to be denied. The natural consequence was, that half my day was spent in listening to very dull harangues upon neglected merit, from authors who were making the round of hard-hearted and mercenary dealers, who, with the hereditary effrontery of the trade, refused to embark their capital in printing books that they were satisfied would not sell. But there would often come a welcome relief in
clients of a better order. Of such I may mention
Captain John Dundas Cochrane, whose “Pedestrian Journey through Russia and Siberian Tartary,” I published with great success. Most amusing was the conversation of this eccentric traveller, who did me the honour to introduce me to his wife, brought to England by him from the end of the Kamtchatkan peninsula—a beautiful little flaxen-haired creature, who shrank from my presence and hid behind a table. He did not persuade me to adopt the custom which had been forced upon him in default of other food—that of eating fish raw, which he retained in the heart of civilised life as a luxury far greater than any nice cookery could produce. In a varied intercourse such as that of an aspiring publisher, he must have very dull faculties to allow them to stagnate. Give him a prosperous career and few occupations can be happier, great as may be his risks and responsibilities. Even the loungers who had no objects of business to propound kept up a pleasant excitement. The mere gossipers were not unprofitable visitors. I endured much desultory tattle in the conviction that a successful publisher must make up his mind to give many hours to what, in the crowded marts “where merchants most do congregate,” would be deemed utter waste of time. Some of the pleasant friends of those mornings in Pall Mall East now “come like shadows” before me. Let me call up the memory of one to whom the words of Junius might be applied, “he is a genus—let him stand alone.” Thomas Gent sits rollicking on the largest chair that he can find—as fat, not quite as witty, but with as sufficient an amount of “impudent sauciness,” as Falstaff. I have witnessed the irresistible
joke come slowly and demurely off the tongue of
Hood, he perfectly grave and silent after the effusion, whilst his hearers are bursting again and again into peals of laughter. I have seen the retort, quick and blinding as lightning, flash from the lips of Jerrold, whilst he himself led the chorus of mirth at his own success, and the victim would laugh the longest and the loudest. But never saw I such effects of mere drollery, resting upon the slightest sub-soil of intellect, as my corpulent friend produced, whether he encountered an acquaintance as he slowly paced the Strand “larding the lean earth;” or gathered a crowd round him in the box-lobby to grin as they had just grinned at Liston; or, falling asleep the instant he had dined, suddenly woke up and set the table in a roar, again closing his eyes and again waking up to the same success. And yet I can recollect none of this humourist’s jests or his anecdotes. Yes—one. He was a Yarmouth man, and there also was sojourning his reverend friend, Mr. Croly, and their genial associate, J. P. Davis. A hospitable alderman of that flourishing port had invited them to dinner; the three were the earliest of the guests. As usual Gent fired off some absurdity which put an end to all conventional gravity, even in the stark clergyman, and the trio began “to giggle and make giggle.” The solemn host, unused to such explosions, exclaimed in an agony, “Gentlemen, gentlemen—pray be quiet—the company arn’t come.” Croly drew himself up to his full height, and addressing the unfortunate man with that withering haughtiness which was sometimes a mask for his good nature, said, “What, sir! are we hired?—are we hired?” I must not linger amongst the loungers of my back
room, yet I cannot forget one of the pleasantest and most improving,
Dr. Maginn. To him the gossip of the modern world was as familiar as the learning of the ancient. From some organic defect of utterance his speech was occasionally hesitating; yet when his words came forth they were full of meaning—always pleasant, often wise. It cannot, however, be denied he was best of a morning,—the double excitement of the table and the talk was sometimes too much for him.

At the end of 1824 I was busy, as all publishers were when the Courts of Law had opened, and fashionable people were returning to London. That Christmas was the first that I had passed away from Windsor. It was a quiet season for my family, not unaccompanied with sad remembrances. My recent loss prevented me entering into the London round of amusements. I took not my children to Covent Garden to marvel at the transformations of the pantomime—to laugh with them at the clown, perhaps with as exuberant a mirth as that of younger days at the wondrous face-power of Grimaldi. But the out-door aspects of London enjoyment at Christmas were not unobserved by me. Honestly to speak, it was a dismal spectacle. In every broad thoroughfare, and in every close alley, there was drunkenness abroad; not shamefaced drunkenness, creeping in maudlin helplessness to its home by the side of the scolding wife, but rampant, insolent, outrageous drunkenness. No decent woman, even in broad daylight, could at the holiday seasons dare to walk alone in the Strand or Pall Mall, much less in the regions into which flowed all the filth of the adjacent Seven Dials. More pitiable than the blackguardism
that swarmed in the streets was the listless idleness that loitered before shop-windows, or crowded round the barrel-organ and the monkey, or rendered the cul-de-sac impervious to its occupiers, for there the acrobat had spread his carpet. Throngs of mechanics who had risen on “boxing-day” dedicating themselves to unlimited pleasure, were weary of the sweet do-nothing before the dinner hour, and the weariness had its natural termination in the tap-room. No blithe-looking father in his Sunday coat, and happy mother in her smartest bonnet, each with a child asking eager questions amidst unwonted sights, could then be observed entering the old-fashioned gateway of the British Museum,—the sturdy Briton proudly feeling that the place was his own, and that he had a right of entrance. During the holiday weeks of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, the doors of the British Museum were rigidly closed against the intrusive public. There was then no National Gallery, no Museum at South Kensington; and if there had been, no admission would have been found, at the time before legislators dreamed that some few of the working population might, perchance, be tempted from low gratifications into the higher enjoyments of taste, for which, as we have now learnt, the English are not by nature disqualified. For those who would not have begrudged a few shillings for some public amusement of a rational nature, there were no Zoological Gardens. It is true that Exeter Change still exhibited its great elephant, and that the lions in the Tower might be seen for a shilling. So might other wonders in the Tower,—but always a shilling for every department of wonders. The doors of St. Paul’s and of Westminster
Abbey were never open without a fee, except during the hours of divine service. A working man with his wife and boy could have kept his household for a week, at the cost of experimenting in the Whispering Gallery, and ascending the dark stairs of the dome; or gazing upon the Coronation chair, and the waxen effigy of
Queen Elizabeth’s maid of honour who died from pricking her finger. There were no cheap trains to Kew Gardens or Hampton Court, which places were comparatively unknown to the bulk of the population; in a word, there was nothing whatever of public enjoyment of an improving nature to be found in our hard-working hive, when the workers had their rare holiday. So, almost as a matter of necessity, boxing-day could be scarcely got through without the gin-shop in its primitive dirt, for the gin-palace was not as yet. When night came, the pit and gallery of the few theatres were crowded, after such a fight at then entrances as the caricaturist depicted. Musical performances for the multitude there were none; for the popular taste for any higher music than a jig had not yet been developed, and there was no Exeter Hall. The choruses in the streets of jolly good fellows made night hideous; and when the din was overpast, the waits, horribly out of harmony, were almost as bitter enemies to sleep as the rattle of the watchman and the screech of the virago that he was dragging to durance vile. Such was the London Christmas forty years ago.