LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter III

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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I AM living at Brompton, with my wife and four little girls. The house which we have chosen in which to begin a new and unambitious life is in a narrow road, called Cromwell Lane, through which few people pass. Our long slip of garden is bounded on one side by the high wall of Cromwell House, the reputed mansion of the Protector. We are surrounded by nursery grounds. I can no longer find the place where I dwelt for two or three years. The few unpretending houses, nestling in snug gardens, have given place to squares, and rows, and to “Great Exhibition” buildings—themselves doomed prematurely to perish. Perchance I might discover some traces of the quiet corner if the humble tavern still remains that was once known as “The Hoop and Toy.” Does the “Goat in Boots” still exist?—another landmark. The daughter of a very dear friend, who afterwards occupied our house, was eager to tell us that, when she visited the Exhibition of 1862, she rejoiced to find, in a small plot of ground not yet subdued to the tyranny of brick and mortar, a single apple-tree, which she could identify as the tree under which she had sat as a child, looking wistfully up at the ripening fruit. Why do I linger about this unpretentious abiding place of 1827? Because
it was to me as a city of refuge. Here I first relinquished the hope of commercial success, having surrendered to others my commercial responsibilities. I had much for which to be grateful to the All-giver. I had preserved my bodily and mental health. I had domestic confidence and peace. The “precious jewel” in the toad’s head was not undiscovered. I was determined to work, and I was equally resolved to be as happy as I could be. I did not repine at the turn of Fortune’s wheel. Amongst some papers of this period I find a scrap on which I had written,—If the capacity to enjoy were commensurate with the power to possess, we then, indeed, might complain of the inequality of our conditions.

Looking back upon the summer of 1827, I have no recollection of such hours of gloom as belonged to the previous year. No unkindness wounded my pride; no desertion of old friends rendered me misanthropical. I had quickly obtained an engagement as a writer in Mr. Buckingham’s new paper, “The Sphinx.” High-priced as it was—a shilling—it had a considerable sale. I wrote political articles and reviews. At that time I was an enthusiast in public affairs. Canning was the head of a new administration. On the 1st of May I had stood in the crowded avenues of the House of Commons, and had seen for a moment his radiant face, as he rapidly mounted the old staircase which led to the lobby, about to take the foremost place, and vindicate his policy before many detractors and some new friends. There were whispered blessings upon many lips. In that triumph of the minister who had shaken off the shackles of the great Continental Powers, and had carried England “into the camp of progress and liberty,” I
regarded the man as the “deliverer” described by
Burke, in words almost profane in their idolatrous admiration. But I may look back upon that memorable occasion, and soberly say,—“Nor did he seem insensible to the best of all earthly rewards, the love and admiration of his fellow citizens. Hope elevated and joy brightened his crest.”—[Speech on American Taxation, 1774.] On the 16th of August I saw him laid in his grave, in the north transept of Westminster Abbey. On the previous 20th of January, I had seen him standing for two hours of the bitterest night, upon the cold unmatted pavement of the nave of St. George’s Chapel, at the funeral of the Duke of York. He did not take the precaution which he had suggested to Lord Eldon, to stand upon his cocked hat. That funeral broke up the delicate health of George Canning.

My course of journalism under Mr. James Silk Buckingham was not agreeable. Perhaps I had been too long my own master in such matters to brook control and criticism. Perhaps I formed too low an estimate of his knowledge and ability. His wonderful fluency as a platform speaker, pouring forth platitude after platitude, was calculated to catch the multitude. He has written scores of volumes in the same style, and I may ask “where are they?” I cared not how wearisome were his own newspaper prolusions; but I rebelled against his unparalleled conceit. He outraged me by presuming to alter, in his own obtuse fashion, some spirited lines on the death of Canning, which Praed had sent me. I at once quitted his office—where I had diligently laboured, and not without success—when he proposed an amended scale of remuneration for critiques
on new books, beginning at half-a-crown and rising to a guinea, according to the length of the article. I know not whether he found journeymen at this rate. I know not whether literature was degraded then, or is now, by the pretence of giving an opinion of a book amongst what are called “short notices,” at the rate of threepence a line, to be earned by men who ought to have been hewers of wood and drawers of water. Happily a more worthy course of industry was opening for me. But before I enter upon the “passages” of an employment which was spread over nearly twenty years, let me glance at a temporary labour of 1827. What were then called “The Annuals” were introduced to England by
Mr. Ackermann, in his “Forget-me-not” of 1822. Alaric Watts followed with his “Literary Souvenir.” Samuel Carter Hall started “The Amulet,” for the especial use of “serious persons.” In 1827 I was asked to edit “Friendship’s Offering.” It was an enterprise hastily entered upon by Messrs. Smith and Elder, late in the season, and I had to obtain pictures for engraving, secure contributors, and see the book through the press in two or three months. The pleasantest thing about the engagement was that my friends of the “Quarterly Magazine,” Mr. Praed and Mr. Moultrie, with others of their following, rallied round me, and contributed the most original pages of a volume, for which, like its rivals, there would be no lack of sentimental stories, and verses somewhat mawkish with their bowers and flowers. The most disagreeable thing was, that a blockhead behind the scenes, in the confidence of the publishers, took upon himself to change the title which Praed had given to his poem, and had it printed
as “
The Red Fisherman” instead of “The Devil’s Decoy.” My friend had nearly quarrelled with me about this matter, in which I was really blameless. He had a right to be angry, for the poem was, I am inclined to think, his chef-d’œuvre. New Annuals started up, in the next and few following years, amongst the best of which was “The Anniversary,” edited by Allan Cunningham, who had it in his power to make as good a book of this sort as could be produced, from the esteem with which he was regarded by the best writers and the best artists. There were Keepsakes, and Gems, and Bijous; but these delicate flowerets of the literary hotbed had a brief existence. They did more for the arts than for letters. They had set a great many people scribbling, who would never have dreamt of committing the sin of rhyme without such excitements, and they had compelled some of those who could write well to adopt a style anything but vigorous and original. They were perhaps right, and so were the editors and publishers. It was a period in which, except in a few rare instances, mediocrity was essentially necessary to great literary success. There was a poem entitled “The Omnipresence of the Deity,” by one whose fame settled into the name of “the wrong Montgomery;” the good old champion of freedom, the right Montgomery, being then alive and honoured by all competent judges. It went rapidly through five or six editions. The “Excursion” had reached a second edition in ten years.

A document, which I value as a soldier who has seen long service values his first Commission, lies before me:—


General Meeting of the Committee for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.—26th July, 1827.

James Mill, Esq., in the Chair.

Mr. Hill having informed the Committee that Mr. Charles Knight was willing to undertake the superintendence of the Society’s Publications, it was


“That his services be accepted, and that it be referred to the Publication Committee to furnish him with the necessary instructions.”


At that time the only publications of the Society were the Treatises of the “Library of Useful Knowledge,” issued fortnightly in sixpenny numbers. The Series had been commenced in the Spring, with Mr. Brougham’sDiscourse on the Objects, Advantages, and Pleasures of Science.” The sale of this work had been as extraordinary as its merits were striking and almost unexampled. Some called it superficial, because it touched rapidly upon many departments of scientific knowledge; but the more just conclusion was that it was the work of “a full man,” who had not laboriously elaborated this fascinating treatise out of books recently studied or hastily referred to, but had poured it forth out of the accumulated wealth of his rich treasury of knowledge. No reader to whom the subjects treated of were in any degree new could read this little book without feeling an ardent desire to know more—to know all. Such were my own feelings as I devoured this tract on the outside of an Aylesbury coach, and bitterly regretted that upon mere business considerations I had lost the chance of becoming intimate with the author of such a book, as his fellow-labourer in the work of popular enlightenment. It could scarcely be expected that many other Treatises could have the same attraction
as this Preliminary Discourse. They were to be manuals for self-education—clear, accurate, but not to be mastered without diligence and perseverance. Their success made it clear that there was a great body of students—whether in Colleges or Mechanics’ Institutes, in busy towns or quiet villages, to whom such guides would be welcome. My duties, in connexion with this Series, were scarcely more than ministerial. I had to read manuscripts and give an opinion upon them, although the decision did not rest with me but with the Committee. Upon the higher scientific subjects I was not competent to give an opinion as regarded their correctness, but I could judge how far they were adapted for popular use. I was thus what the Germans, I believe, call a vorleser. Proofs went through my hands as they passed the Committee, and the printers were kept up to their work. I could not reasonably shrink from this drudgery, for I saw men of high station and literary eminence—statesmen, lawyers, physicians, willingly performing it. It was not necessary that I should regularly attend at the Offices of the Society in Furnival’s Inn; but I had often to confer with
Mr. Coates, the active and intelligent Secretary of the Society, and to attend some meetings of the general and special Committees. I gradually came to form a just estimate of the individual characters and qualifications of those with whom I was brought in contact. I found them, collectively, very different from provincial Committees of which I had once had some experience—earnest in the pursuit of a common object; not intent upon personal display or the assertion of petty self-importance; men of cultivated minds, each treating the opinions of the others with respect; the most
capable amongst them the most modest; in a word, gentlemen and scholars. I felt that it depended upon myself some day to win their confidence in a position of higher responsibility than my early labours demanded.

In these pursuits, the summer of 1827 wore away. I was not without my pleasures. I delighted to walk in Kensington Gardens, sometimes on a holiday afternoon with my elder girls—more frequently in the early morning on my way to town. Glancing—in the intervals of my present task of reviving old memories,—at the work of a poet who ought to be more widely known, I find these lines:—
“Once as I stray’d a student, happiest then,
What time the summer’s garniture was on,
Beneath the princely shades of Kensington,
A girl I spied, whose years might number ten,
With fall round eyes, and fair soft English face.”*
In such a season, when the sun was scarcely high enough to have dried up the dews of Kensington’s green alleys, as I passed along the broad central walk, I saw a group on the lawn before the Palace, which, to my mind, was a vision of exquisite loveliness. The
Duchess of Kent, and her daughter, whose years then numbered nine, are breakfasting in the open air—a single page attending upon them at a respectful distance—the matron looking on with eyes of love, whilst the “fair soft English face” is bright with smiles. The world of fashion is not yet astir. Clerks and mechanics, passing onward to their occupations, are few; and they exhibit nothing of

* “Lays of Middle Age;” by James Hedderwick, 1859.

that vulgar curiosity which I think is more commonly found in the class of the merely rich, than in the ranks below them in the world’s estimation. What a beautiful characteristic it seemed to me of the training of this royal girl, that she should not have been taught to shrink from the public eye—that she should not have been burthened with a premature conception of her probable high destiny—that she should enjoy the freedom and simplicity of a child’s nature—that she should not be restrained when she starts up from the breakfast-table and runs to gather a flower in the adjoining parterre—that her merry laugh should be as fearless as the notes of the thrush in the groves around her. I passed on and blessed her; and I thank God that I have lived to see the golden fruits of such training.

At this period the Almanacs of the Stationers’ Company were published within a few days of Lord Mayor’s Day, the 9th of November. Before their issue, the Master and other magnates of the Company used to go in their barge to Lambeth, to present copies of all their Almanacs to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In Erskine’s famous Speech in 1779, when Lord North brought a Bill into the House of Commons for re-vesting in the Stationers’ Company a monopoly which had been declared illegal by the Court of Common Pleas in 1775, he adverted to “the episcopal revision” which formerly existed, when the Universities, as well as the Stationers’ Company, were alone authorised to print Almanacs. “It is notorious,” said the great advocate, “that the Universities sell their right to the Stationers’ Company for a fixed annual sum; and it is equally notorious, that the Stationers’ Company
make a scandalous job of the bargain; and to increase the sale of Almanacs amongst the vulgar, publish, under the auspices of religion and learning, the most senseless absurdities.” His respect for the House, he said, prevented him from citing some sentences from the one hundred and thirteenth of the series of Poor Robin’s Almanac, published under the revision of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London. “The worst part of
Rochester is ladies’ reading, compared with them.” The monopoly of 1779 was destroyed. But the powerful Company bought off the competitors who rose up from time to time. They had become possessed in 1827 of an exclusive market for stamped Almanacs; and, in the absence of all competition, the absurdities and the indecencies flourished as vigorously as when Erskine denounced them half a century before. The solemn farce was still enacted once a year of laying these productions at the feet of the Primate, when “episcopal revision” for state purposes was as extinct as the Star Chamber. They were still, as Erskine described the ancient mockery, to be “sanctified by the blessings of the bishops.”

I had long been conversant with the character of these productions. Upon the day of their publication for the year 1828 I bought them all, and eagerly applied myself to discover if they had become more adapted to the improving intelligence of the age. First, there was “Francis Moore, Physician,” who had commenced his career of imposture in 1698. He then dated his productions “from the sign of Lilly’s Head, in Crown Court, near Cupid’s Bridge, in Lambeth parish;” where he advertised for sale “his famous familiar family
cathartick and diuretick purging pills.” Here the “author also cures all sorts of agues at once;” and he adds, in the true spirit of his almanac, “this distemper often comes by supernatural means, which is the reason it will not yield to natural means.” In 1827, when the Almanac stamp was fifteen pence, the people of England, calling themselves enlightened, voluntarily taxed themselves to pay an annual sum of fifteen thousand pounds to the government, for permission to read the unchanged trash which first obtained currency and belief when every village had its witch and every churchyard its ghost—when agues were cured by charms, and stolen spoons discovered by incantation. Surely it was full time that “Francis Moore, Physician,” should be boldly dealt with. No common assaults would do. He would survive ridicule, as “
Partridge’s Almanack” survived the wicked wit of Swift, although Bickerstaff had killed the real Almanac for a season, and frightened the seer from ever attempting to set it up again. The Stationers’ Company were not to be so beaten; and they had the impudence to publish a “Partridge’s Almanack” with a portrait of the discomfited astrologer, which he refused to acknowledge, obstinately persisting not to prophesy in the flesh. The Company evoked the ghost of Partridge to do the needful work, and the Almanac for 1828 bore this motto,—“Etiam mortuus loquitur.” Another astrological Almanac, “Season on Seasons,” still existed for 1828, modelled after the fashion of the palmy days of Lilly and Gadbury. “Moore Improved,” particularly adapted for farmers and country gentlemen, was as impudent in his astrology as his great ancestor. All the Almanacs
of the Stationers’ Company had their prophecies that on a particular day of the coming year it would rain or shine—that there would be “good weather for the hay season in July, and in August fine harvest weather about the middle of the month.” In Swift’s wonderful piece of solemn humour, the account of Partridge’s death, he makes the old sinner confess his “impositions on the people,” and say, “We have a common form for all these things: as to foretelling the weather, we never meddle with that, but leave it to the printer, who takes it out of any old almanac as he thinks fit.” This, which looks like a mere joke in 1709, was easy of proof in 1827, by comparing the Almanac of the reign of
Charles II. with the Almanac of George II., and both with the Almanac of George IV. The only variation in the weather prophecies was in “Poor Robins Almanac” for 1828, when he closed his hundred and sixty-eighth year, a drivelling idiot, still clinging to his old filth. Could any reader of this day imagine that in the year when the London University was opened, and the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was beginning its work, he could find these lines at the head of the Calendar for January?
“If it don’t snow
I don’t care.
But if it freezes”!
It may as it pleases
And then I sneezes,
And my nose blow.”

Armed with such materials, I immediately went to work, to elaborate the scheme of a rational and useful
Almanac. It was completed in a few days, and I took it to my steady friend,
Matthew Hill. We went together to Westminster, to consult Mr. Brougham. What, an incalculable source of satisfaction to a projector, even of so apparently humble a work as an Almanac, to find a man of ardent and capacious mind, quick to comprehend, frank to approve, not deeming a difficult undertaking impossible, ready not only for counsel but for action. “It is now the middle of November,” said the rapid genius of unprocrastinating labour—“can you have your Almanac out before the end of the year?” “Yes; with a little help in the scientific matters.” “Then tell Mr. Coates to call a meeting of the General Committee at my chambers, at half-past eight to-morrow morning. You shall have help enough. There’s Lubbock and Wrottesley and Daniel and Beaufort—you may have your choice of good men for your astronomy and meteorology, your tides and your eclipses. Go to work, and never fear.” The market-gardeners of Brompton were scarcely yet astir when I started to walk to Lincoln’s Inn. The morning was dismal; the road was solitary. When I reached the top of Sloane Street, I was encountered by a dense fog—so heavy that I remember feeling my way by the iron railings in front of Apsley House, and so groping through Piccadilly. I began to despair of keeping the appointment which I deemed so important. But I persevered. That fog seemed to me as a type of the difficulties that I might have to encounter in this novel attempt, and in the realization of other projects floating in my mind. In Mr. Brougham’s chambers there was assembled a quorum of the Committee. The energy of the Chairman swept away
every doubt. The work was committed to my charge. The aid which had been suggested to me was freely given. I remembered the sarcastic exclamation of
Erskine, when he was contending against the reestablishment of the usurped monopoly of the Universities—“Is it imagined that our Almanacs are to come to us, in future, in the classical arrangement of Oxford,—fraught with the mathematics and astronomy of Cambridge?” It might be so with one Almanac not “printed with the correct type of the Stationers’ Company.” Our supporters would little care for the pretence, still kept up, that the responsibility of that Company prevented the inconveniences that might arise to the public from mistakes in the matters that Almanacs contained. A constant friend through many years, the hydrographer of the Admiralty, Captain Beaufort, found a gentleman in his office who quickly prepared the various astronomical tables. There were senior wranglers, “fraught with the mathematics and astronomy of Cambridge,” whose names had been rapidly mentioned to me by Mr. Brougham, ready to look over the proofs. I arranged the business terms with the Finance Committee of the Society, upon the principle of paying a rent upon the numbers sold. “The British Almanac” was published before the 1st of January. Late as it was in the field, high as was its unavoidable price—half-a-crown, to cover the heavy stamp duty, and allow a profit to the retailers—ten thousand were sold in a week. I had thus encouragement to propose a collateral scheme to the Society. In their Annual Report issued at the beginning of February, was this announcement:—“A Companion to the Almanac is in the press, which will treat of many important
branches of knowledge.” The pair have travelled on together for thirty-seven years under my direction, through many changes of times and men—through many a social revolution, bloodless and beneficent—through a wonderful era of progress in commerce, in literature, in science, in the arts—in the manifestations of the approach of all ranks to that union of interests and feelings which is the most solid foundation of public happiness, arid the best defence against assaults from without. The general features of these publications have undergone very little change during this long period. The two objects which have been always kept in view in the preparation of the “Companion” were set forth in 1828:—“1st. That the subjects selected shall be generally useful, either for present information or future reference. 2ndly. That the knowledge conveyed shall be given in the most condensed and explicit manner, so as to be valuable to every class of readers.”

Let me mention, before I quit this subject of the high-priced Almanacs of 1828, that the Stationers’ Company had long had to struggle against more formidable competitors even than the Useful Knowledge Society. The United Kingdom was inundated with unstamped Almanacs. Mr. Henry Mayhew bears his testimony to this inevitable consequence of an enormous duty upon any article of luxury or necessity. A street-seller of memorandum books told him that the almanac street trade “was a capital trade once before the duty was taken off—capital! The duty was not in our way, so much as in the shopkeepers’, though they did a good deal on the sly in unstamped almanacs. . . . Anything that way when Government’s done has a ready
sale.”* In 1833, I sent out a circular letter to each of my agents in the great towns, for the purpose of ascertaining some facts relating to the sale of unstamped almanacs. On their authority I was enabled to state, in a Report which led to the total repeal of the Almanac Duty, that, throughout the midland and northern counties, and also in the south and west of England, unstamped almanacs, principally in the sheet form, but in some places stitched as books, are hawked about the towns and villages, and openly as well as privately sold in shops. In Scotland a much larger sale of unstamped almanacs, known as Aberdeen or Belfast Almanacs, regularly took place. Those in the book form, containing from twenty to twenty-four pages, were sold at the price of a penny, twopence, or threepence. The “Belfast Annual Prognosticator” for 1829, price threepence, is now before me. It contains a great variety of information; it has no astrology; and if its “droll stories” are somewhat dull, they are not indecent. “The Paddy’s Watch,” a penny street almanac, has weather predictions, but no prophecies of political events, and its only approach to quackery is a recipe to cure the cramp. Clearly the low-priced and illegal almanac trade was conducted with more regard to the morals and intelligence of the people than the impostures and indecencies of the Stationers’ Company.

Parliament was opened on the 29th of January, 1828. The administration which had survived its brilliant chief, Mr. Canning, was broken up; but Mr. Peel, who had returned to his post of Home

* “London Labour and London Poor,” Vol. I. p. 271.

Secretary, caring not “for the dissatisfaction of ultra-Tories,” and feeling that the nation could no longer be governed by “country gentlemen,” had succeeded in the formation of a mixed government, under the
Duke of Wellington as prime-minister. Mr. Brougham, at the opening of the session, declared his opinion in the debate upon the address, that it was unconstitutional that almost the whole patronage of the State should be placed in the hands of a military premier. The concluding passage of his speech ran through the country, and dwelt for ever in men’s minds in its axiomatic power. “There had been periods when the country heard with dismay that the soldier was abroad. That is not the case now. Let the soldier be ever so much abroad in the present age, he could do nothing. There is another person abroad—a less important person, in the eyes of some an insignificant person, whose labours have tended to produce this state of things—the schoolmaster is abroad.” Within a week of this declaration came out the Annual Report of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge—a body labouring with him who had been amongst the foremost of those who had set the schoolmaster to a greater work than his routine tasks of a previous generation. That Report said: “The success which has attended the labours of the Committee, to make the most useful and the most exalted truths of science easily and generally accessible, great as it has been, was not unexpected by any who reflected upon the desire of knowledge, happily so signal a characteristic of this age. It has encouraged them to extend their efforts, and to leave nothing undone, until knowledge has become as plentiful and as universally diffused
as the air we breathe.” This was a bold declaration—a solemn pledge. I felt carried along with it, to be up and be doing. Even as
John Day, one of our great printers of the sixteenth century, took for his mark an emblematic device of the day-spring of the Reformed religion, with the motto, “Arise, for it is Day,” would I work in the spirit of this pledge, till the wide fields of knowledge should become the inheritance of all. Why should I despair? I also was filled with an enthusiastic hope that the time would come, when the progress of civilisation should accomplish for the intellectual world something like what it had done, and was doing, for the physical. As vineyards were smiling upon spots of France which were inaccessible to the legions of Caesar, so would the vines and fig-trees of knowledge shoot up, in the place of those forests of pedantry, and that undergrowth of weeds and brambles, where common sense could never pierce. In March, I became a part proprietor of “The London Magazine.” In the first number of a new Series for April, I wrote an article on the “Education of the People.” I venture upon a somewhat too long extract, justified, perhaps, by the belief that there is still much work to do, and always will be, for the labourers in this inexhaustible soil.
“That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do.”
Thus, then, I spoke some plain words in 1828; when I was at work in the preparation of a series announced by the Society in their report, “The Library of Entertaining Knowledge”:—

“Nothing but a very narrow view of the actual
state of intelligence amongst the British people would limit any scheme of popular instruction to the labouring classes only. It is true, that the majority of these have been educated in the National, or Lancastrian, or old Free Schools, and that there they have learned little beyond a pretty general acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, writing, and the commonest elements of arithmetic. But they are thrown into the world, and they find they must think, either to rise out of their own rank, or to be respectable amongst the class in which they were born. And how much better off, in point of real knowledge, are the sons of the middle classes, who at fifteen are placed in attorney’s offices, or behind the counters of the draper or the druggist? They have been taught to write and read; they have fagged at arithmetic for seven years, under the wretched old boarding-school system, without having attained the remotest conception of its philosophy; they are worse than ignorant of History and Geography; of science they never heard, except when they saw
Mr. Walker’s Eidouranion in the Christmas holidays; their literature is confined to a few corrupting novels, the bequest of the Minerva press to the circulating library of the last age. Shall we say that the children of the rich and the noble—par excellence, the educated classes—have nothing to learn? ‘What is the best system of education in Europe?’ said an anxious enquirer to Talleyrand. His answer was, ‘The public education of England. Elle est exécrable.’ Why then should we talk of addressing popular literature to the working classes only. We all want Popular Literature—we all want to get at real and substantial knowledge by the most compen-
dious processes. We are all too ignorant, (except those with whom learning is the business of life,) of the wonders of Nature which we see around us—of the discoveries of Science and Philosophy—of our own minds—of the real History of past ages—of the manners and political condition of the other members of the great human family. Our acquaintance with our own noble literature is superficial and ill-digested; we have scarcely patience to winnow the corn from the husks. But we are all tasked, some by our worthless ambitions and engrossing pleasures—most by our necessary duties—by our daily labour whether in professions, or trades, or handicraft. We are ashamed of our ignorance—we cannot remain in it; but we have not time to attain any sound knowledge upon the ancient principle of reading doggedly through a miscellaneous library, even if we had the opportunity. The problem now to be solved is, how to accommodate the growing desire of all persons for solid information, to the overwhelming necessity which presses upon all persons to labour, almost to the utmost stretch of their faculties, in their peculiar vocations.”

Before I got fairly to work in the preparatory stages of the “Library of Entertaining Knowledge,” I had the pleasure of performing an acceptable service for Mr. Brougham. He had requested me to take notes of a speech he was about to make in the House of Commons, on the subject of Reforms in the Courts of Common Law. The object of this arrangement was to produce a volume, that should stand as a permanent record of the comprehensive views of the Law Reformer, upon those abuses which were felt by
every man who was constrained to seek for justice in the Courts of King’s Bench, Common Pleas, or Exchequer. The magnitude of the details was such as to deter any man from approaching them for legislative consideration, except the one man who could grasp them all, marshal them in due order, and bind the whole together by the power of philosophic generalization. My business would be to compare all the reports of the daily papers, to add from my own notes, to introduce documents, and to carry the book through the press after the orator had examined this version of his great effort. On the afternoon of the 7th of February I am waiting the arrival of Mr. Brougham in the Lobby of the House of Commons. He soon arrives, in company with
Mr. Serjeant Wilde. A little delay ensues, before the Speaker sends the orders for our admission under the Gallery. Mr. Serjeant Wilde and I sat together for six hours, listening to this extraordinary display of mental and physical energy;—the orator never wearied, the listeners never wearying. During the whole time, from five o’clock till eleven, there were no signs of impatience in an audience always impatient of tediousness. The speaker’s powers of memory in dealing with technical facts,—his readiness in massing these complicated details so as to make them tell upon his general argument,—his delivery, now familiar and jocose, now impressive and almost solemn,—these qualities held many of the listeners from the first hour to the last, when the magnificent peroration sent many home with the hope, if not the resolve, that law should be no longer dear but cheap; not a sealed book, but a living letter; not the patrimony of the rich, but the inheritance of the poor; not the
two-edged sword of craft and oppression, but the staff of honesty and the shield of innocence.

Mr. Brougham had necessarily to encounter a good deal of obloquy when he assailed those absurdities of special pleading which he terms “the venerable formalities of the art.” They are gone, for the most part. The ghosts of the antique fooleries that were taught in a Pleader’s office were exorcised from that night of the 7th of February. Not for much longer would John Brown, complainant in an assault which consisted in lifting a finger against him, be made to declare that William Smith, “with a certain stick, and with his fists, gave and struck the said John a great many violent blows and strokes on and about his head, face, breast, back, shoulders, arms, legs, and divers other parts of his body; and also, then and there, with great force and violence, shook and pulled about him the said John, and cast and threw him, the said John, down to and upon the ground, and then and there violently kicked the said John, and gave and struck him a great many other blows and strokes; and also, then and there, with great force and violence, rent, tore, and damaged the clothes and wearing apparel, to wit, one coat, one waistcoat, one pair of breeches, one cravat, one shirt, one pair of stockings, and one hat, of the said John, of great value, to wit, of the value of £50, which he the said John then and there wore and was clothed with.” This for a sample of the mystical worship of the Priests of the Law, before Common Sense had pulled down their idols.

A fortnight after this memorable evening in the House of Commons, I was present at a large dinner in Goodman’s Fields. It was an occasion really
worthy of a celebration, for it was given on the completion of a new Theatre in that populous district where, in 1741,
David Garrick had first appeared before a London audience, in the character of Richard the Third. This was, to some extent, the classic ground of the drama. The Brunswick Theatre had been built on the site of that old one called the Royalty, which was burnt down in 1826. I was at this dinner by the invitation of the proprietors; for I had not only known one of them, Mr. Maurice, a printer of Fenchurch Street, as a man of ability and taste, but the architect was one of my most intimate friends. This new Theatre at Wellclose Square was, undoubtedly, the most elegant of the minor theatres. Its beauty and its commodiousness bade fair to give Stedman Whitwell a rank in his profession which those who appreciated his abilities warmly anticipated. At that dinner I sat by the side of Clarkson Stanfield. His truly honourable career, from the position of a sailor before the mast, whose talent as an untaught artist was employed in painting scenes for the theatrical performances of the crew, was commonly known. He had won his way from the painting-room of the Royalty Theatre, to be ranked, in 1828, amongst the most striking exhibitors of landscape and marine pieces in the British Institution and the Society of British Artists; but he did not disdain to lend his aid to the attractions of a stage which had arisen out of the ashes of that school of picturesque effect, where he had toiled to obtain a mastery of his art scarcely to be reached in the routine of academical studies. I sat in pleasant talk, during a cheerful evening, with the genial and intelligent young man
who had served in the ship in which
Douglas Jerrold was a midshipman. There was another rising artist in that dining-room, who had received a more regular education in an Academy of Art at Edinburgh; but who, in coming to London about 1822, had worked as the colleague of Stanfield as a scene-painter. David Roberts was also giving his zealous professional aid to the new enterprise. The Theatre was opened on the 25th of February. I was present at the second performance, when there was a full audience. Some critical judges had come to this extreme East, to marvel at a building of singular elegance which had started up in seven months in a district where sailors and Jews abounded;—more plenteous, it may be, than the classes who might be supposed likely to appreciate performances not wanting in any of the scenic arrangements of what was then called, with some truth, the legitimate drama.

I was sitting at work in the room assigned to me at the office of the Society, in Percy Street, about mid-day on Tuesday the 29th, when the clerk of Mr. Whitwell came in, pale and haggard, to ask if I knew where he could find his principal—for the Brunswick Theatre had fallen down. He implored me, if I saw him, to dissuade him from going near the place, for the people would tear him in pieces, the loss of life had been so great. I hurried to the neighbourhood. As I approached the scene of the calamity, the crowd gradually became more dense. I could not get near what had been the front of the building, for the wall had fallen outwards, and had destroyed in its ruins many houses on the opposite side of the street. The groans and shrieks of the multitude were appalling, as some dead or wounded man or woman was carried
through the throng. The principal sufferers were actors and actresses, who were assembled on the stage to commence a rehearsal. There were also carpenters and other artisans employed about the building. I learnt, to my great grief, that Mr. Maurice, in whose company I had dined a short time before, was amongst the killed.

There was at that time a very popular dissenting preacher in that neighbourhood—the minister of the London Mariners’ Church—commonly called “Boson Smith.” He published a remarkable Tract “to improve the occasion;” in which he gave a very graphic description of what he saw and did; for he was one of the first amongst the spectators. There are few things in fiction more exciting than the following incident in a scene of terror:—“I saw a female death-like figure bursting from the further end of the ruins; and filled with horror, not knowing what to do. Some men ran to her. I called out to them to help her over the ruins; they brought her to the edge of the floor near the wall of the portico, and I raised her up on the floor, the people still digging in the hole by the door-way to release the poor labourers, lest the ruins should fall on them I entreated her to sit down a minute; her hair was dishevelled, her apparel variously torn, the side of her face covered with blood, and she supported her head against my arm until I could get a clear passage for her to pass; she cried out, ‘Oh! do let me go; oh, send some one to my sister’s to say I am alive; oh, how grateful I ought to be, that my life is preserved!’” There are few things in fanaticism more wanting in charity than the preacher’s reply:—“I said,’Yes, it is a mercy indeed: you will have to
thank God for it as long as you live. You would not die in a theatre of all other places! I hope you will obtain some other mode of life!’”

When I went to my home at Brompton in the evening I found Mr. Whitwell there; and he then prepared a most clear and convincing statement, which was published the next day, to vindicate himself from the charge of having been careless of the public safety. He had previously written to Sir Robert Peel, as Secretary of State, praying him to direct a rigid inquiry into the causes of the accident. The inquest, under the authority of the Coroner for the Royalty of the Tower, was prolonged for nearly six weeks; and the issue clearly established the assertion of the architect, that the accident was the result of an interference with his professional responsibility, by adding to his building erections over which he had no control whatever, and against which he repeatedly protested. Such a calamity as this, it may be presumed, cannot now arise under the regulations of the Building Act. But it is certain that accidents as frightful may occur, in theatres, in concert-rooms, and more especially in churches and chapels, from the indifference that is manifested as to the effects of narrow passages and staircases when a crowd is seized with any sudden alarm. The Boson Smiths may have some day in England cause to see that there is no Special Providence for places of worship, when the lessons of prudence are set at nought, any more than for playhouses and music-halls.