LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter XV

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 “Penny Cyclopædia” was finished in twenty-seven volumes, in the spring of 1844. The notion of a Supplement had not then been matured. The work was deemed complete, as far as the efforts of the editor and his contributors could keep pace with the rapid march of invention, the improvements of legislation, and the onward rush of every department of knowledge. It is in the very nature of such works that they must be to some extent imperfect. Not Argus with his hundred eyes could note down all the metamorphoses of Time, the great magician, as he calls them into life.

Soon after the close of this labour of eleven years, I received an honour upon which I look back as one of my unalloyed “Pleasures of Memory.” It comes before me now with the vagueness of an agreeable dream. To give some precision to my recollections, a friend transcribed for me, from the vast file of newspapers in the British Museum, some paragraphs from those of June, 1844. I will give one from the “Athenæum” of the 15th of that month: “Change is our order—the order of the nineteenth century; and, in marking progress, we may record here that authors and publishers seem about to ‘handy-dandy,’—and that the contributors to the ‘Penny Cyclopædia,’ and some personal friends,
have given
Mr. Charles Knight a sumptuous entertainment at the Albion Tavern, on the completion of that work.” The word “handy-dandy” may send my readers to their Shakspere:—“Change places, and handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?” This were an unsavoury allusion to the change indicated above; if there were any meaning intended. But perhaps the “Athenæum” had turned to Todd’sJohnson,” and had there found this definition: “A play amongst children, in which something is shaken between two hands, and then a guess is made in which hand it is retained.” There was little of the material reward of industry to be retained in my palm had it been ever so “itching;” and this my “authors” knew. But when one individual amongst “publishers” received such an unusual compliment as was bestowed upon me, I trust that I may regard the circumstance in the spirit of the “Athenæum”—as “marking progress” in the relations between two classes that were generally considered natural enemies, but whose interests are identical and ought never to be separated.

Upon reflection, I do not think it would be seemly in me to present my own recollections of the circumstances attending this dinner. Nor could I faithfully do so. I was at once joyous and frightened in my novel position. As to remembering what I said myself, in returning thanks, it comes before me “like a tangled chain.” One thing I recollect. I quoted from Joan of Arc’s speech in Henry VI.
“Glory is like a circle in the water,
Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself,
Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.”
And then I ejaculated “not so knowledge.”


But I must give some relation of this dinner; and I therefore blend portions of the reports of “The Times” and the “Morning Chronicle,” without any deviation of phrase.

“On the suggestion of several eminent persons, it was proposed to give an entertainment to Mr. Knight, in celebration of the successful completion of the “Penny Cyclopædia,” and to express their sense of the value and usefulness of the literary undertakings in which he has been engaged as editor or publisher. Accordingly a large party met on Wednesday evening at the Albion Tavern.

“The Chair was taken by Lord Brougham; and amongst the company assembled were Lord Wrottesley, the Rev. Mr. Jones the tithe commissioner, Mr. Bellenden Ker, Mr. John Lefevre, Mr. Parkes, Professor Key, Professor Long, Mr. M D. Hill, Mr. Christie, M. P., Mr. Chadwick, Mr. Porter of the Board of Trade, and a host of literary and scientific gentlemen, as well as influential individuals connected with the publishing world.

Lord Brougham, in proposing the health of Mr. Knight, dwelt on the various services which, in connection with the Useful Knowledge Society, he had been enabled to render towards the advancement of society in moral as well as intellectual knowledge; pointed out especially the great service he did to the state in writing and publishing his two little works, “The Rights of Industry” and “The Results of Machinery”—two publications which, at a time of great public excitement, were eminently conducive to allaying the reckless spirit which, in 1830, was leading multitudes to destroy property and break up machines. He also pointed out what Mr. Knight
had done in editing and illustrating
Shakspere; in the projection and carrying on of the ‘Penny Magazine;’ and the completion of the ‘Penny Cyclopaedia.’

Mr. Knight’s health was drunk with much enthusiasm, and he returned thanks in a very expressive manner, modestly urging the greater services of Professor Long, the editor, in the completion of the ‘Penny Cyclopædia.’ The Chairman, after tendering apologies for the absence of Lord Denman, Lord John Russell, and Dr. Lushington, proposed the health of Professor Long, who duly returned thanks, and called on the assembly to thank the contributors whose valuable aid he had received. After a few words from Professor Key, Mr. Weir proposed the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, to which Lord Wrottesley responded.

“Some excellent speeches were made during the evening, especially one by Mr. M. D. Hill, who pointed out that the ‘Pictorial History of England,’ projected by Mr. Knight, had realised a long-cherished idea, that of seeing a history of England which would make the people and the progress of national institutions a prominent feature. To this toast Mr. Craik responded. The Rev. Mr. Jones, who proposed the health of Lord Brougham, was warmly applauded in declaring that neither the Church nor religion had anything to fear from the spread of useful knowledge, but, on the contrary, its diffusion was tributary to the highest and best interests of mankind.”

In connection with the paragraph respecting the dinner at the Albion which I have quoted from the “Athenæum,” was the following notice:—“We may add, as equally significant of the change that is
coming over the spirit of the age, that
Her Majesty has been pleased to signify, through Sir Henry Wheatley, her desire that copies of Mr. Knight’s forthcoming publications, entitled Knight’s Weekly Volume, should be supplied to the libraries established at all the palaces.”

The “change that is coming over the spirit of the age” had probably some regard to times happily long past, when literature was the toy of a king and his courtesans, or the scorn of another crowned head who hated “Boets and Bainters.” There was a period nearer to our own when the great were considered the exclusive patrons of letters. Queen Victoria upheld “the spirit of the age” in her gracious support of a series of books professedly cheaper than any collection that had previously existed. The undertaking had several features of novelty, and of general interest. I was proud of the patronage of the Queen. Perhaps I was equally pleased with the encouragement I received from a distinguished writer, with whom I had not then the happiness of that intimate acquaintance which I have subsequently enjoyed. On the 4th of June, I received a letter from Mr. Charles Dickens, who had seen my Prospectus, and pronounced “the whole scheme full of the highest interest.” He adds:—“If I can ever be of the feeblest use in advancing a project so intimately connected with an end on which my heart is set—the liberal education of the people—I shall be sincerely glad. All good wishes and success attend you.”

The prospectus to which Mr. Dickens refers was entitled “Book-Clubs for all Readers.” It set forth that one of the first attempts, and it was a successful one, to establish a cheap Book-Club was made by
Robert Burns. He had founded a Society at Tarbolton, called the Bachelors’ Club, which met monthly for the purposes of discussion and conversation. But this was a club without books; for the fines levied upon the members were spent in conviviality. Having changed his residence to Mauchline, a similar club was established there, but with one important alteration:—the fines were set apart for the purchase of books, and the first work bought was “The Mirror,” by Henry Mackenzie. The prospectus went on to notice that, in 1825, Mr. Brougham, in his “Practical Observations upon the Education of the People,” had maintained that Book-Clubs or Reading Societies might be established by small numbers of contributors, and would require only an inconsiderable fund. He says—having mentioned a few works which were then in existence—“I would here remark the great effect of combination upon such plans, in making the money of individuals go far. Three-halfpence a week, laid by in a whole family, will enable it to purchase in a year one of the cheap volumes of which I have spoken above; and a penny a week would be sufficient, were the publications made as cheap as possible. Now, let only a few neighbours join, say ten or twelve, and lend each other the books bought, and it is evident that, for a price so small as to be within the reach of the poorest labourer, all may have full as many books in the course of the year as it is possible for them to read, even supposing that the books bought by every one are not such as all the others desire to have.”

The publications which I proposed to make “as cheap as possible,” would enable a family to purchase four separate books at the end of a year by laying by a penny a week. But if twelve neighbours, or twelve
fellow-workmen, or twelve apprentices, or twelve school boys, were to form a book-club to which each should contribute a penny a week, the association would find itself at the end of the year in possession of fifty-two of “
Knight’s Weekly Volumes,” to be preserved as a Joint-Stock Library, or sold to the highest bidder, according to the plan of expensive Book-Clubs.

The prospectus, in thus proposing a new element of association which remained to be developed amongst the great body of the people—in addition to the usual demand by individual purchasers—gave a few simple rules for the proper regulation of the Book-Club for all Readers. My plan was to issue, at the price of one shilling, every Saturday, a volume, which should be essentially a book, not a tract, containing as much matter as an ordinary octavo volume of 300 pages.

The first “Weekly Volume” was published on the 29th of June, 1844. In the introduction to one of the early volumes I said: “To Miss Martineau we are deeply indebted for the ardent zeal with which she has recommended the project of the series of books to which this volume belongs, and for the sound judgment with which she has assisted us in arranging the details of a plan that mainly owes its origin to her unwearied solicitude for the good of her fellow-creatures.” I have reserved the mention in these “Passages” of my earlier intercourse with Miss Martineau, till I could associate her name with a period at which I, more fully than before, comprehended the energy of her character, the fertility of her genius, and the rich variety of her knowledge. I had become slightly acquainted with her in 1830,
when she was seeking a publisher for her “
Illustrations of Political Economy.” The Committee of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge were then as opposed to works of imagination, as if they had been “budge doctors of the Stoic fur,” whose vocation was to despise everything not of direct utility. In a year or so, the house in which she dwelt with her mother in Westminster was frequented by crowds of visitors of rank and talent, eager to pay their homage to the young authoress, whose little books went forth monthly in apparently inexhaustible profusion, delighting many readers who did not care to be instructed, and satisfying the discreet few by the soundness of their conclusions. Previous to her voyage to America in 1835, I frequently met Miss Martineau at the house of Mr. Bellenden Ker. I mention this with many a vivid recollection of the charm of her conversation. Her deafness was so neutralised by the rapidity of her perceptions, that it almost ceased to be embarrassing to herself or her hearers. Upon her return from the United States, she wrote several of the numbers of the “Guides to Service,” which I was then publishing. Her power of accurate observation, and her plain good sense, enabled her as effectively to instruct “The Maid of all Work” in her duties, as her insight into the feelings of the young, gave her the power of writing for me four of the prettiest volumes of children’s books in our language, “The Play-Fellow.”

At the Easter of 1844, I went to Tynemouth, for the especial purpose of conferring with Miss Martineau upon that series of books which was eventually published as the “Weekly Volume.” We had corresponded much upon this interesting subject;
but as my plans were approaching maturity, I felt how advantageous it would be for me to accept her invitation to visit her, and to avail myself of the intervals of ease in which she could converse without injury. For she was confined to her room, as she had been for several years, by an illness which sometimes almost forbad the hope of recovery. But when she was free from pain and not prostrated by languor, she could talk with animation and cheerfulness upon the subject of popular education, which then seemed nearest her heart. I sat with her on bright mornings by the side of her sofa under the window from which she looked out upon a green down, and, beyond, the harbour of the Tyne and all its traffic, “the view extending from the light-houses far to the right, to a horizon of sea to the left.” In her cheerful observation of outward things, I had a lesson of the All-wise Goodness which compensates by so many blessings the sufferings of humanity. There is a beautiful passage in her “
Life in the Sick-Room,” which recalls to me the state of her mind when I was thus permitted to share her confidence. She notices how indescribably clear to her were many truths of life from her observation of the doings of the tenants of a single row of houses: “Nothing can be more ordinary than the modes of life which I overlook, yet am I kept wide awake in my watch by ever new instances of the fulness of pleasure derivable from the scantiest sources; of the vividness of emotion excitable by the most trifling incidents; of the wonderful power pride has of pampering itself upon the most meagre food; and, above all, of the infinite ingenuity of human love. Nothing, perhaps, has impressed me so deeply as the
clear view I have of almost all, if not quite the whole, of the suffering I have witnessed being the consequence of vice or ignorance. But when my heart has sickened at the sight, and at the thought of so much gratuitous pain, it has grown strong again in the reflection that, if unnecessary, this misery is temporary—that the true ground of mourning would be if the pain were not from causes which are remediable. Then I cannot but look forward to the time when the bad training of children,—the petulancies of neighbours—the errors of the manage—the irksome superstitions, and the seductions of intemperance, shall all have been annihilated by the spread of intelligence; while the mirth at the minutest jokes—the proud plucking of nosegays—the little neighbourly gifts (less amusing hereafter, perhaps, in their taste)—the festal observances—the disinterested and refined acts of self-sacrifice and love, will remain as long as the human heart has mirth in it, or a human complacency and self-respect,—as long as its essence is what it has ever been ‘but a little lower than the angels.’”

Miss Martineau, with indefatigable zeal unabated by illness, had written to many persons of influence to interest them in our project. Whilst with her, I received an invitation from Mr. James Marshall, to visit him at his house near Leeds, on my return to London. Here I spent two very pleasant days, chiefly in earnest discussions with Mrs. Marshall (formerly the Hon. Miss Spring Rice), on the quality of the books that were wanted for factory workers, especially the young people. Mr. Marshall took me over that wonderful flax-mill, where he and his brothers had recently built not only the largest room for a
manufactory, but the largest room in the world. It covered five times as much space as Westminster Hall, extending over nearly two acres of ground. All the work here carried on was of a cleanly character; for the coarse processes previous to that of spinning were done out of this building. The hundreds of workers employed were chiefly females, watching the movements of thousands of spindles, and supplying by patient attention what the beautiful machinery could not effect without human aid. It was an anxious time for mill-owners; for Parliament was debating whether the twelve hours of labour in factories should be reduced to ten. This change many capitalists, even with the most benevolent intentions, believed would be fatal to their interests, as well as so reduce the wages of the factory workers as to cause great misery. The proposed measure was defeated. The education clauses of the government factory bill had been previously rejected, in accordance with the narrow views of both churchmen and dissenters. Messrs. Marshall, and a few of the more enlightened class of mill-owners, had not waited for the establishment of state plans of factory education. They had excellent schools within their mill; and I attended Mrs. James Marshall whilst she interested herself in the instruction of the classes. I had brought with me from Miss Martineau’s a book, which had been presented to her from some factory girls in America: “
The Lowell Offering, a Repository of Original Articles; written exclusively by females actually employed in the Mills.” The sight of the great flax factory and its schools—the earnest solicitude of Mrs. Marshall for the education of the children in her husband’s employment—in-
duced me, upon my return home, to look carefully at this work. Miss Martineau had told me that I should find in these volumes some things which might be read with pleasure and information. I rather shrank from the task, for I felt that all literary productions, and indeed all works of art, should be judged without reference to the condition of the producer. My reluctance was soon overcome, after I had read two or three of these papers. I then learnt that
Mr. Dickens, in his “American Notes,” had mentioned that he had read of the first volume, “four hundred good solid pages from beginning to end,” and that the articles, putting out of sight that they had been written by girls after the arduous labours of the day, might compare advantageously with those of many English Annuals. I soon resolved to publish a selection from these volumes, and I entitled the little book, “Mind amongst the Spindles.” I wrote rather an elaborate introduction to this volume. One portion of it was suggested by what I had seen and heard at Leeds. As the intellectual improvement of factory workers must always be of permanent importance—and as the results of a better education than prevailed amongst them twenty years ago have been abundantly shewn, in the conduct and feelings of Lancashire operatives during the fearful crisis through which they have been passing—I hesitate not to quote a passage of some extent. I said of these Lowell girls, “During their twelve hours of daily labour, when there were easy but automatic services to perform, waiting upon a machine—with that slight degree of skill which no machine can ever attain—for the repair of the accidents of its unvarying progress, they may, without a
neglect of their duty, have been elevating their minds in the scale of being by cheerful lookings-out upon nature, by pleasant recollections of books, by imaginary converse with the just and wise who have lived before them, by consoling reflections upon the infinite goodness and wisdom which regulates this world, so unintelligible without such a dependence. These habits have given them cheerfulness and freedom amidst their uninterrupted toils. We see no repinings against their twelve hours’ labour, for it has had its solace. Even during the low wages of 1842, which they mention with sorrow but without complaint, the same cultivation goes on. The ‘Lowell Offering’ is still produced. To us of England these things ought to be encouraging. To the immense body of our factory operatives the example of what the girls of Lowell have done should be especially valuable. It should teach them that their strength, as well as their happiness, lies in the cultivation of their minds. To the employers of operatives, and to all of wealth and influence amongst us, this example ought to manifest that a strict and diligent performance of daily duties, in work prolonged as much as in our own factories, is no impediment to the exercise of those faculties, and the gratification of those tastes, which, whatever the world may have thought, can no longer be held to be limited by station. There is a contest going on amongst us, as it is going on all over the world, between the hard imperious laws which regulate the production of wealth, and the aspirations of benevolence for the increase of human happiness. We do not deplore the contest; for out of it must come a gradual subjection of the iron necessity to the holy influences of love and charity.
Such a period cannot, indeed, be rashly anticipated by legislation against principles which are secondary laws of nature; but one thing, nevertheless, is certain—that such an improvement of the operative classes, as all good men, and we sincerely believe amongst them the great body of manufacturing capitalists, ardently pray for and desire to labour in their several spheres to attain, will be brought about in a parallel progression with the elevation of the operatives themselves in mental cultivation, and consequently in moral excellence.”

The series of the “Weekly Volume” was commenced with a book written by myself, “William Caxton, the first English Printer, a Biography.” During the course of two years, one hundred and five volumes were issued regularly, the weekly publication not having been omitted in a single instance. The subjects had always been selected upon a plan which had (in the course of this time) attained a certain completeness; and a little library having been formed, equally suited to Book Clubs and private purchasers, it was unnecessary to continue the publication at the rapid rate which had been previously thought desirable. The “Weekly Volume” then became the “Shilling Volume.” In the monthly issue it was continued for two more years. I shall have occasion briefly to refer to the series in the next epoch of my “Working Life,” for some books of original value were comprised in it, and their writers merit especial mention. The editorial conduct of the Series was to me a labour of love. The success, and the reputation which it acquired, compensated me for the falling off in the demand for the “Penny Magazine,” for which there
were many causes; particularly the extended sale of newspapers, and the application of wood-engravings to their illustration. To close the story of my literary connection with the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, I will here advert to the last days of the popular miscellany upon which I had laboured for fourteen years.

The “Penny Magazine” of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge terminated on the 27th of December, 1845. In 1841, after the publication of nine volumes of the original form and character, a second series was issued, which is comprised in five volumes. I may truly say that the object of the change was to present to a public which had been advancing in education, a Miscellany of a higher character than the first series. The engravings were superior; the writing was less “ramble-scramble.” There were a series of articles on the great Italian painters, by Mrs. Jameson. During three years the factories of London and the country were visited by Mr. Dodd and a competent artist, to provide descriptions of all our great manufactories. Mr. Thorne wrote papers of a topographical nature, which indicated the talent and knowledge which he would subsequently display in “Rambles by Rivers.” Mr. Saunders wrote a series of clever articles on “The Canterbury Tales.” And yet the sale fell off. The superintendence of the Society had merged in my individual responsibility as editor when I announced a new “Penny Magazine.” It was thenceforth to be chiefly a magazine of reading; woodcuts no longer continuing to be the prominent feature in the work. I took a zealous interest in this little Miscellany. In the
first number I republished one of
Praed’s charming Enigmas, with an illustration by Harvey. I also then commenced a series entitled “The Caricaturist’s Portrait Gallery.” John Wilkes, by Hogarth; Charles Churchill, by Hogarth; Lord North, as the State-Coachman asleep; Burke throwing down the Dagger—these, with brief biographical notices, constituted a novel feature, which I would recommend some weekly or monthly provider of light literature to take up. Of Praed’s Enigmas I published fourteen. In the desire to prevent the memory of my early friend from falling into oblivion amongst a new generation, I gave “Some Specimens” of his writings in addition, with a brief memoir. In 1839 this extraordinary genius died in the prime of life. He had married in 1835. In the last American edition of his Poems we are presented with “the following sketch of his appearance, from the pencil of N. P. Willis, Esq.:”—“It was our good fortune, when first in England (in 1834 or ’35), to be a guest at the same hospitable country-house for several weeks. The party there assembled was somewhat a famous one—Miss Jane Porter, Miss Julia Pardoe, Krazinski (the Polish historian), Sir Gardiner Wilkinson (the oriental traveller), venerable Lady Cork (‘Lady Bellair’ of D’Israeli’s novel), and several persons more distinguished in society than in literature. Praed, we believe, had not been long married, but he was there with his wife. He was apparently about thirty-five, tall, and of dark complexion, with a studious bend in his shoulders, and of irregular features strongly impressed with melancholy. His manners were particularly reserved, though as unassuming as they well could be. His
exquisitely beautiful poem of ‘
Lillian’ was among the pet treasures of the lady of the house, and we had all been indulged with a sight of it, in a choicely bound manuscript copy,—but it was hard to make him confess to any literary habits or standing. As a gentleman of ample means and retired life, the kind of notice drawn upon him by the admiration of this poem seemed distasteful. His habits were very secluded. We only saw him at table and in the evening; and for the rest of the day he was away in the remote walks and woods of the extensive park round the mansion, apparently more fond of solitude than of anything else. Mr. Praed’s mind was one of wonderful readiness—rhythm and rhyme coming to him with the flow of an improvvisatore. The ladies of the party made the events of every day the subjects of charades, epigrams, sonnets, &c., with the design of suggesting inspiration to his ready pen; and he was most brilliantly complying, with treasures for each in her turn.”

It would be difficult for the most bungling limner that ever tried his hand at “Pencilings,” to produce any sketch so unlike as this of Praed. He was not “of dark complexion;” his features were not “strongly impressed with melancholy;” his manners were not “particularly reserved.” To the forward American he was unquestionably cold. The reason has been told me by one who best knew.—There was archery going on. Mrs. Praed had been lucky in hitting the mark, and Mr. Willis offered her some extravagant compliment, such as well-bred Englishmen are careful not to venture upon even with their most intimate friends. From a stranger the adulation was impertinence. Mr. Praed overheard this,
and accordingly took his measure of the man with the note-book.

My brief memoir of my early friend concluded with a glance at his parliamentary career: “The two great speakers of the Cambridge Union, Thomas Babington Macaulay and Winthrop Mackworth Praed, sat on opposite benches, when the oratory of sport had become a stern reality. The one has fulfilled all the hopes of his youth; the other, we can only speak of him with unbidden tears.
‘But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. But not the praise.’”

Knight’s Penny Magazine,” as the miscellany which commenced in January, 1846, was called, had a short existence. In the sixth monthly part, I thus announced its discontinuance: “The present Series of the ‘Penny Magazine’ is closed after an experiment of only six months. The Editor has no reason to complain of the want of public encouragement, for the sale of this Series has exceeded that of its predecessor in 1845. But the sale, such as it is, is scarcely remunerating; and there are indications that it may decline rather than increase. This is a hint which cannot be mistaken. It shall not be said of his humble efforts to continue, upon an equality with the best of his contemporaries, a publication which once had a decided pre-eminence, that
“Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage.”
He leaves this portion of popular literature to be cultivated by those whose new energy may be worth
more than his old experience. The ‘Penny Magazine’ shall begin and end with him. It shall not pass into other hands.”

Three months before I had thus put an end to my participation in the good or the evil of the Penny Press, the Committee of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge announced the suspension of their operations. Their “Address,” dated March 11, 1846, offered an explanation of their motives for this step. The circumstances attending the publication of the “Biographical Dictionary” had led to this determination. The Society had undertaken this great work at its own risk. It now felt what it was to engage in a serial publication that was not likely to be concluded during ten or more years, and to find the public support altogether inadequate to defray its literary expenditure. A Society can do what an individual can not dare to achieve. It could leave the battle-field. It was not so with me, when the “Penny Cyclopædia” was dragging me down. The Society had a charter, and might some day renew its active life:
“He that fights and runs away,
May live to fight another day.”
Had I not fought on to the end of my perilous commercial enterprise, I should have been disgraced. Individual members of the Committee subscribed liberally to keep on their “Biographical Dictionary,” and no one more generously than
Earl Spencer. Had his death not occurred during the struggle to meet the loss of this bold commercial undertaking, it is probable that the Society would not have thus sung its requiem:—

“Though the Committee always counted upon a loss, or at the best upon a deficiency which could not be made good until long after the completion of the work, neither they, nor others more conversant with the chances of the bookselling-trade, were at all prepared to expect so large a deficiency as appeared by the time the letter A was completed. On these seven half-volumes the excess of expenditure above receipts amounts to nearly 5000l. Of this loss, more than half, it appears, has been sustained by the Society, and the remainder of the subscriptions and donations which have been announced from time to time. Though the first sale of the work was encouraging, as giving some reason to hope that it would shortly rise to such a point as might enable the Committee to proceed steadily to the end, yet it was found that the average rate of sale of the seven half-volumes produced the defalcation above alluded to. And careful estimates showed that, under existing circumstances, an additional sum of at least 15,000l. must be sunk. A work commenced in parts ought to be continued to the full extent which the capital of the undertaker will allow. The Society has obeyed this reasonable rule, and has exhausted its resources.”

The Committee with perfect justice turn away from the contemplation of one failure to rejoice over a long continued success: “The Society’s work is done, for its greatest object is achieved—fully, fairly, and permanently. The public is supplied with cheap and good literature to an extent which the most sanguine friend of human improvement could not in 1826, have hoped to have witnessed in twenty years.”


But there was a temporary evil to counterbalance this permanent success. All the cheap literature was not good at the period of this triumphant retrospect. This was a circumstance that was sufficiently mortifying to those who, like myself, had formed an over sanguine estimate of the benefit that was likely to result from the general diffusion of the ability to read. The “Penny Magazine” and “Chambers’s Journal” had, in 1832, driven the greater number of noxious publications out of the field. The great body of the people appeared satisfied with good solid food, without any inordinate craving for stale pastry, and with an utter disrelish of offal. But a taste for garbage, cooked up for the satisfaction of the lowest appetite, seemed to have returned. I made no lamentation over the cheapness which had become excessive. I did not regret that there was a competition going on in cheap weekly publications which was wholly unprecedented. In 1846, fourteen penny and penny-halfpenny Magazines, twelve Economical and Social Journals, and thirty-seven weekly sheets, forming separate books, were to be found in the shops of many regular booksellers, and on the counters of all the small dealers in periodicals that had started up throughout the country. The cheapness was accomplished in some by pilfering from every copyright work that came in their way. There were very few of these publications whose writers were paid for original articles upon a scale as liberal as that of the best reviews and magazines. There were some of a character to render the principle of cheapness dangerous and disgusting. In the concluding address of “Knight’s Penny Magazine,” I said: “The editor
rejoices that there are many in the field, and some who have come at the eleventh hour, who deserve the wages of zealous and faithful labourers. But there are others who are carrying out the principle of cheap weekly sheets, to the disgrace of the system, and who appear to have got some considerable hold upon the less-informed of the working people, and especially upon the young. There are manufactories in London whence hundreds of reams of vile paper and printing issue weekly; where large bodies of children are employed to arrange types, at the wages of shirt-makers, from copy furnished by the most ignorant, at the wages of scavengers. In truth, such writers, if they deserve the name of writers, are scavengers. All the garbage that belongs to the history of crime and misery is raked together, to diffuse a moral miasma through the land, in the shape of the most vulgar and brutal fiction. ‘Penny Magazines,’ and ‘Edinburgh Journals,’ and ‘Weekly Instructors,’ and ‘People’s Journals,’ have little chance of circulation amongst the least-informed class, who most require sound knowledge, while the cheap booksellers’ shops are filled with such things as ‘
Newgate, a Romance,’ ‘The Black Mantle, or the Murder at the old Jewry,’ ‘The Spectre of the Sail,’ ‘The Love-Child,’ ‘The Feast of Blood,’ ‘The Convict,’ and twenty others, all of the same exciting character to the young and ignorant. But the detrimental exercise of the printing-press is only to be met by its wholesome employment. He has no fear for the righteous cause of cheap literature.”

My conviction that the cheap press would purify itself was realised in another decade. I had given a name to the wholesome literature for the people,
“The Fountain”—the noxious I had called “The Sewer.” But I contended, as I had ever done, that the Paper Duty was an insurmountable barrier to the diffusion of publications that should combine the qualities of literary excellence and extreme cheapness. I maintained that to thrust out the noxious publications, the supply of the higher class must be abundant; the quality of the writing must be of the best, for to write well for the people is the rarest of literary qualifications; lastly, the price must as nearly as possible approach to the cost of the mischievous production. Whatever interferes with the circulation of the higher periodicals by increasing their price—whatever tends to render a false economy necessary, by lowering their payment for the best literary labour—interferes with one of the most important instruments of National Education, using the term in its highest sense. Such were the injurious consequences of the Paper Duty. That long disputed question has now been settled. The total repeal of this impost took place after my commercial career was in a great degree closed. How this tax weighed me down in the production of the “
Penny Cyclopaedia,” I have related in a pamphlet of 1850, which was often quoted in Parliament, and which has some interest as a matter of literary history. I give the most material passage as a Note to this Chapter.