De Libris: Prose and Verse
by Austin Dobson
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This is my brief. We recognise in you The mind judicial, the untroubled view; The critic who, without pedantic pose, Takes his firm foothold on the thing he knows; Who, free alike from passion or pretence, Holds the good rule of calm and common sense; And be the subject or perplexed or plain,— Clear or confusing,—is throughout urbane, Patient, persuasive, logical, precise, And only hard to vanity and vice.

More I could add, but brevity is best;— These are our claims to honour you as Guest.


[57] Alexander Pope: his Safe Return from Troy. A Congratulatory Poem on his Completing his Translation of Homer's Iliad. (In ottava rima.) By Mr. Gay, 1720(?). Frere's burlesque, Monks and Giants—it will be remembered—set the tune to Byron's Beppo.

[58] The Paradise of Birds, 1870.

[59] Life in Poetry, Law in Taste, two series of Lectures delivered in Oxford, 1895-1900. 1901.

[60] A History of English Poetry. 1895 (in progress).


At this date, Thackeray's Esmond has passed from the domain of criticism into that securer region where the classics, if they do not actually "slumber out their immortality," are at least preserved from profane intrusion. This "noble story"[61]—as it was called by one of its earliest admirers—is no longer, in any sense, a book "under review." The painful student of the past may still, indeed, with tape and compass, question its details and proportions; or the quick-fingered professor of paradox, jauntily turning it upside-down, rejoice in the results of his perverse dexterity; but certain things are now established in regard to it, which cannot be gainsaid, even by those who assume the superfluous office of anatomising the accepted. In the first place, if Esmond be not the author's greatest work (and there are those who, like the late Anthony Trollope, would willingly give it that rank), it is unquestionably his greatest work in its particular kind, for its sequel, The Virginians, however admirable in detached passages, is desultory and invertebrate, while Denis Duval, of which the promise was "great, remains unfinished. With Vanity Fair, the author's masterpiece in another manner, Esmond cannot properly be compared, because an imitation of the past can never compete in verisimilitude or on any satisfactory terms with a contemporary picture. Nevertheless, in its successful reproduction of the tone of a bygone epoch, lies Esmond's second and incontestable claim to length of days. Athough fifty years and more have passed since it was published, it is still unrivalled as the typical example of that class of historical fiction, which, dealing indiscriminately with characters real and feigned, develops them both with equal familiarity, treating them each from within, and investing them impartially with a common atmosphere of illusion. No modern novel has done this in the same way, nor with the same good fortune, as Esmond; and there is nothing more to be said on this score. Even if—as always—later researches should have revised our conception of certain of the real personages, the value of the book as an imaginative tour de force is unimpaired. Little remains therefore for the gleaner of to-day save bibliographical jottings, and neglected notes on its first appearance.


[61] "Never could I have believed that Thackeray, great as his abilities are, could have written so noble a story as Esmond."—WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR, August 1856.

In Thackeray's work, the place of The History of Henry Esmond, Esq., a Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Q. Anne. Written by Himself—lies midway between his four other principal books, Vanity Fair, Pendennis, The Newcomes, and The Virginians; and its position serves, in a measure, to explain its origin. In 1848, after much tentative and miscellaneous production, of which the value had been but imperfectly appreciated, the author found his fame with the yellow numbers of Vanity Fair. Two years later, adopting the same serial form, came Pendennis. Vanity Fair had been the condensation of a life's experience; and excellent as Pendennis would have seemed from any inferior hand, its readers could not disguise from themselves that, though showing no falling off in other respects, it drew to some extent upon the old material. No one was readier than Thackeray to listen to a whisper of this kind, or more willing to believe that—as he afterwards told his friend Elwin concerning The Newcomes—"he had exhausted all the types of character with which he was familiar." Accordingly he began, for the time, to turn his thoughts in fresh directions; and in the year that followed the publication of Pendennis, prepared and delivered in England and Scotland a series of Lectures upon the English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century. With the success of these came the prompting for a new work of fiction,—not to be contemporary, and not to be issued in parts. His studies for the Humourists had saturated him with the spirit of a time to which—witness his novelette of Barry Lyndon—he had always been attracted; and when Mr. George Smith called on him with a proposal that he should write a new story for L1000, he was already well in hand with Esmond,—an effort in which, if it were not possible to invent new puppets, it was at least possible to provide fresh costumes and a change of background. Begun in 1851, Esmond progressed rapidly, and by the end of May 1852 it was completed. Owing to the limited stock of old-cut type in which it was set up, its three volumes passed but slowly through the press; and it was eventually issued at the end of the following October, upon the eve of the author's departure to lecture in America. In fact, he was waiting on the pier for the tender which was to convey him to the steamer, when he received his bound copies from the publisher.

Mr. Eyre Crowe, A.R.A., who accompanied Thackeray to the United States, and had for some time previously been acting as his "factotum and amanuensis," has recorded several interesting details with regard to the writing of Esmond, To most readers it will be matter of surprise, and it is certainly a noteworthy testimony to the author's powers, that this attempt to revive the language and atmosphere of a vanished era was in great part dictated. It has even been said that, like Pendennis, it was all dictated; but this it seems is a mistake, for, as we shall see presently, part of the manuscript was prepared by the author himself. As he warmed to his work, however, he often reverted to the method of oral composition which had always been most congenial to him, and which explains the easy colloquialism of his style. Much of the "copy" was taken down by Mr. Crowe in a first-floor bedroom of No. 16 Young Street, Kensington, the still-existent house where Vanity Fair had been written; at the Bedford Hotel in Covent Garden; at the round table in the Athenasum library, and elsewhere. "I write better anywhere than at home,"—Thackeray told Elwin,—"and I write less at home than anywhere." Sometimes author and scribe would betake themselves to the British Museum, to look up points in connection with Marlborough's battles, or to rummage Jacob Tonson's Gazettes for the official accounts of Wynendael and Oudenarde. The British Museum, indeed, was another of Esmond's birthplaces. By favour of Sir Antonio Panizzi, Thackeray and his assistant, surrounded by their authorities, were accommodated in one of the secluded galleries. "I sat down,"—says Mr. Crowe—"and wrote to dictation the scathing sentences about the great Marlborough, the denouncing of Cadogan, etc., etc. As a curious instance of literary contagion, it may be here stated that I got quite bitten, with the expressed anger at their misdeeds against General Webb, Thackeray's kinsman and ancestor; and that I then looked upon Secretary Cardonnel's conduct with perfect loathing. I was quite delighted to find his meannesses justly pilloried in Esmond's pages." What rendered the situation more piquant,—Mr. Crowe adds,—all this took place on the site of old Montague House, where, as Steele's "Prue" says to St. John in the novel," you wretches go and fight duels."[62]


[62] With Thackeray in America, 1893, p. 4.

Those who are willing to make a pilgrimage to Cambridge, may, if they please, inspect the very passages which aroused the enthusiam of Thackeray's secretary. In a special case in the Library of Trinity College, not far from those which enclose the manuscripts of Tennyson and Milton, is the original and only manuscript of Esmond, being in fact the identical "copy" which was despatched to the press of Messrs. Bradbury and Evans at Whitefriars. It makes two large quarto volumes, and was presented to the College (Esmond's College!) in 1888 by the author's son-in-law, the late Sir Leslie Stephen. It still bears in pencil the names of the different compositors who set up the type. Much of it is in Thackeray's own small, slightly-slanted, but oftener upright hand, and many pages have hardly any corrections.[63] His custom was to write on half-sheets of a rather large notepaper, and some idea may be gathered of the neat, minute, and regular script, when it is added that the lines usually contain twelve to fifteen words, and that there are frequently as many as thirty-three of these lines to a page. Some of the rest of the "copy" is in the handwriting of the author's daughter, now Lady Ritchie; but a considerable portion was penned by Mr. Eyre Crowe. The oft-quoted passage in book ii. chap. vi. about "bringing your sheaves with you," was written by Thackeray himself almost as it stands; so was the sham Spectator, hereafter mentioned, and most of the chapter headed "General Webb wins the Battle of Wynendael." But the splendid closing scene,—"August 1st, 1714,"—is almost wholly in the hand of Mr. Crowe. It is certainly a remarkable fact that work at this level should have been thus improvised, and that nothing, as we are credibly informed, should have been before committed to paper.[64]

When Esmond first made its appearance in October 1852, it was not without distinguished and even formidable competitors. Bleak House had reached its eighth number; and Bulwer was running My Novel in Blackwood. In Fraser, Kingsley was bringing out Hypatia; and Whyte Melville was preluding with Digby Grand. Charlotte Bronte must have been getting ready Villette for the press; and Tennyson—undeterred by the fact that his hero had already been "dirged" by the indefatigable Tupper—was busy with his Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington.[65] The critics of the time were possibly embarrassed with this wealth of talent, for they were not, at the outset, immoderately enthusiastic over the new arrival. The Athenaeum was by no means laudatory. Esmond "harped upon the same string"; "wanted vital heat"; "touched no fresh fount of thought"; "introduced no novel forms of life"; and so forth. But the Spectator, in a charming greeting from George Brimley (since included in his Essays), placed the book, as a work of art, even above Vanity Fair and Pendennis; the "serious and orthodox" Examiner, then under John Forster, was politely judicial; the Daily News friendly; and the Morning Advertiser enraptured. The book, this last declared, was the "beau-ideal of historical romance." On December 4 a second edition was announced. Then, on the 22nd, came the Times. Whether the Times remembered and resented a certain delightfully contemptuous "Essay on Thunder and Small Beer," with which Thackeray retorted to its notice of The Kickkburys on the Rhine (a thing hard to believe!) or whether it did not,—its report of Esmond was distinctly hostile. In three columns, it commended little but the character of Marlborough, and the writer's "incomparably easy and unforced style." Thackeray thought that it had "absolutely stopped" the sale. But this seems inconsistent with the fact that the publisher sent him a supplementary cheque for L250 on account of Esmond's success.


[63] One is reminded of the accounts of Scott's "copy." "Page after page the writing runs on exactly as you read it in print"—says Mr. Mowbray Morris. "I was looking not long ago at the manuscript of Kenilworth in the British Museum, and examined the end with particular care, thinking that the wonderful scene of Amy Robsart's death must surely have cost him some labour. They were the cleanest pages in the volume: I do not think there was a sentence altered or added in the whole chapter" (Lecture at Eton, Macmillan's Magazine (1889), lx. pp. 158-9).

[64] "The sentences"—Mr. Crowe told a member of the Athenaeum, when speaking of his task—"came out glibly as he [Thackeray] paced the room." This is the more singular when contrasted with the slow elaboration of the Balzac and Flaubert school. No doubt Thackeray must often have arranged in his mind precisely much that he meant to say. Such seems indeed to have been his habit. The late Mr. Lockcer-Lampson informed the writer of this paper that once, when he met the author of Esmond in the Green Park, Thackeray gently begged to be allowed to walk alone, as he had some verses In his head which he was finishing. They were those which afterwards appeared in the Cornhill for January 1867, under the title of Mrs. Katherine's Lantern.

[65] The Duke died 14th Sept. 1852.

Another reason which may have tended to slacken—not to stop—the sale, is also suggested by the author himself. This was the growing popularity of My Novel and Villette. And Miss Bronte's book calls to mind the fact that she was among the earliest readers of Esmond, the first two volumes of which were sent to her in manuscript by George Smith, She read it, she tells him, with "as much ire and sorrow as gratitude and admiration," marvelling at its mastery of reconstruction,—hating its satire,—its injustice to women. How could Lady Castlewood peep through a keyhole, listen at a door, and be jealous of a boy and a milkmaid! There was too much political and religious intrigue—she thought. Nevertheless she said (this was in February 1852, speaking of vol. i.) the author might "yet make it the best he had ever written." In March she had seen the second volume. The character of Marlborough (here she anticipated the Times) was a "masterly piece of writing." But there was "too little story." The final volume, by her own request, she received in print. It possessed, in her opinion, the "most sparkle, impetus, and interest." "I hold," she wrote to Mr. Smith, "that a work of fiction ought to be a work of creation: that the real should be sparingly introduced in pages dedicated to the ideal" In a later letter she gives high praise to the complex conception of Beatrix, traversing incidentally the absurd accusation of one of the papers that she resembled. Blanche Amory [the Athenaeum and Examiner, it may be noted, regarded her as "another Becky"]. "To me," Miss Bronte exclaims, "they are about as identical as a weasel and a royal tigress of Bengal; both the latter are quadrupeds, both the former women." These frank comments of a fervent but thoroughly honest admirer, are of genuine interest. When the book was published, Thackeray himself sent her a copy with his "grateful regards," and it must have been of this that she wrote to Mr. Smith on November 3,—"Colonel Henry Esmond is just arrived. He looks very antique and distinguished in his Queen Anne's garb; the periwig, sword, lace, and ruffles are very well represented by the old Spectator type."[66]


[66] Mr. Clement Shorter's Charlotte Bronte and her Circle, 1896, p. 403; and Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte, 1900, pp. 561 et seq.

One of the points on which Miss Bronte does not touch,—at all events does not touch in those portions of her correspondence which have been printed,—is the marriage with which Esmond closes. Upon this event it would have been highly instructive to have had her views, especially as it appears to have greatly exercised her contemporaries, the first reviewers. It was the gravamen of the Times indictment; to the critic of Fraser it was highly objectionable; and the Examiner regarded it as "incredible." Why it was "incredible" that a man should marry a woman seven years older than himself, to whom he had already proposed once in vol. ii., and of whose youthful appearance we are continually reminded ("she looks the sister of her daughter" says the old Dowager at Chelsea), is certainly not superficially obvious. Nor was it obvious to Lady Castlewood's children, "Mother's in love with you,—yes, I think mother's in love with you," says downright Frank Esmond; the only impediment in his eyes being the bar sinister, as yet unremoved. And Miss Beatrix herself, in vol. iii., is even more roundly explicit. "As for you," she tells Esmond, "you want a woman to bring your slippers and cap, and to sit at your feet, and cry 'O caro! O bravo!' whilst you read your Shakespeares, and Miltons, and stuff" [which shows that she herself had read Swift's Grand Question Debated]. "Mamma would have been the wife for you, had you been a little older, though you look ten years older than she does," "You do, you glum-faced, blue-bearded, little old man!" adds this very imperious and free-spoken young lady. The situation is, no doubt, at times extremely difficult, and naturally requires consummate skill in the treatment. But if these things and others signify anything to an intelligent reader, they signify that the author, if he had not his end steadily in view, knew perfectly well that his story was tending in one direction. There will probably always be some diversity of opinion in the matter; but the majority of us have accepted Thackeray's solution, and have dropped out of sight that hint of undesirable rivalry, which so troubled the precisians of the early Victorian age. To those who read Esmond now, noting carefully the almost imperceptible transformation of the motives on either side, as developed by the evolution of the story, the union of the hero and heroine at the end must appear not only credible but preordained. And that the gradual progress towards this foregone conclusion is handled with unfailing tact and skill, there can surely be no question.[67]


[67} Thackeray's own explanation was more characteristic than convincing. "Why did you"—said once to him impetuous Mrs. John Brown of Edinburgh—"Why did you make Esmond marry that old woman?" "My dear lady," he replied, "it was not I who married them. They married themselves." (Dr. John Brmon, by the late John Taylor Brown, 1903, pp. 96-7.)

Of the historical portraits in the book, the interest has, perhaps, at this date, a little paled. Not that they are one whit less vigorously alive than when the author first put them in motion; but they have suffered from the very attention which Esmond and The Humourists have directed to the study of the originals. The picture of Marlborough is still as effective as when it was first proclaimed to be good enough for the brush of Saint-Simon. But Thackeray himself confessed to a family prejudice against the hero of Blenheim, and later artists have considerably readjusted the likeness. Nor in all probability would the latest biographer of Bolingbroke endorse that presentment. In the purely literary figures, Thackeray naturally followed the Lectures, and is consequently open to the same criticisms as have been offered on those performances. The Swift of The Humourists, modelled on Macaulay, was never accepted from the first; and it has not been accepted in the novel, or by subsequent writers from Forster onwards.[68] Addison has been less studied; and his likeness has consequently been less questioned. Concerning Steele there has been rather more discussion. That Thackeray's sketch is very vivid, very human, and in most essentials, hard to disprove, must be granted. But it is obviously conceived under the domination of the "poor Dick" of Addison, and dwells far too persistently upon Steele's frailer and more fallible aspect. No one would believe that the flushed personage in the full-bottomed periwig, who hiccups Addison's Campaign in the Haymarket garret, or the fuddled victim of "Prue's" curtain lecture at Hampton, ranked, at the date of the story, far higher than Addison as a writer, and that he was, in spite of his faults, not only a kindly gentleman and scholar, but a philanthropist, a staunch patriot, and a consistent politician. Probably the author of Esmond considered that, in a mixed character, to be introduced incidentally, and exhibited naturally "in the quotidian undress and relaxation of his mind" (as Lamb says), anything like biographical big drum should be deprecated. This is, at least, the impression left on us by an anecdote told by Elwin. He says that Thackeray, talking to him once about The Virginians, which was then appearing, announced that he meant, among other people, to bring in Goldsmith, "representing him as he really was, a little, shabby, mean, shuffling Irishman." These are given as Thackeray's actual words. If so, they do not show the side of Goldsmith which is shown in the last lecture of The Humourists.[69]


[68] Thackeray heartily disliked Swift, and said so. "As for Swift, you haven't made me alter my opinion"—he replied to Hannay's remonstrances. This feeling was intensified by the belief that Swift, as a clergyman, was insincere. "Of course,"—he wrote in September, 1851, in a letter now in the British Museum,—"any man is welcome to believe as he likes for me except a parson; and I can't help looking upon Swift and Sterne as a couple of traitors and renegades ... with a scornful pity for them in spite of all their genius and greatness."

[69] Some XVIII. Century Men of Letters, 1902, i. 187. The intention was never carried out. In The King over the Water, 1908, Miss A. Shield and Mr. Andrew Lang have recently examined another portrait in Esmond,—that of the Chevalier de St. George,—not without injury to its historical veracity. In these matters, Mr. Lang—like Rob Roy—is on his native heath; and it is only necessary to refer the reader to this highly interesting study.

But although, with our rectified information, we may except against the picture of Steele as a man, we can scarcely cavil at the reproduction of his manner as a writer. Even when Thackeray was a boy at Charterhouse, his imitative faculty had been exceptional; and he displayed it triumphantly in his maturity by those Novels by Eminent Hands in which the authors chosen are at once caricatured and criticised. The thing is more than the gift of parody; it amounts (as Mr. Frederic Harrison has rightly said) to positive forgery. It is present in all his works, in stray letters and detached passages.

In its simplest form it is to be found in the stiff, circumstantial report of the seconds in the duel at Boulogne in Denis Duval; and in the missive in barbarous French of the Dowager Viscountess Castlewood[70]—a letter which only requires the sprawling, childish script to make it an exact facsimile of one of the epistolary efforts of that "baby-faced" Caroline beauty who was accustomed to sign herself "L duchesse de Portsmout." It is better still in the letter from Walpole to General Conway in chap. xl. of The Virginians, which is perfect, even to the indifferent pun of sleepy (and overrated) George Selwyn. But the crown and top of these pastiches is certainly the delightful paper, which pretends to be No. 341 of the Spectator for All Fools' Day, 1712, in which Colonel Esmond treats "Mistress Jocasta-Beatrix," to what, in the parlance of the time, was decidedly a "bite."[71] Here Thackeray has borrowed not only Steele's voice, but his very trick of speech. It is, however, a fresh instance of the "tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive," that although this pseudo-Spectator is stated to have been printed "exactly as those famous journals were printed" for eighteenth-century breakfast-tables, it could hardly, owing to one microscopic detail, have deceived the contemporary elect. For Mr, Esmond, to his very apposite Latin epigraph, unluckily appended an English translation,—a concession to the country gentlemen from which both Addison and Steele deliberately abstained, holding that their distinctive mottoes were (in Addison's own phrase) "words to the wise," of no concern to unlearned persons.[72]


[70] Esmond, Book ii, chap, ii.

[71] Ib. Book iii, chap, iii.

[72] Spectator, No. 221, November 13, 1711.

This very minute trifle emphasises the pitfalls of would-be perfect imitation. But it also serves to bring us finally to the vocabulary of Esmond. As to this, extravagant pretensions have sometimes been advanced. It has been asserted, for instance, by a high journalistic authority, that "no man, woman, or child in Esmond, ever says anything that he or she might not have said in the reign of Queen Anne." This is one of those extreme utterances in which enthusiasm, losing its head, invites contradiction. Thackeray professedly "copied the language of Queen Anne,"—he says so in his dedication to Lord Ashburton; but he himself would certainly never have put forward so comprehensive a claim as the above. There is no doubt a story that he challenged Mr. Lowell (who was his fellow-passenger to America on the Canada) to point out in Esmond a word which had not been used in the early eighteenth century; and that the author of The Biglow Papers promptly discovered such a word. But even if the anecdote be not well-invented, the invitation must have been more jest than earnest. For none knew better than Thackeray that these barren triumphs of wording belong to ingenuity rather than genius, being exercises altogether in the taste of the Persian poet who left out all the A's (as well as the poetry) in his verses, or of that other French funambulist whose sonnet in honour of Anne de Montaut was an acrostic, a mesostic, a St. Andrew's Cross, a lozenge,—everything, in short, but a sonnet. What Thackeray endeavoured after when "copying the language of Queen Anne," and succeeded in attaining, was the spirit and tone of the time. It was not pedantic philology at which he aimed, though he did not disdain occasional picturesque archaisms, such as "yatches" for "yachts," or despise the artful aid of terminal k's, long s's, and old-cut type. Consequently, as was years ago pointed out by Fitzedward Hall (whose manifest prejudice against Thackeray as a writer should not blind us in a matter of fact), it is not difficult to detect many expressions in the memoirs of Queen Anne's Colonel which could never have been employed until Her Majesty had long been "quietly inurned." What is more,—if we mistake not,—the author of Esmond sometimes refrained from using an actual eighteenth-century word, even in a quotation, when his instinct told him it was not expedient to do so. In the original of that well-known anecdote of Steele beside his father's coffin, In Tatler No. 181, reproduced in book i. chap. vi. of the novel, Steele says, "My mother catched me in her arms." "Catched" is good enough eighteenth-century for Johnson and Walpole. But Thackeray made it "caught," and "caught" it remains to this day both in Esmond and The Humourists.


(TERCENTENARY, 1608-1908)

"Stops of various Quills."—LYCIDAS.

What need of votive Verse To strew thy Laureat Herse With that mix'd Flora of th' Aonian Hill? Or Mincian vocall Reed, That Cam and Isis breed, When thine own Words are burning in us still?

Bard, Prophet, Archimage! In this Cash-cradled Age, We grate our scrannel Musick, and we dote: Where is the Strain unknown, Through Bronze or Silver blown, That thrill'd the Welkin with thy woven Note?

Yes,—"we are selfish Men": Yet would we once again Might see Sabrina braid her amber Tire;

Or watch the Comus Crew Sweep down the Glade; or view Strange-streamer'd Craft from Javan or Gadire!

Or could we catch once more, High up, the Clang and Roar Of Angel Conflict,—Angel Overthrow; Or, with a World begun, Behold the young-ray'd Sun Flame in the Groves where the Four Rivers go!

Ay me, I fondly dream! Only the Storm-bird's Scream Foretells of Tempest in the Days to come; Nowhere is heard up-climb The lofty lyric Rhyme, And the "God-gifted Organ-voice" is dumb.[73]


[73] Written, by request, for the celebration at Christ's College, Cambridge, July 10, 1908.


The general reader, as a rule, is but moderately interested in minor rectifications. Secure in a conventional preference of the spirit to the letter, he professes to be indifferent whether the grandmother of an exalted personage was a "Hugginson" or a "Blenkinsop"; and he is equally careless as to the correct Christian names of his cousins and his aunts. In the main, the general reader is wise in his generation. But with the painful biographer, toiling in the immeasurable sand of thankless research, often foot-sore and dry of throat, these trivialities assume exaggerated proportions; and to those who remind him—as in a cynical age he is sure to be reminded—of the infinitesimal value of his hard-gotten grains of information, he can only reply mournfully, if unconvincingly, that fact is fact—even in matters of mustard-seed. With this prelude, I propose to set down one or two minute points concerning Henry Fielding, not yet comprised in any existing records of his career.[74]


[74] Since this was published in April 1907, they have been embodied in an Appendix to my "Men of Letters" Fielding; and used, to some extent, for a fresh edition of the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon ("World's Classics").

The first relates to the exact period of his residence at Leyden University. His earliest biographer, Arthur Murphy, writing in 1762, is more explicit than usual on this topic. "He [Fielding]," says Murphy, "went from Eton to Leyden, and there continued to show an eager thirst for knowledge, and to study the civilians with a remarkable application for about two years, when, remittances failing, he was obliged to return to London, not then quite twenty years old" [i.e. before 22nd April, 1727]. In 1883, like my predecessors, I adopted this statement, for the sufficient reason that I had nothing better to put in its place. And Murphy should have been well-informed. He had known Fielding personally; he was employed by Fielding's publisher; and he could, one would imagine, have readily obtained accurate data from Fielding's surviving sister, Sarah, who was only three years younger than her brother, of whose short life (he died at forty-eight) she could scarcely have forgotten the particulars. Murphy's story, moreover, exactly fitted in with the fact, only definitely made known in June 1883, that Fielding, as a youth of eighteen, had endeavoured, in November 1725, to abduct or carry off his first love, Miss Sarah Andrew of Lyme Regis. Although the lady was promptly married to a son of one of her fluttered guardians, nothing seemed more reasonable than to assume that the disappointed lover (one is sure he was never an heiress-hunter!) was despatched to the Dutch University to keep him out of mischief.[75] But in once more examining Mr. Keightley's posthumous papers, kindly placed at my disposal by his nephew, Mr. Alfred C. Lyster, I found a reference to an un-noted article in the Cornhill Magazine for November, 1863 (from internal evidence I believe it to have been written by James Hannay), entitled "A Scotchman in Holland." Visiting Leyden, the writer was permitted to inspect the University Album; and he found, under 1728, the following:—"Henricus Fielding, Anglus, Ann. 20. Stud. Lit.", coupled with the further detail that he "was living at the 'Hotel of Antwerp.'" Except in the item of "Stud. Lit.", this did not seem to conflict materially with Murphy's account, as Fielding was nominally twenty from 1727 to 1728, and small discrepancies must be allowed for.


[75] "Men of Letters" Fielding, 1907, Appendix I.

Twenty years later, a fresh version of the record came to light. At their tercentenary festival in 1875, tne Leyden University printed a list of their students from their foundation to that year. From this Mr. Edward Peacock, F.S.A., compiled in 1883, for the Index Society, an Index to English-Speaking Students who have graduated at Leyden University; and at p. 35 appears Fielding, Henricus, Anglus, 16 Mart. 1728, 915 (the last being the column number of the list). This added a month-date, and made Fielding a graduate. Then, two years ago, came yet a third rendering. Mr. A.E.H. Swaen, writing in The Modern Language Review for July 1906, printed the inscription in the Album as follows; "Febr. 16. 1728: Rectore Johanne Wesselio, Henricus Fielding, Anglus. 20, L." Mr. Swaen construed this to mean that, on the date named (which, it may be observed, is not Mr. Peacock's date), Fielding, "aged twenty, was entered as litterarum studiosus at Leyden." In this case it would follow that his residence in Holland should have come after February 16th, 1728; and Mr. Swaen went on to conjecture that, "as his [Fielding's] first play, Love in Several Masques, was staged at Drury Lane in February, 1728, and his next play, The Temple Beau, was produced in January, 1730, it is not improbable that his residence in Holland filled up the interval or part of it. Did the profits of the play [he proceeded] perhaps cover part of his travelling expenses?"

The new complications imported into the question by this fresh aspect of it, will be at once apparent. Up to 1875 there had been but one Fielding on the Leyden books; so that all these differing accounts were variations from a single source. In this difficulty, I was fortunate enough to enlist the sympathy of Mr. Frederic Harrison, who most kindly undertook to make inquiries on my behalf at Leyden University itself. In reply to certain definite queries drawn up by me, he obtained from the distinguished scholar and Professor of History, Dr. Pieter Blok, the following authoritative particulars. The exact words in the original Album Academicum are:—"16 Martii 1728 Henricus Fielding, Anglus, annor. 20 Litt. Stud." He was then staying at the "Casteel van Antwerpen"—as related by "A Scotchman in Holland." His name only occurs again in the yearly recensiones under February 22nd, 1729, as "Henricus Fieldingh," when he was domiciled with one Jan Oson. He must consequently have left Leyden before February 8th, 1730, February 8th being the birthday of the University, after which all students have to be annually registered. The entry in the Album (as Mr. Swaen affirmed) is an admission entry; there are no leaving entries. As regards "studying the civilians," Fielding might, in those days, Dr. Blok explains, have had private lessons from the professors; but he could not have studied in the University without being on the books. To sum up: After producing Love in Several Masques at Drury Lane, probably on February 12th, I728,[76] Fielding was admitted a "Litt. Stud." at Leyden University on March 16th; was still there in February 1729; and left before February 8th, 1730. Murphy is therefore at fault in almost every particular. Fielding did not go from Eton to Leyden; he did not make any recognised study of the civilians, "with remarkable application" or otherwise; and he did not return to London before he was twenty. But it is by no means improbable that the causa causans or main reason for his coming home was the failure of remittances.


[76] Genest, iii. 209.

Another recently established fact is also more or less connected with "Mur.—" as Johnson called him. In his "Essay" of 1762, he gave a highly-coloured account of Fielding's first marriage, and of the promptitude with which, assisted by yellow liveries and a pack of hounds, he managed to make duck and drake of his wife's little fortune. This account has now been "simply riddled in its details" (as Mr. Saintsbury puts it) by successive biographers, the last destructive critic being the late Sir Leslie Stephen, who plausibly suggested that the "yellow liveries" (not the family liveries, be it noted!) were simply a confused recollection of the fantastic pranks of that other and earlier Beau Fielding (Steele's "Orlando the Fair"), who married the Duchess of Cleveland in 1705, and was also a Justice of the Peace for Westminster. One thing was wanting to the readjustment of the narrative, and that was the precise date of Fielding's marriage to the beautiful Miss Cradock of Salisbury, the original both of Sophia Western and Amelia Booth. By good fortune this has now been ascertained. Lawrence gave the date as 1735; and Keightley suggested the spring of that year. This, as Swift would say, was near the mark, although confirmation has been slow in coming. In June 1906, Mr. Thomas S. Bush, of Bath, announced in The Bath Chronicle that the desired information was to be found (not in the Salisbury registers which had been fruitlessly consulted, but) at the tiny church of St. Mary, Charlcombe, a secluded parish about one and a half miles north of Bath. Here is the record:—"November y'e 28, 1734. Henry Fielding of y'e Parish of St. James in Bath, Esq., and Charlotte Cradock, of y'e same Parish, spinster, were married by virtue of a licence from y'e Court of Wells." All lovers of Fielding owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Bush, whose researches, in addition, disclosed the fact that Sarah Fielding, the novelist's third sister (as we shall see presently), was buried, not in Bath Abbey, where Dr. John Hoadly raised a memorial to her, but "in y'e entrance of the Chancel [of Charlcombe Church] close to y'e Rector's seat," April 14th, 1768.[77] Mr. Bush's revelation, it may be added, was made in connection with another record of the visits of the novelist to the old Queen of the West, a tablet erected in June 1906 to Fielding and his sister on the wall of Yew Cottage, now renovated as Widcombe Lodge, Widcombe, Bath, where they once resided.


[77] Sarah Fielding's epitaph in Bath Abbey is often said to have been written by Bishop Benjamin Hoadly. In this case, it must have been anticipatory (like Dr. Primrose's on his Deborah), for the Bishop died in 1761.

In the last case I have to mention, it is but fair to Murphy to admit that he seems to have been better informed than those who have succeeded him. Richardson writes of being "well acquainted" with four of Fielding's sisters, and both Lawrence and Keightley refer to a Catherine and an Ursula, of whom Keightley, after prolonged enquiries, could obtain no tidings. With the help of Colonel W.F. Prideaux, and the kind offices of Mr. Samuel Martin of the Hammersmith Free Library, this matter has now been set at rest. In 1887 Sir Leslie Stephen had suggested to me that Catherine and Ursula were most probably born at Sharpham Park, before the Fieldings moved to East Stour. This must have been the case, though Keightley had failed to establish it. At all events, Catherine and Ursula must have existed, for they both died in 1750, The Hammersmith Registers at Fulham record the following burials:—

1750 July 9th, Mrs. Catherine Feilding (sic) 1750 Nov. 12th, Mrs. Ursula Fielding 1750 [—1] Feb'y. 24th, Mrs. Beatrice Fielding 1753 May 10th, Louisa, d. of Henry Fielding, Esq.

The first three, with Sarah, make up the "Four Worthy Sisters" of the reprehensible author of that "truly coarse-titled Tom Jones" concerning which Richardson wrote shudderingly in August 1749 to his young friends, Astraea and Minerva Hill. The final entry relating to Fielding's little daughter, Louisa, born December 3rd, 1752, makes it probable that, in May, 1753, he was staying in the house at Hammersmith, then occupied by his sole surviving sister, Sarah. In the following year (October 8th) he himself died at Lisbon. There is no better short appreciation of his work than Lowell's lapidary lines for the Shire Hall at Taunton,—the epigraph to the bust by Miss Margaret Thomas:

He looked on naked nature unashamed, And saw the Sphinx, now bestial, now divine, In change and re-change; he nor praised nor blamed, But drew her as he saw with fearless line. Did he good service? God must judge, not we! Manly he was, and generous and sincere; English in all, of genius blithely free: Who loves a Man may see his image here.


"Hoc est vivere."—MARTIAL.

The Printer's is a happy lot: Alone of all professions, No fateful smudges ever blot His earliest "impressions."

The outgrowth of his youthful ken No cold obstruction fetters; He quickly learns the "types" of men, And all the world of "letters."

With "forms" he scorns to compromise; For him no "rule" has terrors; The "slips" he makes he can "revise"— They are but "printers' errors."

From doubtful questions of the "Press" He wisely holds aloof; In all polemics, more or less, His argument is "proof."

Save in their "case," with High and Low, Small need has he to grapple! Without dissent he still can go To his accustomed "Chapel,"[78]

From ills that others scape or shirk, He rarely fails to rally; For him, his most "composing" work Is labour of the "galley."

Though ways be foul, and days are dim, He makes no lamentation; The primal "fount" of woe to him Is—want of occupation:

And when, at last, Time finds him grey With over-close attention, He solves the problem of the day, And gets an Old Age pension.


[78] This, derived, it is said, from Caxton's connection with Westminster Abbey, is the name given to the meetings held by printers to consider trade affairs, appeals, etc, (Printers' Vocabulary).


Towards the close of the year 1766—not many months after the publication of the Vicat of Wakefield—there appeared in Mr. Henry Sampson Woodfall's Public Advertiser, and other newspapers, a letter addressed "To the Printer," and signed "PAPYRIUS CURSOR." The name was a real Roman name; but in its burlesque applicability to the theme of the communication, it was as felicitous as Thackeray's "MANLIUS PENNIALINUS," or that "APOLLONIUS CURIUS" from whom Hood fabled to have borrowed the legend of "Lycus the Centaur." The writer of the letter lamented—as others have done before and since—the barren fertility of the news sheets of his day. There was, he contended, some diversion and diversity in card-playing. But as for the papers, the unconnected occurrences and miscellaneous advertisements, the abrupt transitions from article to article, without the slightest connection between one paragraph and another—so overburdened and confused the memory that when one was questioned, it was impossible to give even a tolerable account of what one had read. The mind became a jumble of "politics, religion, picking of pockets, puffs, casualties, deaths, marriages, bankruptcies, preferments, resignations, executions, lottery tickets, India bonds, Scotch pebbles, Canada bills, French chicken gloves, auctioneers, and quack doctors," of all of which, particularly as the pages contained three columns, the bewildered reader could retain little or nothing. (One may perhaps pause for a moment to wonder, seeing that Papyrius could contrive to extract so much mental perplexity from Cowper's "folio of four pages"—he speaks specifically of this form,—what he would have done with Lloyd's, or a modern American Sunday paper!) Coming later to the point of his epistle, he goes on to explain that he has hit upon a method (as to which, be it added, he was not, as he thought, the originator[79]) of making this heterogeneous mass afford, like cards, a "variety of entertainment."


[79] As a matter of fact, he had been anticipated by a paper, No. 49 of "little Harrison's" spurious Tatler, vol. v., where the writer reads a newspaper "in a direct Line" ... "without Regard to the Distinction of Columns,"—which is precisely the proposal of Papyrius.

By reading the afore-mentioned three columns horizontally and onwards, instead of vertically and downwards "in the old trite vulgar way," it was contended that much mirth might observingly be distilled from the most unhopeful material, as "blind Chance" frequently brought about the oddest conjunctions, and not seldom compelled sub juga aenea persons and things the most dissimilar and discordant. He then went on to give a number of examples in point, of which we select a few. This was the artless humour of it:—

"Yesterday Dr. Jones preached at St. James's, and performed it with ease in less than 16 Minutes." "Their R.H. the Dukes of York and Gloucester were bound over to their good behaviour." "At noon her R.H. the Princess Dowager was married to Mr. Jenkins, an eminent Taylor." "Friday a poor blind man fell into a saw-pit, to which he was conducted by Sir Clement Cottrell."[80] "A certain Commoner will be created a Peer. N.B.—No greater reward will be offered." "John Wilkes, Esq., set out for France, being charged with returning from transportation." "Last night a most terrible fire broke out, and the evening concluded with the utmost Festivity." "Yesterday the new Lord Mayor was sworn in, and afterwards toss'd and gored several Persons." "On Tuesday an address was presented; it happily miss'd fire, and the villain made off, when the honour of knighthood was conferred on him to the great joy of that noble family." "Escaped from the New Gaol, Terence M'Dermot. If he will return, he will be kindly received." "Colds caught at this season are The Companion to the Playhouse." "Ready to sail to the West Indies, the Canterbury Flying Machine in one day." "To be sold to the best Bidder, My Seat in Parliament being vacated." "I have long laboured under a complaint For ready money only," "Notice is hereby given, and no Notice taken."


[80] Master of the Ceremonies.]

And so forth, fully justifying the writer's motto from Cicero, De Finibus: "Fortuitu Concursu hoc fieri, mirum est." It may seem that the mirthful element is not overpowering. But "gentle Dulness ever loves a joke"; and in 1766 this one, in modern parlance, "caught on." "Cross readings" had, moreover, one popular advantage: like the Limericks of Edward Lear, they were easily imitated. What is not so intelligible is, that they seem to have fascinated many people who were assuredly not dull. Even Johnson condescended to commend the aptness of the pseudonym, and to speak of the performance as "ingenious and diverting." Horace Walpole, writing to Montagu in December 1766, professes to have laughed over them till he cried. It was "the newest piece of humour," he declared, "except the Bath Guide [Anstey's], that he had seen of many years"; and Goldsmith—Goldsmith, who has been charged with want of sympathy for rival humourists—is reported by Northcote to have even gone so far as to say, in a transport of enthusiasm, that "it would have given him more pleasure to have been the author of them than of all the works he had ever published of his own,"—which, of course, must be classed with "Dr. Minor's" unconsidered speeches.

"Bien heureux"—to use Voltaire's phrase—is he who can laugh much at these things now. As Goldsmith himself would have agreed, the jests of one age are not the jests of another. But it is a little curious that, by one of those freaks of circumstance, or "fortuitous concourses," there is to-day generally included among the very works of Goldsmith above referred to something which, in the opinion of many, is conjectured to have been really the production of the ingenious compiler of the "Cross Readings." That compiler was one Caleb Whitefoord, a well-educated Scotch wine-merchant and picture-buyer, whose portrait figures in Wilkie's "Letter of Introduction." The friend of Benjamin Franklin, who had been his next-door neighbour at Craven Street, he became, in later years, something of a diplomatist, since in 1782-83 he was employed by the Shelburne administration in the Paris negotiation for the Treaty of Versailles. But at the date of the "Cross Readings" he was mainly what Burke, speaking contemptuously of his status as a plenipotentiary, styled a "diseur de bons mots"; and he was for this reason included among those "most distinguished Wits of the Metropolis," who, following Garrick's lead in 1774, diverted themselves at the St. James's Coffee-house by composing the epitaphs on Goldsmith which gave rise to the incomparable gallery entitled Retaliation. In the first four editions of that posthumous poem there is no mention of Whitefoord, who, either at, or soon after the first meeting above referred to, had written an epitaph on Goldsmith, two-thirds of which are declared to be "unfit for publication."[81] But when the fourth edition of Retaliation had been printed, an epitaph on Whitefoord was forwarded to the publisher, George Kearsly, by "a friend of the late Doctor Goldsmith," with an intimation that it was a transcript of an original in "the Doctor's own handwriting." "It is a striking proof of Doctor Goldsmith's good-nature," said the sender, glancing, we may suppose, at Whitefoord's performance. "I saw this sheet of paper in the Doctor's room, five or six days before he died; and, as I had got all the other Epitaphs, I asked him if I might take it. "In truth you may, my Boy (replied he), for it will be of no use to me where I am going."


[81] Hewins's Whitefoord Papers, 1898, p. xxvii. ff., where the first four lines of twelve are given. They run—

Noll Goldsmith lies here, as famous for writing As his namesake old Noll was for praying and fighting, In friends he was rich, tho' not loaded with Pelf; He spoke well of them, and thought well of himself.

The lines—there are twenty-eight of them—speak of Whitefoord as, among other things, a

Rare compound of oddity, frolic and fun! Who relish'd a joke, and rejoic'd in a pun;[82] Whose temper was generous, open, sincere; A stranger to flatt'ry, a stranger to fear; Who scatter'd around wit and humour at will, Whose daily bons mots half a column would fill; A Scotchman, from pride and from prejudice free, A scholar, yet surely no pedant was he.

What pity, alas! that so lib'ral a mind Should so long be to news-paper-essays confin'd! Who perhaps to the summit of science could soar, Yet content "if the table he set on a roar"; Whose talents to fill any station were fit, Yet happy if Woodfall confess'd him a wit.


[82] "Mr, W."—says a note to the fifth edition—"is so notorious a punster, that Doctor Goldsmith used to say, it was impossible to keep him company, without being infected with the itch of punning." Yet Johnson endured him, and apparently liked him, though he had the additional disqualification of being a North Briton.

The "servile herd" of "tame imitators"—the "news-paper witlings" and "pert scribbling folks"—were further requested to visit his tomb—

To deck it, bring with you festoons of the vine, And copious libations bestow on his shrine; Then strew all around it (you can do no less) Cross-readings, Ship-news, and Mistakes of the Press.

It is not recorded that Kearsly ever saw this in Goldsmith's "own handwriting"; the sender's name has never been made known; and—as above observed—it has been more than suspected that Whitefoord concocted it himself, or procured its concoction. As J.T. Smith points out in Nollekens and his Times, 1828, i, 337-8, Whitefoord was scarcely important enough to deserve a far longer epitaph than those bestowed on Burke and Reynolds; and Goldsmith, it may be added—as we know In the case of Beattie and Voltaire—was not in the habit of confusing small men with great. Moreover, the lines would (as intimated by the person who sent them to Kearsly) be an extraordinarily generous return for an epitaph "unfit for publication," by which, it is stated, Goldsmith had been greatly disturbed. Prior had his misgivings, particularly in respect to the words attributed to Goldsmith on his death-bed; and Forster allows that to him the story of the so-called "Postscript" has "a somewhat doubtful look." To which we unhesitatingly say—ditto.

Whitefoord, it seems, was in the habit of printing his "Cross Readings" on small single sheets, and circulating them among his friends. "Rainy-Day Smith" had a specimen of these. In one of Whitefoord's letters he professes to claim that his jeux d'esprit contained more than met the eye. "I have always," he wrote, "endeavour'd to make such changes [of Ministry] a matter of Laughter [rather] than of serious concern to the People, by turning them into horse Races, Ship News, &c, and these Pieces have generally succeeded beyond my most sanguine Expectations, altho' they were not season'd with private Scandal or personal Abuse, of which our good neighbours of South Britain are realy too fond." In Debrett's New Foundling Hospital for Wit, new edition, 1784, there are several of his productions, including a letter to Woodfall "On the Errors of the Press," of which the following may serve as a sample: "I have known you turn a matter of hearsay, into a matter of heresy; Damon into a daemon; a delicious girl, into a delirious girl; the comic muse, into a comic mouse; a Jewish Rabbi, into a Jewish Rabbit; and when a correspondent, lamenting the corruption of the times, exclaimed 'O Mores!' you made him cry, 'O Moses!'" And here is an extract from another paper which explains the aforegoing reference to "horse Races": "1763—Spring Meeting... Mr. Wilkes's horse, LIBERTY, rode by himself, took the lead at starting; but being pushed hard by Mr. Bishop's black gelding, PRIVILEGE, fell down at the Devil's Ditch, and was no where." The "Ship News" is on the same pattern. "August 25 [1765] We hear that his Majesty's Ship Newcastle will soon have a new figure-head, the old one being almost worn out."



"Hic Finis chartaeque viaeque."

"FINIS at last—the end, the End, the END! No more of paragraphs to prune or mend; No more blue pencil, with its ruthless line, To blot the phrase 'particularly fine'; No more of 'slips,' and 'galleys,' and 'revises,' Of words 'transmogrified,' and 'wild surmises'; No more of n's that masquerade as u's, No nice perplexities of p's and q's; No more mishaps of ante and of post, That most mislead when they should help the most; No more of 'friend' as 'fiend,' and 'warm' as 'worm'; No more negations where we would affirm; No more of those mysterious freaks of fate That make us bless when we should execrate; No more of those last blunders that remain Where we no more can set them right again;

No more apologies for doubtful data; No more fresh facts that figure as Errata; No more, in short, O TYPE, of wayward lore From thy most un-Pierian fount—NO MORE!"

So spoke PAPYRIUS. Yet his hand meanwhile Went vaguely seeking for the vacant file, Late stored with long array of notes, but now Bare-wired and barren as a leafless bough;— And even as he spoke, his mind began Again to scheme, to purpose and to plan.

There is no end to Labour 'neath the sun; There is no end of labouring—but One; And though we "twitch (or not) our Mantle blue," "To-morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new."

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