Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION II. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECTION II. - Harriet Martineau, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 1 
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, ed. Maria Weston Chapman (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
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According to my promise,* I reprint the bulk of an article on “Literary Lionism,” written in 1839, which will shew better than anything which I can now relate, how I regarded the flatteries of a drawing-room while living in the midst of them. It makes me laugh as I read it to have recalled to my memory the absurd incidents which were occurring every day, and which drove me to write this article as a relief to feelings of disgust and annoyance. There is not a stroke that is not from the life. The works reviewed are “The Lion of a party,” from a publication of that time, “Heads of the People;” and an Oration of Emerson’s on the Life of the Scholar. Omitting only the review part and the extracts, I give the whole.
“This ‘Lion’ is indeed one of the meanest of his tribe; but he is one of a tribe which has included, and does now include, some who are worthy of a higher classification. Byron was an ‘interesting creature,’ and received blushing thanks for his last ‘divine poem.’ Scott lost various little articles which would answer for laying up in lavender; and Madame de Stael was exhibited almost as ostensibly at the British Gallery as any of the pictures on the walls, on the evening when the old Marquis of A— obtained an introduction to her, and accosted her with ‘Come now, Madame de Stael, you must talk English to me.’ As she scornfully turned from him, and continued her discourse in her own way, the discomfited Marquis seemed to think himself extremely ill used in being deprived of the entertainment he expected from the prima donna of the company. In as far as such personages as these last acquiesce in the modern practice of ‘Lionism,’ they may be considered to be implicated in whatever reproach attaches to it; but the truth seems to be that, however disgusting and injurious the system, and however guilty some few individuals may be in availing themselves of it for their small, selfish, immediate purposes, the practice, with its slang term, is the birth of events, and is a sign of the times, — like newspaper puffery, which is an evidence of over population, or like joint stock companies and club-houses, which indicate that society has obtained a glimpse of that great principle of the economy of association, by which it will probably, in some future age, reconstitute itself.
“The practice of ‘Lionism’ originates in some feelings which are very good, — in veneration for intellectual superiority, and gratitude for intellectual gifts; and its form and prevalence are determined by the fact, that literature has reached a larger class, and interested a different order of people from any who formerly shared its advantages. A wise man might, at the time of the invention of printing, have foreseen the age of literary ‘Lionism,’ and would probably have smiled at it as a temporary extravagance. The whole course of literary achievement has prophecied its transient reign. The voluntary, self-complacent, literary ‘Lion’ might, in fact, be better called the mouse issuing from the labouring mountain, which has yet to give birth to the volcano.
“There was a time when literature was cultivated only in the seclusion of monasteries. There sat the author of old, alone in his cell, — alone through days, and months, and years. The echoes of the world have died away; the voice of praise could not reach him there, and his grave yawned within the very inclosure whence he should never depart. He might look abroad from the hill-side, or the pinnacle of rock where his monastery stood, on
On these he might look abroad, but never on the assemblages of men. Literary achievement in such circumstances might be, to a certain degree, encouraged by visions of future usefulness and extended fame, but the strongest stimulus must have been the pleasure of intellectual exercise. The toil of composition must there have been its own reward, and we may even now witness with the mind’s eye the delight of it painted upon the face under the cowl. One may see the student hastening from the refectory to the cell, drawn thither by the strong desire of solving a problem, of elucidating a fact, of indulging the imagination with heavenly delights, and contemplating the wealth stored in his memory. One may see him coming down with radiant countenance from the heights of speculation, to cast into the worship of the chapel the devotion he had there gained. One may see the glow upon his cheek as he sits alone beside his lamp, noting his discoveries, or elaborating the expression of his ideas. There are many who think that no one ever wrote a line, even in the most private diary, without the belief, or the hope, that it would be read. It might be so with the monastic author; but in his case there could rarely be the appendage of praise to the fact of its being read; and the prospect of influence and applause was too remote to actuate a life of literary toil. It is probable that if an echo of fame came to him on any of the four winds, it was well, and he heartily enjoyed the music of the breeze; but that in some instances he would have passed his days in the same manner, cultivating literature for its own sake, if he had known that his parchments would be buried with him.
“The homage paid to such men when they did come forth into the world was, on the part of the many, on the ground of their superiority alone. A handful of students might feel thankfulness towards them for definite services, but the crowd gazed at them in vague admiration, as being holier or wiser than other people. As the blessings of literature spread, strong personal gratitude mingled with the homage — gratitude not only for increase of fame and honour to the country and nation to which the author belonged, but for the good which each worshipper derived from the quickening of his sympathies, the enlargement of his views, the elevation of his intellectual being. To each of the crowd the author had opened up a spring of fresh ideas, furnished a solution of some doubt, a gratification of the fancy or the reason. When, on a certain memorable Easter day in the fourteenth century, Petrarch mounted the stairs of the Capitol, crowned with laurel, and preceded by twelve noble youths, reciting passages of his poetry, the praise was of the noblest kind that it has been the lot of authorship to receive. It was composed of reverence and gratitude, pure from cold selfishness and from sentimental passion, which is cold selfishness in a flame-coloured disguise. When, more than four centuries later, Voltaire was overpowered with acclamations in the theatre at Paris, and conveyed home in triumph, crying feebly, ‘You suffocate me with roses,’ the homage, though inferior in character to that which greeted Petrarch, was honourable, and of better origin than popular selfishness. The applauding crowd had been kept ignorant by the superstition which had in other ways so afflicted them, that they were unboundedly grateful to a man of power who promised to relieve them from the yoke. Voltaire had said, ‘I am tired of hearing it repeated that twelve men were sufficient to found Christianity: I will show the world that one is sufficient to destroy it;’ and he was believed. He was mistaken in his boast, and his adorers in confiding in it; but this proves only that they were ignorant of Christianity, and not that their homage of one whom they believed to have exploded error and disarmed superstition, and whom they knew to have honoured and served them by his literary labours, was otherwise than natural and creditable to their hearts.
“The worship of popular authors at the present time is an expression of the same thoughts and feelings as were indicated by the crowning of Petrarch and the greeting of Voltaire in the theatre, but with alterations and additions according to the change in the times. Literary ‘lions’ have become a class, — an inconceivable idea to the unreflecting in the time of Petrarch, and even of Voltaire. This testifies to the vast spread of literature among our people. How great a number of readers is required to support, by purchase and by praise, a standing class of original writers! It testifies to the deterioration of literature as a whole. If, at any one time, there is a class of persons to whom the public are grateful for intellectual excitement, how médiocre must be the quality of the intellectual production! It by no means follows that works of merit, equal to any which have yet blessed mankind, are not still in reserve; but it is clear that the great body of literature has entirely changed its character — that books are no longer the scarce fruit of solemn and protracted thought, but rather, as they have been called, ‘letters to all whom they may concern.’ That literary ‘lions’ now constitute a class, testifies to the frequency of literary success, — to the extension of the number of minds from which a superficial and transient sympathy may be anticipated. But the newest feature of all is the class of ‘lionisers,’ — new, not because sordid selfishness is new — not because social vanity is new — not because an inhuman disregard of the feelings of the sensitive, the foibles of the vain, the privileges of the endowed, is new: but because it is somewhat new to see the place of cards, music, masks, my lord’s fool, and my lady’s monkey, supplied by authors in virtue of their authorship.
“It is, to be sure, quite to be expected that low-minded persons should take advantage of any prevalent feeling, however respectable, to answer their own purposes; but the effect, in this instance, would be odd to a resuscitated gentleman of the fifteenth century. If he happened to be present at one of the meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he would there see the popular veneration for intellectual achievement under a pretty fair aspect. There is no harm, and some good, in seeing a group waiting for Sir John Herschel to come out into the street, or a rush in the rooms to catch a sight of Faraday, — or ladies sketching Babbage, and Buckland, and Back, — or a train of gazers following at the heels of Whewell or Sedgwick, or any popular artist or author who might be present among the men of science. In all this there is no reproach, and some honour, to both parties, though of a slight and transient kind. The sordid characteristics of the modern system appear when the eminent person becomes a guest in a private house. If the resuscitated gentleman of the fifteenth century were to walk into a country house in England in company with a lady of literary distinction, he might see at once what is in the mind of the host and hostess. All the books of the house are lying about — all the gentry in the neighbourhood are collected; the young men peep and stare from the corners of the room; the young ladies crowd together, even sitting five upon three chairs, to avoid the risk of being addressed by the stranger. The lady of the house devotes herself to ‘drawing out’ the guest, asks for her opinion of this, that, and the other book, and intercedes for her young friends, trembling on their three chairs, that each may be favoured with ‘just one line for her album.’ The children are kept in the nursery, as being unworthy the notice of a literary person, or brought up severally into the presence, ‘that they may have it to say all their lives that they had been introduced,’ &c. &c. Some youth in a corner is meantime sketching the guest, and another is noting what she says — probably something about black and green tea, or the state of the roads, or the age of the moon. Such a scene, very common now in English country houses, must present an unfavourable picture of our manners to strangers from another country or another age. The prominent features are the sufferings of one person, and the selfishness of all the rest. They are too much engrossed with the excitement of their own vanity and curiosity to heed the pain they are inflicting on one who, if she happens to have more feeling and less vanity than they, can hardly enjoy being told that children cannot be interesting to her, and that young people do not wish to speak to her.
“In a country town it is yet worse. There may be seen a coterie of ‘superior people’ of the place, gathered together to make the most of a literary foreigner who may be passing through. Though he speaks perfect English, the ladies persist in uttering themselves, after hems and haws, in French that he can make nothing of, — French as it was taught in our boarding schools during the war. The children giggle in a corner at what the boys call ‘the jabber;’ and the maid who hands the tea strives to keep the corners of her mouth in order. In vain the guest speaks to the children, and any old person who may be present, in English almost as good as their own; he is annoyed to the last by the ‘superior people,’ who intend that it should get abroad through the town that they had enjoyed a vast deal of conversation in French with the illustrious stranger.
“Bad as all this is, the case is worse in London, — more disgusting, if it is impossible to be more ridiculous. There, ladies of rank made their profit of the woes of the Italian and Polish refugees, the most eagerly in the days of the deepest unhappiness of the exiles, when the novelty was strongest. These exiles were collected in the name of hospitality, but for purposes of attraction, within the doors of fashionable saloons; there they were stared out of countenance amidst the sentimental sighs of the gazers; and if any one of them, — any interesting Count or melancholy-looking Prince, happened unfortunately to be the author of a ‘sweet poem,’ or a ‘charming tragedy,’ he was called out from among the rest to be flattered by the ladies, and secured for fresh services. It was not uncommon, during the days of the novelty of the Italian refugees, while they were yet unprovided with employments by which they might live, (and for aught we know, it may not be uncommon still,) for ladies to secure the appearance of one or two of these first-rate ‘lions’ with them the next evening at the theatre or opera, and to forget to pay. Till these gentlemen had learned by experience to estimate the friendship of the ladies to whom they were so interesting, they often paid away at public places the money which was to furnish them with bread for the week. We have witnessed the grief and indignation with which some of them have announced their discovery that their woes and their accomplishments were hired with champagne, coffee, and fine words, to amuse a party of languid fine people.
“These gentlemen, however, are no worse treated than many natives. A new poet, if he innocently accepts a promising invitation, is liable to find out afterwards that his name has been inserted in the summonses to the rest of the company, or sent round from mouth to mouth to secure the rooms being full. If a woman who has written a successful play or novel attends the soirée of a ‘lionising’ lady, she hears her name so announced on the stairs as to make it certain that the servants have had their instructions; she finds herself seized upon at the door by the hostess, and carried about to lord, lady, philosopher, gossip, and dandy, each being assured that she cannot be spared to each for more than ten seconds. She sees a ‘lion’ placed in the centre of each of the two first rooms she passes through, — a navigator from the North Pole in the one, a dusky Egyptian bey or Hindoo rajah in another; and it flashes upon her that she is to be the centre of attraction in a third apartment. If she is vain enough to like the position, the blame of ministering to a pitiable and destructive weakness remains with the hostess, and she is answerable for some of the failure of power which will be manifest in the next play or novel of her victim. If the guest be meek and modest, there is nothing for it but getting behind a door, or surrounding herself with her friends in a corner. If she be strong enough to assert herself, she will return at once to her carriage, and take care how she enters that house again. A few instances of what may be seen in London during any one season, if brought together, yield but a sorry exhibition of the manners of persons who give parties to gratify their own vanity, instead of enjoying the society and the pleasure of their friends. In one crowded room are three ‘lions,’ — a new musical composer, an eminent divine who publishes, and a lady poet. These three stand in three corners of the room, faced by a gaping crowd. Weary at length of their position, they all happen to move towards the centre table at the same moment. They find it covered with the composer’s music, the divine’s sermons, and the lady’s last new poem; they laugh in each other’s faces, and go back to their corners. A gentleman from the top of Mont Blanc, or from the North Pole, is introduced to a lady who is dying to be able to say that she knows him, but who finds at the critical moment that she has nothing to say to him. In the midst of a triple circle of listeners, she asks him whether he is not surprised at his own preservation; whether it does not prove that Providence is everywhere, but more particularly in barren places? If a sigh or a syllable of remonstrance escapes from any victim, there is one phrase always at hand for use, a phrase which, if it ever contained any truth, or exerted any consolatory influence, has been long worn out, and become mere words, — ‘This is a tax you must pay for your eminence.’ There may, perhaps, be as much assumption with regard to the necessity of this tax as of some others. Every tax has been called absolutely necessary in its day; and the time may arrive when some shall dispute whether it be really needful that an accomplished actor should be pestered with the flattery of his art, that authors should be favoured with more general conversation only that any opinions they may drop may be gathered up to be reported; and that women, whom the hardest treatment awaits if their heads should be turned, should be compelled to hear what the prime minister, or the Russian ambassador, or the poet laureate, or the ‘lion’ of the last season, has said of them. Those on whom the tax is levied would like to have the means of protest, if they should not see its necessity quite so clearly as others do. They would like to know why they are to be unresistingly pillaged of their time by importunity about albums, and despoiled of the privacy of correspondence with their friends by the rage for autographs, so that if they scribble a joke to an acquaintance in the next street, they may hear of its existence five years after in a far corner of Yorkshire, or in a book of curiosities at Hobart Town. They would like to know why they must be civil when a stranger, introduced by an acquaintance at a morning call, makes her curtsey, raises her glass, borrows paper and pencil of the victim, draws a likeness, puts it into her reticule, and departs. They would like to know why they are expected to be gratified when eight or nine third-rate painters beg them to sit for their portraits, to be hung out as signs to entice visitors to the artist’s rooms.”
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“Authors would like to know why they must receive flattery as if it were welcome, and be made subject to fine speeches, which presuppose a disgusting degree of vanity in the listener. They would like to know whether it is absolutely necessary that they should be accused of pride and ingratitude if they decline honours of such spurious origin as most of these, and of absurd vanity if they do not repel them. They would like to know whether it is quite necessary, in generous and Christian England, that any class should submit to have its most besetting sin, its peculiar weakness, fostered and aggravated for the purposes of persons whose aim it is to have brilliant parties and a celebrated acquaintance. The being honoured through the broad land, while the soul is sinking under its sense of ignorance and weakness at home, is a tax which a popular author must pay; and so is the being censured for what may prove the best deeds of his life, and the highest thoughts of his mind. He may be obliged to submit to be gazed at in public, and to be annoyed with handfuls of anonymous letters in his study, where he would fain occupy himself with something far higher and better than himself and his doings. These things may be a tax which he must pay; but it may be questionable whether it is equally necessary for him to acquiesce in being the show and attraction of an assemblage to which he is invited as a guest, if not as a friend.
“This matter is not worth losing one’s temper about, — just because nothing is worth it. There is another reason, too, why indignation would be absurd, — that no individuals or classes are answerable for the system. It is the birth of the times, as we said before, and those may laugh who can, and those who must suffer had better suffer good-humouredly; but not the less is the system a great mischief, and therefore to be exposed and resisted by those who have the power. If its effects were merely to insure and hasten the ruin of youthful poets, who are satisfied to bask in compliments and the lamp-light of saloons, to complete the resemblance to pet animals of beings who never were men, the world would lose little, and this species of coxcombry, like every other, might be left to have its day. But this is far from being all that is done. There is a grievous waste of time of a higher order of beings than the rhyming dandy — waste of the precious time of those who have only too few years in which to think and to live. There is an intrusion into the independence of their observation of life. If their modesty is not most painfully outraged, their idea of the literary life is depraved. The one or the other must be the case, and we generally witness both in the literary pets of saloons.
“Some plead that the evil is usually so temporary, that it cannot do much mischief to any one who really has an intellect, and is therefore of consequence to the world. But the mischief is not over with praise and publicity. The reverse which ensues may be salutary. As Carlyle says, ‘Truly, if Death did not intervene; or, still more happily, if Life and the Public were not a blockhead, and sudden unreasonable oblivion were not to follow that sudden unreasonable glory, and beneficently, though most painfully, damp it down, one sees not where many a poor glorious man, still more, many a poor glorious woman (for it falls harder on the distinguished female), could terminate, far short of Bedlam.’ Such reverse may be the best thing to be hoped; but it does not leave things as they were before the season of flattery set in. The safe feeling of equality is gone; habits of industry are impaired; the delicacy of modesty is exhaled; and it is a great wonder if the temper is not spoiled. The sense of elevation is followed by a consciousness of depression: those who have been the idols of society feel, when deposed, like its slaves; and the natural consequence is contempt and repining. Hear Dryden at the end of a long course of mutual flatteries between himself and his patrons, and of authorship to please others, often to the severe mortification of his better nature: — ‘It will continue to be the ingratitude of mankind, that they who teach wisdom by the surest means shall generally live poor and unregarded, as if they were born only for the public, and had no interest in their own well-being, but were to be lighted up like tapers, and waste themselves for the benefit of others.’ ”
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“The crowning evil which arises from the system of ‘lionism’ is, that it cuts off the retreat of literary persons into the great body of human beings. They are marked out as a class, and can no longer take refuge from their toils and their publicity in ordinary life. This is a hardship shared by authors who are far above being directly injured by the prevalent practice. There are men who continue to enter society for the sake of the good it yields, enjoying intercourse, despising homage, smiling at the vanities of those who must needs be vain, and overlooking the selfishness of such as are capable of no higher ambition than of being noted for their brilliant parties — there are men thus superior to being ‘lions’ who yet find themselves injured by ‘lionism.’ The more they venerate their own vocation, and the more humbly they estimate the influence of their own labours on human affairs, the more distinctly do they perceive the mischief of their separation from others who live and think; of their being isolated as a class. The cabinet-maker is of a different class from the hosier, because one makes furniture and the other stockings. The lawyer is of a different class from the physician, because the science of law is quite a different thing from the science of medicine. But the author has to do with those two things precisely which are common to the whole race — with living and thinking. He is devoted to no exclusive department of science; and the art which he practises — the writing what he thinks — is quite a subordinate part of his business. The very first necessity of his vocation is to live as others live, in order to see and feel, and to sympathise in human thought. In proportion as this sympathy is impaired, will his views be partial, his understanding, both of men and books, be imperfect, and his power be weakened accordingly. A man aware of all this will sigh, however goodnaturedly he may smile, at such lamentations as may often be overheard in ‘brilliant parties.’ ‘How do you like Mrs. —, now you have got an introduction to her?’ ‘O, I am so disappointed! I don’t find that she has anything in her.’ ‘Nothing in her! Nothing, with all her science!’ ‘O, I should never have found out who she was, if I had not been told; and she did not say a thing that one could carry away.’ Hence — from people not finding out who she was without being told — came Mrs. —’s great wisdom; and of this advantage was all the world trying to deprive her.”
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“Amidst the ‘lower observances’ of life, even the pedantry of literary coteries, the frivolities of the drawing-room, and the sentimentalities of ‘lion’ worship, there is for the self-relying, ‘tuition in the serene and beautiful laws’ of human existence. But the tuition is for the self-relying alone — for those who, in the deep interest of their vocation of thought, work from far other considerations than the desire of applause. None but a man who can do without praise can come out safe from the process of being ‘lionised:’ and no one who cannot do without praise is likely to achieve anything better than he has already done. The newspapers may tell of his ‘expanding intellect,’ and his publisher may prophecy of the rich fruits of his coming years: but he has done his best. Having gained much applause by a particular quality of his writing, he will be always trying to get more applause by a stronger exhibition of the quality, till it grows into pure extravagance. If he has energy, it will grow into bombast in the hot-house of drawing-room favour. If he is suggestive, and excels in implication, he will probably end in a Lord Burleigh’s shake of the head. He deprives himself of the repose and independence of thought, amid which he might become aware of his own tendencies, and nourish his weaker powers into an equality with the stronger. Fashion, with all its lights, its music, its incense, is to him a sepulchre — the cold deep grave in which his powers and his ambition must rot into nothingness. We have often wondered, while witnessing the ministering of the poison to the unwary, the weak and the vain, whether their course began with the same kind of aspiration, felt as early, as that which the greatest of the world’s thinkers have confessed. It seems as if any who have risen so far into success as to attract the admiration, (and therefore the sympathy) of numbers, must have had a long training in habits of thought, feeling, and expression; must have early felt admiration of intellectual achievement, and the consciousness of kindred with the masters of intellect; must have early known the stirrings of literary ambition, the pleasure of thinking, the luxury of expressing thought, and the heroic longing to create or arouse somewhat in other minds. It is difficult to believe that any one who has succeeded has not gone through brave toils, virtuous struggles of modesty, and a noble glow of confidence: that he has not obtained glimpses of realities unseen by the outward eye, and been animated by a sense of the glory of his vocation: that, up to the precincts of the empire of fashion, he has been, in all essential respects, on an equality with any of God’s peerage. If so, what a sight of ruin is here: aspirations chained down by the fetters of complaisance! desires blown away by the breath of popularity, or the wind of ladies’ fans! confidence pampered into conceit; modesty depraved into misgiving and dependence; and the music of the spheres exchanged for opera airs and the rhymes of an album! Instead of ‘the scholar beloved of earth and heaven,’ we have the mincing dandy courted by the foolish and the vain. Instead of the son of wisdom, standing serene before the world to justify the ways of his parent, we have the spoiled child of fortune, ready to complain, on the first neglect, that all the universe goes wrong because the darkness is settling down upon him after he has used up his little day. What a catastrophe of a mind which must have had promise in its dawn!
“Even where the case is not so mournful as this, the drawing-room is still the grave of literary promise. There are some who on the heath, or in the shadow of the wood, whispered to themselves, with beating hearts, while communing with some mastermind, ‘I also am a poet.’ In those days they could not hear the very name of Chaucer or Shakspere without a glow of personal interest, arising out of a sense of kindred. Now, lounging on sofas, and quaffing coffee and praise, they are satisfied with mediocrity, gratified enough that one fair creature has shut herself up with their works at noon-day, and that another has pored over them at midnight. They now speak of Chaucer and Shakspere with the same kind of admiration with which they themselves are addressed by others. The consciousness, the heart-felt emotion, the feeling of brotherhood — all that is noble is gone, and is succeeded by a low and precarious self-complacency, a sceptical preference of mediocrity to excellence. They underrate their vocation, and are lost.”
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“When we think how few writers in a century live for centuries, it is astonishing to perceive how many in every year dismiss all doubt of their own greatness, and strut about in the belief that men’s minds are full of them, and will be full of them when a new age has arisen, and they and their flatterers have long been gone to learn elsewhere, perhaps, the littleness of all our knowledge. Any degree of delight, any excess of glee may be allowed for, and even respected, in one actually in the intense enjoyment of authorship, when all comparison with others is out of the question for the hour, and the charm of his own conceptions eclipses all other beauty, the fervour of his own persuasions excludes the influence of all other minds; but if a man not immediately subject to the inspiration of his art, deliberately believes that his thoughts are so far beyond his age, or his feelings so universal and so felicitously expressed as that he is even now addressing a remote posterity, no further proof of his ignorance and error is needed. The prophecy forbids its own accomplishment. There is probably no London season when some author is not told by some foolish person that he or she is equal to Shakspere; and it is but too probable that some have believed what they have been told, and in consequence stopped short of what, by patient and humble study and labour, they might have achieved; while it is almost certain, if such could but see it, that whenever Shakspere’s equal shall arise, it will be in some unanticipated form, and in such a mode that the parity of glory shall be a secret to himself, and to the world, till he is gone from it.
“Another almost unavoidable effect of literary ‘lionism’ is to make an author overrate his vocation; which is, perhaps, as fatal an error as underrating it. All people interested in their work are liable to overrate their vocation. There may be makers of dolls’ eyes who wonder how society would go on without them. But almost all men, but popular authors, leave behind them their business and the ideas which belong to it when they go out to recreate themselves. The literary ‘lion,’ however, hears of little but books, and the kind of books he is interested in. He sees them lining the walls and strewing the tables wherever he goes: all the ideas he hears are from books; all the news is about books, till it is no wonder if he fancies that books govern the affairs of the world. If this fancy once gets fixed in his brain there is an end of his achievements. His sagacity about human interests, and his sympathy with human feelings, are gone. If he had not been enchanted, held captive within the magic circle of fashion, he might have stepped abroad to see how the world really goes on. He might have found there philosophers who foresee the imperishable nature of certain books; who would say to him ‘Cast forth thy word into the everliving, everworking universe; it is a seed grain that cannot die; unnoticed to-day, it will be found flourishing as a banyan-grove (perhaps, alas! as a hemlock forest) after a thousand years:’* all this, however, supposing vital perfection in the seed, and a fitting soil for it to sink into. He might have found some who will say with Fenelon, with all earnestness, ‘If the riches of both Indies, if the crowns of all the kingdoms of Europe were laid at my feet, in exchange for my love of reading, I would spurn them all.’ But even among these, the reading and thinking class, he would be wise to observe how much more important are many things than books; how little literature can compete in influence with the winds of heaven, with impulses from within, with the possession of land and game, with professional occupations, with the news of the day, with the ideas and affections belonging to home and family. All these rank, as they ought to do, before books in their operation upon minds. If he could have gone out of the circle of the highly cultivated, he would have found the merchant on ’change, the shopkeeper at his ledger, mothers in their nurseries, boys and girls serving their apprenticeships or earning their bread, with little thought of books. It is true that in this class may be found those who are, perhaps, the most wrought upon by books — those to whom literature is a luxury: but to such, two or three books are the mental food of a whole youth, while two or three more may sustain their mature years. These are they to whom the vocation of the author, in the abstract, is beyond comparison for nobleness, but to whom the vocation of this particular author is of less importance than that of the monkey that grimaces on Bruin’s back, as he paces along Whitechapel or Cheapside. If he could have gone further still, he would have heard little children talking to their haggard mothers of some happy possibility of bacon to their potatoes on some future day; he would have seen whole societies where no book is heard of but the ‘Newgate Calendar.’ How do books act upon the hundreds of thousands of domestic servants — upon the millions of artisans who cannot sever the sentences they speak into the words which compose them — upon the multitude who work on the soil, the bean-setters in spring, the mowers in summer, the reapers in autumn, who cover the broad land? How do books act upon the tribe who traverse the seas, obtaining guidance from the stars, and gathering knowledge from every strand? There is scarcely anything which does not act more powerfully upon them — not a word spoken in their homes, not an act of their handicraft, not a rumour of the town, not a glimpse of the green fields. The time will doubtless come when books will influence the life of such; but then this influence will be only one among many, and the books which will give it forth will hardly be of the class in which the literary ‘lion’ has an interest. Meantime, unless he goes abroad, in imagination at least, from the enchanted circle of which he is, for the time, the centre, he is in imminent peril, while relaxing in his intellectual toil, of overrating his vocation.
“This, however, is sometimes a preparation for being ashamed of the vocation. Some of the anxiety which popular authors have shown, towards the end of their career, to be considered as gentlemen rather than as authors, is no doubt owing to the desire, in aristocratic England, to be on a par with their admirers in the qualifications which most distinguish them: and much also to the universal tendency to depreciate what we possess in longing for something else — the tendency which inclines so many men of rank to distinguish themselves as authors, statesmen, or even sportsmen, while authors and legislators are struggling for rank. But there can be no doubt that the subsidence of enthusiasm, which must sooner or later follow the excitement caused by popular authorship, the mortifications which succeed the transports of popularity, have a large share in producing the desire of aristocratic station, the shame of their vocation, by which some favourites of the drawing-room cast a shadow over their own fame. Johnson says of Congreve — ‘But he treated the muses with ingratitude; for, having long conversed familiarly with the great, he wished to be considered rather as a man of fashion than of wit; and when he received a visit from Voltaire, disgusted him by the despicable foppery of desiring to be considered, not as an author, but a gentleman: to which the Frenchman replied, “that if he had been only a gentleman, he should not have come to visit him.” ’
“He must be a strong man who escapes all the pitfalls into this tomb of ambition and of powers. He must have not only great force of intellect to advance amidst such hindrances, but a fine moral vigour to hold the purpose of his life amidst the voices which are crying to him all the way up the mountain of his toil; syren voices, in which he must have an accurate ear to discover that there is little of the sympathy he needs, however much of the blandishment that he cannot but distrust.
“To any one strong enough to stand it, however, the experience of literary ‘lionism’ yields much that is worth having. If authorship be the accomplishment of early and steady aspiration; if the author feels that it is the business of his life to think and say what he thinks, while he is far from supposing it the business of other people’s lives to read what he says: if he holds to his aim, regarding the patronage of fashion, and the flattery of the crowd only as a piece of his life, like a journey abroad, or a fit of sickness, or a legacy, or anything which makes him feel for the time, without having any immediate connexion with the chief interest of his existence, he is likely to profit rather than suffer by his drawing-room reputation. Some essential conditions must be observed. It is essential that his mind should not be spent and dissipated amidst a crowd of pleasures; that his social engagements should not interfere with his labours of the study. He must keep his morning hours (and they must be many) not only free but bright. He must have ready for them a clear head and a light heart. His solitude must be true solitude while it lasts, unprofaned by the intrusions of vanities, (which are cares in masquerade) and undisturbed by the echoes of applause. It is essential that he should be active in some common business of life, not dividing the whole of his time between the study and the drawing-room, and so confining himself to the narrow world of books and readers.”
* * * * * *
“A man so seriously devoted to an object is not likely to find himself the guest of the coarsest perpetrators of ‘lionism.’ He is not likely to accept the hospitality on condition of being made a show; but he need not part with his good humour. Those who give feasts, and hire the talents of their neighbours to make those feasts agreeable, are fulfilling their little part — are doing what they are fit for, and what might be expected of them, as the dispensers of intellectual feasts are doing their part in bringing together beauty and attraction from the starry skies, and the green earth, and the acts and thoughts of men. When once it is discerned that it is useless to look for the grapes and figs of these last among the thorns and thistles of the first, the whole matter is settled. Literary ‘lionism’ is a sign of the times; and it is the function of certain small people to exhibit it; and there is an end. Neither it nor they are to be quarrelled with for what cannot be helped.
“It will be hard upon the author faithful to his vocation, and it will be strange, if some valuable friendships do not arise out of the intercourses of the drawing-room where his probation goes forward. This is one of the advantages which his popularity, however temporary, is likely to leave behind. He is likely, moreover, to shake off a few prejudices, educational, or engendered in the study. He can hardly fail to learn something of the ways of thinking and feeling of new classes of persons, or orders of minds before unknown. He is pretty sure, also, to hear much that is said in his own dispraise that would never have reached him in retirement; and this kind of information has great weight, if not great virtue with every one; not only because there is almost invariably some truth involved in every censure, but because most people agree with Racine in his experience, that an adverse criticism gives more pain than the extremest applause can afford pleasure. These things constitute altogether a great sum of advantages, in addition to the enjoyments of relaxation and kindly intercourse which are supposed to be the attributes of all social assemblages. If many small wits and feeble thinkers have been extinguished by the system of literary ‘lionism,’ it may be hoped that some few have taken what is good and left what is bad in it, deriving from their exposure to it an improved self-reliance and fresh intellectual resources.
“Many are the thousands who have let the man die within them from cowardly care about meat and drink, and a warm corner in the great asylum of safety, whose gates have ever been thronged by the multitude who cannot appreciate the free air and open heaven. And many are the hundreds who have let the poet die within them that their complacency may be fed, their vanity intoxicated, and themselves securely harboured in the praise of their immediate neighbours. Few, very few are they who, ‘noble in reason,’ and conscious of being ‘infinite in faculties,’ have faith to look before and after — faith to go on to ‘reverence the dreams of their youth’ — faith to appeal to the godlike human mind yet unborn — the mind which the series of coming centuries is to reveal. Among the millions who are now thinking and feeling on our own soil, is it likely that there is not one who might take up the song of Homer — not one who might talk the night away with Socrates, — not one who might be the Shakspere of an age when our volcanoes shall have become regions of green pasture and still waters, and new islands shall send forth human speech from the midst of the sea? What are such men about? If one is pining in want, rusting in ignorance, or turning from angel to devil under oppression, it is too probable that another may be undergoing extinction in the drawing-rooms — surrendering his divine faculties to wither in lamplight, and be wafted away in perfume and praise. As surely as the human thought has power to fly abroad over the expanse of a thousand years, it has need to rest on that far shore, and meditate, ‘Where now are the flatteries, and vanities, and competitions, which seemed so important in their day? Where are the ephemeral reputations, the glow-worm ideas, the gossamer sentiments, which the impertinent voice of Fashion pronounced immortal and divine? The deluge of oblivion has swept over them all, while the minds which were really immortal and divine are still there, “for ever singing as they shine” in the firmament of thought, and mirrored in the deep of ages out of which they rose.’ ”*
Among the traits from the life is that paragraph of the foregoing extracts about the pedantry of the “superior people” of a provincial town. Norwich, which has now no claims to social superiority at all, was in my childhood a rival of Lichfield itself, in the time of the Sewards, for literary pretension and the vulgarity of pedantry. William Taylor was then at his best; when there was something like fulfilment of his early promise, when his exemplary filial duty was a fine spectacle to the whole city, and before the vice which destroyed him had coarsened his morale, and drowned his intellect. During the war, it was a great distinction to know any thing of German literature; and in Mr. Taylor’s case it proved a ruinous distinction. He was completely spoiled by the flatteries of shallow men, pedantic women, and conceited lads. We girls had the advantage. We could listen and amuse ourselves, without being called upon to take any part; and heartily amused we often were, after the example of our mother. When she went to Norwich, a bonny young bride, with plenty of sense and observation, and a satirical turn, and more knowledge, even of books, than the book people gave her credit for, she used to carry home her own intense amusement from the supper-tables of the time, and keep her good stories alive till we were old enough to enjoy them. We took our cue from her; and the blue-stocking ladies who crammed themselves from reviews and publishers’ lists in the morning to cut a figure in the evening, as conversant with all the literature of the day, were little aware how we children were noting all their vanities and egotisms, to act them to-morrow in our play. The lady who cleared her throat to obtain a hearing for her question whether Mr. William Taylor had read the charming anecdote of the Chinese Emperor Chim-Cham-Chow, was a capital subject for us: and so was another who brought out her literary observations amidst an incessant complacent purring: and so was another who sported youthful vivacity, and political enthusiasm with her scanty skirts and uncovered head to past seventy. These and many more barely condescended to notice my mother, (who, in genuine ability, was worth them all,) except in her quality of hostess. The gentlemen took wine with her, and the ladies ate her fricassees and custards; but they talked vile French in her presence, knowing that she did not understand it, and that the foreigner they had caught could speak English very well. This sort of display, and the contrast which struck us whenever we chanced to meet with genuine superiority, was no doubt of service to us, as a preparation for the higher kind of life which we were afterwards to work out for ourselves. It enabled me, for one, to see, twenty years later, that there is no essential difference between the extreme case of a cathedral city and that of literary London, or any other place, where dissipation takes the turn of book talk instead of dancing or masquerading.
Among the mere pedants were some who were qualified for something better. Such women as Mrs. Opie and Mrs. John Taylor ought to have been superior to the nonsense and vanity in which they participated. I do not remember Dr. Sayers; and I believe he died before I could possibly remember him; but I always heard of him as a genuine scholar; and I have no doubt he was superior to his neighbours in modesty and manners. Dr. Enfield, a feeble and superficial man of letters, was gone also from these literary supper-tables before my time. There was Sir James Smith, the botanist, — made much of, and really not pedantic and vulgar, like the rest, but weak and irritable. There was Dr. Alderson, Mrs. Opie’s father, solemn and sententious and eccentric in manner, but not an able man, in any way. William Taylor was managed by a regular process, — first, of feeding, then of wine-bibbing, and immediately after of poking to make him talk: and then came his sayings, devoured by the gentlemen, and making ladies and children aghast; — defences of suicide, avowals that snuff alone had rescued him from it: information given as certain, that ‘God save the King’ was sung by Jeremiah in the temple of Solomon, — that Christ was watched on the day of his supposed ascension, and observed to hide himself till dusk, and then to make his way down the other side of the mountain; and other such plagiarisms from the German Rationalists. When William Taylor began with “I firmly believe,” we knew that something particularly incredible was coming. We escaped without injury from hearing such things half a dozen times in a year; and from a man who was often seen to have taken too much wine: and we knew, too, that he came to our house because he had been my father’s schoolfellow, and because there had always been a friendship between his excellent mother and our clan. His virtues as a son were before our eyes when we witnessed his endurance of his father’s brutality of temper and manners, and his watchfulness in ministering to the old man’s comfort in his infirmities. When we saw, on a Sunday morning, William Taylor guiding his blind mother to chapel, and getting her there with her shoes as clean as if she had crossed no gutters in those flint-paved streets, we could forgive anything that had shocked or disgusted us at the dinner table. But matters grew worse in his old age, when his habits of intemperance kept him out of the sight of ladies, and he got round him a set of ignorant and conceited young men, who thought they could set the world right by their destructive propensities. One of his chief favourites was George Borrow, as George Borrow has himself given the world to understand. When this polyglot gentleman appeared before the public as a devout agent of the Bible-society in foreign parts, there was one burst of laughter from all who remembered the old Norwich days. At intervals, Southey came to see his old friend, William Taylor: and great was the surprise that one who became such a bigot on paper, in religion and politics, could continue the friend of so wild a rover in those fields as William Taylor, who talked more blasphemy, and did more mischief to young men (through his entire lack of conviction and earnestness and truth-speaking) than the Hones and Carliles and others whom Southey abhorred as emissaries of Satan. After reading Southey’s Life and Correspondence, the maintenance of that friendship appears to me more singular than when we young people used to catch a glimpse in the street of the author of ‘Thalaba’ and ‘Kehama.’ The great days of the Gurneys were not come yet. The remarkable family from which issued Mrs. Fry, and Priscilla and Joseph John Gurney, were then a set of dashing young people, — dressing in gay riding habits and scarlet boots, as Mrs. Fry told us afterwards, and riding about the country to balls and gaieties of all sorts. Accomplished and charming young ladies they were; and we children used to overhear some whispered gossip about the effects of their charms on heart-stricken young men: but their final characteristics were not yet apparent.
There was one occasional apparition which kept alive in us a sense of what intellectual superiority ought to be and to produce. Mrs. Barbauld came to Norwich now and then; and she always made her appearance presently at our house. In her early married life, before the happiness of the devoted wife was broken up by her gentle husband’s insanity, she had helped him in his great school at Palgrave in Suffolk, by taking charge of the very little boys. William Taylor and my father had stood at her knee with their slates; and when they became men, and my father’s children were older than he was when she first knew him, she retained her interest in him, and extended it to my mother and us. It was a remarkable day for us when the comely elderly lady in her black silk cloak and bonnet came and settled herself for a long morning chat. She used to insist on holding skeins of silk for my mother to wind, or on winding, while one of us children was the holder: and well I remember her gentle lively voice, and the stamp of superiority on all she said. We knew she was very learned, and we saw she was graceful, and playful, and kindly and womanly: and we heard with swelling hearts the anecdotes of her heroism when in personal danger from her husband’s hallucinations, and when it was scarcely possible to separate her from him, when her life and his poor chance of restoration required it. I still think her one of the first of writers in our language, and the best example we have of the benefits of a sound classical education to a woman. When I was old enough to pass a few weeks with my aunt Lee, at Stoke Newington, I went more than once with my aunt to Mrs. Barbauld’s to tea, and was almost confounded at the honour of being allowed to make tea. It was owing to her that I had one literary acquaintance when I went to London in 1832. Miss Aikin, niece of Mrs. Barbauld, came to Norwich now and then, and was well-known to my mother: and when I was in the City Road in that memorable spring of the success of the Prize Essays, my mother gave me a letter of introduction to Miss Aikin, then living at Hampstead. She received me with kindness at once, and with distinction when the Prize Essays had come under her eye. When my Series was struggling for publication, I sent her my prospectus. She returned a bare message of acknowledgment. This rather surprised me; and it was not till some years afterwards that I learned how the matter was. The anecdote is so creditable to her candour, that it ought to be told. Naturally regarding me as a youngster, as my friendly elderly critics always did, even when I was long past thirty, she was so struck with the presumption of the enterprise that she thought it her duty to rebuke me for it. She accordingly wrote a letter which she showed to her literary friends, informing me that I could have no idea how far beyond any powers of mine was such a scheme; that large information, an extensive acquaintance with learned persons and with affairs, &c., &c., were indispensable; and that she counselled me to burn my prospectus and programme, and confine myself to humbler tasks, such as a young woman might be competent to. Those who saw the letter admired it much, and hoped I should have the grace to thank my stars that I had so faithful a friend, to interpose between me and exposure. She hesitated, however, about sending it; and she put off the act till my success was decided and notorious. She then burned the letter, and herself told the story with capital grace, — felicitating herself on her having burned the letter, instead of me on being the object of it. I heard unintelligible references to this letter, from time to time, and did not know what they meant, till the complete story, as told by herself, was repeated to me, after the lapse of years. — She rendered me a real service, about the time of the burning of the letter. Her friend, Mr. Hallam, found fault at her house with two statements of mine about the operation of the law or custom of primogeniture; and she begged of him to make known his criticisms to me, and told me she had done so, — being assured that such an authority as Mr. Hallam would be fitly honoured by me. I was grateful, of course; and I presently received a long letter of pretty sharp criticism from Mr. Hallam. In my reply, I submitted myself to him about one point, but stood my ground in regard to the other, — successfully, as he admitted. He wrote then a very cordial letter, — partly of apology for the roughness of his method, by which he had desired to ascertain whether I could bear criticism, and partly to say that he hoped he might consider our correspondence a sufficient introduction, authorising Mrs. Hallam and himself to call on me. He was from that time forward, and is now, one of the most valued of my literary friends. One more transaction, however, was to take place before I could make him and Miss Aikin quite understand what my intentions and views were in indulging myself with the benefits and pleasures of literary society in London.
Mr. Hallam one day called, when, as it was the first of the month, my table was spread with new periodicals, sent me by publishers. I was not in the room when Mr. Hallam entered; and I found him with the “Monthly Repository” in his hands, turning over the leaves. He pointed to the Editor’s name (Mr. Fox) on the cover, and asked me some questions about him. After turning over, and remarking upon a few others, he sat down for a chat. A few days after, I received a note from Miss Aikin, kindly congratulating me on my “success, thus far, in society,” and on my “honours” generally; and then admonishing me that the continuance of such “success” and such “honours” would depend on my showing due deference to the opinions and standing of persons older and more distinguished than myself; so that she felt it was an act of friendship to warn me against appearing to know of periodicals so low as, for instance, the “Monthly Repository,” and having any information to give about dissenting ministers, like Mr. Fox.
I replied without loss of time, that there might be no more mistake as to my views in going into society. I thanked her for her kindness and her frankness: told her that I objected to the word “success,” as she had used it, because success implies endeavour; and I had nothing to strive for in any such direction. I went into society to learn and to enjoy, and not to obtain suffrages: and I hoped to be as frank and unrestrained with others as I wished them to be with me. I told her how I perceived that Mr. Hallam was her informant, and by what accident it was that he saw the periodical, and heard about its editor: but I said that I was a dissenter, and acquainted with dissenting ministers, and should certainly never deny it when asked, as I was by Mr. Hallam, or object to all the world knowing it. Once for all, I concluded, I had no social policy, and no personal aims; no concealments, nor reasons for compromise. Society was very pleasant; but it would cease to be so from the moment that it was any thing but a simple recreation from work, accepted without the restraint of politic conditions. She took my reply in good part; was somewhat aghast at my not being “destroyed” by hostile reviews, when she trembled at the prospect of favourable ones of her own books; but was always gracious and kind when we met, — which seldom happened, however, when she grew old and I had left London.
Mr. Hallam’s call opened to me a curious glimpse into some of the devices of this same London literary society. He told me that if I had not considered our correspondence a sufficient introduction, we should yet have become acquainted, — his friend, Dr. — having promised him an introduction. I laughed, and said there must be some mistake, as Dr. — was an entire stranger to me. Mr. Hallam’s surprise was extreme: Dr. — had told him we were relations, and had spoken as if we were quite intimate. I replied that there was a very distant connexion by marriage; but that we were utter strangers; and in fact, I had never seen Dr. —. I was less amazed than Mr. Hallam at the stroke of policy on the part of a courtier-like London physician, and was amused when Mr. Hallam said he must learn from him where the mistake lay. My new friends had not been gone half an hour, when up drove Dr. —. In the presence of other visitors, he took my hand in both his, in true family style, and lavished much affection upon me, — though he had never recognised my existence during any former visits of mine to London. The excess of his humility in asking me to dinner was shocking. He, a physician in immense practice, entreated me to name my own day and hour, which I, of course, declined. When I went, on the first disengaged day, I met a pleasant, small party, and enjoyed the day, — except its close, when my host not only led me through all the servants in the hall, but leaned into my hackney-coach to thank me for the honour, &c., &c. This kind of behaviour was very disagreeable to me; and I never went to the house again but once. My mother and I were incessantly invited; and we really could not go because the invitations were short, and I was always engaged: but I was not very sorry, remembering the beginning of our acquaintance. — The one other time that I visited Dr. — was the occasion of an incident of which it may be worth while to give a true version, as a false one was industriously spread. I have said above, that there were three persons only to whom I have refused to be introduced; and two of these have been seen to be Mr. Lockhart and Mr. Sterling. The third was the poet Moore. One day my mother was distressed at finding in the “Times” a ribald song addressed to me. She folded it in the innermost part of the paper, and hoped, as I was in the country that morning, that I should not see it. The event showed her that it would not do to conceal any thing of the sort from me, as I could not conduct my own peculiar case without knowing as much of the circumstances of it as other people. The song was copied everywhere, and ascribed so positively to Moore that I was compelled to suppose it his, though there was not a trace of wit to redeem its coarseness. At Dr. — ’s party, a few nights after, the host came to me to say that Mr. Rogers and Mr. Moore had come for the purpose of making my acquaintance: and Mr. Moore was standing within earshot, waiting for his introduction. I was obliged to decide in a moment what to do; and I think what I did was best, under such a difficulty. I said I should be happy to be honoured by Mr. Rogers’s acquaintance; but that, if Mr. Moore was, as was generally understood, the author of a recent insult to me in the “Times” newspaper, I did not see how I could permit an introduction. I added that there might be a mistake about the authorship; in which case I should be happy to know Mr. Moore. Dr. — was, of course, very uncomfortable. Having seated Mr. Rogers beside me, he and Moore left the room together for a little while. When they returned, Moore went to the piano, and sang several songs. Then, he screened his little person behind a lady’s harp; and all the time she was playing, he was studying me through his eye-glass. When she finished her piece he went away to another party, where a friend of mine happened to be; and there he apologised for being late, on the plea that he had been “singing songs to Harriet Martineau.” The story told was that I had asked Dr. — to introduce us, and had then declined. The incident was, in one sense, a trifle not worth dwelling on: but in another view, it was important to me. At the outset of so very new a course of life, it seemed to me necessary to secure personal respect by the only means in a woman’s power; — refusing the acquaintance of persons who have publicly outraged consideration and propriety. My mother thought me right; and so did the other friends who witnessed the transaction: and it was effectual. I never had any trouble of the sort again.
The first sight of Brougham, then just seated on the woolsack, and the object of all manner of expectation which he never fulfilled, was an incident to be remembered. I had not previously shared the general expectation of great national benefits from him. I believed that much of his effort for popular objects, even for education, was for party and personal purposes; and that he had no genuine popular sympathy, or real desire that the citizens at large should have any effectual political education. I distrusted his steadiness, and his disinterestedness, and his knowledge of the men and interests of his own time. I believed him too vain and selfish, and too low in morals and unrestrained in temper, to turn out a really great man when his day of action came. Many a time has my mother said to me, “Harriet, you will have much to answer for for speaking as you do if Brougham turns out what the rest of us expect:” to which my answer was “Yes, Mother, indeed I shall.” She was at length very glad that I was not among the disappointed. Yet, there was a strong interest in meeting for the first time, and on the safe ground of substantial business, the man of whom I had heard so much from my childhood, and who now had more power over the popular welfare than perhaps any other man in the world. After two or three interviews, he was so manifestly wild, that the old interest was lost in pity and dislike; but at first I knew nothing of the manifestations of eccentricity which he presently made public enough. Those were the days when he uttered from the platform his laments over his folly in accepting a peerage, and when he made no secret to strangers who called on him on business, of his being “the most wretched man on earth.” But I first met him when nothing of the sort had taken place so publicly but that his adorers and toadies could conceal it.
A day or two after my arrival in London, I met him at dinner at the house of the correspondent of his through whom he engaged me to help in poor-law reform. By his desire, no one else was asked. The first thing that struck me was his being not only nervous, but thin-skinned to excess. Our hostess’s lap-dog brought out the nervousness immediately, by jumping up at his knee. He pretended to play with Gyp, but was obviously annoyed that Gyp would not be called away. He was not accustomed to lap-dogs, it was clear. Before we went to dinner, I could not but see how thin-skinned he was. The “Examiner” newspaper lay on the table; and it chanced to contain, that week, an impertinent article, warning me against being flattered out of my own aims by my host, who was Brougham’s cat’s-paw. The situation was sufficiently awkward, it must be owned. Brougham did not read the article now, because he had seen it at home: but I saw by glances and pointings that the gentlemen were talking it over, while my hostess and I were consulting about her embroidery: and Brougham looked, not only very black upon it, but evidently annoyed and stung. He looked black in another sense, I remember, — not a morsel of his dress being anything but black, from the ridge of his stock to the toes of his polished shoes. Not an inch of white was there to relieve the combined gloom of his dress and complexion. He was curiously afraid of my trumpet,* and managed generally to make me hear without. He talked excessively fast, and ate fast and prodigiously, stretching out his long arm for any dish he had a mind to, and getting hold of the largest spoons which would dispatch the most work in the shortest time. He watched me intently and incessantly when I was conversing with any body else. For my part, I liked to watch him when he was conversing with gentlemen, and his mind and its manifestations really came out. This was never the case, as far as my observation went, when he talked with ladies. I believe I have never met with more than three men, in the whole course of my experience, who talked with women in a perfectly natural manner; that is, precisely as they talked with men: but the difference in Brougham’s case was so great as to be disagreeable. He knew many cultivated and intellectual women; but this seemed to be of no effect. If not able to assume with them his ordinary manner towards silly women, he was awkward and at a loss. This was by no means agreeable, though the sin of his bad manners must be laid at the door of the vain women who discarded their ladyhood for his sake, went miles to see him, were early on platforms where he was to be, and admitted him to very broad flirtations. He had pretty nearly settled his own business, in regard to conversation with ladies, before two more years were over. His swearing became so incessant, and the occasional indecency of his talk so insufferable, that I have seen even coquettes and adorers turn pale, and the lady of the house tell her husband that she could not undergo another dinner party with Lord Brougham for a guest. I, for my part, determined to decline quietly henceforth any small party where he was expected; and this simply because there was on pleasure in a visit where every body was on thorns as to what any one guest might say and do next. My own impression that day was that he was either drunk or insane. Drunk he was not; for he had been publicly engaged in business till the last moment. All manner of protestations have been made by his friends, to this day, that he is, with all his eccentricities, “sane enough:” but my impression remains that no man who conducted himself as he did that summer day in 1834 could be sane and sober.
I remember now, with no little emotion, a half hour of my visit at Lambton Castle, a few months before that uncomfortable dinner. One evening, when a guest, Lord H—, had been talking with me about some matters of popular interest which led us to discuss the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Lord Durham invited me to the room where music was going on, and where we could not be overheard. He asked me whether Lord H— had understood me right, that the surest way not to reach the people was to address them through the Society, and by the agency of the Whig managers. I replied that I had said so; and I told him why, giving him evidence of the popular distrust of Lord Brougham and his teaching and preaching clique. Lord Durham heard me with evident concern, and said at last, in his earnest, heart-felt way, — “Brougham has done, and will do, foolish things enough: but it would cut me to the heart to think that Brougham was false.” The words and the tone were impressed on my mind by the contrast which they formed with the way in which Brougham and his toadies were in the habit of speaking of Lord Durham. Brougham’s envy and jealousy of the popular confidence enjoyed by Lord Durham at that time were notorious. If Lord Durham was unaware of it, he was the only person who was. I need not continue the story which is remembered by every body of my own generation, and which the next may read in the records of the time, — the Grey dinner at Edinburgh when Lord Durham involuntarily triumphed, — the attack on him at Salisbury and in a traitorous article in the Edinburgh Review, which revealed Cabinet secrets, — the challenge and anticipated encounter of the two noblemen on the floor of the House of Lords, — and the terror of the feeble King, who dissolved parliament to preclude the encounter, deprived Brougham of the Seals, and sent Lord Durham on a foreign mission. I need not tell over again the terrible story of the triumph of Brougham’s evil passions, in perilling the safety, and overthrowing the government of Canada, and in destroying the career and breaking the heart of the generous, sensitive, honest and magnanimous statesman whom he chose to consider his enemy. It was as much as I could well bear to contrast the tones of the two men and their adherents before Lord Durham knew that there was any thing wrong between them: and when the dismal story proceeded, my heart swelled, many a time, when I recalled the moment of Lord Durham’s first reception of a doubt of Brougham’s honesty, and the serious countenance and sweet voice of remonstrance in which he said “It would cut me to the heart to think that Brougham was false.” In seven years from that time he was in his grave, — sent there by Brougham’s falseness.
With Brougham, his ancient comrades were naturally associated in the mind of one who knew them only through books and newspapers. I saw much of Jeffrey, and the Murrays, and Sydney Smith. My first sight of Jeffrey was odd enough in its circumstances. It makes me laugh to think of it now. My mother was with me in my second-floor lodgings in my first London winter. It happened to be my landlady’s cleaning day; and the stair-carpets were up, and the housemaid on her knees, scouring, when Mrs. Marcet and Lord Jeffrey made their way as they could between the pail and the bannisters. While Mrs. Marcet panted for breath enough to introduce us, Jeffrey stood with his arms by his side and his head depressed, — the drollest spectacle of mock humility: — and then he made some solemn utterance about “homage,” &c., to which I replied by asking him to sit down. Almost before we had well begun to talk, in burst Mrs. A—, a literary woman whose ways were well known to my mother and me. The moment she saw Lord Jeffrey, she forgot to speak to us, but so thrust herself between Lord Jeffrey and me as actually to push me backwards and sit on my knee. I extricated myself as soon as possible, and left my seat. As she turned her back on me, my mother cast a droll glance at me which I fancy Lord Jeffrey saw; for, though one of the most egregious flatterers of this lady, — as of vain women in general, — he played her off in a way which she must have been very complacent not to understand. He showed that he wanted to talk to me, and said, when he saw she was determined to go away with him, that he considered this no visit, and would, if I pleased, come again on the first practicable day. I am convinced that he discovered in that short interview what my mother and I felt about the ways of literary people like Mrs. A—; and, though he could not easily drop, in any one case, his habit of flattery, he soon found that I did not like it, did not believe in it, and thought the worse of him for it. I never made any secret of my opinion of the levity, cruelty and unmanliness of literary men who aggravate the follies, and take advantage of the weakness of vain women; and this was Jeffrey’s most conspicuous and very worst fault. As for my mother and me, we had a hearty laugh over this little scene, when our visitors were gone; — it was so very like old Norwich, in the days of the suppers of the “superior people!”
Whatever there might be of artificial in Jeffrey’s manners, — of a set “company state of mind” and mode of conversation, — there was a warm heart underneath, and an ingenuousness which added captivation to his intellectual graces. He could be absurd enough in his devotion to a clever woman; and he could be highly culpable in drawing out the vanity of a vain one, and then comically making game of it; but his better nature was always within call; and his generosity was unimpeachable in every other respect, — as far as I knew him. His bounties to needy men of letters, — bounties which did not stop to make ill-timed inquiries about desert, — were so munificent, that the world, which always knew him to be generous, would be amazed at the extent of the munificence: and it was done with so much of not only delicacy but respect, — in such a hearty love of literature, that I quite understand how easy it would be to accept money from him. If I had needed assistance of that kind, there is no one from whom I could more freely have asked it. — As for his conversation, it appeared to me that he cared more for moralising than any other great converser I have known: but this might be adaptation to my likings; and I heard none of his conversation but what was addressed to myself. I must say that while I found, (or perceived) myself regarded as romantic, high-flown, extravagant, and so forth by good Mr. Empson, and the Jeffrey set generally, (even including Sydney Smith,) whenever I opened my mouth on matters of morals, — such as the aims of authorship, the rights and duties of opinion, the true spirit of citizenship, &c., — I never failed to find cordial sympathy in Jeffrey. If at times he was more foolish and idle than most men of his power would choose to appear, he was always higher than them all when his moral sympathies and judgment were appealed to. I remember a small incident which impressed me, in connexion with this view of him; and, as it relates to him, it may be worth noting. At one of Mr. Rogers’s breakfasts, I was seated between him and his friend Milman, when the conversation turned on some special case (I forget what) of excessive vanity. I was pitying the person because, whatever flattery he obtained, there was always some censure; and the smallest censure, to the vain, outweighs the largest amount of praise. Milman did not think so, saying that the vain are very happy; — “no people more apt at making themselves happy than the vainest:” — “they feed upon their own praises, and dismiss the censure; and, having no heart, they are out of the way of trouble.” I made the obvious remark that if they have no heart they cannot be very happy. Jeffrey’s serious assent to this, and remark that it settled the question, discomposed Milman extremely. He set to work to batter his egg and devour it without any reply, and did not speak for some time after. It was amusing that we two heretics should be administering instruction on morals to a Church dignitary of such eminence as a sacred poet as the Dean of St. Paul’s.
I have however seen Milman so act, and so preserve a passive state, as to be a lesson to all present. One incident especially which happened at Mr. Hallam’s dinner table, gave me a hearty respect for his command of a naturally irritable temper. He behaved incomparably on that occasion. It was a pleasant party of eight or ten people, — every one, as it happened, of considerable celebrity, and therefore not to be despised in the matter of literary criticism, or verdict on character. I was placed near the top of the table, between Milman and Mr. Rogers; and the subject of animated conversation at the bottom presently took its turn among us. Mrs. Trollope’s novel, “Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw,” had just come out, and was pronounced on by every body present but myself, — I not having read it. As I had lately returned from the United States, I was asked what Mrs. Trollope’s position was there. My reply was that I had no scruple in saying that Mrs. Trollope had no opportunity of knowing what good society was in America, generally speaking. I added that I intended to say this, as often as I was inquired of; for the simple reason that Mrs. Trollope had thought proper to libel and slander a whole nation. If she had been an ordinary discontented tourist, her adventures in America would not be worth the trouble of discussing; but her slanderous book made such exposures necessary. Every body, except Milman, asked questions, and I answered them. She certainly had no admirers among the party when she was first mentioned; and the account I gave of her unscrupulous method of reporting surprised nobody. At last, Milman put in a word for her. He could not help thinking that she had been illused:—he knew facts indeed of her having been taken in about her bazaar. “No doubt,” said I. “Any English traveller who begins the game of diamond cut diamond with Yankee speculators is likely to get the worst of it. No doubt she was abundantly cheated; and hence this form of vengeance, — a vituperative book.” Milman continued that he was aware of what hard usage she had to complain of, by his acquaintance with her. He was proceeding when Rogers broke in with one of his odd tentative speeches, — one of those probings by which he seemed to try how much people could bear. “O yes,” said he; “he is acquainted with Mrs. Trollope. He had the forming of her mind.” There was a moment of dead pause, and then every body burst into a hearty laugh; every body but Milman. He was beginning with a vehement “No, no;” but he checked himself and said nothing. He had begun to speak on behalf of Mrs. Trollope, and he would not give it up now that Rogers had so spoken. His high colour and look of distress showed what his magnanimous silence cost him; but not a word more did he say. As I expected and hoped, he called on me the next morning. He often did so, as we were neighbours; but that morning he came as soon as the clock had struck two. His first care was to disclaim having educated Mrs. Trollope, who was, in fact, about his own age. His mother and hers, I think, were friends. At all events, he had known her nearly all his life. He frankly told me now, in the proper place and time, why he thought Mrs. Trollope ill-qualified to write travels and describe a nation: “but,” he continued, “the thing is done, and can’t be helped now: so that, unless you feel bound in conscience to expose her, — which might be to ruin her, — I would intercede for her.” Laying his finger on a proof-sheet of my American book which lay at his elbow, he went on, “Can’t you, now, say what you think of the same people, and let that be her answer?” “Why,” exclaimed I, “you don’t suppose I am going to occupy any of my book with Mrs. Trollope! I would not dirty my pages with her stories, even to refute them. What have I to do with Mrs. Trollope but to say what I know when inquired of?” “O, well, that is all right,” said he. “I took for granted you meant to do it in your book: and I don’t say that you could be blamed if you did. But if you mean in conversation, you are certainly quite right, and Mrs. Trollope herself could have no title to complain.” I thought the candour, kindness and generosity shown in this incident quite remarkable; and I have always recalled it with pleasure.
With Jeffrey his old Edinburgh comrades were naturally associated, as far as the influences of time and chance yet permitted. Brougham had before this withdrawn himself almost entirely from those friends of his youth. Horner’s Life and Correspondence had not then been published; but I had gathered up enough about him to see him, in a spiritual sense, sitting in the midst of them. “Did you know Horner?” inquired Sydney Smith. “You should have known Horner: but I suppose he was gone before you were invented.” With Horner’s name the most closely associated of all was that of John A. Murray, (Lord Murray, who was Lord Advocate when I first knew him.) Of all my acquaintance, no one was a greater puzzle to me than Horner’s beloved John Murray, whose share of their published correspondence shows why there were once splendid expectations from him. His career as Lord Advocate and Judge was so little successful that the world could not but wonder how there could be such an issue from such promise. Jeffrey’s failure in political office and as a parliamentary speaker, was easily accounted for by his uncertain health, his weak voice, his love of ease and literary trifling, and his eminence in a totally different function: and he ended by being an admirable Judge. But in the other case, there was no success in any other direction to account or atone for the failure of Lord Murray, when opportunity opened before him in what should have been the vigour of his years. He was a kind neighbour, however, and a thoroughly good hearted man, — always happy to give pleasure, though reducing the amount he bestowed by a curious little pomposity of manner. His agreeable wife joined her efforts with his to make their guests happy, and enjoyed society as much as he did. When one could once put away the association of Horner and those old Edinburgh days, the Murray’s parties were really delightful. I had a general invitation to their Thursday evenings at St. Stephen’s; and their carriage usually came for me and took me home. They lived at the Lord Advocate’s Chambers, under the same roof with the Houses of Parliament; and there, on Thursday evenings during the session, was a long broad table spread, with a prodigious Scotch cake, iced and adorned, on a vast trencher in the midst. Members of both Houses dropped in and out, when the debates were tiresome; and there were always a few guests like myself, who went on their way to or from other visits, and gathered up the political news of the night, curiously alternating with political anecdotes or Edinburgh jokes of thirty or forty years before. It was pleasant to see the Jeffreys come in when Sydney Smith was there, and to look on these grey-headed friends as the very men who had made such a noise in the days of my childhood, and who were venerable for what they had done and borne in those days, though they had disappointed expectation when their opportunity came at last. It was at Lord Murray’s table that Sydney Smith told me of the fun the Edinburgh reviewers used to make of their work. I taxed him honestly with the mischief they had done by their ferocity and cruel levity at the outset. It was no small mischief to have silenced Mrs. Barbauld; and how much more utterance they may have prevented, there is no saying. It is all very well to talk sensibly now of the actual importance of reviews, and the real value of reviewers’ judgments: but the fact remains that spirits were broken, hearts were sickened, and authorship was cruelly discouraged by the savage and reckless condemnations passed by the Edinburgh review in its early days. “We were savage,” replied Sydney Smith. “I remember” (and it was plain that he could not help enjoying the remembrance) “how Brougham and I sat trying one night how we could exasperate our cruelty to the utmost. We had got hold of a poor nervous little vegetarian, who had put out a poor silly little book; and when we had done our review of it, we sat trying,” — (and here he joined his finger and thumb as if dropping from a phial) “to find one more chink, one more crevice, through which we might drop in one more drop of verjuice, to eat into his bones.” Very candid always, and sometimes very interesting, were the disclosures about the infant Edinburgh review. In the midst of his jocose talk, Sydney Smith occasionally became suddenly serious, when some ancient topic was brought up, or some life-enduring sensibility touched; and his voice, eye and manner at such times disposed one to tears almost as much as his ordinary discourse did to laughter. Among the subjects which were thus sacred to him was that of the Anti-slavery cause. One evening, at Lord Murray’s, he inquired with earnest solicitude about the truth of some news from America, during the “reign of terror,” as we used to call the early persecution of the abolitionists. As I had received letters and newspapers just before I left home, I could tell him what he wanted to know. He expressed, with manly concern, his sorrow for the sufferings of my friends in America, and feared it must cause me terrible pain. “Not unmixed pain,” I told him; and then I explained how well we knew that that mighty question could be carried only by the long perseverance of the highest order of abolitionists; and that an occasional purgation of the body was necessary, to ascertain how many of even the well-disposed had soundness of principle and knowledge, as well as strength of nerve, to go through with the enterprise: so that even this cruel persecution was not a pure evil. He listened earnestly, and sympathised in my faith in my personal friends among the abolitionists; and then a merry thought came into his head, as I saw by the change in his eye. “Now, I am surprised at you, I own,” said he. “I am surprised at your taste, for yourself and your friends. I can fancy you enjoying a feather (one feather) in your cap; but I cannot imagine you could like a bushel of them down your back with the tar.”
My first sight of Sydney Smith was when he called on me, under cover of a whimsical introduction, as he considered it. At a great music party, where the drawing-rooms and staircases were one continuous crowd, the lady who had conveyed me fought her way to my seat, — which was, in consideration of my deafness, next to Malibran, and near the piano. My friend brought a message which Sydney Smith had passed up the staircase; — that he understood we desired one another’s acquaintance, and that he was awaiting it at the bottom of the stairs. He put it to my judgment whether I, being thin, could not more easily get down to him than he, being stout, could get up to me: and he would wait five minutes for my answer. I really could not go, under the circumstances; and it was a serious thing to give up my seat and the music; so Mr. Smith sent me a goodnight, and promise to call on me, claiming this negotiation as a proper introduction. He came, and sat down, broad and comfortable, in the middle of my sofa, with his hands on his stick, as if to support himself in a vast development of voice; and then he began, like the great bell of St. Paul’s, making me start at the first stroke. He looked with shy dislike at my trumpet, for which there was truly no occasion. I was more likely to fly to the furthest corner of the room. It was always his boast that I did not want my trumpet when he talked with me.
I do not believe that any body ever took amiss his quizzical descriptions of his friends. I am sure I never did: and when I now recall his fun of that sort, it seems to me too innocent to raise an uneasy feeling. There were none, I believe, whom he did not quiz; but I never heard of any hurt feelings. He did not like precipitate speech; and among the fastest talkers in England were certain of his friends and acquaintance; — Mr. Hallam, Mr. Empson, Dr. Whewell, Mr. Macaulay and myself. None of us escaped his wit. His account of Mr. Empson’s method of out-pouring stands, without the name, in Lady Holland’s Life of her father. His praise of Macaulay is well known; “Macaulay is improved! Macaulay improves! I have observed in him of late, — flashes of silence!” His account of Whewell is something more than wit: — “Science is his forte: omniscience is his foible.” As for his friend Hallam, he knew he might make free with his characteristics, of oppugnancy and haste among others, without offence. In telling us what a blunder he himself made in going late to a dinner party, and describing how far the dinner had proceeded, and how every body was engaged, he said “And there was Hallam, with his mouth full of cabbage and contradiction!” Nothing could be droller than his description of all his friends in influenza, in the winter of 1832-3; and of these, Hallam was the drollest of all that I remember. “And poor Hallam was tossing and tumbling in his bed when the watchman came by and called ‘Twelve o’clock and a starlight night.’ Here was an opportunity for controversy when it seemed most out of the question! Up jumped Hallam, with ‘I question that, — I question that! Starlight! I see a star, I admit; but I doubt whether that constitutes starlight.’ Hours more of tossing and tumbling; and then comes the watchman again: ‘Past two o’clock, and a cloudy morning.’ ‘I question that, — I question that,’ says Hallam. And he rushes to the window, and throws up the sash, — influenza notwithstanding. ‘Watchman! do you mean to call this a cloudy morning? I see a star. And I question its being past two o’clock: — I question it, I question it!’ ” And so on. The story of Jeffrey and the North pole, as told by Sydney Smith, appears to me strangely spoiled in the Life. The incident happened while the Jeffreys were my near neighbours in London; and Mrs. Sydney Smith related the incident to me at the time. Captain (afterwards Sir John) Ross had just returned from an unsuccessful polar expedition, and was bent upon going again. He used all his interest to get the government stirred up to fit out another expedition: and among others, the Lord Advocate was to be applied to, to bespeak his good offices. The mutual friend who undertook to do Captain Ross’s errand to Jeffrey arrived at an unfortunate moment. Jeffrey was in delicate health, at that time, and made a great point of his daily ride; and when the applicant reached his door, he was putting his foot in the stirrup, and did not want to be detained. So he pished and pshawed, and cared nothing for the North Pole, and at length “damned” it. The applicant spoke angrily about it to Sydney Smith, wishing that Jeffrey would take care what he was about, and use more civil language. “What do you think he said to me?” cried the complainant. “Why, he damned the North Pole!” “Well, never mind! never mind!” said Sydney Smith, soothingly. “Never mind his damning the North Pole. I have heard him speak disrespectfully of the equator.”
Much as I enjoyed the society of both in London, I cared more for the letters of Sydney Smith and Jeffrey during my long illness at Tynemouth than I ever did for their glorious conversation. The air of the drawing-room had some effect on both; or I believed that it had: but our intercourse when Jeffrey was ill, and I was hopelessly so, and Sydney Smith old and in failing spirits (as he told me frequently) was thoroughly genuine. Sydney Smith wrote me that he hated the pen, now in his old age, when that love of ease was growing on him, common to aged dogs, asses and clergymen; and his letters were therefore a valuable gift, and, I am sure, duly prized. There was no drawback on intercourse with him except his being a clergyman. To a dissenter like myself, who had been brought up in strict non-conformist notions of the sacredness of the clerical office, and the absolute unworldliness which was its first requisite, there was something very painful in the tone always taken by Sydney Smith about Church matters. The broad avowals in his “Letters to Singleton” of the necessity of having “prizes” in the Church, to attract gentlemen into it and keep them there; — his treatment of the vocation as a provision, a source of honour, influence, and money, are so offensive as to be really wonderful to nearnest dissenters. His drawing-room position and manners were not very clerical; but that did not matter so much as the lowness of view which proved that he was not in his right place, to those who, like me, were unaware that the profession was not his choice. He discharged his duty admirably, as far as his conscience was concerned, and his nature would allow: but he had not the spiritual tendencies and endowments which alone can justify an entrance into the pastoral office.
He was not quite the only one of my new friends who did not use my trumpet in conversation. Of all people in the world, Malthus was the one whom I heard quite easily without it; — Malthus, whose speech was hopelessly imperfect, from defect in the palate. I dreaded meeting him when invited by a friend of his who made my acquaintance on purpose. He had told this lady that he should be in town on such a day, and entreated her to get an introduction, and call and invite me; his reason being that whereas his friends had done him all manner of mischief by defending him injudiciously, my tales had represented his views precisely as he could have wished. I could not decline such an invitation as this: but when I considered my own deafness, and his inability to pronounce half the consonants in the alphabet, and his hare-lip which must prevent my offering him my tube, I feared we should make a terrible business of it. I was delightfully wrong. His first sentence, — slow and gentle, with the vowels sonorous, whatever might become of the consonants, — set me at ease completely. I soon found that the vowels are in fact all that I ever hear. His worst letter was l: and when I had no difficulty with his question, — “Would not you like to have a look at the Lakes of Killarney?” I had nothing more to fear. It really gratified him that I heard him better than any body else; and whenever we met at dinner, I somehow found myself beside him, with my best ear next him; and then I heard all he said to every body at table.
Before we had been long acquainted, Mr. and Mrs. Malthus invited me to spend some of the hot weather with them at Haileybury, promising that every facility should be afforded me for work. It was a delightful visit; and the well planted county of Herts was a welcome change from the pavement of London in August. Mr. Malthus was one of the professors of the now expiring College at Haileybury, and Mr. Empson was another: and the families of the other professors made up a very pleasant society, — to say nothing of the interest of seeing in the students the future administrators of India. On my arrival, I found that every facility was indeed afforded for my work. My room was a large and airy one, with a bay-window and a charming view; and the window side of the room was fitted up with all completeness, with desk, books, and every thing I could possibly want. Something else was provided which showed even more markedly the spirit of hospitality. A habit and whip lay on the bed. My friends had somehow discovered from my tales that I was fond of riding; and horse, habit and whip were prepared for me. Almost daily we went forth when work was done, — a pleasant riding party of five or six, and explored all the green lanes, and enjoyed all the fine views in the neighbourhood. We had no idea that it would be my only visit: but Mr. Malthus died while I was in America; and when I returned, his place was filled, both in College and home. I have been at Haileybury since, when Professor Jones was the very able successor of Mr. Malthus in the Chairs of Political Economy and History; and Mr. Empson lived in the pleasant house where I had spent such happy days. Now they are all gone; and the College itself, abolished by the new Charter of the East India Company, will soon be no more than a matter of remembrance to the present generation, and of tradition to the next. The subdued jests and external homage and occasional insurrections of the young men; the archery of the young ladies; the curious politeness of the Persian professor; the fine learning and eager scholarship of Principal Le Bas; and the somewhat old-fashioned courtesies of the summer evening parties, are all over now, except as pleasant pictures in the interior gallery of those who knew the place, — of whom I am thankful to have been one.
Mr. Hallam was one of the coterie of whom I have said so much: and Mr. Whishaw was another; and so were his then young friends, — his wards, the Romillys. The elder Romillys found themselves in parliament, after the passage of the Reform Bill; and Sir John’s career since that time speaks for itself. They had virtuous projects when they entered political life, and had every hope of achieving service worthy of their father’s fame: but their aspirations were speedily tamed down, — as all high aspirations are lowered by Whig influences. They were warned by prudent counsellors to sit silent for a few years in the presence of their elders in the legislature: and, when months and years slid away over their silence, they found it more and more difficult, and at last impossible to speak. The lawyer brother got over this, of necessity; but Edward never did. With poor health and sensitive nerves, and brought up in the very hot-bed of Whiggism, they could perhaps be hardly expected to do more; but hope in them was strong, in the days of the Reform Bill, and still alive when I left London. Good old Mr. Whishaw was still fond and proud of his “boys,” and still preaching caution while expecting great things from them, when I last saw him. I met that respected old man at every turn; and he did for me the same kind office as Mr. Rogers, — coming for me, and carrying me home in his carriage. When the drive was a long one, — as to Hampstead, or even to Haileybury, there was time for a string of capital old stories, even at his slow rate of utterance: and he made me feel as if I had known the preceding generation of Whig statesmen and men of letters. Mr. Whishaw was not only lame, (from the loss of a leg in early life) but purblind and growing deaf, when I knew him: but every body was eager to amuse and comfort him. He sat in the dining-room before dinner, with host or hostess to converse with him till the rest came down; and every body took care that he carried away plenty of conversation. The attentions of the Romillys to their old guardian were really a beautiful spectacle.
His attached friend, Mr. Hallam, made abundant amends for the slowness of the Whishaw discourse. It would have been a wonderful spectacle, I have sometimes thought, if Hallam, Macaulay and Empson had been induced to talk for a wager; — in regard to quantity merely, without stopping to think of quality; while their friends Rogers, Whishaw and Malthus would have made good counterparts. Mr. Hallam was in the brightest hour of his life when I first knew him. His son Arthur was living and affording the splendid promise of which all have been made aware by Tennyson, in “In Memoriam.” In a little while, Arthur was gone, — found dead on the sofa by his father, one afternoon during a continental journey. Supposing him to be asleep, after a slight indisposition, Mr. Hallam sat reading for an hour after returning from a walk, before the extraordinary stillness alarmed him. Alone, and far from home, he was in a passion of grief. Few fathers have had such a son to lose; and the circumstances were singularly painful. — Then, there was the eldest daughter, on his arm at Carlyle’s lectures, and the companion of her delightful mother; — she died in just the same way, — on the sofa, after a slight illness, and while her mother was reading to her. She exclaimed “Stop!” and was dead within five minutes: and when Dr. Holland had come, and found that there was nothing to be done, he had to go in search of the father, who had gone for his walk, and tell him of the new desolation of his home. Not long after, Mrs. Hallam died with equal suddenness; and now, in his failing age, the affectionate family-man finds himself bereft of all his large household, — all his ten children gone, except one married daughter. His works show that, social as he has always been, he has enjoyed solitary study. I remember his once making a ludicrous complaint of London dinners, and of the sameness of the luxuries he and I saw every day; and he told me his greatest longing was for a few days of cold beef and leg of mutton. He was, like most of the set, a capital gossip. Nothing happened that we ladies did not hear from Whishaw, Empson, or Hallam: and Mr. Hallam poured it all out with a child-like glee and innocence which were very droll in a man who had done such things, and who spent so much of his time between passing judicial sentences in literature, and attending councils on politics and the arts with grave statesmen and with people of the highest rank, to whom he showed a most solemn reverence. He was apt to say rash and heedless things in his out-pourings, which were as amusing as they were awkward. I remember his blurting out, when seated on a sofa between Mr. Whishaw and the remarkably plain and literary Miss —, a joke on somebody’s hobbling with a wooden leg; and then an observation on Mrs. — being the only handsome authoress. (As there were certainly two who would answer the description, I put no initials.) Of Mr. Hallam’s works I say nothing, because they are fully discussed in the reviews of the time, by critics far more competent than myself. I enjoy them singularly; and especially his “History of Literature.” I had a profound respect for him as an author, long before I ever dreamed of having him for a friend: and nothing that I ever observed in him lessened that respect in any degree, while a cordial regard was, I believe, continually growing stronger between us, from the hour of our first meeting till now. It does not follow that we agreed on all matters of conduct, any more than of opinion. I could never sympathise fully with his reverence for people of rank: and he could not understand my principle and methods of self-defence against the dangers and disgusts of “lionism.” For one instance; I never would go to Lansdowne House, because I knew that I was invited there as an authoress, to undergo, as people did at that house, the most delicate and refined process of being lionised, — but still, the process. The Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne, and a son and daughter, caused me to be introduced to them at Sir Augustus Callcott’s, and their not being introduced to my mother, who was with me, showed the footing on which I stood. I was then just departing for America. On my return, I was invited to every kind of party at Lansdowne House, — a concert, a state dinner, a friendly dinner party, a small evening party, and a ball; and I declined them all. I went nowhere but where my acquaintance was sought, as a lady, by ladies. Mr. Hallam told me, — what was true enough, — that Lady Lansdowne, being one of the Queen’s ladies, and Lord Lansdowne, being a Cabinet Minister, could not make calls. If so, it made no difference in my disinclination to go, in a blue-stocking way, to a house where I was not really acquainted with any body. Mr. Hallam, I saw, thought me conceited and saucy: but I felt I must take my own methods of preserving my social independence. Lord Lansdowne would not give the matter up. Finding that General Fox was coming one evening to a soirée of mine, he invited himself to dine with him, in order to accompany him. I thought this somewhat impertinent, while Mr. Hallam regarded it as an honour. I did not see why a nobleman and Cabinet Minister was more entitled than any other gentleman to present himself uninvited, after his own invitations had been declined. The incident was a trifle; but it shows how I acted in regard to this “lionising.”
Mr. Rogers was my neighbour from the time when I went to live in Fludyer Street; and many were the parties to which he took me in his carriage. Many also were the breakfasts to which he invited me; — those breakfasts, the fame of which has spread over the literary world. I could not often go; — indeed, scarcely ever, — so indispensable to my work were my morning hours and strength: and when Mr. Rogers perceived this, he asked me to dinner, or in the evening. But I did occasionally go to breakfast; and he made it easy by saving me the street passage. He desired his gardener to leave the garden gate unlocked; and I merely crossed the park and stepped in through the breakfast-room window. It was there that, besides my familiar friends, I met some whom I was glad to see after many years’ acquaintance through books. It was there that I met Southey, when he had almost left off coming to London. He was then indeed hardly fit for society. It was in the interval between the death of his first wife and his second marriage. He was gentle, kindly and agreeable; and well disposed to talk of old Norwich, and many things besides. But there was a mournful expression of countenance, occasionally verging upon the distress of perplexity: and he faltered for words at times; and once was painfully annoyed at being unable to recover a name or a date, rubbing his head and covering his eyes long before he would give it up. I told my mother, on coming home, that I feared that he was going the way of so many hard literary workers. We were greatly surprised to hear of his marriage, after what I had seen, and some worse indications of failure of which we had heard. The sequel of the story is known to every body. — I met Lord Mahon there (now Lord Stanhope) when his historical reputation was already established; and my agreeable friend Mr. Harness, whom I liked in all ways but as a dramatist. The Milmans used to extol the “finish” of his plays; and the author of “Fazio” ought to be a far better judge than I; but, as I told him, it seems to me that spirit is the first thing in a drama, and matter the next; and that “finish” comes only third, if so soon; and I could never see or feel beauty and elevation enough in Mr. Harness’s plays to make me think it worth his while to write them. But he was one of my very pleasantest acquaintances, for his goodness at home and abroad, — to his sister and niece, to his parishioners, and to his friends in society. With poor health, and literary tastes craving the gratification which was constantly within his reach, he was a devoted parish priest; and he made duty pleasure, and endurance an enjoyment, or at worst a matter of indifference, — by his cheerful and disinterested temper. He was a fine example of an accomplished gentleman and poet in the Church, who did his clerical duty to the utmost, and with simplicity, while as agreeable a man of the world as you could meet. I never could fully enter into his dramatic propensities and enthusiasms, any more than into Mr. Dickens’s, — in both which cases the drama seems to have drawn to itself an unaccountable amount of thought and interest; but the fault is probably in me, — that I cannot extend my worship of Shakspere so as to take an interest in all forms of dramatic presentment, as these two of my friends do. To me Shakspere is so much of a poet as to be supreme and sole as a dramatist: and they probably appreciate him better than I do, and prove it by loving meaner labours and productions for his sake. Considering that Göthe had the same preponderant taste, I can have no doubt that it is a case of deficiency in me, and not of eccentricity in them.
The Whig dinners of that day were at their highest point of agreeableness. The Queen on her accession found her ministers “a set of pleasant fellows,” as was well understood at the time; — gentlemen of literary accomplishments, to a moderate extent, which seemed very great to her, accustomed as she had been to such society as her uncles had got about them. The Whigs were in the highest prosperity and briskness of spirits at the time when I first knew them, — in the freshness of power under the declining old King, who had not got out of humour with them, as he did after Brougham’s pranks in the autumn of 1834. And then again they were in high feather, after the Queen’s accession, before they had arrived at presuming on their position, and while some vestiges of modesty remained among some of them. On returning to London a good many years later, I found a melancholy change which had occurred precisely through their desire that there should be no change at all. I found some who had formerly been “pleasant fellows” and agreeable ladies, now saying the same things in much the same manner as of old, only with more conceit and contempt of every body but themselves. Their pride of station and office had swelled into vulgarity; and their blindness in regard to public opinion and the progress of all the world but themselves was more wonderful than ever. All that I have seen of late years has shown me that in those pleasant dinners I saw the then leading society in literary London to the utmost advantage; — a privilege which I certainly enjoyed exceedingly.
My place was generally between some one of the notabilities and some rising barrister. From the latter I could seldom gather much, — so bent were all the rising barristers I met on knowing my views on “the progress of education and the increase of crime.” I was so weary of that eternal question that it was a drawback on the pleasure of many a dinner-party. In 1838, I went a journey of some weeks into the Lake district and Scotland, with a party of friends, — some of whom were over-worked like myself. We agreed to banish all topics connected with public affairs and our own labours, and to give ourselves up to refreshment, without any thought of improvement. We arrived at Fort William, where the inn was overcrowded with passengers for the Loch Ness steamer, in the evening, so tired that we (and I, especially) could scarcely keep awake till our room (where all the ladies of our party were to be lodged somehow,) was prepared. Mr. P—, our leader, very properly brought in a gentleman who could not find a place to sit down in, to have tea with us. My companions, seeing me drooping with sleep, did their utmost to seat him at the opposite side of the table: but he seized a stool, forced himself in next me, and instantly began (rising barrister as he was) to ask my opinion on the progress of education and the increase of crime in Scotland. I had no clear idea what I replied : but my companions told me, with inextinguishable laughter, after our guest was gone, that I had informed him that I knew nothing of those matters, and had made no inquiry, because we had all agreed before we left home that we would not improve our minds. They said that his stare of astonishment was a sight to be remembered. — In my London days, Lord Campbell was “Plain John Campbell:” but Plain John was wonderfully like the present Lord ; — facetious, in and out of place, politic, flattering to an insulting degree, and prone to moralising in so trite a way as to be almost as insulting. He was full of knowledge, and might have been inexhaustibly entertaining if he could have forgotten his prudence and been natural. When his wife, Lady Stratheden, was present, there was some explanation of both the worldly prudence and the behaviour to ladies, — as if they were spoiled children, — which Plain John supposed would please them. Others were there, Judges then or since, — the Parkes, the present Lord Chancellor Cranworth, the then Lord Chancellor Brougham, Coltman, Crompton, Romilly, Alderson; (not Talfourd, who was then only a rising barrister, and not yet seen among the literary Whigs.)
There were a few bishops; — Whately, with his odd, overbearing manners, and his unequal conversation, — sometimes rude and tiresome, and at other times full of instruction, and an occasional drollery coming out amidst a world of effort. Perhaps no person of all my acquaintance has from the first appeared to me so singularly overrated as he was then. I believe it is hardly so now. Those were the days when he said a candid thing which did him honour. He was quite a new bishop then; and he said one day, plucking at his sleeve, as if he had his lawn ones on, “I don’t know how it is: but when we have got these things on, we never do any thing more.” Then, there was the nervous, good-natured, indiscreet rattle, — the Bishop of Norwich (Stanley), who could never get under weigh without being presently aground. Timid as a hare, sensitive as a woman, heedless and flexible as a child, he was surely the oddest bishop that ever was seen: and, to make the impression the more strange, he was as like Dr. Channing as could well be, except that his hair was perfectly white, and Dr. Channing’s dark. That the solemn, curt, inaccessible, ever-spiritual Dr. Channing should so resemble the giddy, impressible Dr. Stanley, who carried his heart upon his sleeve (too often “for daws to peck at”) was strange enough: but so it was. Bishop Stanley was, however, admirable in his way. If he had been a rural parish priest all his life, out of the way of dissenters and of clerical espionage, he would have lived and died as beloved as he really was, and much more respected. In Norwich, his care and furtherance of the schools were admirable; and in the function of benevolence to the poor and afflicted, he was exemplary. But censure almost broke his heart and turned his brain. He had no courage or dignity at all under the bad manners of his tory clergy; and he repeatedly talked in such a style to me about it as to compel me to tell him plainly that dissenters like myself are not only accustomed to ill-usage for differences of opinion, but are brought up to regard that trial as one belonging to all honest avowal of convictions, and to be borne with courage and patience like other trials. His innocent amazement and consternation at being ill-used on account of his liberal opinions were truly instructive to a member of a despised sect: but they were painful, too. I have often thought that if Bishop Stanley put himself in the power of other people as he did in mine he might expect at any hour the destruction of his peace, if not of his position, — so grievous were his complaints, and so desperate his criticisms of people who did not like his opinions, and teased him accordingly. His lady and daughters did much good in Norwich; and, on the whole, the city, which loved its old Bishop Bathurst, considered itself well off in his successor. — Then there was the somewhat shy but agreeable Bishop Lonsdale (Lichfield); and the gracious, kindly and liberal, — but not otherwise remarkable — Bishop Otter (Chichester).
The common stream of Members of Parliament presented a curious uniformity, — even considering that they were almost all Whigs. They all had the same intense conviction that every thing but Whiggism was bête; that they could teach “the people” every thing that it was good for them to know; and that the way to do it was by addressing them in a coaxing and admonitory way. They all had the same intense admiration of Whig measures before they were tried; and the same indifference and shamelessness in dropping those measures when it was found that they would not work. But among these there were a few who belonged to no party, and were too good to be confounded with the rest. There was Charles Buller, the admired and beloved, and now and always the deeply mourned. He was more than a drawing-room acquaintance of mine. He was my friend; and we had real business to discuss occasionally, besides lighter matters. Many an hour he spent by my fireside, both before and after Lord Durham’s government of Canada. By means of my American travel and subsequent correspondence, I was able, — or Charles Buller thought I was, — to supply some useful information, and afford some few suggestions: and I was quite as much impressed by his seriousness and fine sense in affairs of business as by his infinite cleverness and drollery in ordinary conversation. — The readers of my “History of the Peace” must perceive that I had some peculiar opportunities of knowing the true story of that Canada governmental campaign. I feared that it might be taken for granted that Lord Durham or his family gave me the information; whereas he and they were singularly careful to make no party, and to leave his case in silence till a time should arrive for explanation, without risk of turning out Lord Melbourne’s government. They told me nothing of their personal grievances; and I have said so in a note, in the History. But I could not then tell where I did get my information. It was mainly from Charles Buller’s Journal of his residence in Canada, which was confided to me on his return by a friend of his and mine. I felt myself bound not to say so while he was living, and with a political career before him which such a disclosure might have injured: but, now that he and his father and mother are gone, and that remarkable household has vanished, and is remembered as a dream, I see no reason why I should not declare on what high authority I made the statements relating to Lord Durham’s residence in Canada. There was another journal, by another of the party, put into my hands at the same time, from which I have derived some incidents and suggestions: but Charles Buller’s narrative, written from day to day, was the one on which I chiefly relied — His capacity, and his probable future, could not be adequately judged of by any thing he had said or done when his always frail health finally gave way. The Canada Report is noted for its ability; and the men of his generation remember how thorough were his Colonization speeches, and how his fine temper and well-timed wit soothed and brightened the atmosphere of the House in tempestuous times. But the sound greatness that lay beneath was known only to his intimates; and they mourned over an untimely arrest of a glorious career of statesmanship, while the rest of the world regarded the loss simply as of an effective and accomplished Member of Parliament.
Another, who stood out from the classification of Tory and Whig was my friend R. Monckton Milnes, whom I know too well, and am too sincerely attached to, to describe as if he were dead, or on less friendly terms with me. When I first knew him, it was amidst the bustle of the discovery of his being a poet; or, at least, I had seen him, as far as I remember, only once before that. One evening, at Lady Mary Shepherd’s (where I never went again, for reasons which I will give presently) my hostess told me that she was to introduce me, if I pleased, to a young friend of hers who had just returned from travels in Greece. I understood his name to be Mills, and did not think of connecting him with the Yorkshire family whose name was so well known to me. When the young friend arrived, he did look young, — with a round face and a boyish manner, free from all shyness and gravity whatever. (Sydney Smith had two names for him in those days: “Dick Modest Milnes,” and “the Cool of the Evening.”) I was just departing, early, when he first had some conversation with me in the drawing-room and then went down to the cloak room, where he said something which impressed me much, and made me distinctly remember the earnest youth, before I discovered that he was the same with “the new poet,” Milnes. He asked me some question about my tales, — then about half done; and my answer conveyed to him an impression I did not at all intend, — that I made light of the work. “No, now, — don’t say that,” said he, bluntly. “It is unworthy of you to affect that you do not take pains with your work. It is work which cannot be done without pains; and you should not pretend to the contrary.” I showed him, in a moment, that he had misapprehended me; and I carried away a clear impression of his sincerity, and of the gravity which lay under his insouciant manners. When his poems came out, — wonderfully beautiful in their way, as they have ever seemed to me, — they and their author were a capital topic for the literary gossips, — Empson and Whishaw, and their coterie; and I did not wonder at their going from house to house, to announce the news, and gather and compare opinions. My pleasure in those poems was greatest when I read them in my Tynemouth solitude. My copy is marked all over with hieroglyphics involving the emotions with which I read them. He came to see me there, and did me good by his kindness in various ways. He visited me there again on my recovery; and he has been here to see me, lately, in my present illness. From time to time, incidents which he supposes to be absolute secrets have come to my knowledge which prove him to be as nobly and substantially bountiful to needy merit and ability as he is kindly in intercourse, and sympathising in suffering. The most interesting feature of his character, as it stands before the world, is his catholicity of sentiment and manner, — his ability to sympathise with all manner of thinkers and speakers, and his superiority to all appearance of exclusiveness, while, on the one hand, rather enjoying the reputation of having access to all houses, and, on the other, being serious and earnest in the deepest recesses of his character. — This may look rather like doing what I said I could not; — describing a personal friend: but it is really not so: I have touched on none but the most patent aspects of an universally known man. If I were to describe him as a personal friend, I should have much more to say.
Another acquaintance who became a friend was Mr. Grote, then one of the Members for London. That was not the period of his life which he relished most. While doing his duty in parliament in regard to the Ballot, and Colonization, and other great questions of the time, and exercising hospitality as became his position, he looked back rather mournfully to the happy quiet years when, before his father suddenly made an eldest son of him, he was writing his History of Greece; and earnestly did he long for the time, (which arrived in due course) when he might retire to his study and renew his labours. I was always glad to meet him and his clever wife, who were full, at all times, of capital conversation; — she with all imaginable freedom; and he with a curious, formal, old-fashioned, deliberate courtesy, with which he strove to cover his constitutional timidity and shyness. The publication of his fine History now precludes all necessity of describing his powers and his tastes. He was best known in those days as the leading member of the Radical section in parliament; and few could suppose then that his claims on that ground would be swallowed up by his reputation as a scholar and author in one of the highest walks of literature. As a good man and a gentleman his reputation was always of the highest. — With him, the remembrance of his and my friend Roebuck is naturally associated. Mr. Roebuck’s state of health, — his being subject to a most painful malady, — accounted to those who knew him well for faults of temper which were singularly notorious. I always felt, in regard to both him and Lord Durham, that so much was said about faults of temper because there was nothing else to be fastened upon to their disadvantage. I can only say that, well as I knew them both, I never witnessed any ill temper in either. Mr. Roebuck was full of knowledge, full of energy, full of ability; with great vanity, certainly, but of so honest a kind that it did not much matter. When in pain, he was an example of wonderful fortitude; and there was a singular charm in the pathetic voice and countenance with which he discussed subjects that it was wonderful he could take an interest in under the circumstances. When he was well, his lively spirits were delightful; and a more agreeable guest or host could not be. Since I saw him last, he has undergone the severest trials of sickness; and it must be almost as great a surprise to himself as to me and others that he is now Chairman of the Sebastopol Committee, and able to take a leading part in the politics of our present serious national crisis. His position now seems to be a sort of retribution on Lord John Russell and other Whig politicians, who treated him with outrageous insolence, in public and private, while there was a Radical section for him to lead. Those who outlive me may yet see the balance struck between the popular and colonial tribune and the insolent official liberals, as they called themselves, who have one and all proved themselves incompetent to wield the power which they so greedily clutched, and held with so shameless a tenacity. I hope Mr. Roebuck may live to retrieve some mistakes, and to fulfil some of his long baffled aspirations. His chance seems at least better than that of his most insolent contemners.
Bulwer and Talfourd were hardly thought of as Members of Parliament at that time, except in connexion with the international copyright treaty which authors were endeavouring to procure, and with the Copyright Act, which was obtained a few years after. Mr. Macaulay was another Member of Parliament who associated his name very discreditably at first with the copyright bill, which was thrown out one session in consequence of a speech of his which has always remained a puzzle to me. What could have been the inducement to such a man to talk such nonsense as he did, and to set at naught every principle of justice in regard to authors’ earnings, it is impossible, to me and others, to conceive. Nothing that he could propose, — nothing that he could do, could ever compensate to him for the forfeiture of good fame and public confidence which he seems to have actually volunteered in that speech. He changed his mind or his tactics afterwards; but he could not change people’s feelings in regard to himself, or make any body believe that he was a man to be relied upon. He never appeared to me to be so. When I went to London he was a new Member of Parliament, and the object of unbounded hope and expectation to the Whig statesmen, who, according to their curious practice of considering all of the generation below their own as chicks, spoke rapturously of this promising young man. They went on doing so till his return from India, five years afterwards, by which time the world began to inquire when the promise was to begin to fructify, — this young fellow being by that time seven-and-thirty. To impartial observers, the true quality of Macaulay’s mind was as clear then as now. In Parliament, he was no more than a most brilliant speaker; and in his speeches there was the same fundamental weakness which pervades his writings, — unsoundness in the presentment of his case. Some one element was sure to be left out, which falsified his statement, and vitiated his conclusions; and there never was perhaps a speaker or writer of eminence, so prone to presentments of cases, who so rarely offered one which was complete and true. My own impression is, and always was, that the cause of the defect is constitutional in Macaulay. The evidence seems to indicate that he wants heart. He appears to be wholly unaware of this deficiency; and the superficial fervour which suns over his disclosures probably deceives himself, as it deceives a good many other people; and he may really believe that he has a heart. To those who do not hold this key to the interpretation of his career, it must be a very mysterious thing that a man of such imposing and real ability, with every circumstance and influence in his favour, should never have achieved any complete success. As a politician, his failure has been signal, notwithstanding his irresistible power as a speaker, and his possession of every possible facility. As a practical legislator, his failure was unsurpassed, when he brought home his Code from India. I was witness to the amazement and grief of some able lawyers, in studying that Code, — of which they could scarcely lay their finger on a provision through which you could not drive a coach and six. It has long been settled that literature alone remains open to him; and in that he has, with all his brilliancy and captivating accomplishment, destroyed the ground of confidence on which his adorers met him when, in his mature years, he published the first two volumes of his History. His review articles, and especially the one on Bacon, ought to have abolished all confidence in his honesty, as well as in his capacity for philosophy. Not only did he show himself to be disqualified for any appreciation of Bacon’s philosophy, but his plagiarisms from the very author (Basil Montagu) whom he was pretending to demolish, (one instance of plagiarism among many) might have shown any conscientious reader how little he was to be trusted in regard to mere integrity of statement. But, as he announced a History, the public received as a bonâ fide History the work on which he proposes to build his fame. If it had been announced as a historical romance, it might have been read with almost unmixed delight, though exception might have been taken to his presentment of several characters and facts. He has been abundantly punished, for instance, for his slanderous exhibition of William Penn. But he has fatally manifested his loose and unscrupulous method of narrating, and, in his first edition, gave no clue whatever to his authorities, and no information in regard to dates which he could possibly suppress. Public opinion compelled, in future editions, some appearance of furnishing references to authorities, such as every conscientious historian finds it indispensable to his peace of mind to afford; but it is done by Macaulay in the most ineffectual and baffling way possible, — by clubbing together the mere names of his authorities at the bottom of the page, so that reference is all but impracticable. Where it is made, by painstaking readers, the inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the historian are found to multiply as the work of verification proceeds. In fact, the only way to accept his History is to take it as a brilliant fancypiece, — wanting not only the truth but the repose of history, — but stimulating, and even, to a degree, suggestive. While I write, announcement is made of two more volumes to appear in the course of the year. If the radical faults of the former ones are remedied, there may yet be before this gifted man something like the “career,” so proudly anticipated for him a quarter of a century ago. If not, all is over; and his powers, once believed adequate to the construction of eternal monuments of statesmanship and noble edifices for intellectual worship, will be found capable of nothing better than rearing gay kiosks in the flower gardens of literature, to be soon swept away by the caprices of a new taste, as superficial as his own. — I have been led on to say all this by the vivid remembrance of the universal interest there was about Macaulay, when the London world first opened before me. I remember the days when he was met in the streets, looking only at the pavement as he walked, and with his lips moving, — causing those who met him to say that there would be a fine speech from Macaulay that night. Then came the sighs over his loss when he went to India for three years: then the joy at his return, and the congratulations to his venerable father: then the blank disappointment at the way in which he had done his work: and then his appearance in society, — with his strange eyes, which appeared to look nowhere, and his full cheeks and stooping shoulders, which told of dreamy indolence; and then the torrent of words which poured out when he did speak! It did not do to invite him and Sydney Smith together. They interfered with one another. Sydney Smith’s sense of this appears in his remarks on Macaulay’s “improvement,” as shown by “flashes of silence;” and Macaulay showed his sense of the incompatibility of the two wits by his abstracted silence, or by signs of discomposure.
I had heard all my life of the vanity of women as a subject of pity to men: but when I went to London, lo! I saw vanity in high places which was never transcended by that of women in their lowlier rank. There was Brougham, wincing under a newspaper criticism, and playing the fool among silly women. There was Jeffrey flirting with clever women, in long succession. There was Bulwer on a sofa, sparkling and languishing among a set of female votaries, — he and they dizened out, perfumed, and presenting the nearest picture to a seraglio to be seen on British ground, — only the indifference or hauteur of the lord of the harem being absent. There was poor Campbell the poet, obtruding his sentimentalities, amidst a quivering apprehension of making himself ridiculous. He darted out of our house, and never came again, because, after warning, he sat down, in a room full of people (all authors, as it happened) on a low chair of my old aunt’s which went very easily on castors, and which carried him back to the wall and rebounded, of course making every body laugh. Off went poor Campbell in a huff; and, well as I had long known him, I never saw him again: and I was not very sorry, for his sentimentality was too soft, and his craving for praise too morbid to let him be an agreeable companion. On occasion of the catastrophe, he came with about forty authors one morning, to sign a petition to parliament for an International copyright law. Then there was Babbage, — less utterly dependent on opinion than some people suppose; but still, harping so much on the subject as to warrant the severe judgment current in regard to his vanity. — There was Edwin Landseer, a friendly and agreeable companion, but holding his cheerfulness at the mercy of great folks’ graciousness to him. To see him enter a room, curled and cravatted, and glancing round in anxiety about his reception, could not but make a woman wonder where among her own sex she could find a more palpable vanity; but then, all that was forgotten when one was sitting on a divan with him, seeing him play with the dog. — Then there was Whewell, grasping at praise for universal learning, — (omniscience being his foible, as Sydney Smith said,) — and liking female adoration, rough as was his nature with students, rivals and speculative opponents. — I might instance more: but this is enough. The display was always to me most melancholy; for the detriment was so much greater than in the case of female vanity. The circumstances of women render the vanity of literary women well nigh unavoidable, where the literary pursuit and production are of a light kind: and the mischief (serious enough) may end with the deterioration of the individual. Lady Morgan and Lady Davy and Mrs. Austin and Mrs. Jameson may make women blush and men smile and be insolent; and their gross and palpable vanities may help to lower the position and discredit the pursuits of other women, while starving out their own natural powers: but these mischiefs are far less important than the blighting of promise and the forfeiture of a career, and the intercepting of national blessings, in the case of a Bulwer or a Brougham. A few really able women, — women sanctified by true genius and holy science, — a Joanna Baillie, a Somerville, a Browning, — quickly repair the mischief, as regards the dignity of women; and the time has not yet arrived when national interests are involved in the moral dignity of individual women of genius. But, as a matter of fact, I conceive that no one can glance round society, as seen in London drawing-rooms, and pretend to consider vanity the appropriate sin of women. The instances I have given are of persons who, for the most part, were estimable and agreeable, apart from their characteristic foible. For Bulwer I always felt a cordial interest, amidst any amount of vexation and pity for his weakness. He seems to me to be a woman of genius enclosed by misadventure in a man’s form. If the life of his affections had been a natural and fortunate one; and if (which would have been the consequence) he had not plunged over head and ears in the metaphysics of morals, I believe he would have made himself a name which might have lasted as long as our literature. He has insight, experience, sympathy, letters, power and grace of expression, and an irrepressible impulse to utterance and industry which should have produced works of the noblest quality; and these have been intercepted by mischiefs which may be called misfortune rather than fault. There is no need to relate his history or describe his faults. I can only lament the perversion of one of the most promising natures, and the intercepting of some of the most needful literary benefits offered, in the form of one man, in our time. His friendly temper, his generous heart, his excellent conversation (at his best) and his simple manners (when he forgot himself) have many a time “left me mourning” that such a being should allow himself to sport with perdition. Perhaps my interest in him was deepened by the evident growth of his deafness, and by seeing that he was not, as yet, equal to cope with the misfortune of personal infirmity. He could not bring himself practically to acknowledge it; and his ignoring of it occasioned scenes which, painful to others, must have been exquisitely so to a vain man like himself. I longed to speak, or get spoken, to him a word of warning and encouragement out of my own experience: but I never met with any one who dared mention the subject to him; and I had no fair opportunity after the infirmity became conspicuous. From the time when, in contradicting in the newspapers a report of his having lost his hearing altogether, he professed to think conversation not worth hearing, I had no hope of his fortitude: for it is the last resource of weakness to give out that the grapes are sour. — Campbell was declining when I first knew him; and I disliked his visits because I was never quite sure whether he was sober, — his irritable brain being at the mercy of a single glass of sherry, or of a paroxysm of enthusiasm about the Poles: but I adored his poems in my youth; I was aware that domestic misfortune had worn out his affectionate heart; and it was a pleasure to see that his sympathies were, to the last, warm on behalf of international morality and popular liberties. — As for Mr. Babbage, it seemed to me that few men were more misunderstood, — his sensitiveness about opinions perverting other people’s impressions of him quite as much as his of them. For one instance: he was amused, as well as struck, by the very small reliance to be placed on opinion, public or private, for and against individuals: and he thought over some method of bringing his observation to a sort of demonstration. Thinking that he was likely to hear most of opinions about himself as a then popular author, he collected every thing he could gather in print about himself, and pasted the pieces into a large book, with the pros and cons in parallel columns, from which he obtained a sort of balance, besides some highly curious observations. Soon after he told me this, with fun and good-humour, I was told repeatedly that he spent all his days in gloating and grumbling over what people said of him, having got it all down in a book, which he was perpetually poring over. People who so represented him had little idea what a domestic tenderness is in him, — though to me his singular face seemed to show it, — nor how much that was really interesting might be found in him by those who viewed him naturally and kindly. All were eager to go to his glorious soirées; and I always thought he appeared to great advantage as a host. His patience in explaining his machine in those days was really exemplary. I felt it so, the first time I saw the miracle, as it appeared to me; but I thought so much more, a year or two after, when a lady, to whom he had sacrificed some very precious time, on the supposition that she understood as much as she assumed to do, finished by saying “Now, Mr. Babbage, there is only one thing more that I want to know. If you put the question in wrong, will the answer come out right?” All time and attention devoted to lady examiners of his machine, from that time forward, I regarded as sacrifices of genuine good nature.
In what noble contrast were the eminent men who were not vain! There was the honest and kindly Captain (now Admiral Sir Francis) Beaufort, who was daily at the Admiralty as the clock struck, conveying paper, pen and ink for any private letters he might have to write, for which he refused to use the official stores. There were the friends Lyell and Charles Darwin, — after the return of the latter from his four years’ voyage round the world; — Lyell with a Scotch prudence which gave way, more and more as years passed on, to his natural geniality, and to an expanding liberality of opinion and freedom of speech; and the simple, childlike, painstaking, effective Charles Darwin, who established himself presently at the head of living English naturalists. These well-employed, earnest-minded, accomplished and genial men bore their honours without vanity, jealousy, or any apparent self-regard whatever. They and their devoted wives were welcome in the highest degree. Lady Lyell was almost as remarkable in society as her husband, though she evidently considered herself only a part of him. Having no children, she could devote her life to helping him. She travelled over half the world with him, entered fully into his pursuits, and furthered them as no one else could have done; while there was not a trace of pedantry in her, but a simple, lively manner, proceeding from a mind at ease and nobly entertained. Mr. Rogers used to point out the beauty of her eye, — “The eye of the stag;” and truly she grew more charming-looking every year, and was handsomer and brighter than ever when I saw her not long ago in London. If she had no vanity for herself, neither had she for her husband, of whom her estimate was too lofty and just to admit the intrusion of so unworthy an emotion.
Many others there were in regard to whom the imputation of vanity was impossible. There were Dr. Dalton and Mrs. Somerville sitting with their heads close together, on the sofa, talking their own glorious talk without a thought of what anybody in the world was saying about either of them. Dr. Dalton was simple in every way: Mrs. Somerville in all that was essential. Her mistakes in taking her daughters to court, and in a good many conventional matters, were themselves no worse than a misplaced humility which made her do as other people did, or as other people bade her do, instead of choosing her own course. I used to wish she had been wise in those matters, and more self-reliant altogether; but I am sure there was no ambition or vanity in her mind, all the time. It was delightful to find her with a letter from her publisher in her hand, considering it with anxiety; and to hear what her difficulty was. She was respectfully requested to make such alterations in the next edition of her “Connexion of the Physical Sciences” as would render it more popular and intelligible. She could not at all see her way. The scientific mode of expression, with its pregnancy, its terseness and brevity, seemed to her perfectly simple. If she was to alter it, it could be only by amplifying; and she feared that would make her diffuse and comparatively unintelligible. It was delightful to see her always well-dressed and thoroughly womanly in her conversation and manners, while unconscious of any peculiarity in her pursuits. It was delightful to go to tea at her house at Chelsea, and find every thing in order and beauty; — the walls hung with her fine drawings; her music in the corner, and her tea table spread with good things. In the midst of these household elegancies, Dr. Somerville one evening pulled open a series of drawers, to find something he wanted to show me. As he shut one after another, I ventured to ask what those strange things were which filled every drawer. “O! they are only Mrs. Somerville’s diplomas,” said he, with a droll look of pride and amusement. Not long after this, the family went abroad, partly for Dr. Somerville’s health: and great has been the concern of her friends at so losing her, while it was well known that her longings were for England. Her husband and her daughters, (turned Catholics,) have kept her in Italy ever since, to the privation and sorrow of many who know that scientific London is the proper place for her, and that, unselfish as she is, she must long to be there. I own it went to my heart to hear of one thing that happened soon after she left England. The great comet of 1843 was no more seen by her than by any other woman in Italy. The only good observatory was in a Jesuits’ College, where no woman was allowed to set foot. It is too bad that she should spend the last third of her life in a country so unworthy of her.
And there was Joanna Baillie, whose serene and cheerful life was never troubled by the pains and penalties of vanity; — what a charming spectacle was she! Mrs. Barbauld’s published correspondence tells of her, in 1800, as “a young lady of Hampstead whom I visited, and who came to Mr. Barbauld’s meeting, all the while, with as innocent a face as if she had never written a line.” That was two years before I was born. When I met her, about thirty years afterwards, there she was “with as innocent a face as if she had never written a line!” And this was after an experience which would have been a bitter trial to an author with a particle of vanity. She had enjoyed a fame almost without parallel, and had outlived it. She had been told every day for years, through every possible channel, that she was second only to Shakspere, — if second; and then she had seen her works drop out of notice so that, of the generation who grew up before her eyes, not one in a thousand had read a line of her plays: — yet was her serenity never disturbed, nor her merry humour in the least dimmed. I have never lost the impression of the trying circumstances of my first interview with her, nor of the grace, simplicity and sweetness with which she bore them. She was old; and she declined dinner-parties; but she wished to meet me, — having known, I believe, some of my connexions or friends of the past generation; — and therefore she came to Miss Berry’s to tea, one day when I was dining there. Miss Berry, her contemporary, put her feelings, it seemed to me, to a most unwarrantable trial, by describing to me, as we three sat together, the celebrity of the “Plays on the Passions” in their day. She told me how she found on her table, on her return from a ball, a volume of plays; and how she kneeled on a chair to look at it, and how she read on till the servant opened the shutters, and let in the daylight of a winter morning. She told me how all the world raved about the plays; and she held on so long that I was in pain for the noble creature to whom it must have been irksome on the one hand to hear her own praises and fame so dwelt upon, and, on the other, to feel that we all knew how long that had been quite over. But, when I looked up at her sweet face, with its composed smile amidst the becoming mob cap, I saw that she was above pain of either kind. We met frequently afterwards, at her house or ours; and I retained my happy impression, till the last call I made on her. She was then over-affectionate, and uttered a good deal of flattery; and I was uneasy at symptoms so unlike her good taste and sincerity. It was a token of approaching departure. She was declining, and she sank and softened for some months more, and then died, revered and beloved as she deserved. Amidst all pedantry, vanity, coquetry, and manners ruined by celebrity which I have seen, for these twenty years past, I have solaced and strengthened myself with the image of Joanna Baillie, and with remembering the invulnerable justification which she set up for intellectual superiority in women, while we may hope that the injury done to that cause by blue-stockings and coquettes will be scarcely more enduring than their own trumpery notoriety.
I must own that I have known scarcely any political men who were not as vain as women are commonly supposed to be: and if any were not so themselves, their wives were sure to be so for them; and so conspicuously as to do the mischief effectually. Lord Lansdowne was an exception, I believe; and so, I am sure, was his simple-minded, shy lady, with her rural tastes, and benevolent pursuits. The present Lord Grey did not show in private life the sensitiveness which marred his temper and manners in his political function. Lord Morpeth (the present Lord Carlisle) has his weaknesses, which are evident enough; but I never saw a trace of vanity in him. His magnanimous, benevolent, affectionate temper, his pure integrity, and devout conscientiousness, are all incompatible with vanity. It seems a pity that his powers are so inadequate to his sensibilities; or that, his abilities being what they are, he has not chosen to remain in that private life which he conspicuously adorns: but it is a benefit, as far as it goes, that his fine spirit and manners should be present in official life, to rebuke the vulgar selfishness, levity, and insolence which have discredited his political comrades, from their accession to power, a quarter of a century since, till now, when their faults have brought on a crisis in the destinies of England. As an order of men, however, politicians are, as far as my experience goes, far inferior in dignity to scientific men, among whom there are, it is true, examples of egregious vanity, but not so striking as the simplicity and earnestness which characterize many whose lives are spent in lofty pursuits which carry them high above personal regards. And to nearly all, I believe, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake yields more pleasure than any gain of fame or money. To one Lardner, there is many a Beaufort, Washington, Delabêche, Ebrenberg, Dalton, and Gregory. Some, like Professor Nichol, may not be acquitted of vanity, while uniting with it, as he does, a simplicity, a kindliness, and a genial temper which make them delightful companions. Others, like Buckland and Murchison, have a love of fun mingling with their genuine worship of science, which makes them highly agreeable, in spite of eccentricities of manner. Sir Charles Bell was of too tender a nature for the conflicts which await a discoverer; but his sensitiveness was of too refined and constitutional a kind to be insulted with the name of vanity; and he was beloved with a tenderness which no grossly vain person could ever win to himself. While he was grave, quiet and melancholy, men of stouter natures were making fun, if not of their science, of the uses to which they applied it, in that condescension to which their desire of reputation or of something lower led them. Sir Charles Bell wrote his Bridgewater Treatise, no doubt, with the grave sincerity with which he did every thing, and without any suspicion of the injury he was doing to theology, by attempting to bolster up the Design argument, which he ought to have seen tends directly, as is now widely admitted, to atheism. Among some of his comrades, the matter was viewed with more levity. When one of them was writing his successful treatise, he consigned his manuscript to a scientific friend for criticism. It had a good margin left for notes; and his critic, after gravely writing his observations on the scientific portion, scored in pencil the close of the sections, where the Bridgewater application was made, with the words “Power, wisdom and goodness as per contract.” There was much covert laughter about this among the philosophers, while they presented a duly grave face to the theological world.
The artists are usually concluded to be the vainest of all orders of men. I have not found them so. A more dignified, simple-minded and delightful drawing-room companion I have hardly known than Sir Augustus Calcott, for one. His tenderness of heart appeared in that devotion to his wife which cost him his health and his life. She (the Maria Graham of India and of South America, during Lord Dundonald’s achievements there) was a clever woman in her way, with indomitable spirits, through years of slow consumption: but, when hearing her gossip and random talk, one could not, after all allowance for her invalid state and its seclusion contrasted with former activity, help regretting that her far superior husband should sink prematurely into melancholy and ill-health, from his too close attendance upon her, through years of hot rooms and night watching. A higher order of wife would not have permitted it; and a lower order of husband would not have done it. — Chantrey was abundantly aware of his own merits; but there was an honesty in the avowal which distanced the imputation of vanity. As I sat next him one day at dinner, I was rather disturbed at the freedom with which he criticised and directed the carving of a haunch of venison, fixing the attention of the whole table on the process, which the operator bore most gracefully. Chantrey turned apologetically to me with, “You know I have a right. I am the first carver in London.” He always told every body who he was, and took for granted that every body knew all his works: but there was a good-humoured courage and naturalness about his self-estimate which made it amusing, instead of disgusting.
Allan Cunningham was, however, far more interesting than his employer and friend. It was quite a sight to see stalwart Allan and his stalwart wife enter a drawing-room, and to see how his fine face and head towered above others in expression as much as in altitude. His simple sense and cheerful humour rendered his conversation as lively as that of a wit; and his literary knowledge and taste gave it refinement enough to suit any society. I always felt that Allan Cunningham was precisely the human example that I had long wished to see; — of that privileged condition which I think the very most advantageous that a man can be placed in; the original standing of a workman, with such means of intellectual cultivation as may open to him the life of books. Allan Cunningham was one of the hard-handed order, privileged to know the realities of practical life; while also a man of letters and a poet, exempt from the deficiencies and foibles of mere literary life. Thus, while a workman, a student and a poet, he was above all a man; and thorough manliness was his dominant characteristic. All this came back upon me when, in 1849, I met his son Peter, whose features recalled so much of his father, and whose industrious and effectual authorship reminds us all of his honourable descent.
Westmacott, again, was seriously full of his art; and that is the true charm in the manners of an artist. Phillips was formal and self-complacent, but well read and communicative: and the friendship between himself and his accomplished family was a pretty spectacle. Macready’s sensitiveness shrouded itself within an artificial manner; but a more delightful companion could not be, — not only on account of his learning and accomplishment, but of his uncompromising liberality of opinion, and his noble strain of meditative thought. He enjoyed playing Jaques, — thinking that character singularly like himself; and it was so, in one part of his character: but there was, besides the moralising tendency, a chivalrous spirit of rare vigilance, and an unsleeping domestic tenderness and social beneficence which accounted for and justified the idolatry with which he was regarded, through all trials occasioned by the irritable temper with which he manfully struggled. — The Kembles were of a different sort altogether; I mean Charles Kemble and his daughters. They were full of knowledge and accomplishment, of course, and experienced in all manner of social intercourse: but there seemed to me to be an incurable vulgarity clinging to them, among all the charms of their genius, their cultivation, and their social privileges. I think it must have been from their passionate natures, and from their rather priding themselves on that characteristic of theirs. I liked Adelaide the best of the three, because she had herself more under control than the others, and because the womanly nature did itself more justice in her case than in her sister’s. The admiration and interest which Fanny inspired were as often put to flight as aroused, — so provoking was her self-will, and so vexatious her caprice. And then, there was no relying on any thing she said, while the calmer and more devoted Adelaide was mistress of her own thought and speech, and composedly truthful in a way which ought to have been, and probably was, exemplary in Fanny’s eyes. There was a green-room cast of mind about them all, from which Macready was marvellously free. He saw life by daylight, and they by stage lamps; and that was the difference. I am speaking of them as I met them in drawing-rooms: but I have other associations with them. I saw much of Fanny in America, during her early married life, and was present at the christening of her first child. She showed me the proof sheets of her clever “Journal,” and, as she chose to require my opinion of it, obtained a less flattering one than from most people. I might be, and probably was, narrow and stiff in my judgment of it; but I was sufficiently shocked at certain passages to induce her to cancel some thirty pages. I really strove hard to like and approve her; and I imposed upon myself for a time, as on others in conversation, the belief that I did so: but I could not carry it on long. There was so radical an unreality about her and her sayings and doings, and so perverse a sporting with her possessions and privileges in life, and with other people’s peace, that my interest in her died out completely, in a way which could not have happened if I could have believed her notorious misfortunes to have been other than self-inflicted. By her way of entering upon marriage, and her conduct in it afterwards, she deprived herself of all title to wonder at or complain of her domestic miseries, terrible as they were. She was a finely gifted creature, wasted and tortured by want of discipline, principle and self-knowledge. Adelaide was morally of a far higher order; and when with her, I desired nothing more than that she had seen life through other than the stage medium, and that she had not been a Kemble. She was charming at their own soirées in London, — unobtrusively taking care of and amusing every body, with good nature and simplicity: and she was yet more charming when she sat beside my couch at Tynemouth, singing “Auld Robin Gray” for my pleasure, and manifesting a true womanly sympathy with me, of whom she had personally known nothing except through drawing-room intercourse. It was she who sent me the chief luxury of my sick room, — the “Christus Consolator” of Scheffer, which truly affords study for as many years as I was ill. If, as I understand, she has found happiness in her domestic life, after such triumphs as hers on the stage, the genuine fine quality of her nature is sufficiently proved.
In those days, Eastlake was just home from Italy. He had already left off landscape painting, with which he began. I have hanging up in the next room the engraving which he gave me of his last landscape, — “Byron’s Dream.” He was now producing the early pictures of that short series which, full of charm at first, soon proved how bornés were his resources. The mannerism of his colouring, and the sameness of his female faces, showing that he had but one idea of beauty, could be made evident only by time; and at first there was an exquisite charm in the grace, refinement and delicacy of both conception and execution. Since that time, his function has appeared to be the aiding and support of art by other means than himself painting. I always liked to meet him, — ignorant as I was on the subjects which were most important to him. He condescended to talk to me on them; and there was the wide field of literature in which we had a common interest. Kind and conversible as he was, I always felt that there was a certain amount of cynicism in his views, and scepticism in his temper, which must have interfered with his enjoyment of life. It was not very great, and was chiefly noticeable as being the only drawback on the pleasure of conversation with him. I have seen him only once for nearly twenty years; and that was at a distance in Thackeray’s lecture room, in 1851. I should hardly have known the careworn, aged face, if my attention had not been directed to him: and it gave me pain to see how the old tendency to anxiety and distrust seemed to have issued in care or ill-health, which could so alter a man not yet old. He has done so much for art, and given so much pleasure to society, that one wishes he could have enjoyed the strength and spirits which those who love art as he does should, and generally do, derive from its pursuit. — There was Uwins, in those days, with his sunny Italian groups; and, more recently, Rothwell, whose picture (when unfinished) of “Rich and rare were the gems she wore,” seemed to me wonderfully beautiful: and, among portrait painters, the accomplished and earnest Richmond, — to whom I sat for the only good portrait taken of me.
I seem to have got a long way from the dinner parties which led me into all these sketches; and I will not go back to them; but rather tell a little about the evening engagements which gave variety to my London life. There were blue-stocking evenings, now and then; and I never went twice to any house where I encountered that sort of reception, except the Miss Berrys’, where there was so much to relieve “the blue,” and one was left so freely and pleasantly to be amused, that one’s pride or one’s modesty was safe from offence. By the way, an incident occurred at dinner at Miss Berry’s which I recall with as much astonishment as paralysed me at the moment, and struck me dumb when it was of some importance that I should speak. I have told how a Prime Minister’s daughter was for the first time informed of the Birmingham Church and King riots, when Dr. Priestley’s chapel, house and library were destroyed. A highborn lady betrayed to me, that evening at Miss Berry’s, what her notion, and that of her associates, was of the politics of the liberal party after the passage of the Reform Bill. Lady G. S. W., whose husband, I think, had been in the United States, inquired of me about the prospects of Slavery there. When she seemed surprised at the amount of persecution the abolitionists were undergoing, I attempted to show her how the vicious institution was implicated with the whole policy, and many of the modes, ideas and interests of society there; so that the abolitionists were charged with destructiveness, and regarded by timid persons, whether slaveholders or other, much as people would be among us who should be charged with desiring to overthrow every thing, from the throne to the workhouse. Her reply completely puzzled me for a moment, and then appeared so outrageously wide of the mark that I had not presence of mind to answer it; and the opportunity was presently gone. I wonder whether she really supposed she had given me a check and a set down! “Come now,” said she; “don’t let us talk about that. I want to get this information from you, and we will talk only about what we agree in. You know we shall differ about pulling down, and all that.” Why she talked to me at all if she supposed that I wanted to pull down every thing, from the throne to the workhouse, I can’t imagine. And, if she thought so of me, she must have regarded the then dominant liberals as unredeemed destructives. It is a curious state of mind in the tory aristocracy that such incidents reveal. She seemed otherwise sensible enough; yet she had read my series without finding out that I am for “pulling down” nothing, and quietly superseding what can no longer be endured.
The ancient ladies themselves, the Miss Berrys and their inseparable friend, Lady Charlotte Lindsay, (the youngest daughter of Lord North) whose presence seemed to carry one back almost a century, were the main attraction of those parties. While up to all modern interests, the old-fashioned rouge and pearl-powder, and false hair, and the use of the feminine oaths of a hundred years ago were odd and striking. E.g.: a footman tells his mistress that Lady So-and-so begs she will not wait dinner, as she is drying her shoes which got wet between the carriage and the door. The response is “O! Christ! if she should catch cold! Tell her she is a dear soul, and we would not have her hurry herself for the world, &c., &c.” My mother heard an exclamation at our door, when the carriage door would not open, “My God! I can’t get out!” And so forth, continually. But they were all three so cheerful, so full of knowledge and of sympathy for good ideas, and so evidently fit for higher pursuits than the social pleasures amidst which one met them, that, though their parties were “rather blue,” they were exceedingly agreeable. I had a general invitation to go there, whenever, in passing their house in Mayfair from a dinner party, I saw light over the lower shutters; and they also invited me to spend summer days with them at their Petersham house. I never did this, for want of time; and I went seldom to their evening parties, for the same reason that I seemed to neglect other invitations of the same general kind, — that I was always engaged three or four weeks in advance, by express invitation. When my aged friends perceived this, they gave me express invitations too, and made me fix my own day. The last of the trio, the elder Miss Berry, died in November, 1852. The announcement impelled me to record the associations it excited; and I did so in an obituary memoir of her in the “Daily News.”* My friend Milnes offered his tribute in the form of some charming lines in the “Times,” which show how strong was the natural feeling of concern, on such an occasion, at letting go our hold on the traditions of the last century.
How different were those parties from the express “blue” assemblies of such pedants as Lady Mary Shepherd! She went about accompanied by the fame given her by Mr. Tierney, when he said that there was not another head in England which could encounter hers on the subject of Cause and Effect, and some kindred topics: and it did indeed appear that she was, in relation to the subtlest metaphysical topics, what Mrs. Somerville was to mathematical astronomy. The difference was, — and a bottomless chasm separated the two, — that Mrs. Somerville was occupied with real science, — with the knowable; whereas, Lady Mary Shepherd never dreamed of looking out first for a sound point of view, and therefore wasted her fine analytical powers on things unknowable or purely imaginary. It was a story against her that when in a country house, one fine day, she took her seat in a window, saying in a business-like manner, (to David Ricardo, if I remember rightly,) — “Come, now; let us have a little discussion about Space.” I never went to her house but once. Though I there first made Mr. Milnes’s acquaintance, I never would go again; and I then made my escape as soon as I could. First, I was set down beside Lady Charlotte Bury, and made to undergo, for her satisfaction, a ludicrous examination by Lady Mary, about how I wrote my series, and what I thought of it. Escaping from this, to an opposite sofa, I was boarded by Lady Stepney, who was then, as she boasted, receiving seven hundred pounds apiece for her novels. She paraded a pair of diamond earrings, costing that sum, which she had so earned. She began talking to me on the ground of our mutual acquaintance with Mrs. Opie, who had once been an intimate friend and correspondent of hers. She complained of the inconvenience of Mrs. Opie’s quakerism; and insisted on having my suffrage whether it was not very wrong in people to change their opinions, on account of the inconvenience to their friends. The difficulty in conversing with this extraordinary personage was that she stopped at intervals, to demand an unqualified assent to what she said, while saying things impossible to assent to. She insisted on my believing that “that dreadful Reform in Parliament took place entirely because the dear Duke” of Wellington had not my “moral courage,” and would not carry a trumpet. She told me that the dear Duke assured her himself that if he had heard what had been said from the Treasury-benches, he should never have made that declaration against parliamentary reform which brought it on: and thence it followed, Lady Stepney concluded, that if he had heard what was said behind him, — that is, if he had carried a trumpet, he would have suppressed his declaration; and the rest followed of course. I was so amused at this that I told Lady Durham of it; and she repeated it to her father, then Prime Minister; and then ensued the most amusing part of all. Lord Grey did not apparently take it as a joke on my part, but sent me word, in all seriousness, that there would have been parliamentary reform, sooner or later, if the Duke of Wellington had carried a trumpet! Lady Stepney pointed to a large easy chair at my elbow, and said she supposed I knew for whom that was intended. She was surprised that I did not, and told me that it was for Captain Ross; and that the company assembled were longing for him to come, that they might see the meeting between him and me, and hear what we should say to each other. This determined me to be off; and I kept my eye on the doors, in order to slip away on the entrance of the newest “lion.” It was too early yet to go with any decency. Lady Stepney told me meantime that the Arctic voyagers had gone through hardships such as could never be told: but it only proved (and to this in particular she required my assent) “that the Deity is every where, and more particularly in barren places.” She went on to say how very wrong she thought it to send men into such places, without any better reason than she had ever heard of. “They say it is to discover the North Pole,” she proceeded; “and, by the bye, it is curious that Newton should have come within thirty miles of the North Pole in his discoveries. They say, you know,” and here she looked exceedingly sagacious and amused; “they say that they have found the magnetic pole. But you and I know what a magnet is, very well. We know that a little thing like that would be pulled out of its place in the middle of the sea.” When I reported this conversation to my mother, we determined to get one of this lady’s novels immediately, and see what she could write that would sell for seven hundred pounds. If she was to be believed as to this, it really was a curious sign of the times. I never saw any of her books, after all. I can hardly expect to be believed about the anecdote of the magnet (which I imagine she took to be a little red horse-shoe;) and I had some difficulty in believing it myself, at the moment: but I have given her very words. And they were no joke. She shook her head-dress of marabout feathers and black bugles with her excitement as she talked. I got away before Captain Ross appeared, and never went to the house again, except to drop a card before I left London.
Some people may be disposed to turn round upon me with the charge of giving blue-stocking parties. I believe that to blue-stocking people my soirées might have that appearance, because they looked through blue spectacles: but I can confidently say that, not only were my parties as diverse in quality as I could make them, — always including many who were not literary; but I took particular care that no one was in any way shown off, but all treated with equal respect as guests. My rooms were too small for personages who required space for display: and such were not therefore invited. A gentleman who expected a sofa all to himself, while a crowd of adorers simpered in his face, was no guest for a simple evening party in a small house: nor a lady who needed a corner in which to confide her troubles with her husband; nor for another who hung her white hand over the arm of her chair, and lectured metaphysically and sentimentally about art, to the annoyance of true connoisseurs who felt that while she was exposing herself, she was misleading others who knew no more about the real thing than she did. Nor had I a place for rouged and made up old ladies who paraded literary flirtations in the style of half a century ago. Such were not therefore invited. I was too nervous about having parties at all to introduce any persons who might be disagreeable to people of better manners. All I ventured upon was to invite those who knew what to expect, and could stay away if they liked. What they had to expect was tea below stairs, and ices, cake and wine during the evening, with a very choice assembly of guests who did not mind a little crowding, for the sake of the conversation they afforded each other. I became more at ease when I found that all whom I invited always came: a test which satisfied me that they liked to come.
I have particularised only well known persons: but it must be understood that these were not my intimates, or most valued acquaintances. If they had been intimate friends, I could not have characterised them. There were three or four houses where I went freely for rest and recreation; families too near and dear to me to be described in detail. There were country houses where I went every week or two, to meet pleasant little dinner parties, and to sleep, for the enjoyment of country air and quiet. Such as these were the H. Bellenden Kers’, whose Swiss Cottage at Cheshunt was a sort of home to me: and the Porters’, first at Norwood, and then on Putney Heath: and then the Huttons’ at Putney Park; and the Fishers’ at Highbury: and the Potters’ at Notting Hill: and the Marshes’ at Kilburn: and the Hensleigh Wedgwoods; in their Clapham home first, and then in Regent’s Park: and my old friend, Mrs. Reid’s, in Regent’s Park: beside my own relations. All these were home houses to me; — each a refuge from the wear and tear of my busy life, and from the incessant siege of lion-hunting strangers. One yearly holiday was especially refreshing to me. With the first fine weather in May, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher and I used to go, for a few days or a week, to Boxhill, or Godstone, or some other pretty place not too far off, and carry a book or two, and lie on the grass, or ramble among hills, commons or lanes, as if we had nothing to do; and I never came home without fresh spirits for my work, and valuable suggestions about new efforts. With them I planned or thought of some of my tales: with them I discussed “Deer-brook,” the week before I began it, though Mrs. Ker was my great confidante during its progress. I spent a month or more of every summer with her at her Swiss Cottage; and a month of luxury it always was, — well as my work proceeded in my own “den” there.
I was spending a couple of days at Mrs. Marsh’s, when she asked me whether I would let her read to me “one or two little stories” which she had written. From her way of speaking of them, and from her devotion to her children, who were then for the most part very young, I concluded these to be children’s tales. She ordered a fire in her room, and there we shut ourselves up for the reading. What she read was no child’s story, but “The Admiral’s Daughter.” My amazement may be conceived. We were going to dine at the Wedgwoods’: and a strange figure we must have cut there; for we had been crying so desperately that there was no concealing the marks of it. Mrs. Marsh asked me what I thought of getting her tales published. I offered to try if, on reading the manuscript at home, I thought as well of it as after her own most moving delivery of it. A second reading left no doubt on my mind; and I had the pleasure of introducing the “Two Old Men’s Tales” to the world through Messrs. Saunders and Otley, from whom, as from the rest of the world, the author’s name was withheld as long as possible. Mr. Marsh made this the condition of our attempt: a condition which we thought perfectly reasonable in the father of many daughters, who did not wish their mother to be known as the author of what the world might consider second-rate novels. That the world did not consider them second-rate was immediately apparent; and the reason for secrecy existed no longer. But no one ever knew or guessed the authorship through my mother or me, who were for a considerable time the only possessors of the secret. From that time Mrs. Marsh managed her own affairs; and I never again saw her works till they were published. I mention this because, as I never concealed from her, I think her subsequent works very inferior to the first: and I think it a pity that she did not rest on the high and well deserved fame which she immediately obtained. The singular magnificence of that tale was not likely to be surpassed: but I have always wished that she had either stopped entirely, or had given herself time to do justice to her genius. From the time of the publication of the “Two Old Men’s Tales” to the present hour, I have never once, as far as I remember, succeeded in getting another manuscript published for any body. This has been a matter of great concern to me: but such is the fact. I have never had to make any proposal of the kind for myself, — having always had a choice of publishers before my works were ready; but I have striven hard on behalf of others, and without the slightest success.
No kind of evening was more delightful to me than those which were spent with the Carlyles. About once a fortnight, a mutual friend of theirs and mine drove me over to Chelsea, to the early tea table at number five, Cheyne Row, — the house which Carlyle was perpetually complaining of and threatening to leave, but where he is still to be found. I never believed that, considering the delicate health of both, they could ever flourish on that Chelsea clay, close to the river; and I rejoiced when the term of lease had nearly expired, and my friends were looking out for another house. If they were living in a “cauldron” and a “Babel,” it seemed desirable that they should find an airy quiet home in the country, — near enough to London to enjoy its society at pleasure. Carlyle went forth, on the fine black horse which a friend had sent him with sanitary views, and looked about him. Forth he went, his wife told me, with three maps of Great Britain and two of the World in his pocket, to explore the area within twenty miles of London. All their friends were on the look out; and I, from my sick chamber at Tynemouth, sent them earnest entreaties to settle on a gravelly soil: but old habit prevailed, and the philosopher renewed the lease, and set to work to make for himself a noise-proof chamber, where his fretted nerves might possibly obtain rest amidst the London “Babel.” I like the house for no other reason than that I spent many very pleasant evenings in it: but it has now become completely associated with the marvellous talk of both husband and wife. There we met Mazzini, when he was exerting himself for the education of the Italians in London, and before he entered openly on the career of insurrection by which he has since become the most notorious man in Europe. I entirely believe in all that his adorers say of the noble qualities of his heart and temper. I can quite understand how it is that some of those who know him best believe him to be the best man in existence. There is no doubt whatever of his devotedness, his magnanimity, his absolute disinterestedness. But the more, and not the less, for all this does his career seem to me almost the saddest spectacle of our time. He is an ideologist who will preach for ever in a mood of exaltation and a style of fustian, without being listened to by any but those who do not need his incitements. Insurrection is too serious a matter to be stirred up by turgid appeals like his, vague and irreducible to the concrete. Accordingly, here are twenty years since I knew him gone by without success or the prospect of it. His beacon fire blazed longer at Rome than any where: but it went out; and it left in ashes many a glorious relic from ancient times, and the peace of many households. The slaughter of patriots from abortive insurrections has gone on through a long course of years, till, if Mazzini’s heart is not broken, many others are; and the day of an Italian republic seems further off than ever. To Mazzini it seems always at hand, as the Millennium seems to Robert Owen; but I cannot find that any one else who knows the Italians has the least belief that, as a people, they desire a republic, or that the small minority who do could ever agree to the terms of any republican constitution, or maintain it if established. His career will be, I fear, as it has hitherto been, one of failure; and of failure so disastrous as to set it above every other vie manquée. When I knew him, face to face, these purposes of his were growing in silence. His still, patient, grave countenance was that of a man who had suffered much, and could endure to any extremity: but I could not have supposed that experience and experiment could have been so lost on him as they appear to have been. His self-will was not the less strong for his disinterestedness, it appears; and it has taken possession of his intellect, causing him to believe, with a fatal confidence, what he wishes. When we consider how Sardinia has advanced, during the whole period of Mazzini’s bloody and fruitless struggles, and how that State is now a striking spectacle of growing civil and religious liberty, while Mazzini, with his perfect plots, his occult armies, his buried arms and ammunition, his own sufferings and dangers, and his holocaust of victims, has aggravated the tyranny of Austria, and rendered desperate the cause of his countrymen, we can hardly help wishing that his own devotedness had met with acceptance, and that the early sacrifice of his life had spared that of hundreds of his followers who are wept by thousands more.
Another vie manquée was before my eyes at the Carlyles’. John Sterling was then in the midst of his conflicts of all sorts, — with bad health, with the solemn pity and covert reprobation of orthodox friends and patrons, and with his own restless excitement about authorship. I cannot say that I knew him at all; for I never heard the sound of his voice. When we met at the tea table, he treated me like a chair; and so pointed was his rude ignoring of me that there was nothing to be done but for Carlyle to draw off apart with him after tea, while the rest of us talked on the other side of the room. When our meetings were over, — when I was on my couch at Tynemouth, and he was trying to breathe in Devonshire, he suddenly changed his mind, on meeting with “Deerbrook,” and was as anxious to obtain my acquaintance as he had been to avoid it. Supposing me to be at Teignmouth, and therefore within reach, he wrote to Mrs. Carlyle to ask whether it was too late, or whether she would sanction his going to Teignmouth to ask my friendship. I should have been very happy to hear the voice belonging to the striking face and head I knew so well: but it was too late. The length of the kingdom lay between us; and before I emerged from my sick-room, he was in his grave. I am glad I saw him, whatever he might have been thinking of me; (and what it was I have not the remotest idea:) for I retain a strong impression of his noble head and vital countenance.
Another memorable head was there, now and then. Leigh Hunt was there, with his cheery face, bright, acute, and full of sensibility; and his thick grizzled hair combed down smooth, and his homely figure; — black handkerchief, grey stockings and stout shoes, while he was full of gratitude to ladies who dress in winter in velvet, and in rich colours; and to old dames in the streets or the country who still wear scarlet cloaks. His conversation was lively, rapid, highly illustrative, and perfectly natural. I remember one evening when Horne was there (the author of “Orion,” &c.) wishing that the three heads, — Hunt’s, Horne’s and Carlyle’s, — could be sketched in a group. Horne’s perfectly white complexion, and somewhat coxcombical curling whiskers and determined picturesqueness contrasted curiously with the homely manliness of Hunt’s fine countenance, and the rugged face, steeped in genius, of Carlyle. I have seen Carlyle’s face under all aspects, from the deepest gloom to the most reckless or most genial mirth; and it seemed to me that each mood would make a totally different portrait. The sympathetic is by far the finest, in my eyes. His excess of sympathy has been, I believe, the master-pain of his life. He does not know what to do with it, and with its bitterness, seeing that human life is full of pain to those who look out for it: and the savageness which has come to be a main characteristic of this singular man is, in my opinion, a mere expression of his intolerable sympathy with the suffering. He cannot express his love and pity in natural acts, like other people; and it shows itself too often in unnatural speech. But to those who understand his eyes, his shy manner, his changing colour, his sigh, and the constitutional pudeur which renders him silent about every thing that he feels the most deeply, his wild speech and abrupt manner are perfectly intelligible. I have felt to the depths of my heart what his sympathy was in my days of success and prosperity and apparent happiness without drawback; and again in sickness, pain, and hopelessness of being ever at ease again: I have observed the same strength of feeling towards all manner of sufferers; and I am confident that Carlyle’s affections are too much for him, and the real cause of the “ferocity” with which he charges himself, and astonishes others. It must be such a strong love and honour as his friends feel for him that can compensate for the pain of witnessing his suffering life. When I knew him familiarly, he rarely slept, was wofully dyspeptic, and as variable as possible in mood. When my friend and I entered the little parlour at Cheyne Row, our host was usually miserable. Till he got his coffee, he asked a list of questions, without waiting for answers, and looked as if he was on the rack. After tea, he brightened and softened, and sent us home full of admiration and friendship, and sometimes with a hope that he would some day be happy. It was our doing, — that friend’s and mine, — that he gave lectures for three or four seasons. He had matter to utter; and there were many who wished to hear him; and in those days, before his works had reached their remunerative point of sale, the earnings by his lectures could not be unacceptable. So we confidently proceeded, taking the management of the arrangements, and leaving Carlyle nothing to do but to meet his audience, and say what he had to say. Whenever I went, my pleasure was a good deal spoiled by his unconcealable nervousness. Yellow as a guinea, with downcast eyes, broken speech at the beginning, and fingers which nervously picked at the desk before him, he could not for a moment be supposed to enjoy his own effort; and the lecturer’s own enjoyment is a prime element of success. The merits of Carlyle’s discourses were however so great that he might probably have gone on year after year till this time, with improving success, and perhaps ease: but the struggle was too severe. From the time that his course was announced till it was finished, he scarcely slept, and he grew more dyspeptic and nervous every day; and we were at length entreated to say no more about his lecturing, as no fame and no money or other advantage could counterbalance the misery which the engagement caused him. — I remember being puzzled for a long while as to whether Carlyle did or did not care for fame. He was for ever scoffing at it; and he seemed to me just the man to write because he needed to utter himself, without ulterior considerations. One day I was dining there alone. I had brought over from America twenty-five copies of his “Sartor Resartus,” as reprinted there; and, having sold them at the English price, I had some money to put into his hand. I did put it into his hand the first time: but it made him uncomfortable, and he spent it in a pair of signet rings, for his wife and me, (her motto being “Point de faiblesse,” and mine “Frisch zu!”) This would never do; so, having imported and sold a second parcel, the difficulty was what to do with the money. My friend and I found that Carlyle was ordered weak brandy and water instead of wine; and we spent our few sovereigns in French brandy of the best quality, which we carried over one evening, when going to tea. Carlyle’s amusement and delight at first, and all the evening after, whenever he turned his eyes towards the long-necked bottles, showed us that we had made a good choice. He declared that he had got a reward for his labours at last: and his wife asked me to dinner, all by myself, to taste the brandy. We three sat round the fire after dinner, and Carlyle mixed the toddy while Mrs. Carlyle and I discussed some literary matters, and speculated on fame and the love of it. Then Carlyle held out a glass of his mixture to me with, “Here, — take this. It is worth all the fame in England.” Yet Allan Cunningham, who knew and loved him well, told me one evening, to my amazement, that Carlyle would be very well, and happy enough, if he got a little more fame. I asked him whether he was in earnest; and he said he was, and moreover sure that he was right; — I should see that he was. Carlyle’s fame has grown from that day; and on the whole his health and spirits seem to be improved, so that his friend Allan was partly right. But I am certain that there are constitutional sources of pain (aggravated, no doubt, by excess in study in his youth) which have nothing to do with love of fame, or any other self-regards.
In 1837, he came to me to ask how he should manage, if he accepted a proposal from Fraser to publish his pieces as a collection of “Miscellanies.” After discussing the money part of the business, I begged him to let me undertake the proof-correcting, — supposing of course that the pieces were to be simply reprinted. He nearly agreed to let me do this, but afterwards changed his mind. The reason for my offer was that the sight of his proofs had more than once really alarmed me, — so irresolute, as well as fastidious, did he seem to be as to the expression of his plainest thoughts. Almost every other word was altered; and revise followed upon revise. I saw at once that this way of proceeding must be very harassing to him; and also that profit must be cut off to a most serious degree by this absurdly expensive method of printing. I told him that it would turn out just so if he would not allow his “Miscellanies” to be reprinted just as they stood, in the form in which people had admired, and now desired to possess them. As might be expected, the printing went on very slowly, and there seemed every probability that this simple reprint would stand over to another season. One day, while in my study, I heard a prodigious sound of laughter on the stairs; and in came Carlyle, laughing loud. He had been laughing in that manner all the way from the printing-office in Charing Cross. As soon as he could, he told me what it was about. He had been to the office to urge on the printer: and the man said “Why, Sir, you really are so very hard upon us with your corrections! They take so much time, you see!” After some remonstrance, Carlyle observed that he had been accustomed to this sort of thing, — that he had got works printed in Scotland, and ........ “Yes, indeed, Sir,” interrupted the printer. “We are aware of that. We have a man here from Edinburgh; and when he took up a bit of your copy, he dropped it as if it had burnt his fingers, and cried out ‘Lord have mercy! have you got that man to print for? Lord knows when we shall get done, — with all his corrections!’ ” Carlyle could not reply for laughing, and he came to tell me that I was not singular in my opinion about his method of revising.
He has now been very long about his “Frederick the Great,” which I must, therefore, like a good many more, die without seeing. I could never grow tired of his biographies. From the time when I first knew him, I am not aware that he has advanced in any views, or grown riper in his conclusions; and his mind has always seemed to me as inaccessible as Wordsworth’s, or any other constitutionally isolated like theirs: and therefore it is that I prefer to an outpouring of his own notions, which we have heard as often as he has written didactically, and which were best conveyed in his “Sartor Resartus,” a commentary on a character, as in biography, or on events, as in a history. For many reasons, I prefer his biographies. I do not think that he can do any more effectual work in the field of philosophy or morals: but I enjoy an occasional addition to the fine gallery of portraits which he has given us. I am now too much out of the world to know what is the real condition of his fame and influence: but, for my own part, I could not read his Latter Day Pamphlets, while heartily enjoying his Life of his friend Sterling, and, in the main, his “Cromwell.” No one can read his “Cromwell” without longing for his “Frederick the Great:” and I hope he will achieve that portrait, and others after it. However much or little he may yet do, he certainly ought to be recognised as one of the chief influences of his time. Bad as is our political morality, and grievous as are our social shortcomings, we are at least awakened to a sense of our sins: and I cannot but ascribe this awakening mainly to Carlyle. What Wordsworth did for poetry, in bringing us out of a conventional idea and method to a true and simple one, Carlyle has done for morality. He may be himself the most curious opposition to himself, — he may be the greatest mannerist of his age while denouncing conventionalism, — the greatest talker while eulogising silence, — the most woful complainer while glorifying fortitude, — the most uncertain and stormy in mood, while holding forth serenity as the greatest good within the reach of Man: but he has nevertheless infused into the mind of the English nation a sincerity, earnestness, healthfulness and courage which can be appreciated only by those who are old enough to tell what was our morbid state when Byron was the representative of our temper, the Clapham Church of our religion, and the rotten-borough system of our political morality. If I am warranted in believing that the society I am bidding farewell to is a vast improvement upon that which I was born into, I am confident that the blessed change is attributable to Carlyle more than to any single influence besides.
My mornings were, as I have said, reserved for work; and the occasions were very rare when I allowed any encroachment on the hours before two o’clock. Now and then, however, it was necessary; as when the Royal Academy Exhibition opened, and I really could not go, except at the early hour when scarcely any body else was there. The plain truth is that I was so stared at and followed in those days that I had not courage to go (indicated by my trumpet) to public places at their fullest time. Even at the Somerset House Exhibition, in the early morning, when the floors were still wet with watering, I was sure to be discovered and followed. There was a party, I remember, who so pushed upon me, and smiled at me under my bonnet (having recognised me by Evans’s portrait on the wall) that my mother exercised her sarcastic spirit with some effect. She said to me, after many vain attempts to get away from the grinning group, — “Harriet, these ladies seem to have some business with us. Shall we ask them how we can be of any service to them?” By Mr. Macready’s kindness, we escaped this annoyance at the theatre, where we spent many a pleasant evening. He gave us the stage box, whenever we chose to ask for it; and there my mother, whose sight was failing, could see, and I, deaf as I was, could hear; and nobody saw us behind our curtain, so that we could go in our warm morning dress, and be as free and easy as if we were at home. This was one of my very greatest pleasures, — Macready’s interpretation of Shakspere being as high an intellectual treat as I know of.
I have mentioned Evans’s portrait of me, — of which Sir A. Calcott said to me, “What are your friends about to allow that atrocity to hang there?” We could not help it. Mr. Evans was introduced to me by a mutual acquaintance, on the ground that he was painting portraits for a forthcoming work, and wanted mine. I could not have refused without downright surliness; but it appeared afterwards that the artist had other views. I sat to him as often as he wished, though I heartily disliked the attitude, which was one in which I certainly was never seen. The worst misfortune, however, was that he went on painting and painting at the portrait, long after I had ceased to sit, — the result of which was that the picture came out the “atrocity” that Calcott called it. The artist hawked it about for sale, some years after; and I hope nobody bought it; for my family would be sorry that it should be taken for a representation of me. While on this subject, I must say that I have been not very well used in this matter of portraits. It signifies little now that Mr. Richmond’s admirable portrait, and the engraving from it exist to show what I really look like: but before that, my family were rather disturbed at the “atrocities” issued, without warrant, as likenesses of me; and especially by Miss Gillies, who covered the land for a course of years with supposed likenesses of me, in which there was, (as introduced strangers always exclaimed) “not the remotest resemblance.” I sat to Miss Gillies for (I think) a miniature, at her own request, in 1832; and from a short time after that, she never saw me again. Yet she continued, almost every year, to put out new portraits of me, — each bigger, more vulgar and more monstrous than the last, till some of my relations, having seen those of the “People’s Journal” and the “New Spirit of the Age” wrote to me to ask whether the process could not be put a stop to, as certainly no person had any business to issue so-called portraits without the sanction of myself or my family, and without even applying to see me after the lapse of a dozen years. The drollest thing was to see the Editor of the “People’s Journal,” when we first met. He had been complacent and gratified, as he told me, about presenting a likeness of me in the Journal; on which I had made no observation, as it could answer no purpose to object when the thing was done. When we did meet, his first words were, as he sank back on the sofa, — “Ma’am, the portrait! There is not the remotest resemblance!”
I think there were fourteen or fifteen bad portraits before Mr. Richmond’s good one was obtained. I need not say that their fabrication was a disagreeable process to me. That is of course: but I could not prevent them. For some I did not sit: in other cases, I really could not help myself. I refused to sit; but the artists came, with easel and implements, and established themselves in a corner of my study, requesting me to go on with my work, and forget that they were there. The only one besides Richmond’s, and Miss Gillies’s first, that has been liked by any body, as far as I know, is Osgood’s, taken in America. I do not myself think it good. It is too good-looking by far; and the attitude is melodramatic. But it is like some of my relations, and therefore probably more or less like me. All the rest are, we think, good for less than nothing. — Two casts have been taken of my head; one in 1833, and one in 1853. They were taken purely for phrenological purposes. As I have bequeathed my skull and brain, for the same objects, I should not have thought it necessary to have a second cast taken, (to verify the changes made by time) but for the danger of accident which might frustrate my arrangements. I might die by drowning at sea; or by a railway smash, which would destroy the head: so I made all sure by having a cast taken, not long before my last illness began.
It may be as well to explain here some transactions which might appear strange, if their reasons and their course were not understood. At the time of my removal to London, the special horror of the day was the Burke and Hare murders; and all wits were set to work to devise a remedy for the scarcity of bodies for dissection which bred such phenomena as the Burkes and Hares. The mischief was that the only authorised supply was from the gallows; and disgrace was added to the natural dislike of the idea of dissection. Good citizens set to work in various ways to dissolve the association of disgrace with post mortem dissection. Some sold the reversion of their bodies; and others followed Bentham’s example of leaving his body for dissection, by an express provision of his will. I, being likely to outlive my only remaining parent, and to have no nearer connexion, did this, when my new earnings obliged me to make a new will in 1832. The passage of Mr. Warburton’s bill, and its success, relieved the necessity of the case; and in my next will, the arrangement was omitted. This was one of the transactions I referred to. The next was much later in date. When I found that, easy as it is to procure brains and skulls, it is not easy to obtain those of persons whose minds are well known, so that it is rather a rare thing to be able to compare manifestations with structure, I determined to do what I could to remedy the difficulty by bequeathing my skull and brain to the ablest phrenologist I knew of; and this I did in the will rendered necessary by the acquisition of my Ambleside property. Soon after that will was made, I received a letter from Mr. Toynbee, the well-known benevolent surgeon, enclosing a note of introduction from a mutual friend, and going straight to the point on which he wished to address me. He laid before me the same consideration in regard to cases of deafness that I have set down above in connexion with phrenology generally, saying that it is easy enough to obtain the skulls of deaf persons, in order to study the structure of the ear; and it is very easy to meet with deaf people in life; but it is very difficult to obtain the defunct ears of persons whose deafness has been a subject of observation during life. He therefore requested me to leave him a legacy of my ears. He added a few words, in explanation of his plain speaking, about the amount of mischief and misery caused by the ignorance of surgeons in regard to the ear; an ignorance which can be removed only by such means as he proposed. I was rather amused when I caught myself in a feeling of shame, as it were, at having only one pair of ears; — at having no duplicate for Mr. Toynbee after having disposed otherwise of my skull. I told him how the matter stood; and my legatee and he met, to ascertain whether one head could in any way be made to answer both their objects. It could not be, and Mr. Toynbee could not be gratified. I called on him in London afterwards, and showed him as much as he could see while I was alive: and he showed me his wonderful collection of preparations, by which malformation and impaired structure of the ear are already largely illustrated. This is the other transaction which I referred to, and which may as well be distinctly understood, as I do not at all pride myself on doing odd things which may jar upon people’s natural feelings.
Two or three times during my residence in London, I was requested to allow my head to be pronounced upon by professional phrenologists, under precautions against their knowing who I was. I entirely disapprove, and always did, that summary way of deciding on the characters of utter strangers, whose very curiosity is a kind of evidence of their not being in a state to hear the sober truth; while the imperfect knowledge of the structure of the brain at that time, and our present certainty of the complexity of its action, must obviate all probability of an accurate judgment being formed. At the time I speak of, every body was going to Deville, to see his collection of bronzes, and to sit down under his hands, and hear their own characters, — for which they paid down their half-sovereigns, and came away, elated or amused. Among those who so went was a remarkable trio, — of whom Lord Lansdowne and Sydney Smith were two; and I think, but am not sure, that Jeffrey was the third. They went on foot, and avoided naming each other, and passed for ordinary visitors. Lord Lansdowne, to whom was consigned at that time, on account of his aptitude for detail, all the small troublesome business of the Cabinet which every body else was glad to escape, was pronounced by Deville to be liable to practical failure at every turn by his tendency to lose himself in the abstract, and neglect particulars. What he said to Jeffrey (if Jeffrey it was) I forget; but it was something which amused his companions excessively. “This gentleman’s case,” said Deville of Sydney Smith, “is clear enough. His faculties are those of a naturalist, and I see that he gratifies them. This gentleman is always happy, among his collections of birds and of fishes.” “Sir,” said Sydney Smith, turning round upon him solemnly, with wide open eyes, “I don’t know a fish from a bird.” Of about the same accuracy was Deville’s judgment of me. We were a large party, — seven or eight, — of whom my mother was one, and three others were acquaintances of Deville’s. It was agreed that his friends should take the rest of us, as if to see the bronzes; that I should hide my trumpet in a bag, and that nobody should name me (or my mother) or speak to me as to a deaf person. We were certain to be invited by Deville, they said, to hear a little address on Phrenology; and he would then propose to pronounce on the character of any one of the company. I was instructed to take my seat at the end of the group, nearest Deville’s right hand, and to take off my bonnet at a certain signal. All went exactly as foreseen. For some time, the party listened gravely enough to the oracle which I heard mumbling above my head; but at length all burst into a roar of laughter. Mr. Deville pronounced that my life must be one of great suffering, because it was a life of constant failure through timidity. I could never accomplish any thing, through my remarkable deficiency in both physical and moral courage. My mother then observed that it was so far true that I was the most timid child she had ever known. Satisfied with this, Deville proceeded. Amidst some truer things, he said I had wit. Some very properly denied this; but one exclaimed, “Well, I say that any one who has read Miss Martineau’s poor-law tale .........” And now the murder was out. Deville was much discomposed, — said it was not fair, — desired to do it all over again, — to come to our house and try, and so forth: but we told him that the whole proceeding was spontaneous on his own part, and that he had better leave the matter where it was. An amended judgment could not be worth any thing. — Another time, I went with my friends, Mr. and Mrs. F., to call on Mr. Holm the Phrenologist. They had some acquaintance with him, and had an appointment with him, to have him pronounce on Mrs. F.’s head. Mrs. F. thought this a good opportunity to obtain an opinion of my case; and I therefore accompanied her, — no trumpet visible, and no particular notice being taken of me. Mr. Holm pronounced my genius to be for millinery. He said that it was clear, by such and such tokens, that I was always on the look out for tasteful bonnets and caps: and that, my attention being fixed on one at a shop window, I should go home and attempt to make one like it; and should succeed. Such was the sum and substance of his judgment. I afterwards, at his request, attended a few private lectures of his, in a class of three members, the other two being the Duke of Somerset and Rammohun Roy. I really used to pity the lecturer when, from the brain or cast which he held in his hand, he glanced at the heads of his pupils: for the Duke of Somerset had a brown wig, coming down low on his forehead: Rammohun Roy had his turban just above his eyebrows; and I, of course, had my bonnet. No one who knows me will suppose that in thus speaking of so-called phrenologists and their empirical practices, I am in the slightest degree reflecting on that department of physiological science. It is because such empirical practice is insulting and injurious to true science that I record my own experience of it. The proceedings of the fortune-telling oracles, which pronounce for fees, are no more like those of true and philosophical students of the brain than the shows of itinerant chemical lecturers, who burned blue lights, and made explosions, and electrified people half a century ago are like the achievements of a Davy or a Faraday.
One of my rare morning expeditions was to see Coleridge, at his Highgate residence. I cannot remember on what introduction I went, nor whether I went alone: but I remember a kind reception by Mr. and Mrs. Gilman, and by Coleridge himself. I was a great admirer of him as a poet then, as I am, to a more limited extent, now. If I had thought of the man then as I have been compelled by Cottle’s Life to think of him since, I should not have enacted the hypocrisy of going to see him, in the mode practiced by his worshippers. In these days, when it is a sort of fashion among wise men of all opinions to insist upon the disconnexion of religion and morals, one may have a strong sympathy with a man or a writer of eloquent religious sensibilities, even if his moral views or conduct may be unsatisfactory. But then, the religious eloquence must be of a sounder intellectual quality than Coleridge’s appears to me to be. In truth, I do not know how to escape the persuasion that Coleridge was laughing in his sleeve while writing some of the characteristic pieces which his adorers go into raptures about. A great deal of cloud beauty there is in the climate and atmosphere of his religious writings; and if his disciples would not attempt to make this charm, and his marvellous subtlety, go for more than they are worth, one could have no objection to any amount of admiration they could enjoy from such a source. But those who feel as strongly as I do the irreverence and vanity of making the most solemn and sacred subjects an opportunity for intellectual self indulgence, for paradox, and word-play and cloud-painting, and cocoon-spinning out of one’s own interior, will feel certain that the prophecied immortality of Coleridge will be not so much that of his writings as of himself, as an extreme specimen of the tendencies of our metaphysical period, which, being itself but a state of transition, can permit no immortality to its special products but as historical types of its characteristics and tendencies. If Coleridge should be remembered, it will be as a warning, — as much in his philosophical as his moral character. — Such is my view of him now. Twenty years ago I regarded him as poet, — in his “Friend” as much as his verse. He was, to be sure, a most remarkable looking personage, as he entered the room, and slowly approached and greeted me. He looked very old, with his rounded shoulders and drooping head, and excessively thin limbs. His eyes were as wonderful as they were ever represented to be; — light grey, extremely prominent, and actually glittering: an appearance I am told common among opium eaters. His onset amused me not a little. He told me that he (the last person whom I should have suspected) read my tales as they came out on the first of the month; and, after paying some compliments, he avowed that there were points on which we differed: (I was full of wonder that there were any on which we agreed:) “for instance,” said he, “you appear to consider that society is an aggregate of individuals!” I replied that I certainly did: whereupon he went off on one of the several metaphysical interpretations which may be put upon the manysided fact of an organised human society, subject to natural laws in virtue of its aggregate character and organisation together. After a long flight in survey of society from his own balloon in his own current, he came down again to some considerations of individuals, and at length to some special biographical topics, ending with criticisms on old biographers, whose venerable works he brought down from the shelf. No one else spoke, of course, except when I once or twice put a question; and when his monologue came to what seemed a natural stop, I rose to go. I am glad to have seen his weird face, and heard his dreamy voice; and my notion of possession, prophecy, — of involuntary speech from involuntary brain action, has been clearer since. Taking the facts of his life together with his utterance, I believe the philosophy and moralising of Coleridge to be much like the action of Babbage’s machine; and his utterance to be about equal in wonder to the numerical results given out by the mechanician’s instrument. Some may think that the philosophical and theological expression has more beauty than the numerical, and some may not: but all will agree that the latter issues from sound premises, while few will venture to say that the other has any reliable basis at all. Coleridge appears to me to have been constitutionally defective in will, in conscientiousness and in apprehension of the real and true, while gifted or cursed with inordinate reflective and analogical faculties, as well as prodigious word power. Hence his success as an instigator of thought in others, and as a talker and writer; while utterly failing in his apprehension of truth, and in the conduct of his life.
The mention of Coleridge reminds me, I hardly know why, of Godwin, who was an occasional morning visitor of mine. I looked upon him as a curious monument of a bygone state of society; and there was still a good deal that was interesting about him. His fine head was striking, and his countenance remarkable. It must not be judged of by the pretended likeness put forth in Fraser’s Magazine about that time, and attributed, with the whole set, to Maclise, then a young man, and, one would think, in great need of one sort or another, if he could lend himself to the base method of caricaturing shown in those sketches. The high Tory favourites of the Magazine were exhibited to the best advantage; while Liberals were represented as Godwin was. Because the finest thing about him was his noble head, they put on a hat: and they presented him in profile because he had lost his teeth, and his lips fell in. No notion of Godwin’s face could be formed from that caricature: and I fear there was no other portrait, after the one corresponding to the well-known portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft. It was not for her sake that I desired to know Godwin; for, with all the aid from the admiration with which her memory was regarded in my childhood, and from my own disposition to honour all promoters of the welfare and improvement of Woman, I never could reconcile my mind to Mary Wollstonecraft’s writings, or to whatever I heard of her. It seemed to me, from the earliest time when I could think on the subject of Woman’s Rights and condition, that the first requisite to advancement is the self-reliance which results from self-discipline. Women who would improve the condition and chances of their sex must, I am certain, be not only affectionate and devoted, but rational and dispassionate, with the devotedness of benevolence, and not merely of personal love. But Mary Wollstonecraft was, with all her powers, a poor victim of passion, with no control over her own peace, and no calmness or content except when the needs of her individual nature were satisfied. I felt, forty years ago, in regard to her, just what I feel now in regard to some of the most conspicuous denouncers of the wrongs of women at this day; — that their advocacy of Woman’s cause becomes mere detriment, precisely in proportion to their personal reasons for unhappiness, unless they have fortitude enough (which loud complainants usually have not) to get their own troubles under their feet, and leave them wholly out of the account in stating the state of their sex. Nobody can be further than I am from being satisfied with the condition of my own sex, under the law and custom of my own country; but I decline all fellowship and co-operation with women of genius or otherwise favourable position, who injure the cause by their personal tendencies. When I see an eloquent writer insinuating to every body who comes across her that she is the victim of her husband’s carelessness and cruelty, while he never spoke in his own defence: when I see her violating all good taste by her obtrusiveness in society, and oppressing every body about her by her epicurean selfishnesss every day, while raising in print an eloquent cry on behalf of the oppressed; I feel, to the bottom of my heart, that she is the worst enemy of the cause she professes to plead. The best friends of that cause are women who are morally as well as intellectually competent to the most serious business of life, and who must be clearly seen to speak from conviction of the truth, and not from personal unhappiness. The best friends of the cause are the happy wives and the busy, cheerful, satisfied single women, who have no injuries of their own to avenge, and no painful vacuity or mortification to relieve. The best advocates are yet to come, — in the persons of women who are obtaining access to real social business, — the female physicians and other professors in America, the women of business and the female artists of France; and the hospital administrators, the nurses, the educators and substantially successful authors of our own country. Often as I am appealed to to speak, or otherwise assist in the promotion of the cause of Woman, my answer is always the same: — that women, like men, can obtain whatever they show themselves fit for. Let them be educated, — let their powers be cultivated to the extent for which the means are already provided, and all that is wanted or ought to be desired will follow of course. Whatever a woman proves herself able to do, society will be thankful to see her do, — just as if she were a man. If she is scientific, science will welcome her, as it has welcomed every woman so qualified. I believe no scientific woman complains of wrongs. If capable of political thought and action, women will obtain even that. I judge by my own case. The time has not come which certainly will come, when women who are practically concerned in political life will have a voice in making the laws which they have to obey; but every woman who can think and speak wisely, and bring up her children soundly, in regard to the rights and duties of society, is advancing the time when the interests of women will be represented, as well as those of men. I have no vote at elections, though I am a tax-paying housekeeper and responsible citizen; and I regard the disability as an absurdity, seeing that I have for a long course of years influenced public affairs to an extent not professed or attempted by many men. But I do not see that I could do much good by personal complaints, which always have some suspicion or reality of passion in them. I think the better way is for us all to learn and to try to the utmost what we can do, and thus to win for ourselves the consideration which alone can secure us rational treatment. The Wollstonecraft order set to work at the other end, and, as I think, do infinite mischief; and, for my part, I do not wish to have any thing to do with them. Every allowance must be made for Mary Wollstonecraft herself, from the constitution and singular environment which determined her course: but I have never regarded her as a safe example, nor as a successful champion of Woman and her Rights.
Nothing struck me more in Godwin than an order of attributes which were about the last I should have expected to find in him. I found him cautious, and even timid. I believe this is often the case, towards the close of life, with reformers who have suffered in their prime for their opinions: but in Godwin’s case, it was not about matters of opinion only that he was timid. My mother and I went, with a mutual friend, to tea at the Godwins’ little dwelling under the roof of the Houses of Parliament, just before I went to America. Godwin had a small office there, with a salary, a dwelling, and coals and candle; and very comfortable he seemed there, with his old wife to take care of him. He was so comfortable that he had evidently no mind to die. Three times in the course of that evening, he asked questions or made a remark on the intended length of my absence, ending with “When you come back, I shall be dead:” or “When you come back, you will visit my grave,” — evidently in the hope that I should say “No, you will see me return.” I was much amused at the issue of a sudden impulse of complaisance towards me, under which he offered me letters of introduction to various friends and correspondents of his in America. I accepted the offer exactly as I accepted every offer of the kind, — with thanks, and an explanation that my friends must not take it amiss if their letters should chance not to be delivered, as I could not at all tell beforehand what would be the extent or the circumstances of my American travel: and I observed to my mother that this precaution might be particularly necessary in the case of Mr. Godwin’s introductions, if they should chance to be addressed to persons whose views bore no relation to the politics of their time and their republic. On the next Sunday, in came Godwin, in evident uneasiness and awkwardness. He threw his gloves into his hat, as if preparing for some great effort; and then he told me, with reluctance and confusion, that he wished to recall his offer of letters to his American correspondents; for this reason: — that I should be known there as a political economist; and, if he introduced me, it might be supposed that he had changed his views in his old age, and become one of the order of men against whom he had written in his earlier years. I told him I thought he was quite right; and his spirits rose immediately when he saw I was not offended. — I liked best getting him to speak of his novels; and at times he was ready enough to gratify me. He told me, among other things, that he wrote the first half of “Caleb Williams” in three months, and then stopped for six, — finishing it in three more. This pause in the middle of a work so intense seems to me a remarkable incident. I have often intended to read “Caleb Williams” again, to try whether I could find the stopping place: but it has never fallen in my way, and I have not seen the book since my youth.
That last evening at Godwin’s was a memorable one to me. The place is gone, and all who were there are dead except myself. Before it grew too dusk (it was in July) Godwin took us through the passages of that old Parliament House, and showed us the Star Chamber, and brought the old tallies for us to examine, that we might finger the notches made by the tax-collectors before accounts were kept as now. Within three months those tallies burnt down that Star Chamber, and both Houses of Parliament. They burned old Godwin’s dwelling too. His good wife saved him from a fright and anxiety which might have destroyed him at once. He was at the theatre; and she would not have him called, but packed and removed his goods, and so managed as that he was met and told the story like any body else. He was, however, dead before my return, as he had said he should be. When I returned, he was in his grave, and faithful friends were taking kind care of the wife who had done so much for him.
Another old man, of a very different order, was a pretty frequent visitor of mine, and always a kind one, — Mr. Basil Montagu. He, with his venerable head, and his majestic-looking lady were occasionally the ornaments of my evening parties: and I was well acquainted with the Procters, Mrs. Montagu’s daughter and son-in-law. I was always glad to see Mr. Procter in any drawing-room I entered. It was delightful to know the “Barry Cornwall” who won his first fame when I was living on poetry, down at Norwich, and when his exquisite metres were on my tongue or in my head day and night: but all I found in him supported and deepened the interest with which I met him. He was always so kind and courteous, so simple and modest, so honest and agreeable that I valued his acquaintance highly, and have continued to do so, to this day. — As for Mr. Montagu, his benevolence was the first attraction; and the use of the gallows had not then been so long restricted as to permit the efforts of our Romillys and our Montagus to be forgotten. No one man perhaps did so much for the restriction of the punishment of death as Mr. Montagu; and none based the cause on so deep a ground. I was not aware of Mr. Montagu’s philosophy till the latest period of my acquaintance with him. I wish I had been; but he was timid in the avowal of it to a wholly unnecessary, and, I think, faulty degree. Before his death, he distinctly declared in a message to me his approbation of the avowal which his friend Mr. Atkinson and I had made of opinions like his own: and, if he could have lived to see how little harm, and how much good, the avowal has done us, he would have regretted his own caution, — though it was more justifiable in his time than it would have been in ours. I imagine that his curious strain of sentimentality was, — (as far as it was his at all, but I have always believed his lady to have intervened in that case) — to cover up to himself and others the differences between himself and others; — an attempt to find a ground of sympathy, when the broadest and firmest did not exist.
The rising up of his countenance before me as I write reminds me of an occasion when he drew me away from my morning work, to occupy an odd place, and witness a remarkable scene. I found a note from him on the breakfast table, one morning, to say that he would call at ten o’clock, and take me down to Westminster, to witness the trial of the Canadian prisoners, on whose behalf Mr. Roebuck was to plead that day. So early an hour was named, that I might be well placed for hearing. All London was in excitement about this trial, which followed the Canadian rebellion, and the Court was daily crowded. My sister Rachel was with us at the time, and she was glad to accompany Mr. Montagu and me. Early as we were, the Court was full; — completely crowded to the back of the galleries. Mr. Montagu looked in at every door, and then committed us to the charge of one of the ushers while he disappeared for five minutes. He returned, threw his cloak over the arm of the usher, gave us each an arm, in perfect silence, and led us through a long succession of passages till we arrived at a door which he opened, lifting up a red curtain, and pushing us in. To our amazement and consternation, we found ourselves on the Bench, facing the sea of heads in the Court. It was dreadful; and at first, I crouched behind a bulwark: but we agreed that there was nothing to be done. There we were: Mr. Montagu had disappeared; and we could not help ourselves. The only vacant bench in the Court below was presently filled. In came the Canadian prisoners, and seated themselves there. We could hardly believe our eyes, but the men wore hand-cuffs, and we saw the gleam of the steel as they moved. Our consultation about this, and our observation of the prisoners while talking about it made us the subject of the hoax of the day. — We saw the prisoners lay their heads together, and make inquiries of their attendants; and then there was some bustle about handing paper, pen and ink to them. Presently a letter appeared, travelling over the heads of the crowd, and handed from counsel to counsel till it was presented to me by the one nearest the bench. It was a note of compliment and gratitude from the chef of the prisoners. Plenty of lawyers were in a minute pressing pen, ink and paper on me; and I again crouched down and wrote a civil line of reply, which was handed to my new correspondent. We found ourselves particularly stared at till we could bear it no longer, and slipped away, — meeting Mr. Montagu in time to save us from losing ourselves in the labyrinth of passages. We did not know till some time afterwards what pathos there was in the stare which followed the notes. A waggish acquaintance of ours was among the lawyers in the Court. He put on a grave look during the transmission of the notes; and then, hearing speculation all round as to who we were, he whispered to one and another, — “Don’t you know? They are the wives of the Canadian prisoners.” As he intended, the news spread through the Court, and our countenances were watched with all due compassion. I am afraid we were pronounced to be very unfeeling wives, if we might be judged by our dress and demeanour.
When my morning work was done, there was usually a curious variety of visitors, such as it bewilders me more to think of now than it did to receive at the time. More than once, my study door was thrown open, and a Frenchman, Italian or German stood on the threshold, with one hand on his heart and the other almost touching the top of the door, clearing his throat to recite an ode, of which he wanted my opinion. Sometimes it was a lady from the country, who desired to pour her sorrows into my bosom, and swear eternal friendship. This kind of visitor could never be made to understand that it takes two to make a friendship; and that there was no particular reason why I should enter into it with a perfect stranger. By such as these I was favoured with the information that they had inquired my character before coming, — whether I was amiable and so forth; but they seemed to forget that I knew nothing of them. Sometimes some slight acquaintance or another would enter with a companion, and engage me in conversation while the companion took possession of a sheet of my writing paper, or even asked me for a pencil, sketched me, and put the sketch into her reticule; by which time the ostensible visitor was ready to go away. Sometimes my pen was filched from the inkstand, still wet, and taken away to be framed or laid up in lavender. Sometimes ambitious poets, or aspirants to poetic honours, obtained an introduction, on purpose to consult me as to how they should do their work. One young clergyman I remember, who felt that he was made for immortality in the line of Shaksperian tragedy; but he wanted my opinion as to whether he should begin in that way at once, or try something else; and especially, whether or not I should advise him to drink beer. Amidst such absurd people, whose names I have long forgotten, there were many agreeable visitors, beside the multitude whom I have sketched above, who made that time of the day exceedingly pleasant. It was then that I saw Dr. Chalmers on his visits to town. His topics were pauperism and (in those antediluvian days before the ark of the Free Church was dreamed of) the virtues of religious establishments: and fervid and striking was his talk on these and every other subject. Mr. Chadwick, then engaged on the Poor-law, was a frequent visitor, — desiring to fix my attention on the virtues of centralisation, — the vices of which in continental countries were not then so apparent as they have since become. One always knew what was coming when he entered the room; and indeed, so busy a man could not make morning calls, but for the promotion of business. I regarded his visit, therefore, as a lesson; and I never failed to learn much from the master, — the first of our citizens, I believe, who fairly penetrated the foul region of our sanitary disorders, and set us to work to reform them. It might be that his mind was an isolated one; and his faculty narrow and engrossed with detail, so that it was necessary at length to remove him from the administrative position to which his services seemed to entitle him: but there is no question of his social usefulness in instituting the set of objects which he was found unequal to carry out. Twenty years ago, he was just discovered by the Whig Ministers, and he was himself discovering his own department of action. He was a substantial aid to me while I was writing about social evils and reforms; and he has gone on to supply me with valuable information, from that day to this, — from his first exposition of the way in which country justices aggravated pauperism under the old law, to the latest improvement in hollow bricks and diameter of drains. — Judging by the reforms then discussed in my study, that period of my life seems to be prodigiously long ago. Several of the beneficent family of the Hills came on their respective errands, — penny postage, prison administration, juvenile crime reformation, and industrial and national education. Mr. Rowland Hill was then pondering his scheme, and ascertaining the facts which he was to present with so remarkable an accuracy. His manner in those days, — his slowness, and hesitating speech, — were not recommendatory of his doctrine to those who would not trouble themselves to discern its excellence and urgent need. If he had been prepossessing in manner and fluent and lively in speech, it might have saved him half his difficulties, and the nation some delay: but he was so accurate, so earnest, so irrefragable in his facts, so wise and benevolent in his intentions, and so well timed with his scheme, that success was, in my opinion, certain from the beginning; and so I used to tell some conceited and shallow members and adherents of the Whig government, whose flippancy, haughtiness and ignorance about a matter of such transcendant importance tried my temper exceedingly. Rowland Hill might and did bear it; but I own I could not always. Even Sydney Smith was so unlike himself on this occasion as to talk and write of “this nonsense of a penny postage:” as if the domestic influences fostered by it were not more promotive of moral good than all his preaching, or that of any number of his brethren of the cloth! Lord Monteagle got the nickname of “the footman’s friend,” on that occasion, — the “Examiner” being a firm and effective friend of Rowland Hill and his scheme. Lord Monteagle, who is agreeable enough in society to those who are not very particular in regard to sincerity, was, as Chancellor of the Exchequer or any thing else, as good a representative as could be found of the flippancy, conceit, and official helplessness and ignorance of the Whig administrations. He actually took up Rowland Hill’s great scheme, to botch and alter and restrict it. With entire complacency he used to smile it down at evening parties, and lift his eyebrows at the credulity of the world, which could suppose that a scheme so wild could ever be tried: but he condescended to propose that it should supersede the London twopenny post. The “Examiner” immediately showed that the operation would be to save flunkeys the fatigue of carrying ladies’ notes; and Lord Monteagle was forthwith dubbed “the footman’s friend,” — a title which has perversely rushed into my memory, every time I have seen him since. The alteration in Rowland Hill himself, since he won his tardy victory, is an interesting spectacle to those who knew him twenty years ago. He always was full of domestic tenderness and social amiability; and these qualities now shine out, and his whole mind and manners are quickened by the removal of the cold obstruction he encountered at the beginning of his career. Grateful as I feel to him, as the most signal social benefactor of our time, it has been a great pleasure to me to see the happy influence of success on the man himself. I really should like to ask the surviving Whig leaders, all round, what they think now of “the nonsense of the penny postage.”
Good Mr. Porter, of the Board of Trade, — amiable and friendly, industrious and devoted to his business, — but sadly weak and inaccurate, prejudiced and borné in ability, — was a frequent and kindly visitor. His office was at hand, when we lived in Fludyer Street; and he found time to look in very often, and to bring me information, sometimes valuable, and sometimes not. His labours, industrious and sincere, were a complete illustration of Carlyle’s doctrine about statistics. Nothing could be apparently more square and determinate; while nothing could be in fact more untrustworthy and delusive. Some exposures of his mistakes have been made in parliament; and plenty more could be pointed out by parties qualified to criticise his statements; as, for instance, the Birmingham manufacturers, who find that the spirits of wine used in vast quantities for the burnishing of their goods are set down by Mr. Porter as alcoholic liquor drunk by the English people: and, again, the ship-owners, who find the tonnage of the kingdom estimated by him by the number of ships going to sea or returning in the course of the year, — no allowance being made for ships going more voyages than one. It is a serious injury to the nation that the Whig administrations have employed, to obtain and publish information, such unfortunate agents as Bowring, Macgregor and Porter, whose errors and incompetence any sensible man of business could have informed them of. Many thousands of pounds, much valuable time, and no little exertion, have been spent in actually misinforming the people, on the supposition of procuring valuable facts for them. Bowring and Macgregor were obviously unfitted for such work from the outset, by their vanity, incompetence and unscrupulousness. Mr. Porter was of a far higher order. His innocent vanity, which was far from immoderate, never interfered with his steady labour; and he was honourable, disinterested and generous: but his deficiency in sense and intellectual range, together with his confidence in himself and his want of confidence in all public men, was an insuperable disqualification for his sound discharge of an office requiring a wholly different order of mind from his. His intimate friend, his guide and crammer, was David Urquhart, whose accounts of royal, diplomatic and administrative personages he reverently accepted: and this accounts for a good deal of prejudice and perversion of judgment. It was at his table that I saw Mr. Urquhart for the only time that I ever met him. Once was enough; and that once was too like a pantomime to leave the impression of a rational dinner party. Mr. Urquhart had arrived from Turkey with mighty expectations from what he called the friendship of William IV. But the King was dead, and Victoria reigned in his stead: and the oracle’s abuse of the Queen, — a young girl entering upon the most difficult position in the world, — was something wonderful. He railed at her every where and perpetually, — with a vehemence which luckily prevented any harm, such as might have resulted from moderate censure. On the day that I met him, he engrossed the whole conversation, as he sat between our hostess and me. What he gave us, besides abuse of the Queen, was a series of oracular utterances on political doctrine, which he assured me from time to time I was incapable of comprehending; and an intense eulogium on Turkish life, which owed its excellence, political and moral, to the Turkish women being not allowed to learn to read and write. He addressed this to Mrs. Porter, (the sister of David Ricardo, and the author of certain books) on the one hand, and to me on the other. His odd ape-like gestures, his insane egotism, his frail figure and pale countenance, and the ferocious discontent which seemed to be consuming his life, left a strange and painful impression on my mind. His mother soon after died happy in the belief that he would be the saviour of his country: and now, after half a lifetime, he seems, by newspaper accounts, to be just the same man, talking in the same mood and style, with no other change than that he has been tried in parliament and has failed, and that he has been constantly moulting his tail, all these years. His adherents have fallen off and been replaced in constant succession. He has never retained any body’s confidence long (he lost Mr. Porter’s at last) and he has never failed to find impressible, half-informed and credulous people ready to shut their eyes and open their mouths, and swallow what doctrine he should please to give.
With Mr. Porter came Mr. Duppa, the devoted and indefatigable friend of popular education, and the organiser and support of the Central Society of Education, which diffused some useful knowledge and good views in its day. Some foreigner or another, distinguished by eminence in some department within Mr. Porter’s range, often gave me a call, and taught me something, or offered inducements to foreign travel, which I never was able to avail myself of, till the failure of my health made it too late. Mr. Senior used to come and talk about the poor-law, or Ireland. The Combes came and talked about phrenology and educational improvement. Mr. Robertson came to talk of the Westminster Review, of which he was editor, under the direction of Mr. J. S. Mill. He had prodigious expectations from his own genius, and an undoubting certainty of fulfilling a grand career: but he has long sunk out of sight. For fifteen years past, he seems to have been forgotten. I fear he has suffered much, and caused much suffering since the days when I knew him. I never understood him at all; and was duly surprised to find that he represented himself to be my most intimate friend, — philosopher, and guide! but the delusions of his vanity were so many and so gross that one may easily be let pass among the rest. — An even more unintelligible claim to my friendship has been advanced in print by the Howitts. I can only say that I do not remember having seen Mrs. Howitt more than twice in my life, and that I should not know her by sight: and that I have seen Mr. Howitt about four or five times: — three or four times in London, and once at Tynemouth, when he came with a cousin of mine to cool himself after a walk on the sands, and beg for a cup of tea. This he and Mrs. Howitt have represented in print as visiting me in my illness. Such service as they asked of me in London, (to obtain a favourable review of a book of Mr. Howitt’s in which he had grossly abused me) I endeavoured to render; but I really was barely acquainted with them; and I was glad the intercourse had gone no further when I witnessed their conduct to their partner in the People’s Journal, and in some other affairs. I so greatly admire some of their writings, in which their fine love of nature and their close knowledge of children are unmingled with passion and personal discontent, that I am thankful to enjoy the good their genius provides without disturbance from their unreasonable and turbulent tempers.
One of the most striking of my occasional visitors was Capel Lofft the younger, the author of that wonderful book, the merits of which were discovered by Charles Knight; — “Self-formation,” which should be read by every parent of boys. Those who know the work do not need to be told that the author was a remarkable man: and if they happen to have met with his agrarian epic, “Ernest,” a poem of prodigious power, but too seditious for publication, they will feel yet more desire to have seen him. When he called on me to ask my advice what to do with his poem, his card revived all I had heard about his eccentric father, the patron of the poet Bloomfield. He was neat and spruce in his dress and appearance, — with his glossy olive coat, and his glossy brown hair, parted down the middle, and his comely and thoughtful face. He was as nervous as his father; and by degrees I came to consider him as eccentric; especially when I found what was his opinion of the feminine intellect, and that his wife, to whom he appeared duly attached, did not know of the existence of his poem. (The Quarterly Review put an end to the secrecy, some time afterwards.) He died early; but not before he had left a name in the world, by his “Self-formation,” and an impression of power and originality by his formidable epic. — Another poet whose face I was always glad to see was Browning. It was in the days when he had not yet seen the Barretts. I did not know them, either. When I was ill at Tynemouth, a correspondence grew up between the then bedridden Elizabeth Barrett and myself; and a very intimate correspondence it became. In one of the later letters, in telling me how much better she was, and how grievously disappointed at being prevented going to Italy, she wrote of going out, of basking in the open sunshine, of doing this and that; “in short,” said she, finally, “there is no saying what foolish thing I may do.” The “foolish thing” evidently in view in this passage was marrying Robert Browning: and a truly wise act did the “foolish thing” turn out to be. I have never seen my correspondent, for she had gone to Italy before I left Tynemouth; but I knew her husband well, about twenty years ago. It was a wonderful event to me, — my first acquaintance with his poetry. — Mr. Macready put “Paracelsus” into my hand, when I was staying at his house; and I read a canto before going to bed. For the first time in my life, I passed a whole night without sleeping a wink. The unbounded expectation I formed from that poem was sadly disappointed when “Sordello” came out. I was so wholly unable to understand it that I supposed myself ill. But in conversation no speaker could be more absolutely clear and purpose-like. He was full of good sense and fine feeling, amidst occasional irritability; full also of fun and harmless satire; with some little affectations which were as droll as any thing he said. A real genius was Robert Browning, assuredly; and how good a man, how wise and morally strong, is proved by the successful issue of the perilous experiment of the marriage of two poets. Her poems were to me, in my sick-room, marvellously beautiful: and, now that from the atmosphere of the sick-room, my life has been transferred to the free open air of real, practical existence, I still think her poetry wonderfully beautiful in its way, while wishing that she was more familiar with the external realities which are needed to balance her ideal conceptions. They are a remarkable pair, whom society may well honour and cherish.
Their friend Miss Mitford came up to town occasionally, and found her way to Fludyer Street. I was early fond of her tales and descriptions, and have always regarded her as the originator of that new style of “graphic description” to which literature owes a great deal, however weary we may sometimes have felt of the excess into which the practice of detail has run. In my childhood, there was no such thing known, in the works of the day, as “graphic description:” and most people delighted as much as I did in Mrs. Ratcliffe’s gorgeous or luscious generalities, — just as we admired in picture galleries landscapes all misty and glowing indefinitely with bright colours, — yellow sunrises and purple and crimson sunsets, — because we had no conception of detail like Miss Austen’s in manners, and Miss Mitford’s in scenery, or of Millais’ and Wilkie’s analogous life pictures, or Rosa Bonheur’s adventurous Hayfield at noon-tide. Miss Austen had claims to other and greater honours; but she and Miss Mitford deserve no small gratitude for rescuing us from the folly and bad taste of slovenly indefiniteness in delineation. School-girls are now taught to draw from objects: but in my time they merely copied their masters’ vague and slovenly drawings: and the case was the same with writers and readers. Miss Mitford’s tales appealed to a new sense, as it were, in a multitude of minds, — greatly to the amazement of the whole circle of publishers, who had rejected, in her works, as good a bargain as is often offered to publishers. Miss Mitford showed me at once that she undervalued her tales, and rested her claims on her plays. I suppose every body who writes a tragedy, and certainly every body who writes a successful tragedy, must inevitably do this. Miss Mitford must have possessed some dramatic requisites, or her success could have not been so decided as it was; but my own opinion always was that her mind wanted the breadth, and her character the depth, necessary for genuine achievement in the highest enterprise of literature. I must say that personally I did not like her so well as I liked her works. The charming bonhommie of her writings appeared at first in her conversation and manners; but there were other things which presently sadly impaired its charm. It is no part of my business to pass judgment on her views and modes of life. What concerned me was her habit of flattery, and the twin habit of disparagement of others. I never knew her respond to any act or course of conduct which was morally lofty. She could not believe in it, nor, of course, enjoy it: and she seldom failed to “see through” it, and to delight in her superiority to admiration. She was a devoted daughter, where the duty was none of the easiest; and servants and neighbours were sincerely attached to her. The little intercourse I had with her was spoiled by her habit of flattery; but I always fell back on my old admiration of her as soon as she was out of sight, and her “Village” rose up in my memory. The portrait of her which appeared in (I think) 1854 in the “Illustrated London News” is one of the most remarkable likenesses I have ever seen: and it recalls a truly pleasant trait of her conduct. Some years ago, Lady Morgan published a furious comment on some unfavourable report of her beauty, at the very same time that Miss Mitford happened to be addressing a sonnet to an artist friend who had taken her portrait; — a morsel of such moral beauty that I was grateful to the friend (whoever it might be) who took the responsibility of publishing it. The absence of personal vanity, the bonhommie, and the thoughtful grace of that sonnet contrasted singularly, (and quite undesignedly) with the pettish wrath of the sister author. — When I knew Miss Mitford, she was very intimate with the Talfourds. Mr. Talfourd (as he was then) was one of my occasional visitors; and he was also exulting in his dramatic success as the author of “Ion.” To see Macready’s representation of “Ion” was a treat which so enraptured London as to swell Talfourd’s reputation beyond all rational bounds. I shared the general enthusiasm; and I told Talfourd so; for which I was sorry when I knew better, and learned that the beauty of the play is actually in spite of its undramatic quality. During my absence in America, Talfourd’s sudden rise in reputation and success, — professional, parliamentary and literary, was something extraordinary: but the inevitable collapse was not long in coming. His nature was a kindly, but not a lofty one; and his powers were prodigiously overrated. He, of whom I had heard in my youth as a sentimental writer in the “Monthly Repository” died a judge; but he had outlived his once high reputation, which was a curious accident of the times, and might well mislead him when it misled society in general, for months, if not years. His most intimate friends loved him. By those who knew him less he was less liked, — his habits and manners being inferior to his social pretensions and position.
The most complete specimen of the literary adventurer of our time whom I knew was one who avowed his position and efforts with a most respectable frankness. Mr. Chorley, who early went to town, to throw himself upon it, and see what he could make of it, was still about the same business as long as I knew him. He had a really kind heart, and helpful hands to needy brethren, and a small sort of generosity which was perfectly genuine, I am confident. But his best qualities were neutralised by those which belonged to his unfortunate position, — conceit and tuft-hunting, and morbid dread of unusual opinions, and an unscrupulous hostility to new knowledge. The faults of the Athenæum are well known: — Mr. Chorley assumed to be the sub-editor of the Athenæum at the time I knew him; and I suppose he is so still; and by a reference to it, his qualities, good and bad, may be best conveyed. For a considerable time, I overrated him, trusting, from his real goodness of heart when his nature had fair play, that he would improve. But I fear, — by what I recently saw of his singular affectations in dress and manners in public places, and by the deteriorating quality of the Athenæum, that the bad influences of his position have prevailed. From him alone, — unless it were also from Mr. Robertson, — I obtained a conception of the life of the literary adventurer as a vocation. Every author is in a manner an adventurer; and no one was ever more decidedly so than myself: but the difference between one kind of adventurer and another is, I believe, simply this; — that the one has something to say which presses for utterance, and is uttered at length without a view to future fortunes; while the other has a sort of general inclination toward literature, without any specific need of utterance, and a very definite desire for the honours and rewards of the literary career. Mr. Henry F. Chorley is, at least, an average specimen of the latter class; and perhaps something more. But the position is not a favourable one, intellectually or morally, to the individual, while it is decidedly injurious to the sincerity and earnestness of literature.
I twice saw Miss Landon, — the well known “L. E. L.” of twenty years ago. Both times it was in our own house that I saw her; — once, when she was accompanying Mrs. A. T. Thomson in her round of calls, and a second time when she came to me for information about her needful preparations for living at Cape Coast Castle, — a cousin of mine having recently undergone an experience of that kind as the wife of the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone. I was at first agreeably surprised by Miss Landon’s countenance, voice and manners. I thought her very pretty, kind, simple and agreeable. The second time, it was all so sad that my mother and I communicated to each other our sense of dismay, as soon as the ladies were gone. Miss Landon was listless, absent, melancholy to a striking degree. She found she was all wrong in her provision of clothes and comforts, — was going to take out all muslins and no flannels, and divers pet presents which would go to ruin at once in the climate of Cape Coast. We promised, that day, to go to Dr. Thomson’s, and hear her new play before she went: and I could not but observe the countenance of listless gloom with which she heard the arrangement made. Before the day of our visit came round, it was discovered that she had been secretly married, and I saw her no more. The shock of her mysterious death soon followed the uncomfortable impression of that visit.
Miss Edgeworth happened never to be in London during my residence there; but she sought some correspondence with me, both before and after my American travel. Her kindly spirit shone out in her letters, as in all she did; but her vigour of mind and accuracy of judgment had clearly given way, under years and her secluded life. Her epistles, — three or four sheets to my one, — confirmed in me a resolution I had pondered before; to relax my habit of writing in good time; and to make to myself such friends, among my nephews and nieces, as that I might rely on some of them for a check, whenever the quality of my writing should seem to deteriorate. A family connexion of Miss Edgeworth’s had told me, long before, that there was a garret at Edgeworth’s-town full of boxes of manuscript tales of Maria’s which would certainly never see the light. This was before the appearance of “Helen”; and the appearance of “Helen,” notwithstanding the high ability shown in the first volume, confirmed my dread of going to press too often, and returning to it too late. An infamous hoax, in which Miss Edgeworth was betrayed to ridicule, in company with the whole multitude of eminent living authors, deepened the warning to me. That was a remarkable hoax. I was the only one of the whole order who escaped the toils. This happened through no sagacity of my own, but by my mother’s acuteness in detecting a plot.
One day in 1833, when my mother and I were standing by the fire, waiting for the appearance of dinner, a note arrived for me, which I went up to my study to answer, — requesting that my mother and aunt would not wait dinner for me. The note was this: —
“82, Seymour Street, Somer’s Town: October 4th, 1833.
A Frenchman named Adolphe Berthier, who says he acted as Courier to you during one of your visits to France, has applied for a situation in my establishment. He says that you will give him a character. May I request the favour of an answer to this note, stating what you know of him.
“I have the honour to be, Madam,