Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1715/Mr. Cowden Clarke

From The Athenæum.


At the patriarchal age of nearly ninety, there died on Tuesday, the 13th of March, in the Villa Novello, at Genoa, almost the very last of the intimate friends of Lamb, Keats, Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt - one to whom Lamb was Charles and Leigh Hunt Leontius. Himself an accomplished man of letters, Charles Cowden Clarke was the cherished associate of wits, poets, critics, and essayists, with whose writings his own could never for an instant be brought into comparison. He was born as long ago as 1787, in the village of Enfleld. His intercourse with Elia and his companions helped to confirm him in his natural leaning towards literature. Yet the very earliest publication of his in book-form with which we are acquainted is a little duo-decimo tale, called "Adam the Gardener," printed in 1824, its writer having then attained the mature age of thirty-seven. The year afterwards he issued, in 1825, with notes and a memoir, a new edition of Chaucer. For twenty years together he enjoyed a wide popularity as a lecturer upon English poets and writers of poetic prose. The most important event in his life befel him in 1828, when he was already forty-one years of age. This was his marriage with Mary, the eldest daughter of Vincent Novello, his bride being no more than nineteen. For nearly half a century the names of Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke have been as intimately associated in the literary world as have been those of William and Mary Howitt. Husband and wife at frequent intervals during the last forty-nine years have appeared as collaborateurs upon many a title-page. Their labors have been so interwoven, that it is impossible to speak of one without reference to the other. Even when either has published a work separately, it has been difficult to disassociate from that book the one who ostensibly had nothing whatever to do with it. Cheered — there can be no doubt of this — by her husband's encouragement, Mrs. Cowden Clarke, within a period of sixteen years, beginning about a twelvemonth after the date of her marriage, contrived between 1829 and 1845, when the now famous "Concordance" was published, to perfect her wonderfully minute analysis of the works of Shakespeare. Gleams have been caught every now and then, from books with which the husband had doubtless nothing whatever to do, of the brightness of the humor gladdening his hearth during more than half his lifetime, — as, for example, in 1848, through the adventures of "Kit Bam, Mariner;" or in 1854, through the novel of "The Iron Cousin;" or again in 1856, through the wild and freakish fun of "The Song of Drop o' Wather, by Harry Wandworth Shortfellow." Among the works avowedly produced together by husband and wife, two demand especial commemoration: first, a birthday book, published by them in 1847, called "Many Happy Returns of the Day," and secondly, in 1869, a new and elaborately annotated edition of the plays of Shakespeare. Mr. Cowden Clarke's own independent labors as a man of letters may be only too easily enumerated. Not one among them was in any way ambitious in its character, and when massed together they fail to be voluminous. Having edited the works of Chaucer, as already mentioned, in 1825, he eight years afterwards brought out "Tales from Chaucer." During the same year, 1833, he produced a graceful little volume, reprinted in 1840, called "Nyren's Cricketer's Guide." In 1828 he published "Readings in Natural Philosophy." Besides lecturing on the poets of Great Britain, Cowden Clarke passed through the press new editions of several among them, interspersed with notes, and frequently preceded by a compact biography. In this way he paid his tribute, in 1863, to George Herbert; in 1868 to Thomson; in 1871 to Cowper; in 1872 to Pope; and in the same year also, and in the same way, to Burns. As evidence that he himself could poetize, he brought out, in 1859, a collection of pieces in verse, modestly entitled "Carmina Minima." In 1835 he published a book, afterwards reissued in 1870, called the "Riches of Chaucer." As companion volumes, he published at Edinburgh, in 1863, his book of "Shakespeare Characters," chiefly, by the way, the minor or subordinate characters; and in 1865, also in Edinburgh, his book of "Molière Characters." When we have mentioned his series of essays published in 1871 in the Gentleman's Magazine, on the comic writers of England, we have run through the slender catalogue of the writings of this gentle and equable man of letters, our chief interest in whom arises from the fact of his intimate association fifty years ago with Elia and his contemporaries; and who, advancing along the even tenor of his way, survived them all until he was a nonogenarian.