Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/215

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


and brought him home. The advice of a cousin, John Buckle, whose counsels he valued through life, induced him to abandon all thoughts of going to the bar for fear of the strain upon his health, and a sense of the danger of overwork made him at the same time diminish his indulgence in chess. His two sisters were now married, and his mother came to live with him, though London disagreed with her health. They took 59 Oxford Terrace, where a large back room with a skylight and plenty of wall space offered good accommodation for his books and retirement for his studies. Buckle bought all the books which he used, parting with those no longer required. He had possessed at different times about 22,000 volumes, but left only 11,000 at his death. He worked hard for many years before publishing anything. He made careful notes of all he read, and seldom required to re-read. His memory was very powerful. He could recite long passages from the French and English classics. Three or four readings would fix a page of prose in his mind. He laboured hard to improve his style, reading the best models, and then trying to express the substance in his own words. His plan in writing was to compose a whole paragraph before setting it down in order to avoid discontinuity of style. His domestic affairs were carefully regulated. For two things he never grudged money—books and cigars. Abstinence from smoking incapacitated him from working or talking. He confined himself, however, to three cigars daily. He was a judge of cookery and particular about his meals. Though very careful in money matters, he does not seem to have been fairly chargeable with meanness. He often made liberal offers of help to his friends, and when importuned by beggars took the pains to investigate their cases, and was generous to deserving sufferers. His income did not exceed 1,500l. a year. He resolved not to marry until this could be doubled, holding that he could not educate sons properly on less than 3,000l. a year. No passion seems to have tried the strength of this resolve. When seventeen he had fallen in love with a cousin and challenged a man to whom she was engaged. Another passion for a cousin, a girl of fortune and ability, was suppressed in consequence of the parents' objection to marriages of relations. Buckle's amusements were simple. He walked seven miles a day, he sometimes went to the theatre, and he even attended a masked ball as Mr. Mantalini, and afterwards as a canting methodist. Hallam, whose acquaintance he had made on his first journey, introduced him to the Society of Antiquaries and to the Royal Literary Society, on the committee of which he served in 1852. He gave frequent dinner parties during the season, and when not engaged would spend the evening with his intimate friends. In 1854 he made the acquaintance of Miss Shirreff and her sister, Mrs. Grey. He gave them much literary advice, and Miss Shirreff revised the sheets of his book before publication. For many years chess was his chief recreation. In 1851 he encountered the most distinguished European chess-players in some games played on occasion of the Great Exhibition. He showed himself the equal of the best performers, and beat Anderssen and Loewenthal. He grudged, however, the time withdrawn from literary pursuits, and never afterwards took part in a public match.

Meanwhile he was steadily employed upon his book, which gradually took shape in his mind. He read seven or eight hours a day, and at luncheon ate only bread and fruit to keep his brains clear. He says in January 1856 that ‘he had been engaged upon his manuscript incessantly for fourteen years’ (Huth, i. 113). A letter to Lord Kintore in February 1853 shows that it had then assumed its final shape, and was limited to the history of English civilisation instead of civilisation in general (ib. 63). He had already, in 1852, spoken to a publisher. The work, however, swelled upon his hands. His mother's growing infirmities induced him to accompany her to various places for the sake of her health, and partly of his own. In 1855 he was copying out and arranging notes. A negotiation with the Messrs. Parker for its publication in 1856 fell through from Buckle's unwillingness to pledge himself as to future editions. He acknowledged, however, the frankness and liberality of the publishers, and proposed to them at the end of the year to publish an edition of 1,500 copies on commission. It came out accordingly in the course of 1857 and instantly succeeded. By the end of the year 675 copies of the first edition were sold. For this edition Buckle received ultimately 665l. 7s. The Parkers agreed to give 500l. for a second edition of 2,000 copies. The book was already reprinted in America, and was eagerly discussed at Moscow. Buckle was elected to the Athenæum, in spite of a threatened opposition, by 264 white to nine black balls. The Political Economy Club spontaneously elected him, and on 19 March 1858 he gave a lecture to an overflowing and enthusiastic audience at the Royal Institution upon ‘The Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge.’ He spoke for an hour and forty minutes, in a ‘beautifully modulated voice,’ and without once referring to a few notes which he