"ILLUSTRIOUS LITERARY CHARACTERS"
BIOGRAPHICAL. CRITICAL, BIBLIOGRAPHICAL & ANECDOTAL
ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE LITERATURE OF THE FORMER
HALF OF THE PRESENT CENTURY
WILLIAM BATES, B.A.
WITH EIGHTY-FIVE PORTRAITS
CHATTO AND WINDUS, PICCADILLY
[All rights reserved]
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.
This volume consists of a reproduction, on slightly reduced scale, but with no impairment of their effect and truth, of the eighty-one Portraits and Groups originally published in Fraser's Magazine, 1830-38, under the title of "A Gallery of Illustrious Literary Characters." To these, four portraits, not forming part of the original series, have been added, for the sake of completeness; and the whole, it is hoped, will be found to derive elucidation and value from the copious illustrative "Memoirs," for which I am responsible.
It is well to record, in the interests of bibliography, that there has been a previous republication, both in part and in entirety, of this interesting series. So far back as 1833, the portraits of which the "Gallery" then consisted, to the number of thirty-four, were reissued by the proprietors in a handsome quarto volume. A very limited number of the edition was printed at two guineas each, "plain proofs"; with twenty-four copies on "Indian paper," at three guineas. The publication was announced with the statement that "the Drawings were destroyed immediately after their first appearance, and not one had been suffered to get abroad detached from the Magazine." However this may have been, the collection, good as far as it went, contained little more than a third of the entire series as given in this volume; it was unaccompanied by explanatory text; and has become, from its restricted issue, and the destruction of numerous copies by the "Grangerites" of the day, in booksellers' lingo, "difficult of procuration."
In 1874, the complete "Gallery" was, for the first time, published by Messrs. Chatto and Windus, in a handsome quarto volume, at the price of a guinea and a half. The several portraits were accompanied by the original page of matter by Dr. Maginn, and supplementary "notices" by myself. Three portraits, with memoirs (Hallam, Thackeray, and Maclise), not previously included, were added; and a short memoir, without portrait, of the Rev. Francis Mahony. This costly edition has been long since exhausted; and copies are already ranked among scarce books. It therefore seemed that the time had come for a reissue; and this in cheaper form, and with such modifications as experience suggested. The context of Maginn, - brilliant as it undoubtedly was, contained much that was hasty, illiberal and purely ephemeral; and, it was thought, might be omitted, at least in its substantive form, with advantage. All of it that seemed worthy of republication has been incorporated, with due indication or acknowledgment, in my own "notices," or "memoirs"; and these have been entirely rewritten, and extended to more than four times their original dimensions. Moreover, a portrait of Mahony ("Father Prout") has now, for the first time, been given. Thus, with these additions and improvements, the assertion seems justified, that the present volume should be regarded as a new book, rather than as a new edition of an already existing one.
In reviewing their labours in the Magazine, at the conclusion of the first decade of its existence, its conductors, turning from pen to pencil, thus advert to the novel graphic feature of their serial:—"We commenced a Gallery of 'Illustrious' Literary Characters in the month of July, 1830,—commenced, we own, in m.ere jocularity and, trusting to his well-known good-nature and long-tried good temper, selected Jerdan as our opening portrait. There was nothing in what we said that could annoy a man for whom we had so sincere a regard; and we found that the idea pleased. We continued it, therefore, until we published no less than eighty-one."
Next followed an analytical account of the "Gallery," together with some justification of, or apology for, the choice of subjects, concluding with the remarks:—"We closed our series of portraits, principally for lack of sufficiently attractive materials, but are ready to revive them at any time, if we think the public requires us to do so. It will be a valuable present to the future Granger; even as it is, the collection is in no inconsiderable demand for the purpose of illustrating books of contemporary literature, such as the works of Lord Byron, Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, etc. In another generation it will be an object of greater curiosity. Our successors will have no difficulty in procuring set portraits of ' Scott, Rogers, Moore, and all the better brothers,' though even of them it will not be easy to obtain the familiar faces and attitudes as sketched in the Magazine; but where can it be expected that elsewhere will be found any record of the countenances of the illustrious obscure who were scribbling away, with more or less repute, in the reign of William IV.?"
There is no doubt that the greater number of these portraits were the production of that distinguished artist, the late Daniel Maclise, R.A. For one or two, the "Gallery" may have been indebted to the well-known "Alfred Crowquill" (the late Alfred Henry Forrester); and it is not impossible that Thackeray himself may have lent a helping hand on an emergency. Contenting myself, however, wath these general suggestions, I shall make no attempt at further discrimination; nor refer to the manifestly erroneous judgments of certain self-constituted "experts" who have dogmatized on the subject.
The Sketches being slight,—in many cases tinged by caricature, — in nearly all taken surreptitiously or from recollection,—and accompanied, moreover, by humorous, satirical or sarcastic comments,—both artist and author were disposed to obscure their identity with a veil of pseudonymous mystery. The portraits, speaking generally, are nevertheless of the highest excellence, and bear the impress of a master hand. Firm and delicate at once in outline, and felicitous in composition, they exhibit a marvellous subtlety in the apprehension and exhibition of intellectual character. Mr. S. C. Hall, a most competent authority, speaks of them as "admirable as likenesses, and capital as specimens of art"; while Thackeray, in a letter to G. H. Lewes, tells us how greatly Goethe was interested in those "admirable portraits,"—though "the ghastly caricature of R(ogers)" made him shut up the book and put it away in anger; for, as the veteran said with natural horror, "They would make me look like that."
Of the importance of Portraits generally I have spoken at sufficient length (page 404); but those of authors have naturally a special attraction for the lovers of literature. When the gem is so precious, we are apt to believe that the casket must be, in some degree, worthy of it; and the wish is natural,—though in accomplishment too often unsatisfactory—to know in the flesh those writers with whose minds we have already become familiar through their books. That there is no faith to be put in faces is an old axiom; but one against which we instinctively act. We think that there must be a certain correspondence between the man and his book; and that, from either, we are able to predicate what the other will be. Thus the portraits of the learned may be studied with advantage, not only as matters of art and curiosity, but as enabling us to gain therefrom some further apprehension and elucidation of their minds and writings; "latentem enim ingenii vim,"—says the learned Bartholinus,—"et genium scriptorum ex imaginibus et vultu dijudicamus."
The interest and value of these sketches by Maclise have long been known to artists and literary men. Thus, the separate numbers of the Magazine containing them have been eagerly sought for, and are rarely to be met with now at the book-stalls. Some few ardent collectors have succeeded, with no small expenditure of time, labour and money, in forming complete sets; while others, of smaller means, or less enthusiastic temper, have been fain to content themselves with occasional reference, as need suggested, to the eight volumes of Fraser, in public libraries. From these, however, many of the portraits have been eliminated by unscrupulous "Illustrators;" and some of the single numbers, from the special interest of certain plates,—as, for instance, that containing the "Fraserian" cartoon, which the Graphic stated to be on that account absolutely "priceless,"—have become of the utmost rarity. It was thus thought, that the collection and reproduction of the entire series within the compass of a single portable volume, accompanied by such illustration as biographical memoirs, and some few of the more typical and salient pieces of the time might afford, could hardly fail to obtain a wide recognition from general readers, and be regarded by those more specially interested in literary and artistic curiosities, as a κτῆμα ἑς ἀεί,—a "joy for ever."
Each muster-call on the march of life serves but to remind us sadly of the comrades who have fallen by the way. When two lustres had passed over the "Gallery," its projectors recorded that nearly one-fourth of the members,—old and young alike,—had sped from "sunshine to the sunless land." This was in 1840; but at the latter standpoint of 1860, when Frank Mahony edited Prout's Reliques, for Bohn, the Padre could only remember eight,—he unaccountably forgot Jerdan, making a ninth,—as surviving, of the twenty-seven "Fraserians" whom Maclise, in the splendid cartoon which forms our frontispiece, has depicted, carousing at the round table in Regent Street. Again, now that at the expiration of a like interval, the present volume goes to press, but a single one of this century of illustrious men remains among us!This gentleman,—
"——————qui tot per sæcula mortem
Distulit, atque suos jam dextrâ computat annos,"
In discharge of the functions of "Exhibitor" of the "Gallery," I need say very little as to my own labours; leaving others to decide how far they add interest and value to the volume. Didactic criticism, and preceptive morality, have been alike foreign to my purpose. I have merely sought, by anecdote, opinion, quotation or fact,—just as each may have occurred to me,—to illustrate the lives of the men depicted, and reproduce the "form and pressure" of their literary epoch. I have discoursed about the books, which, happily for the book-reader, are to be found at every stall; and I have told of many a one, albo corvo rarior which the book-collector would "pawn his dukedom" to acquire. After the Newgate Calendar, there are no sadder pages in the history of man than those afforded by the Biographies of authors; whence the desire and justification to relieve the gloomy records by extrinsic matter of any degree of relevancy to suggest its introduction. Thus I have retold forgotten stories; refreshed commonplaces; recorded noteworthy events; revised former judgments; revived old scandals; revealed indifferently the friendships and the quarrels, the loves and the hates, the amenities and the acerbities, of a long past day. Desultory however, as my illustrations are, and of varied character, as the title-page imports, there yet may be something in them to please a diversity of tastes. What is neither new nor attractive to one reader may yet be so to another; and thus, in their very discursiveness, they may prove, it is hoped, an humble illustration of that species of writing, of which the younger Pliny set before us the precept and the example:— "Ipsâ varietate tentamus efficere, ut alia aliis, quædam fortasse omnibus placeant."
That there were Giants in the olden days is the belief of all; nor is this the mere cry of the laudator temporis acti. Time would appear to have for the mental eye some of the effects of space for the physical. The objects presented for consideration become undefined and exaggerated in the medium interposed, derive adventitious interest from association, and cease to exhibit those trivial defects which often mar the appreciation of great and enduring qualities. Thus, it is difficult to form an abstract judgment of the great men of the past, and weigh their gifts in an equal scale with those of our more immediate contemporaries. Nevertheless, with this consideration before me, I am unable to divest myself of the conviction that the celebrated writers of the former half of the present century awaken a deep and increasing personal curiosity, which can never be claimed for those of the latter by a future race of critics and biographers. Into the cause of this, I do not profess now to enter, and must remain content with the statement of my belief. It is curious, moreover, to remark that a like phenomenon is to be noticed in the literary annals of the other countries of Europe, where, amid,—and partly on account of,—a general diffusion of intellectual light, the eye is attracted by the radiance of few bright particular stars. "Historians," says S. C. Hall, in the "Postscript" to his charming Book of Memories, "of the later half of the nineteenth century will not have such materials as the first half of it supplied. 'There were giants on earth' when I was young; there are few such to excite wonder, as well as reverence, in the existing age, although, for one who was then an 'author by profession,' there are now a hundred; while readers have multiplied a thousandfold." It is with this glorious band that the reader is now privileged to consort; and this, by the phosphoric pencil of Maclise, and the frequent words of his literary collaborator,—not to speak of my own humble labours,—in such intimacy, that, though born in a later day, and remote, perchance, from lettered haunts, he may almost lay down the volume with the boast of Horace:—
"————————quidquid sum ego, quamvis
Infra Lucili censum ingeniumque; tamen me
Cum magnis vixisse invita fatebitur usque
I now bid farewell to the "Gallery" wherein I have lingered so long. As I have slowly paced its "long-drawn aisles," there has been the echo of mighty voices in my ears, and a rustle beneath my feet as of dry and withered leaves in Vall'ombrosa. It is with regret and reluctance that I lay down my pen. I confess my own abiding fondness for the memory of these grand masterful spirits of the former half-century; nor can I, gazing into the "dark rereward and abysm of time," discern other like period so lavish in the production of men and women of marked and characteristic genius. I love to study their epoch,—to ponder over their books,—to trace and identify the fugitive piece,—to chronicle the obscure fact,—and to snatch the "trivial fond record" from the limbo of oblivion. The admiration which they claimed from me in a long past day has not suffered diminution with time; and when I remember their originality of mind, their force of character, their distinction of personality,—when I reflect on the varied story of their lives and fortunes, their virtues and even their vices, their fervid loves and their outspoken hates,—I am often fain to echo the sentiment of Shenstone:—"Oh, quanto minus est cum reliquis versari, quam vestrum meminisse!"
Enough by way of introduction to the book, which it is now time, in ancient fashion, to bid "goe forth." With no pretensions to unity of design as a biographical essay, a history of the literary epoch, or a critical analysis of its character and productions, it must be regarded rather as a series of fragmentary episodes than a connected work. The sketches of Maclise were often hasty and furtive; the illustrations of his literary collaborator, Maginn, too frequently redolent of an impure Hippocrene; and my own "Memoirs," written among the interruptions and distractions of professional life, will sometimes, I fear, show traces of carelessness and crudity, which revision might have allowed me an opportunity of correcting. However, such as it is, I now commit it to the reader, with the humble obsecration of the Latin poet:—
"Da veniam subitis, et, qui legis ista, memento,
Me dare non librum, sed Σχεδίασμα tibi."
"Tantum in Auctoribus noscendis momenti positum, ut ex illorum ve pietate, vel eruditione, vel partâ famâ, libris increscat autoritas. In illonim porro vitam, ætatem, et vivendi genus inquirendum, non minori sollicitudine, ut expeditius in legendis eorum laboribus versemur."—Th. Bartholinus (De Libris Legenidis, Hagæ Com. 1711, 12mo, p. 35).
"In isto vario et diffuse scribendi genere alius alio plura invenire potest, nemo omnia."—Justus Lipsius (Allocutio in Not. ad libros "de Cruce").
"As the quantity of materials is so great, I shall only premise, that I hope for indulgence, though I do not give the actions in full detail, and with a scrupulous exactness, but rather in a short summary; since I am not writing Histories, but Lives. Nor is it always in the most distinguished achievements that men's virtues or vices may be best discerned; but very often an action of small note, a short saying, or a jest, shall distinguish a person's real character, more than the greatest sieges, or the most important battles. Therefore, as painters in their portraits labour the likeness in the face, and particularly about the eyes, in which the peculiar turn of mind most appears, and run over the rest with a more careless hand; so I must be permitted to strike off the features of the soul, in order to give a real likeness of these great men, and leave to others the circumstantial detail of their labours and achievements."—Langhorne's Plutarch (Alexander).
"Be mine to save from what traditions glean,
Or age remembers, or ourselves have seen;
The scatter'd relics care can yet collect.
And fix such shadows as these lines reflect:
Types of the elements whose glorious strife
Form'd this free England, and still guards her life."
"Cum relego, scripsisse pudet; quia plurima cemo,
Me quoque, qui feci, judice, digna lini."
Ovid (De Ponto, lib. i. Epist. 5).
- Henry Hallam; W. M. Thackeray; Daniel Maclise, R.A.; and the Rev. Francis Mahony ("Father Prout").
- Life of Goethe, by G. H. Lewes, vol. ii. p. 445, ed. 1855.
- It may be well to mention that a similar series of outline portraits, entitled "Our Portrait Gallery," inferior in interest and artistic merit, but accompanied by much longer and more serious biographical notices, is to be found in the Dublin University Magazine. This includes seventy-two portraits, and terminates with that of Captain McClure, R.N., in the number for March, 1854, vol. xliii. Those of Moore and J. W. Croker (vol. xix.). Dr. Maginn (vol. xxiii.), Crofton Croker (vol. xxxiv.), and J. S. Knowles (vol. xl.), have tMr analogues in Eraser's series, with which they may be compared.
- In one of the catalogues, for 1872, of Mr. F. S. Ellis, the eminent second-hand bookseller of Covent Garden, a very remarkable collected copy of the "Gallery" occurred for sale. It consisted of eighty-one portraits, many of which were proof impressions, and almost all illustrated by autograph letters of the illustrious originals. The whole was arranged in two volumes, 4to; bound in "red morocco, super-extra"; and did not long wait a purchaser, I presume, at the catalogue price of £63. This worthy successor of Rodd, Thorpe, and Lilly, has since removed to 29, New Bond Street, where he flourishes under the firm of "Ellis and White."
- "Of the luminous effulgence flung round all these matters by that brilliant enlightener (λαμπαδοφορος), Alfred Croquis, we know not in what style to speak fittingly, or where to find adequate terms of eulogy."—Father Prout's Self-Examination.