« AnteriorContinuar »
cup, gnawing at his pleasures, causing him more cruel suffering than ever he can inflict on the enemy. O la belle morale ! As I write it, I think about one or two little affairs of my own. There is old Dr. Squaretoso (he certainly was very rude to me, and that's the fact); there is Madame Pomposa (and certainly her ladyship's behavior was about as cool as cool could be). Never mind, old Squaretoso : never mind, Madame Pomposa ! Here is a hand. Let us be friends, as we once were, and have no more of this rancor.
I had hardly sent that last Roundabout Paper to the printer (which, I submit, was written in a peaceable and not unchristian frame of mind), when Saturday came, and with it, of course my Saturday Review. I remember at New York coming down to breakfast at the hotel one morning, after a criticism had appeared in the New York Herali, in which an Irish writer had given me a dressing for a certain lecture on Swift. Ah! my dear little enemy of the T. R. D., what were the cudgels in your little billet-doux compared to those noble New York shillelaghs ? All through the Union, the literary sons of Erin have marched alpeen-stock in hand, and in every city of the States they call each other and everybody else the finest names. Having come to breakfast, then, in the public room, I sit down, and see-that the nine people opposite have all got New York Heralds in their hands. One dear little lady, whom I knew, and who sat opposite, gave a pretty blush, and popped her paper under the tablecloth. I told her I had my whipping already in my own private room, and begged her to continue her reading. I may have undergone agonies, you see, but every man who has been bred at an English public school comes away from a private interview with Dr. Birch with a calm, even a smiling face. And this is not impossible, when you are prepared. You screw your courage up-you go through the business. You come back and take your seat on the form, showing not the least symptom of uneasiness or of previous unpleasantries. But to be caught suddenly up, and whipped in the bosom of your family—to sit down to breakfast, and cast your innocent eye on a paper, and find, before you are aware, that the Saturday Monitor or Black Monday Instructor has hoisted you and is laying on—that is indeed a trial. Or perhaps the family has looked at the dreadful paper beforehand, and weakly tries to hide it. “Where is the Instructor, or the Monitor say you.
“Where is that paper?” says mamma to one of the young ladies. Lucy hasn't it. Fanny hasn't seen it. Emily thinks that the governess has it. At last, out it is brought, that awful paper! Papa is amazingly tickled with the article on Thomson ; thinks that show up of Johnson is very lively; and now-heaven be good to us !—he has come to the critique on himself :-“Of all the rubbish which we have had from Mr. Tomkins, we do protest and vow that this last cartload is,” &c. Ah, poor Tomkins !—but most of all, ah! poor Mrs. Tomkins, and poor Emily, and Fanny, and Lucy, who have to sit by and see paterfamilias put to the torture !
Now, on this eventful Saturday, I did not cry, because it was not so much the Editor as the Publisher of the Cornhill Magazine who was brought out for a dressing ; and it is wonderful how gallantly one bears the misfortunes of one's friends. That a writer should be taken to task about his books, is fair, and he must abide the praise or the censure. But that a publisher should be criticized for his dinners, and for the conversation which did not take place there,-is this tolerable press practice, legitimate joking, or honorable warfare? I have not the honor to know my next-door neighbor, but I make no doubt that he receives his friends at dinner; I see his wife and children pass constantly ; I even know the carriages of some of the people who call upon him, and could tell their names. Now, suppose his servants were to tell mine what the doings are next door, who comes to dinner, what is eaten and said, and I were to publish an account of these transactions in a newspaper, I could assuredly get money for the report ; but ought I to write it, and what would you think of me for doing so?
And suppose, Mr. Saturday Reviewer—you censor morum, you who pique yourself (and justly and honorably in the main) upon your character of gentleman, as well as of writer,-supposé, not that you yourself invent and indite absurd twaddle about gentlemen's private meetings and transactions, but pick this wretched garbage out of a New York street, and hold it up for your readers' amusement-don't you think, my friend, that you might have been better employed ? Here, in my Saturday Review, and in an American paper subsequently sent to me, I light, astonished, on an account of the dinners of my friend and publisher, which are described as “tremendously heavy," of the conversation (which does not take place), and of the guests assembled at the table. I am informed that the proprietor of the Cornhill, and the host on these occasions, is" a very good man, but totally unread ;." and that on my asking him whether Dr. Johnson was dining behind the screen, he said, “God bless my soul, my dear sir, there's no person by the name of Johnson here, nor any one behind the screen,
and that a roar of laughter cut him short. I am informed by the same New York correspondent that. I have touched up a contributor's article ; that I once said to a literary gentleman, who was proudly pointing to an anonymous article as his writing, “Ah! I thought I recognized your hoof in it.” I am told by the same authority that the Cornhill Magazine “shows symptoms of being on the wane," and having sold nearly a hundred thousand copies, he (the correspondent) “ should think forty thousand was now about the mark.” Then the graceful writer passes on to the dinners, at which it appears the Editor of the Magazine “is the great gun, and comes out with all the geniality in his power."
Now suppose this charming intelligence is untrue? Suppose the publisher (to recall the words of my friend the Dublin actor of last month) is a gentleman to the full as well informed as those whom he invites to his table? Suppose he never made the remark, beginning-“God bless my soul, my dear sir," &c., nor anything resembling it? Suppose nobody roared with laughing? Suppose the Editor of the Cornhill Magazine never “touched up
one single line of the contribution which bears “marks of his hand?” Suppoșe he never said to any literary gentleman, “I recognized your hoof” in any periodical whatever? Suppose the 40,000 subscribers, which the writer to New York “ considered to be about the mark,” should be between 90,000 and 100,000 (and as he will have figures, there they are)? Suppose this back-door gossip should be utterly blundering and untrue, would any one wonder? Ah! if we we had only enjoyed the happiness to number this writer among the contributors to our Magazine, what a cheerfulness and easy confidence his presence would impart to our meetings! He would find that “poor Mr. Smith " had heard that recondite anecdote of Dr. Johnson behind the screen; and as for “the great gun of those banquets," with what geniality should not I“ come out” if I had an amiable companion close by me dotting down my conversation for the New York Times !
Attack our books, Mr. Correspondent, and welcome. They are fair subjects for just censure or praise. But woe be to you, if you allow private rancors or animosities to influence you in the discharge of your public duty. In the little court where you are paid to sit as judge, as critic, you owe it to your employers, to your conscience, to the honor of your calling, to deliver just sentences; and you shall have to answer to heaven for your dealings, as surely as my Lord Chief Justice on t e Bench. The dignity of letters, the honor of the literary calling, the
slights put by haughty and unthinking people upon literary men,—don't we hear outcries upon these subjects raised daily? As dear Sam Johnson sits behind the screen, too proud to show his threadbare coat and patches among the more prosperous brethren of his trade, there is no want of dignity in him, in that homely image of labor ill-rewarded, genius as yet unrecognized, independence sturdy and uncomplaining. But Mr. Nameless, behind the publisher's screen uninvited, peering at the company and the meal, catching up scraps of the jokes, and noting down the guests' behavior and conversation, what a figure his is! Allons, Mr. Nameless! Put up your notebook ; walk out of the hall; and leave gentlemen alone who would be private, and wish you no harm.
I wonder whether those little silver pencil-cases with a movable almanac at the butt-end are still favorite implements with boys, and whether pedlars still hawk them about the country? Are there pedlars and hawkers still, or are rustics and children grown too sharp to deal with them? Those pencilcases, as far as my memory serves me, were not of much use. The screw, upon which the movable almanac turned, was constantly getting loose. The i of the table would work from its moorings, under Tuesday or Wednesday, as the case might be, and you would find, on examination, that Th. ør W. was the 23 of the month (which was absurd on the face of the thing), and in a word your cherished pencil-case an utterly unreliable time-keeper. Nor was this a matter of wonder. Consider the position of a pencil-case in a boy's pocket. You had hard-bake in it; marbles, kept in your purse when the money was all gone; your mother's purse, knitted so fondly and supplied with a little bit of gold, long since-prodigal little son scattered amongst the swine-I mean amongst brandyballs, open tarts, three-cornered puffs, and similar abominations. You had a top and string; a knife ; a piece of cobbler's wax; two or three bullets; a Little Warbler; and I, for my part, remember, for a considerable period, a brass-barrelled pocketpistol (which would fire beautifully, for with it I shot off a button from Butt Major's jacket);-with all these things, and ever so many more, clinking and rattling in your pockets, and your hands, of course, keeping them in perpetual movement, how could you expect your movable almanac not to be twisted out of its place now and again-your pencil-case to be bentyour liquorice water not to leak out of your bottle over the cobbler's wax, your bull's-eyes not to ram up the lock and barrel of your pistol, and so forth.
In the month of June, thirty-seven years ago, I bought one of those pencil-cases from a boy whom I shall call Hawker, and who was in my form. Is he dead? Is he a millionaire ? Is he a bankrupt now? He was an immense screw at school, and I believe to this day that the value of the thing for which I owed and eventually paid three-and-sixpence, was in reality not one-and-nine.
I certainly enjoyed the case at first a good deal, and amused myself with twiddling round the movable calendar. But this pleasure wore off. The jewel, as I said, was not paid for, and Hawker, a large and violent boy, was exceedingly unpleasant as a creditor. His constant remark was, “When are you going to pay me that three-and-sixpence? What sneaks your relations must be? They come to see you. You go out to them on Saturdays and Sundays, and they never give you anything ! Don't tell me, you little humbug !” and so forth. The truth is that my relations were respectable ; but my parents were making a tour in Scotland; and my friends in London, whom I used to go and see, were most kind to me, certainly, but somehow never tipped me. That term of May to August, 1823, passed in agonies then, in consequence of my debt to Hawker. What was the pleasure of a calendar pencil-case in comparison with the doubt and torture of mind occasioned by the sense of the debt, and the constant reproach in that fellow's scowling eyes and gloomy, coarse reminders? How was I to pay off such a debt out of sixpence a week ? ludicrous! Why did not some one come to see me, and tip me? Ah! my dear sir, if you have any little friends at school, go and see them, and do the natural thing by them. You won't miss the sovereign. You don't know what a blessing it will be to them. Don't fancy they are too old—try 'em. And they will remember you, and bless you in future days; and their gratitude shall accompany your dreary after life ; and they shall meet you kindly when thanks for kindness are scant. O mercy ! shall I ever forget that sovereign you gave me, Captain Bob? or the agonies of being in debt to Hawker? In that very term, a relation of