LANDMARKS OF A LITERARY LIFE, 1820-92.* EVERYBODY who is anybody
in the world of letters, and who has reached the ripe age of sixty, appears to think it necessary in our day to write his or her recollections of the people they have met with. The mass of material provided in this way will give a wearisome task to future chroniclers, in separating the few precious grains of wheat from the chaff in which they are embedded. Books of this class are like the barren exchange of society talk with persons who meet together for the first and last time, and forget each others' existence before the week is out. But just as we meet occasionally with a chance acquaintance whom it is pleasant to see again, so among the many books of literary gossip there are a few volumes which a reader recalls with pleasure, and could willingly peruse a second time. Whether the Landmark; of a Literary Life is likely to be so honoured, we cannot pretend to say ; but the volume has in its favour three distinct merits,—it is concise, it is well written, and it is written in a kindly spirit.
That Mrs. Newton Crosland should look with especial satis- faction on the time when she was young, and making a path for herself in the world by literature, is natural enough. Every.. where she appears to have been received with consideration and kindness :— " Looking back on those days," she writes, " I certainly think there was much less cynicism in conversation than is to be found now. Witty, satirical things were often enough said, and gave a zest to the'feast of reason and the flow of soul,' but they were generally without malice. Honest enthusiasm was not then called gush,' and to be a hero-worshipper was not thought snobbish.' " To that kind of worship, the author in her maiden days appears to have been considerably addicted, and her praise, if warm, is occasionally indiscriminate.
In 1841, Mrs. Crosland began her literary career by sending articles to the famous Journal established by William and Robert Chambers, and the narrative of her friendship with the two brothers forms perhaps the most interesting chapter in the book. They are said to have worked together with the greatest harmony while utterly opposed in character. "Both," she writes, " were true and just and energetic, with a high standard of morals and duty, but the elder brother, William, was far narrower in his sympathies, and far more rigid in his preju- dices than Robert. I am afraid the elder was nearly pitiless to persons who had brought their misfortunes on themselves by extravagance or even imprudence." Five or six weeks were passed under his roof pleasantly enough, but not idly, for the author spent the mornings, and was expected to do so, in writing for the Journal. At 1 o'clock work was over, and sight-seeing began until the dinner-hour, which was at4 o'clock. Steele, in one of his essays, says that the usual dinner-hour was 3 o'clock, while in his youth it was noon, and he asks, " To what are we coming ? " The change from 12 o'clock to 8 o'clock shows how completely the habits of society have altered since Sir Richard's youthful days. The progress has been gradual, Fifty years ago the fashionable dinner-hour was 6 o'clock, and one wonders in these busier times how the work of the day could be finished so early. Of William Chambers several interesting anecdotes are told, His affection for dogs appears to have been as warns as Sir Walter Scott's :- " Three dogs reigned over his heart like successive sovereigns, during about thirty years. I remember his coming to lunch with me soon after the demise of the second, and telling me the particulars of her sudden death. He used to pay the extra fare• when he travelled that it might be with him in a first-class carriage. He was about to leave Edinburgh for his country-place, Glenormiston, when at or near the station the dog had some seizure that was fatal. wrapped it in my plaid,' he said, with a choking voice, and carried it on my knees that it might be * Landmarks of a Literary DA 18204894 By Mrs. Newton Crosland (Camilla Toulmin). Loudon Sampson Low and Co.
buried at Glenormiston.' Then he added, with the tears in his eyes, and I think on his cheeks, Oh, it was terrible when I took off her beads 1 ' The dog wore a necklace instead of a collar. Happily this was the last trial of the kind that he had, for the next favourite to which he attached himself survived his master."
The elder Chambers is said to have been wholly without imagination, and he confessed " he could not see what there was in Shakespeare to make such a fuss about." He seemed, Mrs. Crosland says, " to have hardly any comprehension of the truths that are greater than facts, and was, I think, quite devoid of the sense of humour." She adds, however, that like every Scotchman she ever knew, he thought a great deal of Burns, and it was while staying with William Chambers that she was taken to see the poet's then surviving sister, Mrs. Begg, "a handsome, somewhat stately old woman, strikingly like the engraving of her brother's portrait which hung over the mantelpiece of her little parlour."
William Chambers had lost his children, but his brother had a houseful, and with him and his delightful wife, who said that through her married life each year had been happier than its predecessor, Mrs. Crosland spent several happy days. At a dinner-party which took place during this visit, The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was alluded to, and a lady had the impropriety to mention the report that Mr. Chambers was the author. His wife gave a sudden start, but he replied, " I wonder how people can suppose that I ever had time to write such a book."
Mrs. Crosland pleads for the Annuals which were so much in vogue in her youth, and which she evidently regards as superior in literary quality to most of the illustrated periodicals issued in our day. They were bought chiefly for the sake of the engravings, but the first authors of the time wrote for them and despised them, Scott being among the number. He received £500 from the proprietor of the Keepsake for his juvenile drama, The House of Aspen, "My Aunt Mar- garet's Mirror," and two other little tales, and was offered £800 .a year as editor, which, he says, "was not to be thought of."
Lockhart observes that "Sir Walter regretted having meddled 'in any way with the toyshop of literature, and would never do so again, though repeatedly offered very large sums."
Mrs. Newton Crosland found remunerative occupation in these "painted bladders," as Lockhart rather cruelly calls them, and having been asked to " write to a plate " for Lady Blessing- ton's Book of Beauty, made that lady's acquaintance, and was frequently at Gore House. Of its once famous owner and of the people who flocked there during Lady Blessington's reign, Mrs. Crosland has not much to say that will attract attention. No one now reads Lady Blessington's once popular books, and the splendour and misery of her life are alike forgotten. At Gore House the author met Louis Napoleon, "one of the ugliest men I had ever seen; " Count D'Orsay was there, of course, and did not win Mrs. Crosland's admiration. He struck her as being "mannish, rather than manly," and observes that there can be no doubt he " was without principle, or even the worldly prudence which sometimes is the poor substitute for conscience." When the crash came, and the handsome Count had to leave the country because he could not pay his bootmaker, Lady Blessington settled in Paris. Louis Napoleon, as President of the Republic, is said to have been displeased with the step she had taken :— " The story goes," says Mrs. Crosland, "that he asked her how long she intended to remain in Paris, and that she replied by the question Et vous, monseigneur P' She was quite equal to making the retort, but I think myself she had too much worldly wisdom to do so. Besides, she was a staunch Buonapartist, and had faith in the family star."
Mrs. S. a Hall receives a high character from her friend, and of the husband and wife she writes that " few people can have been more loved and honoured." Mrs. Hall was assuredly a very agreeable hostess, and the kind way in which, many long years ago, she welcomed young people unknown to fame is remembered by the writer of this review. Her manners were lively, and her conversation, although provokingly illogical, 'very racy and amusing. The Halls were constantly "flitting," but they managed to give a tasteful character to their residences which was far more rare forty years ago than it is now. Mrs. Crosland observes that Mr. Hall was "frequently misunderstood." This is possible, but there can be no doubt that he made many mistakes, and the most indulgent of his friends will admit that he was not a man of business.
The author, as we have said, has a kind word for most people who have won a position in the world of letters, but her impression of Leigh. Hunt was most unfavourable. "I must confess," she says, "that he seemed to me the very type of self-satisfied, arrogant vulgarity; a man without reverence, and consequently without the breadth of understanding which reverence gives." And the author's reminiscences of Miss Mitford are not so agreeable as those of most persons who made the acquaintance of that interesting woman. When Miss Mitford heard of Elizabeth Barrett's transformation in health after her marriage, she said : "I do not know Mr. Browning, but this fact is enough to make me his friend."
Mrs. Crosland, who paid an uncomfortable visit to Swallow- field, states, however, that Robert Browning was the especial object of Miss Mitford's vituperation, and that she evidently regarded Miss Barrett as a naughty child for accepting him : "I doubt if she had read a line of Robert Browning's later poems,—and I doubt also if she had ever pierced to the depths
of those which his wife had written Reflecting on what she has done, and what her opinions as she expressed them in conversation seemed to be, my impression of Mary Russell Mitford remains as that of a hard-headed' woman spoiled by early and easily acquired literary success at a time when women authors were few Yet I am sure she must have had tender springs in her nature which circumstances had never called into play."
Mrs. Crosland, it is evident, is altogether out of touch with Miss Mitford, and she admits that she never greatly admired her village stories.
A number of attractive personages figure in these pages, who must be passed by without comment ; but space shall be found for a brief account of Sir Isambard and Lady Brunel, with whom Mrs. Crosland became acquainted in their old age. When Brunel, a French aristocrat, was "under suspicion," during the Reign of Terror, he owed his escape and his life to forging a passport. At that time he was engaged to a young English girl, Miss Sophia Kingdom, who, as the fiancee of an aristocrat, was imprisoned for several months. Brunel went to America, and the lovers did not meet again for years, and when they did meet they were so changed in appearance that Lady Brunel told Mrs. Crosland they did not recognise each other. Brunel's greatest achievement, as all the world knows, was the Thames Tunnel, and it is said that for seven years, from January, 1835, to the completion of the tunnel, the engineer never slept more than two hours at a time: "Lady Brunel herself told me of their way of life. They resided near the shaft at Rotherhithe, and through day and night, every two hours a sample of the earth excavated was submitted to Brunel for his examination ; and in accordance with its character were the written instructions given for the next two hours of work. Writing materials were always ready in his bedroom at night, and a bell was so hung as to ring near the bed. There was also a lift by which the sample of soil ascended, and by which in return the letter of instructions was conveyed. This broken rest was at first a great trial ; but after a while the habit of awaking every two hours was formed, and Lady Brunel declared that for months after the completion of the tunnel, she and her husband found it impossible to sleep for more than that period at a time."