LORD HOUGHTON'S " MONOGRAPHS?* THE words "Personal and Social" by
which this series of sketches is to be distinguished from another volume that Lord Houghton
Monographs, Personal and Social. By Lord Houghton. London: Murray. 1873.
is preparing under the title of Monographs, Political and Literary, characterise very aptly the book now before us. In all these sketches, with the exception perhaps of the last, their author gives us his personal impressions of certain characters from a purely social point of view. Lord Houghton has been brought into close contact with so many of the leading minds of Europe, and has had such opportunities of exercising his judgment upon them, that his critical faculty must have been highly developed. Mix- ing in friendly intercourse with men of letters, statesmen, artists, and notorieties of several generations, while competing with some of them in their respective walks of life, he has had the advantage of a double insight and method of comparison. But he contents himself, nevertheless, with a light and anecdotical style of remini- scence, instead of attempting to take a firm grasp of the charac- ters with which be is dealing. Such a mode of treatment is amusing enough, and may suffice when it is applied to per- sons of merely social celebrity, as is the case in two or three of Lord Houghton's papers. It is when we come to the greater men whom we have named already that we find it inadequate.
We are not told whether any of the sketches contained in this volume have been printed before, or appear for the first time in their present shape ; but some of them read like reviews of books, and there- fore suggest a former publication. Wrong as it may be to repine at our own lot, we cannot realise any person taking so keen a pleasure in reviewing as to indulge in it without the stimulus of periodical necessity. A man who writes for separate publication is free from such pressure. Even if his thoughts are suggested to him by the works of others, he prefers to seem original, and while he may be honest enough to acknowledge his obligations, he is free to follow his own course, instead of one that is prescribed for him. Now if we take such papers as those on Humboldt, Landor, and the Berrys, we find Lord Houghton drawing his inspiration chiefly from the published correspondence of the first and last, and from the biography of the second. We do not make this a reproach to Lord Houghton ; it has only led us to speculate as to the novelty of these sketches. Of late years we have been rendered somewhat suspicious by the way in which reprints have laid claim to original honours. In other instances than those named we feel no such doubt. The paper on Sydney Smith, for instance, is clearly intended to supplement his pub- lished life, and to bring out more fully those characteristics which, in Lord Houghton's judgment, that work had not made sufficiently prominent. This is not the line which would be taken by a reviewer, yet by merely adding to a biography which has been already published Lord Houghton misses an excellent oppor- tunity. He might have given us that which would be of great value, his own general impression, formed both from reading and personal observation, of Sydney Smith's character. As it is, we have a chatty and amusing paper, with one or two anecdotes which we have not heard before. This, for instance, is new to us :—
" He willingly assisted his neighbours in their clerical duties, and an anecdote of one of these occasions is still current in the district, for the authenticity of which I will not vouch, but which seems to me good enough to be true. Ho dined with the incumbent on the preceding Saturday, and the evening passed in groat hilarity, the squire, by name Kershaw, being conspicuous for his loud enjoyment of the stranger's jokes. I am very glad that I have amused you,' said Mr. Sydney Smith, at parting, but you must not laugh at my sermon to-morrow.'- ' I should hope eknow the difference between being here or at church,' remarked the gentleman, with some sharpness.—'I am not so sure of that,' replied the visitor.—'I'll bet you a guinea on it,' said the squire. —' Take you,' replied the divine. The preacher ascended the steps of the pulpit apparently suffering from a severe cold, with his handker- chief to his face, and at once sneezed out the name •Ker-shave' several times in various intonations. This ingenious assumption of the readi- ness with which a man would recognise his own name in sounds imperceptible to the ears of others, proved accurate. The poor gentle- man burst into a guffaw, to the scandal of the congregation ; and tho minister, after looking at him with stern reproach, proceeded with his discourse, and won the bet."
There is nothing very novel in the account of a young lady burst- ing into a fit of laughter at Sydney Smith's grace after dinner, and exclaiming "You are always so amusing." Similar stories are told of every celebrated wit. We think it was Theodore Hook who found that if he asked for the mustard at dinner he was greeted with a shout of laughter, while Keeley, the actor, never rode in the Brompton omnibus without producing the same effect when he hailed the conductor. Perhaps one of the best sayings ascribed to Sydney Smith in this volume is the rebuke he administered to Lord Melbourne for his lavish swearing. He said, "Let us assume everybody and every thing to be damned, and come to the subject." We do not know what truth there may be in the stories of Lord Houghton's own encounters with Sydney Smith, and perhaps we could hardly expect to find any allusion to them in this paper. They might, indeed, have been brought is
without destroying the effect of Lord Houghton's statement in his dedication,—" I am not aware that in these pages the personality of the writer is unduly prominent," while, as they would be told at first hand, they would rest for the future on authority, instead of tradition. But we cannot blame Lord Houghton if on these things he preserves a modest silence.
We have said that the sketch of Landor appears to be based on his Life, which was published by Mr. Forster, and it is more or less to this cause that we assign the greater completeness of the treatment. Lord Houghton professes to mingle his reminiscences with the details of Mr. Forster's memoir, but we do not see how the two are to be separated. If, therefore, we were to follow Lord Houghton step by step through a paper which presents much interest, we might be simply re-reviewing Mr. Forster's Life of _Landon with the assistance of an intermediate reviewer. We have apparently one of Lord Houghton's own recollections in the story of Laudor's meeting with Napoleon. Landor, it is said, was fond of relating that he met Napoleon walking in the garden of the Tuileries, and would add, "The fellow looked at me so inso- lently that, if I had not had a lady on my arm, I should have knocked him down." And the saying explains the origin of some of the traditions about Landor which are repeated by Lord Houghton. There is the Florentine story of his having thrown his cook out of the window because the dinner was badly dressed, and of his exclaiming, while the man writhed on the ground with a broken limb, " Good God ! I forgot the violets." The following passage -comprises a number of similar legends :-
" It was generally accepted that he had been sent away from school after thrashing the head master, who had ventured to differ from him as to the quantity of a syllable in a Latin verse ; that he had been ex- pelled from the university after shooting at a fellow of a college, who took the liberty of closing a window to exclude the noise of his wine party ; that he had been outlawed from England for felling to the ground a barrister who had had the audacity to subject him to a cross-exami- nation. His career on the Continent bore an apical completeness. The poet Monti having written a sonnet adulatory of Napoleon and offensive to England, Mr. Lander replied in such outspoken Latinity that he was summoned by the authorities of Como to answer to the charge of libel; he proceeded to threaten the R,egio Delegato with a bella bastonata, and avoided being conducted to Milan by a voluntary retirement to Genoa, launching a Parthian epigram at Count Strasoldo, the Austrian Governor, still more opprobrious than the former verse. At Florence he had been frequently on the point of expulsion, and could expect little protection from the English Embassy, having challenged the Secretary
-of the Legation for whistling in the street when Mrs. Lander passed, and having complained to the Foreign Office of ' the wretches it em- ployed abroad.' Once he was positively banished and sent to Lucca— the legend ran—for walking up a court of justice where the judges were hearing a complaint he had made against an Italian servant with a bag of dollars in his hand, and asking now much was necessary to secure a favourable verdict —' not for his own sake, but for the protection of his countrymen in the city.' "
While Lord Houghtou leaves his readers to form their own judg- ment as to the authenticity of some of these stories, and adds others which bring out quite as strongly the dictatorial aggres- siveness of Landor's nature, we have something of the force of that -contrast which was generally presented by his manner. Landor's affection for his dog, his kind ways with children, his courtesy to casual visitors, make up this brighter side of the man, and do away with much of the effect of his recklessness in opinion, his savage -denunciations of those from whom he differed. In this respect the picture which Lord Houghton has drawn of Alexander von Hum- boldt at the Court of Berlin forma a striking contrast. After his .description of Humboldt taking " his daily reserved place at the royal table, opposite the King," without there being any pretence -either of favouritism or service, Lord Houghton asks, " who sus- pected the deep discontent that lay at the bottom of that old man's heart? Who believed that he was seeking refuge from that courtly splendour, and even from that royal friendship, in secret satire and confidential depreciation of all about him, poured into the ear of a literary contemporary, of whose complete sympathy he was well assured ?" The diplomatic reserve under which these sentiments were concealed does not show to advantage when corn- pared with the excess of violence overlaying and somewhat obscuring a kindly nature. Yet the one man had all the charm of being appreciated ; the other was for ever making enemies, earning himself exile and obloquy.
For the rest, the account of Suleiman Pasha, otherwise Colonel Selves, a Frenchman who rose to distinction in the service of Mehemet Ali, presents some carious details. We do not find any- thing to notice in the sketch of Cardinal Wiseman. The paper on Heine is marked by some spirited translations, and contains a letter from a lady giving painful details of the poet's long illness. In all this, however, there is little that has not been told before. The sketch of Lady Ashburton will perhaps seem newer to most readers, and one or two of her sayings are worth reading. There
is an amusing touch in her statement that she went past a cele- brated Puseyite church on her way to a portrait painter's, and that the beadle, seeing her decked with diamonds and flowers, took her for an altar-piece, or something to be reverenced, and bowed low to her accordingly. Again, there is a ready smartness in her answer to the remark that liars generally speak good-naturedly of other people, " Why, if you don't speak a word of truth, it is not so difficult to speak well of your neighbour." Or we may take the two following sentences :—" If I were to begin life again, I would go on the turf, merely to get friends : they seem to me the only people who really bold close together. I don't know why : it may be that each man knows something that might hang the other ; but the effect is delightful and most peculiar." " To have a really agreeable house, you must be divorced ; you would then have the pleasantest men, and no women but those who are really affectionate and interested about you, and who are kept in con- tinual good-humour by the consciousness of a benevolentpatronage.11