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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
To the Editor of the New Monthly Magazine. The Author of “Sayings and Doings” having had confided to his
papers and memoranda of Mr. Gilbert Gurney, of Bramstead, with a discretionary power as to the use of them, feels that he shall best consult the wishes of that gentleman's friends and relations by communicating certain portions of the MSS. to the Editor of the “New Monthly Magazine," with a view to their appearance in the pages of that work.
The style in which various passages of Mr. Gurney's chequered life are written, will of itself sufficiently prove that, when they were first committed to paper, they were not intended for general perusal. Circumstances, to which at present it might not be delicate to allude, have combined to induce and justify their publication : they are, therefore, transmitted to the Editor, to be dealt with according to his judgment.
Atheneum, June 11, 1834. [The Editor having received this note with the MS., has no hesitation in submitting the first portion to the reader.]
WHEN I resolved upon committing to paper sundry passages of my life, I determined most carefully to abstain from the perpetration of a piece of autobiography—not because the public has been somewhat surfeited with that kind of literature; since, if I have my will, my memoranda of the scenes and circumstances which I have witnessed, and which have occurred to me, will never meet the public eye—but because, for the most part, “ Reminiscences,” and “ Lives and Times," and the like, are extremely tiresome to read, seeing that matters and events, incidents and occurrences, which are, or were at the time at which they were set down, all of great importance to the recording individual, have (as all those books savour sadly of senility) lost all interest for the reader.
Nevertheless and notwithstanding, such is the force of habit, and such the dominion of principle that, for the life of me, I cannot prevail upon myself to leave my notes huddled together without something like arrangement, nor without just so much notice of myself and my family as may serve to account for my curious wanderings over the face of the earth, and for many of the transactions in which I have been doomed to bear a principal part.
Begin we, therefore, with the beginning. “A fig for your dates," says the Smyrna man to the Tunisian. Nevertheless, in this place,
July.--VOL, XLI. NO. CLXIII.
dates are really essential, as marking the progress of the writer through his chequered career. Be patient, reader, and I will be brief.
I was born in the same year, and in the same month of the same year, as Lord Byron-but eight days later--on the 30th of Januarya memorable day, too. I always felt a sort of sympathetic self-satisfaction as Byron advanced in age and reputation, in the recollection that, although, with my inherent respect for his rank and talents, I could not take the liberty of coming into the world before him-I began my life so nearly about the same period.
There was, nevertheless, something very disheartening to me in the sombre seriousness of my jour de fête. I would rather have been born on the anniversary of a victory or a coronation. Let me be ever so good a boy, I could enjoy no holiday-never could be taken to a play-seeing that the theatres were closed ; and moreover, and above all, I lost twelve thousand pounds which my godfather, the late Sir Charles Smith, would have left me, if I had been christened after him, as he had proposed, and my parents had intended: but, happening to be born upon the anniversary of the martyrdom of our conceding king, my sire, somewhat superstitious, would not hear of my bearing the same name ;-80 I was christened Gilbert, and lost my legacy, Sir Charles having taken huff at my not being named after him, as our old friend Pepys did at Mrs. Browne’s, where he and Sir Willian Penn were godfathers, and Mrs. Jordan and Shipman godmothers to her boy--that being the King's birth-day, upon which Pepys rose early and put six spoons and a silver porringer into his pocket to give away; and in the sequel did give the midwife ten shillings, and the nurse five shillings, and the maid of the house two shillings ;—“ but, forasmuch as he expected to give his name to the child, but did not, (it being called John,) he forbore, then, to give his plate.” Thus, by similar mishaps, did Gilbert Gurney lose twelve thousand pounds, and John Browne a porringer and six spoons.
The saying goes that it is “a wise child who knows his own father.” For myself, it is a disparagement neither to my personal wisdom nor to my mother's unquestionable character, to admit that I knew very little of mine. A faint vision of a large red face, a powdered head, a black tail, and a thick brown walking-stick, floats in my mind, the possessor of which I was taught in infancy to respect as my parent. He died, however, before I was three years old, in the house in which he had lived for upwards of twenty years, and in which I was born; it stood in Bolsover-street, Cavendish-square, a street which no longer exists, thanks to the extraordinary improvements which have taken place in that part of the metropolis; it having years since subsided into a chaos of old materials, whence has arisen one of the most magnificent promenades in Europe. Like the Dragon's teeth, the buried bricks of former houses have given birth to a legion of palaces.
I remember our particular house perfectly; the front parlour had two windows looking to the street, over the blinds of which I recollect my father had a strange propensity for looking out at the passengers ; and so earnestly did he indulge in the pursuit, (if standing still may be so called,) that in its enjoyment he would remain intently watching the most trifling occurrence which came under his observation, with his nose flattened against the pane, as little aware of the circumstance as the anxious hero who stuck his spear through his foot without knowing it, while leaning his chin on the reversed end of it watching the fate of a battle. I remember, too, that opposite to the windows, one of which, that nearest the fire-place, was the solace of my parent's leisure, there was a recess in which stood a sideboard, perpetually decorated with cruets, beakers, and glasses, and three mahogany cases, two for smarthandled knives, and one in the centre for spoons, over which sideboard was affixed to the panel, for the room was wainscoted, a round mirror, supporting two branches for candles; and over the mantel-piece hung a portrait of my father himself, when a smart young man, by an artist of the name of Abbott, who obtained a reputation by painting Lord Nelson more than once, and who lost his life by swallowing as a draught, a mixture sent him from an apothecary to be used as a gargle.
The drawing-room had three windows in it; over the fire-place there hung a picture of my mother, by Wheatley, and in one panel was a portrait of my sister Jane, who died before I was born ; and in the other a likeness of my brother Cuthbert, who was seventeen years my senior, and in India at the time of which I now speak.
My grandfather I never saw; he was a physician in the West of England, or rather, as I suspect, an apothecary, &c., for I never could find his name in any old list of the college. He set my father to study the law, who, being deficient either in talent or industry, soon found, to use a colloquial phrase, that he could make nothing of it; he, therefore, abandoned it as a profession, and marrying soon afterwards, the old gentleman contributed liberally during his lifetime to support the establishment of the young couple, and at his death bequeathed them a fortune perfectly adequate to all their wants and wishes.
My mother's maiden name was Gattaker, and my father, who has been represented to me as a proud man, was very vain of the connexion. The earliest of her ancestors married a Miss Jocosa Burley; but the one from which, it seemed, she claimed to descend, was a clergyman who had been married four times. Certain it is that I have at this moment a seal of my father's arms impaled with those of his wife; and there I find the lion rampant per fess, sable and gules, and the cross pattee fleury with blue tips.
My father never was known so seriously and suddenly to lose his temper as when he was thought to be descended from the Norfolk Gurneys; not that a more honourable or respectable family exists; and quite sure am I that a monarch might be proud of a connexion with one of its members, whose noble heart and charitable disposition would do honour to a throne ; but because he fancied his to be an elder branch of the house, and that he sprang from the De Gourneys, while they were yet resident at Le Brai before the conquest; and so satisfied of this fact was he, that nothing but a request from my mother to the contrary prevented his christening, or rather naming, my eldest brother Cuthbert Eudes, after his pet ancestor, who assumed the name of Gournay, when Rollo, at the division of Neustria amongst his adherents, bestowed upon him the fortress so called.
All this was a question of time and history; but hence arose his firm conviction that, instead of the junior, it was the elder branch of the family that settled in Somersetshire, and that the Gurneys of Barew Gurney and Inglishcombe, with all the accumulation of the Harpetree property, had of right the precedence of the Gurneys of Keswick. Of the plain blue cross on his shield my father was justly proud; and
his gurnet capsized upon his chapeau gules, was to him a point of no little importance ; and having not only great respect for his memory, but strong faith in his accuracy, I have continued to use the same arms and crest even up to the present moment, without doubt, hesitation, or disturbance of mind. I pass over the first sixteen or seventeen years of my career at a dash My school life was not a happy one.
I was idle and careless of my tasks- I had no aptitude for learning languages--I hated Greek, and absolutely shuddered at Hebrew—I fancied myself a genius, and anything that could be done in a hurry and with little trouble, I did tolerably well—but application I had not; and when my excellent mother (who survived her husband eighteen years) suggested to me, on the advice of Mr. Graham, a most worthy man and excellent magistrate, to enter myself of Lincoln's-inn and commence the study of the law, I could not help calling to her mind the history she had herself told me of
my father's signal defeat in the same pursuit.
There is something extremely vague in the term, studying for the barin seven cases out of ten it means doing nothing, under a gentlemanly pretence; in mine nothing could be more unlike what it professed to be ; I paid my entrance-money, gave my caution, and thenceforth proceeded to Lincoln's-inn for four or five days in each term-threw on my gown, walked into hall, and dreading even the fatigue of eating professionally, wrote down my name and walked back again.
It was necessary, however, to satisfy my kind and anxious mother, who, with something more like certainty than ever I considered justifiable by appearances, anticipated my certain elevation to either the Woolsack or the King's Bench—the latter by far the more probable—that I should put myself under somebody who might do me the favour of permitting me to copy his papers gratis, while he did her the kindness of taking three hundred pounds per annum out of her pocket in return for his good-nature; and accordingly I was harnessed under the inspection and direction of the worthy magistrate whose name I have already mentioned, and confided to the care of a very learned gentleman of the profession, who, at the time of my writing this, is filling a situation not very far below one of those which my too fond parent, in the ardour of her affection, had destined for my occupation. What might have been the result of my serious application to the dry drudgery of this good man's office it is impossible for me to surmise. It so happened that the experiment was destined never to be tried, for, among my fellow-pupils at his chambers, there was one whose society and conversation I found so much more agreeable than the elaborated tautology over which I had to pore from ten o'clock in the morning till ten at night-dinner alone intervening~that I gradually relaxed from a regular attendance upon my work, first, to a gentle indifference, and then to an absolute aversion and distaste for the whole pursuit.
My young companion was a bit of a poet, a bit of an artist, a bit of a musician, and, above all,—to me at the period delightful,-a bit of an actor. He knew several of the regular actors—they visited at his father's house-—I was invited by my young friend, and met Charles Kemble and Mathews. The latter at that period was new to London—his merits were not yet appreciated-he wanted that nerve and confidence which subsequent patronage and ultimate success inspired. I well remember the evening. Charles Kemble was grave and gentlemanly; but Mathews,
although quite gentlemanly enough for all earthly purposes, was gay as a lark. He gave us imitations and personifications. There, yet unseen by metropolitan eyes, his old Frenchman, his old Scotswoman, all the best and vivid pictures, now grown familiar to the public, were exhibited to us fresh in the charms of novelty.
That night decided me as to Lincoln’s-inn-not that I'intended to mount the stage myself, but after seeing that exquisite mimic, the best actor off the stage that ever lived, I resolved to put into execution a design which I had previously imparted to my young friend-a design no other than that of writing a farce for one of the winter theatres.
The moment this notable scheme took possession of what I fancied my brain, law was at an end; I had no patience with the parchments. As that witty (now veteran) George Colman the Younger says in his “Reckoning with Time,"—which, by the by, he wrote when he was five and forty, and fancied himself old,
Congreve beat Blackstone hollow,
To supersede Apollo." It is quite clear that when a man takes what is called a fancy, the one pursuit is paramount. A geologist will tell you that there is nothing in the world so interesting, so engrossing, so captivating, as perambulating a dull and miserable country, chipping off bits of rock, and scooping out lumps of clay. He sees no beauty in Richmond Hill—his only delight is in discovering and telling you of what it is composed. The finest mountain in the world has no charm for his eye in the mass. No; to be agreeable to him he must go and knock a little bit of it off, and wrap up that little bit of dirt in a little bit of paper, and carry it to Somersethouse, and then take another little bit of paper, and write a history of it.
To ordinary folks nothing can be much more dull than such a course of proceeding; to the geologist it is delight-upon me the particular taste for dramatic writing had a similar effect: Act 1. Scene 1.-“ Enter Sir Jeremy Bootjack;" delightful thought there I saw him dressed as nobody ever was dressed in his life—he, the said Sir Jeremy, appearing in a sort of mongrel full dress with jockey tops and a pig-tail; whilst all the lovers and their ladies were to be flirting and tom-fooling about in the costume of the then present day. But what was all that to me? Munden and Dowton, and all those men, wore court suits, and jack boots, and cocked hats, and pigtails; and I was sure it was right, and so to work I went; bought three or four French vaudevilles, (which, it being then war time, were not quite so easy of access as they became after the Duke of Wellington had set Europe to rest and raised England to the pinnacle of glory, whence smaller people than his Grace have been every day dragging her down,) and, filching an incident from each, made up my very effective drama.
Young as I was at that time, and inexperienced in such matters, a little observation assured me that the English audiences, who are, in point of fact, as undramatic in their notions as Methodists, would not be satisfied with a single incident, which, on the minor stage, seems to amuse and delight. The French go to a play prepared to view the affair theatrically, and are ready to catch the slightest allusion, and enter into the spirit of the author-with the English it is necessary to thump in your meaning, to make every effect clear