Page images
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

HAT Mr. Thackeray was born in India in that he was educated at Charter


House and Cambridge; that he left the University after a few terms' residence without a degree; that he devoted himself at first to art; that in pursuit thereof he lived much abroad "for study, for sport, for society "; that about the age of twentyfive, married, without fortune, without a profession, he began the career which has made him an English classic; that he pursued that career steadily till his death, — all this has, within the last few weeks, been told again and again.

It is a common saying that the lives of men of letters are uneventful. In an obvious sense this is true. They are seldom called on to take part in events which move the world, in politics, in the conflicts of nations; while the exciting incidents of sensation-novels are as rare in their lives as in the

lives of other men. But men of letters are in no way exempt from the changes and chances of fortune; and the story of these, and of the effects which came from them, must possess an interest for all. Prosperity succeeded by cruel reverses; happiness, and the long prospect of it, suddenly clouded; a hard fight, with aims as yet uncertain, and powers unknown; success bravely won; the austerer victory of failure manfully borne, these things make a life truly eventful, and make the story of that life full of interest and instruction. They will all fal to be narrated when Mr. Thackeray's life shall be written; we have only now to do with them so far as they illustrate his literary career, of which we propose to lay before our readers an account as complete as is in our power, and as impartial as our warm admiration for the great writer we have lost will allow.

Many readers know Mr. Thackeray only as the Thackeray of Vanity Fair, Pendennis, The Newcomes, and The Virginians, the quadrilateral of his fame, as they were called by the writer of an able and kindly notice in the Illustrated News. The four volumes of Miscellanies published in 1857, though his reputation had been then established, are less known than they should be. But Mr. Thackeray wrote much which does not appear even in the Miscellanies; and some account of his early labors may not be unacceptable to our readers.

His first attempt was ambitious. He became connected as editor, and also, we suspect, in some measure, as proprietor, with a weekly literary journal, the fortunes of which were not prosperous. We believe the journal to have been one which bore the imposing title of "The National Standard and Journal of Literature, Science, Music, Theatricals, and the Fine Arts." Thackeray's editorial reign began about the 19th Number, after which he seems to have done a good deal of work, reviews, letters, criticisms, and verses. As the National Standard is now hardly to be met with out of the British Museum, we give a few specimens of these first efforts. There is a mock sonnet by W. Wordsworth, illustrative of a drawing of Braham in stage nautical costume, standing by a theatrical sea-shore; in the background an Israelite, with the clothes-bag and triple hat of his ancient race; and in the sky, constellation-wise, appears a Jew's harp, with a chaplet of bays round it. The sonnet runs:

Say not that Judah's harp hath lost its tone,
Or that no bard hath found it where it hung
Broken and lonely, voiceless and unstrung,
Beside the sluggish streams of Babylon:
Slowman repeats the strains his father sung,

* "It is needless to speak of the eminent vocalist and improvisatore. He nightly delights a numerous and respectable audience at the Cider Cellar; and while on this subject, I cannot refrain from mentioning the kindness of Mr. Evans, the worthy proprietor of that establishment. N. B.-A table d'hôte every Friday. - W. WORDSWORTH."

And Judah's burning lyre is Braham's own!
Behold him here! Here view the wondrous man,
Majestical and lonely, as when first,

In music on a wondering world he burst,

And charmed the ravished ears of Sov'reign Anne.*
Mark well the form, O reader! nor deride
The sacred symbol - Jew's harp glorified —
Which, circled with a blooming wreath, is seen
Of verdant bays; and thus are typified

The pleasant music, and the baize of green,

Whence issues out at eve Braham with front serene."

We have here the germ of a style in which Thackeray became famous, though the humor of attributing this nonsense to Wordsworth, and of making Braham coeval with Queen Anne, is not now very plain. There is a yet more characteristic touch in a review of Montgomery's "Woman the Angel of Life," winding up with a quotation of some dozen lines, the order of which he says has been reversed by the printer, but as they read quite as well the one way as the other, he does not think it worth while to correct the mistake! A comical tale, called the "Devil's Wager," afterwards reprinted in the Paris Sketch-Book, also appeared in the National Standard, with a capital woodcut, representing the Devil as sailing through the air, dragging after him the fat Sir Roger de Rollo by means of his tail, which is wound round Sir Roger's neck. The idea of this tale is characteristic. The venerable knight,

"Mr. Braham made his first appearance in England in the reign of Queen Anne.-W. W."

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »