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BEING AN APOLOGY FOR NOT MAKING AN ATTEMPT ON MY OWN LIFE
The late inimitable Charles Mathews, in one of his amusing en. tertainments, used to tell a story of a certain innkeeper, who made it a rule of his house, to allow a candle to a guest, only on condition of his ordering a pint of wine. Whereupon the guest contends, on the reciprocity system, for a light for every half. bottle, and finally drinks himself into a general illumination.
Something of the above principle seems to have obtained in the case of a Portrait and a Memoir, which in literary practice have been usually dependent on each other-a likeness and a life, a candle and a pint of wine. The mere act of sitting probably suggests the idea of hatching ; at least an author has seldom nested in a painter's chair, without coming out afterwards with a brood of Reminiscences, and accordingly, no sooner was my effigy about to be presented to the Public, than I found myself called upon by my Publisher, with a finished proof of the engraving in one hand, and a request for an account of myself in the other. He evidently supposed, as a matter of course, that I had my auto-biography in the bottle, and that the time was come to un-cork and pour it out with a Head.
To be candid, no portrait, perhaps, ever stood more in need of such an accompaniment. The figure has certainly the look of one of those practical jokes whereof the original is oftener suspected than really culpable. It might pass for the sign of “The Grave Maurice.” The author of Elia has de. clared that he once sat as substitute for a whole series of British Admirals,* and a physiognomist might reasonably suspect that
* He perhaps took the hint from Dibdin, who lays down the rule in his Sea Songs, that a Naval Hero ought to be a Lion in battle, but afterwards a Lamb.
in wantonness or weariness, instead of giving my head I had procured myself to be painted by proxy. For who, that calls himself stranger, could ever suppose that such a pale, pensive, peaking, sentimental, sonneteering countenance with a wry mouth as if it always laughed on its wrong side-belonged bonâ fide to the Editor of the Comic-a Professor of the Pantagruelian Philosophy, hinted at in the preface of the present work? What unknown who reckons himself decidedly serious, would recog. nize the head and front of my “offending,” in a visage not at all too hilarious for a frontispiece to the Evangelical Magazine ! In point of fact the owner has been taken sundry times, ere now, for a Methodist Minister, and a pious turn has been attributed to his hair-lucus a non lucendo-- from its having no turn in it at all.* In like manner my literary contemporaries who have cared to remark on my personals, have agreed in ascribing to me a melancholy bias; thus an authority in the New Monthly Maga. zine has described me as “a grave anti-pun-like-looking per . son,” whilst another-in the Book of Gems—declares that "
my countenance is more grave than merry,” and insists, therefore, that I am of a pensive habit, and “have never laughed heartily in company or in rhyme.” Against such an inference, however, I solemnly protest, and if it be the fault of my features, I do not mind telling my face to its face that it insinuates a false Hood, and grossly misrepresents a person notorious amongst friends for laughing at strange times and odd places, and in particular when he has the worst of the rubber. For it is no comfort for the loss of points, by his theory, to be upon thorns. And truly what can be more unphilosophical, than to sit ruefully as well as whist. fully, with your face inconsistently playing at longs and your hand at shorts,-getting hypped as well as pipped," talking of Hoyle," as the city lady said, “but looking like winegar," and betraying as keen a sense of the profit and loss, as if the pack had turned you into a pedlar.
But I am digressing; and turning my back, as Lord Castle reagh would have said, on my face. The portrait, then, is genuine an ill-favored thing, Sir," as Touchstone says, “but
* On a march to Berlin, with the 19th Prussian Infantry, I could never succeed in passing myself off as anything but the Regimental Chaplain.
For its quarrel with the rules of Lavater there is precedent. I remember seeing on Sir Thomas Lawrence's easel, an unfinished head of Mr. Wilberforce, so very merry, so rosy, so good-fellowish, that nothing less than the Life and Cor. respondence recently published could have persuaded me that he was really a serious character. A memoir, therefore, would be the likeliest thing to convince the world that the physiognomy alluded to, is actually Hood's own :-indeed a few of the earlier chapters would suffice to clear up the mystery, by proving that my face is only answering in the affirmative, the friendly inquiry of the Poet of all circles—“Has sorrow thy young days shaded ?”—and telling the honest truth of one of those rickety constitutions which, according to Hudibras, seem
as if intended
To confess the truth, my vanity pricked up its ears a little at the proposition of my publisher. There is something vastly flattering in the idea of appropriating the half of a quarter of a century, mixing it up with your personal experience, and then serving it out as your own Life and Times. On casting a retrospective glance however across Memory's waste, it appeared so literally a waste, that vanity herself shrank from the enclosure act, as an unpromising speculation. Had I foreseen indeed, some five-and-thirty years ago, that such a demand would be made upon me, I might have laid myself out on purpose, as Dr. Watts recommends, so as “to give of every day some good account at last.” I would have lived like a Frenchman, for effect, and made my life a long dress rehearsal of the future biography. I would have cultivated incidents “pour servir,” laid traps for adventures, and illustrated my memory like Rogers's, by a bril. liant series of Tableaux. The earlier of my Seven Stages should have been more Wonder Phenomenon Comet and Balloon-like, and have been timed to a more Quicksilver pace than they have travelled ; in short, my Life, according to the tradesman's promise, should have been “fully equal to bespoke.” But, alas! in the absence of such a Scottish second-sight, my whole course of existence up to the present moment would hardly furnish ma.
terials for one of those “bald biographies” that content the old gentlemanly pages of Sylvanus Urban. Lamb, on being applied to for a Memoir of himself, made answer that it would go into an epigram; and I really believe that I could compress my own into that baker's dozen of lines called a sonnet. Montgomery, indeed, has forestalled the greater part of it, in his striking poem on the “Common Lot,” but in prose, nobody could ever make anything of it, except Mr. George Robins. The lives of litera. ry men are proverbially barren of interest, and mine, instead of forming an exception to the general rule, would bear the application of the following words of Sir Walter Scott, much better than the career of their illustrious author. “ There is no man known at all in literature, who may not have more to tell of his private life than I have. I have surmounted no difficulties either of birth or education, nor have I been favored by any particular advantages, and my life has been as void of incidents of impor. tance as that of the weary knife-grinder— Story! bless you, I have none to tell, sir.'”
Thus my birth was neither so humble that, like John Jones, I have been obliged amongst my lays to lay the cloth, and to court the cook and the muses at the same time; nor yet so lofty, that, with a certain lady of title, I could not write without letting myself down. Then, for education, though on the one hand I have not taken my degree, with Blucher; yet, on the other, I have not been rusticated, at the Open Air School, like the Poet of Helpstone. As for incidents of importance, I remember none, except being drawn for a soldier, which was a hoax, and having the opportunity of giving a casting vote on a great parochial question, only I didn't attend. I have never been even third in a duel, or crossed in love. The stream of time has flowed on with me very like that of the New River, which cverybody knows has so little romance about it, that its Head has never troubled us with a Tale. My own story then, to possess any interest, must be a fib.
Truly given, with its egotism and its barrenness, it would look too like the chalked advertisements on a dead wall. Moreover, Pope has read a lesson to self-importance in the Memoirs of P. P., the parish Clerk, who was only notable after all amongst
his neighbors as a swallower of loaches. Even in such prac. tical whims and oddities I am deficient,-for instance, eschewing razors, or bolting clasp-knives, riding on painted ponies, sleeping for weeks, fasting for months, devouring raw tripe, and similar eccentricities, which have entitled sundry knaves, quacks, boobies, and brutes, to a brief biography in the Wonderful Magazine. And, in the absence of these distinctions, I am equally deficient in any spiritual pretensions. I have had none of those experiences which render the lives of saintlings, not yet in their teens, worth their own weight in paper and print, and consequently my personal history, as a Tract, would read as flat as the Pilgrim's Progress without the Giants, the Lions, and the grand single combat with the Devil.
To conclude, my life,“ upon my life,"—is not worth giving, or taking. The principal just suffices for me to live upon; and of course, would afford little interest to any one else. Besides, I have a bad memory; and a personal history would assuredly be but a middling one, of which I have forgotten the beginning and cannot foresee the end. I must, therefore, respectfully de. cline giving my life to the world—at least till I have done with it-but to soften the refusal, I am willing, instead of a written character of myself, to set down all that I can recall of other authors, and, accordingly, the next number will contain the first instalment of
MY LITERARY REMINISCENCES.