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REAT changes have come upon Took's Court with the run of years, but some of the old houses that the Nephew saw when he went there in 1828, at the con
clusion of the Chiswick partnership, still stand on the eastern side, so that we can easily imagine the appearance of the place when the nineteenth century was young. It contained good old three-story red-brick houses which, when Nephew went there, were not altogether given up to purposes of trade and the law. In a map dated 1740 “
“ Tuke's Court” is shown extending northward from Cursitor Alley” and then turning sharply to the east and bringing up in Castle Yard, which gets into Holborn, on the City side of Staples Inn. “Tuke's Court" long ago became “ Took's Court,” and “ Cursitor Alley” became Cursitor Street, known to enthusiasts the world over as a byway made famous by Charles Dickens. One of the old buildings in the court acquired fame as the “Sponging House” in which Richard Brinsley Sheridan was for a time immured for debt. Sloman's notorious sponging-house, or private prison, where, as Thackeray tells us, Captain Crawley languished, and where Disraeli’s Captain Armine was a temporary guest, was close by in Cursitor Street.
At No. 21 Took's Court, before the Nephew came, one John M'Creery had a printing-office which he had leased of Richard Valpy, who had formerly been a printer there, and who had manufactured in the house the well-known hundredvolume edition of “Valpy's Classics.”
In one hundred years Number Twenty-One had a dozen tenants and almost as many owners.
Charles Whittingham, the Nephew, took the place for twenty-one years from June, 1828. He started in a small way, the Uncle bearing with him the responsibilities of the lease for security's sake. I do not find that Nephew had any money from his relative, or that he even asked for it. The Caslons, who were then, as they are now, leading typefounders of London, supplied him with an outfit on long credit, and offered to advance him capital, as their house had done nearly forty years earlier for the first Charles when the latter came up to town from his apprenticeship at Coventry. But Nephew did not find it necessary to accept the loan.
The first book printed by Charles the younger, after getting into business for himself, was a dry little thing, unpretentious enough, and absolutely without interest. It was called “A Sunday Book," and was printed for Bowdery & Kirby, and made in two volumes. Although the imprint bears the date of 1829, the book was printed by the end of November, 1828. Soon after the establishment of his business at Took's Court, Whittingham the Nephew made the acquaintance of one Basil Montagu, who was then living in Bedford Square, and who ordered from the new press one hundred and fifty copies of a small book, or pamphlet, called “ Letters to Mr. Sugden.” It was through this acquaintance that the younger Whittingham came to know William Pickering, with whom his own name was to be so intimately associated in the production of beautiful editions. The two men, Whittingham and Pickering, speedily became friends, and they remained on terms of the greatest intimacy as long as life lasted.
William Pickering was one of the best-known men in the London book-trade of his day. He was, in his way, a remarkable man, if we are to take the word of folk who know fine books when they see them. He was one of the very first publishers of his century to make the production of fine editions a particular branch of enterprise, and it was through him that by far the greater part of the best work of Whittingham Nephew was put before the world. Pickering had started in business in 1821 as a seller of old books, and he was a rare merchant in that line. In a little shop at 31 Lincoln's Inn Fields he established what he was pleased to call, and no doubt called with truth, a most distinguished connection. His patrons had high places and long purses, and he found it expedient to please them with “elegant reprints of the best literature." His taste for old books not unnaturally produced a kindred taste for the reproduction of them. He had a notion that if an old author were a good one he deserved to be dressed well, and he made it the particular business of his life to do this justice to the ancient stock. In Charles Whittingham the Second he found his coadjutor, and any collector will bear witness to the judgment of this incomparable pair. As Whittingham Uncle and John Sharpe had worked together, so did Whittingham Nephew and William Pickering form an alliance which enriched the world of books.
Nephew's associate, Pickering, was an abler man than Uncle's associate, Sharpe. He was, moreover, a person of some scholarship, as well as good judgment, of excellent taste as well as business courage, and he had, into the bargain, some influential patrons who would always back him in any worthy venture, if help were needed. So it befell that, during the next quarter of a century, Nephew Whittingham made for William Pickering books which, without doubt, both in character and in beauty, composed the most distinctive list that any English printers or publishers had up to that time been jointly identified withal.
These alliances of the Uncle and the Nephew did little to endow the world with first editions, but they adorned it with most admirable reprints. The function of our printers was not to produce new literature, but to set forth the old in beauty. The best literature, whether in our own time or in that elder one, seldom makes its first appearance in fine clothes. It earns this raiment after a generation or so, by which time its authors have gone the way
of all flesh, or their copyrights have expired.
Pickering was living and vending at No. 57 Chancery Lane, whither he had removed in 1825, when Nephew Whittingham set up his presses in Took's Court, hard by. To the bookseller entered Basil Montagu, one June day in 1829, presenting, with the gusto of a discoverer, “the most accomplished printer in the town.” The book