Page images
PDF
EPUB

tribute of a mourning ring. He adds to these bequests, “ Had I given rings to all the ladies who have honoured me with their correspondence, and whom I sincerely venerate for their amiable qualities, it would, even in this last solemn act, appear like ostentation.” He was of a far higher cast of character than the diverting coxcomb Master Robert Laneham, Gentleman Usher to Queen Elizabeth, but he might say with him, “ Always among the Gentlewomen by my good will; Oh, you know, that comes always of a gentle spirit.”

CHAPTER VII.

WILLIAM HUTTON.

S

OUTHEY, in his 'Commonplace Book,'

writing of manners and literature in the time of Queen Anne, says,

“ Booksellers' shops in the provincial towns of England were very rare." I have already pointed out some indications of this fact, illustrated in the Life of Thomas Gent. Southey's statement is made upon the authority of Boswell, in reference to the dealings of the father of Samuel Johnson. The passages referred to are as follows: “His father was Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, who settled in Lichfield as a bookseller and stationer.

Michael was forced by the narrowness of his circumstances to be very diligent in business, not only in his shop but by continually resorting to several towns in the neighbourhood, many of which were a considerable distance from Lichfield.” As an instance of the rarity of the shops of country booksellers, Boswell goes on to say, “ There was not one even in Birmingham, in which poor old Mr. Johnson used to open a shop every market day.” There is a touching passage in a letter written in his 76th year by the son of the old bookseller, which shows how habitual was this practice in his father's time, and how it seemed in another generation to be thought degrading: “To Mr. Henry White, a young clergyman, with whom he now formed an intimacy, so as to talk to him with great freedom, he mentioned that he could not in general accuse himself of having been an undutiful son. · Once, indeed,' said he, ‘I was disobedient; I refused to attend my father to Uttoxeter market. Pride was the source of that refusal, and the remembrance of it was painful. A few years ago I desired to atone for this fault. I went to Uttoxeter in very bad weather, and stood for a considerable time bareheaded in the rain, on the spot where my father's stall used to stand. In contrition I stood, and I hope the penance was expiatory.'

Samuel Johnson made his first acquaintance with publishers in that town of Birmingham where his father had kept a book-stall. Boswell records that, at the age of twenty-four, the poor student, who had just lost his father, went to pass some time with Mr. Hector, a surgeon, who lodged and boarded at the house of a bookseller: “Mr. Warren was the first established bookseller in Birmingham, and was very attentive to Johnson, who he soon found could be of much service to him in his trade by his knowledge of literature, and he even obtained the assistance of his pen in furnishing some numbers of a periodical essay, printed in the newspaper of which Warren was proprietor.”

Before I follow Samuel Johnson into the great bookselling world of London, let me glance at one or two of the country booksellers who are not wholly forgotten, though their sphere was confined, like that of old Michael Johnson.

In 1730 a poor boy, seven years of age, was put to work in the one silk mill at Derby. I see the shadow of this little fellow, so diminutive that a pair of pattens is tied upon his feet that he may be able to work at the engine. The brutal superintendent canes him mercilessly. The hours of labour require him to rise at five every morning, summer and winter. He is half-starved by his harsh father, a drunken woolcomber. He has no time for the improvement of his mind, and had very early conceived a distaste for learning; for two years before the tyranny of the mill his schoolmaster would beat his head against the wall, holding it by the hair, so that he hated all books except those of pictures. In 1801, dedicating his

History of the Roman Wall' to Mr. John Nichols, he says, “ You will pardon the errors of the work, for you know I was not bred to letters, but that the Battledore, at an age not exceeding six, was the last book I used at school.” The Battledore was the successor of the more primitive Horn-book. For two years the undersized boy escaped the common accidents of badly-fenced machinery; but he then nearly lost his hand, which was caught in the cogs of an engine, and, to balance the providential saving of life and limb, his father broke his walking-stick over his bony back. In another year his mother died. His father gave up housekeeping, spent the money which his goods sold for, and went into lodgings, leaving the unhappy boy to the care of strangers, by whom he was half-starved. I have often looked upon the famous silk-mill of Sir Thomas Lombe, standing upon a swampy island of the river Derwent; but it was ever associated in my mind with the early miseries of William Huttonmiseries which were the common lot of all factory children, until, a hundred years after, the Legislature thought it might be as well, amidst their solicitude for the slaves of the West Indies, to pay a little attention to the slavery of factory children, overworked, untaught, given up, as Hutton describes his own lot, to be “the constant companions of the most rude and vulgar of the human race-never taught by nature, and never wishing to be taught.” During the progress of a century there had been sufficient improvement, even before the Factory Act, to prevent such occurrences as one which this boy describes as the experience of the fifth year of his apprenticeship: “I was now turned twelve. Life began to open. My situation at the mill was very unfavourable. Richard Porter, my master, had made a wound in my back with his cane. It grew worse. In a succeeding punishment the point of his cane struck the wound, which brought it into such a state that a mortification was apprehended. My father was advised to bathe me in Keddleston water. A cure was effected, and I yet carry the scar.” He now obtained a little instruction from an old woman who had been a schoolmistress; but there was no relaxation from his labour in the mill except on one occasion, when an unusually dry summer had so lowered the water in the Derwent, that the one wheel, which set in motion the machinery for making the organzine silk, could not work. The

« PreviousContinue »