Page images
PDF
EPUB

SHADOWS, ETC.

CHAPTER I.

THOMAS GUY.

N commencing this volume with the story

of one who was more remarkable as a great public benefactor than as a book

seller, I have to bear in mind the especial object of these Shadows, which I have stated to be this, to give something like a connected view of literary progress, in its commercial relations, for about a century. I have felt that there was some apparent reason for what has been said of the founder of Guy's Hospital, that “though claimed by booksellers as one of their body, his property was acquired by stockjobbing rather than by literature.” * Nearly all the popular accounts of Thomas Guy appear to touch slightly upon his bookselling operations. In Mr. Cunningham's excellent 'Handbook of London,' he is mentioned as "a bookseller in Lombard Street, who is said to have made his fortune ostensibly by the sale of Bibles, but more, it is thought, by purchasing seamen's tickets, and by his great success in the sale and transfer of stock in the memorable

Knight’s ‘London,' vol. v. p. 372.

South Sea year of 1720.” The only contemporaneous notice of Guy, the bookseller, is by John Dunton, in à volume printed in 1705, of which book and its author I shall have to speak fully :—“Mr. Thomas Guy, in Lombard-street. He makes an eminent figure in the Company of Stationers, having been chosen Sheriff of London, and paid the fine, and is now a Member of Parliament for Tamworth. He entertains a very sincere respect for English liberty. He is a man of strong reason, and can talk very much to the purpose upon any subject you will propose.

He is truly charitable, of which his Almshouses for the Poor are standing testimonies.” The nearest approach to an exact account of his career was published within fourteen years after his death, William Maitland prefixed a memoir of Guy to his account of Guy's Hospital, published in his History of London, in 1739. His narrative is far more precise than the brief life in Nichols · Literary Anecdotes;' which memoir, in some respects, appears to show that modern biography has its mythical periods as well as ancient history. Guy's birthplace is very exactly defined by Maitland. “He was born in the northeast corner-house of Pritchard's Alley, (two doors east of St. John's churchyard), in Fair Street, Horsleydown.” Amidst the changes of Old London, Fair Street still exists, and has a due place in the Post Office Guide to principal streets and places. It is at the eastern extremity of Tooley Street, where Horsleydown begins, and at a short distance from the Thames. The Down where horses once grazed, and where, probably, the child Thomas Guy once played, is now built over. The father of this boy was a lighterman and coal-dealer, and it is most likely that the young son of a man so occupied would be familiar with the locality between Horsleydown and London Bridge. One 'building seems to have lived in his memory in connexion with early associations. St. Thomas's Hospital, an old almonry, had been bought by the citizens of London at the dissolution of the religious houses, as a place of reception for diseased people. It was fast falling into decay when Thomas Guy looked upon it in his boyhood.

In what manner, or where, Thomas Guy was educated in his earliest years, there appears to be no record. When he was eight years old his father died. His mother was a native of Tamworth. After her husband's death she returned to that town, and soon after married again; “however,” says Maitland, “she took care to have her children carefully educated, and at a proper age put her son Thomas apprentice.” It would appear highly probable that he resided with his mother at Tamworth, and was there educated. His almshouses for the poor, mentioned by John Dunton, in 1705, were in that town, and appear to have been amongst his earliest charitable endowments. They were for fourteen poor men and women, with pensions for each occupier; and what was and is a rare provision for the poor, they were furnished with a library. Whether properly educated or not for the business of a bookseller, for which some tincture of learning was then required, Thomas Guy was bound apprentice in September, 1660, for eight years, to Mr. John Clarke, bookseller, in the porch of Mercer's Chapel. Although Mercer's Hall and Mercer's Chapel, in Cheapside, were swept away by the fire of London in 1666, Thomas served out his due time; took up his livery as a member of the Stationers' Company; and having seen Cheapside, the Poultry, and Cornhill in ruins, found, in 1668, a little shop, newly built, in which he could carry on his business, “near Stocks Market.” It requires some effort of imagination to credit that the area upon which the Mansion-house now stands was, for some centuries, a market for butchers and fishmongers, deriving its name from the Stocks, which were set up in the public thoroughfare for the punishment of evil-doers. The whole place was swept clean by the fire of 1666; and then the sheds and the stalls found another local habitation by the side of Fleet Ditch, and the Stocks Market became a pleasant place for the sale of fruits and flowers, and was planted on the east with rows of trees. The shop of Guy was at the angle formed by Cornhill and Lombard-street; and Maitland describes it as “the little corner-house.” Many persons now living will remember this little. corner-house, when it was occupied by a noted lottery-office keeper, and scarcely a passer-by failed to fancy the lucky number that looked upon him with seductive eyes out of that shop-window. When Guy settled here it must have been a capital situation, for the ruins of Sir Thomas Gresham's Exchange had been cleared away, and new dwellings had sprung up with the rapidity which the exigencies of trade never fail to command. Within a year after our Thomas had taken up his position, the second Exchange was opened with great pomp; and it stood through all the changes and revolutions of thrones and institutions, of laws and commerce, till it was burnt down in 1838.

Placed thus in the very heart of the great commercial operations of London, I can see the shadow of the young bookseller as he sits in his shop amidst his small stock, of the value of two hundred pounds, restless at the want of occupation, and envying the great merchant adventurers congregating in the Exchange, whose ships brought the produce of every land to the port of London. He spreads his new books and his old upon a board in front of his window, now and then soliciting the busy trader who glances at them to buy Mr. Wingate's · Arithmetic made Easy,' or Mr. Record's Grounds of Art,' or Mr. Hawes's

Short Arithmetic; or, the Old and Tedious Way of Numbering reduced to a New and Brief Method.' He had divinity books, too, chiefly by the famous controversialists who wrote against any approach to the errors of the Church of Rome; and some by their opponents, who were equally hostile to the doctrines of the Non-conforming clergy. Theology was by far the most exciting topic of those days. Mr. Guy was a good Protestant, and as he sat in his shop, too often unvisited by customers, he meditated frequently upon the large trade that he could command if it were in his power to offer godly people Bibles well printed and cheap. There was no such commodity to be had in England. All the arts associated with the production of books were hampered with privileges and restrictions, and were consequently in a state very inferior to those practised in'

« PreviousContinue »