Brooks, Charles William Shirley (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 06
Brooks, Charles William Shirley

by George Clement Boase
1904 Errata appended.

BROOKS, CHARLES WILLIAM SHIRLEY (1816–1874), editor of 'Punch,' was the son of William Brooks, architect, who died on 11 Dec. 1867, aged 80, by his wife Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of William Sabine of Islington. He was born at 52 Doughty Street, London, 29 April 1816, and after his earlier education was articled, on 24 April 1832, to his uncle, Mr. Charles Sabine of Oswestry, for the term of five years, and passed the Incorporated Law Society's examination in November 1838, but there is no record of his ever having become a solicitor; for the natural bent of his genius impelled him, like Dickens and Disraeli, to lighter studies, and he forsook law for literature.

During five sessions he occupied a seat in the reporters' gallery of the House of Commons, as the writer of the parliamentary summary in the 'Morning Chronicle.' In 1853 he was sent by that journal as special commissioner to inquire into the questions connected with the subject of labour and the poor in Russia, Syria, and Egypt. His pleasant letters from these countries were afterwards collected and published in the sixth volume of the 'Travellers' Library,' under the title of the 'Russians of the South.'

In early times, 1842, he signed his articles which were appearing in 'Ainsworth's Magazine' Charles W. Brooks. His second literary signature was C. Shirley Brooks, and finally he became Shirley Brooks. His full christian names were Charles William Shirley, the latter being an old name in the family. His first magazine papers, among which were 'A Lounge in the Œil de Bœuf,' 'An Excursion of some English Actors to China,' 'Cousin Emily,' and 'The Shrift on the Rail,' brought him into communication with Harrison Ainsworth, Laman Blanchard, and other well-known men, and he soon became the centre of a strong muster of literary friends, who found pleasure in his wit and social qualities. As a dramatist he frequently achieved considerable success, without, however, once making any ambitious effort—such, for example, as producing a five-act comedy. His original drama, 'The Creole, or Love's Fetters,' was produced at the Lyceum 8 April 1847 with marked applause. A lighter piece, entitled 'Anything for a Change,' was brought out at the same house 7 June 1848. Two years afterwards, 5 Aug. 1850, his two-act drama, the 'Daughter of the Stars,' was acted at the New Strand Theatre. The exhibition of 1851 gave occasion for his writing 'The Exposition: a Scandinavian Sketch, containing as much irrelevant matter as possible in one act,' which was produced at the Strand on 28 April in that year.

In association with John Oxenford, he supplied to the Olympic, 26 Dec. 1861, an extravaganza, which had the sensational heading 'Timour the Tartar, or the Iron Master of Samarkand,' the explanatory letterpress significantly stating that a trifling lapse between the year 1361 and the year 1861 occasionally occurs. Amongst his other dramatic pieces may be mentioned the 'Guardian Angel,' a farce, the 'Lowther Arcade,' 'Honours and Tricks,' and 'Our New Governess.'

Brooks was in his earlier days a contributor to many of the best periodicals. He was a leader writer on the 'Illustrated London News,' to which journal at a later period he furnished a weekly article under the name of 'Nothing in the Papers.' He conducted the 'Literary Gazette' 1858-9, and edited 'Home News' after the death of Robert Bell in 1867. To a volume edited by Albert Smith in 1849, called 'Gavarni in London,' he furnished three sketches— 'The Opera,' 'The Coulisse,' and 'The Foreign Gentleman;' and in companionship with Angus B. Reach he published 'A Story with a Vengeance' in 1852. At thirty-eight years of age he began to assert his claim to consideration as a popular novelist by writing 'Aspen Court: a Story of our own Time.' Conscious, as he must have been, of his first success of a substantial kind as an imaginative writer, he nevertheless allowed five years to elapse before he made his second venture as a novelist. He did so then as the author of a new serial fiction, the 'Gordian Knot,' in January 1858; but this work, although illustrated by J. Tenniel, and consisting of twelve numbers only, remained unfinished for upwards of two years.

The most important and interesting event in Shirley Brooks's life was his connection with 'Punch,' which took place in 1851. He made use of the name 'Epicurus Rotundus' as the signature to his articles. From this period to his decease he was a contributor to the columns of that periodical, and in 1870 he succeeded Mark Lemon as editor. One of his best known series of articles was 'The Essence of Parliament,' a style of writing for which he was peculiarly fitted by his previous training in connection with the 'Morning Chronicle.'

On 14 March 1872 Brooks was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He was always a hard and industrious worker, and the four years during which he acted as editor of 'Punch' formed no exception to the rule. Death found him in the midst of his books and papers working cheerfully amongst his family. Two articles, 'Election Epigrams' and 'The Situation,' were written on his death-bed, and before they were published he was dead.

He died at 6 Kent Terrace, Regent's Park, London, on 23 Feb. 1874, and was buried in Norwood Green cemetery on 28 Feb.

He married Emily Margaret, daughter of Dr. William Walkinshaw of Naparima, Trinidad. She was granted a civil list pension of 100l. on 19 June 1876, and died on 14 May 1880.

The works by Brooks not already mentioned are:

  1. 'Amusing Poetry,' 1857.
  2. 'The Silver Cord, a Story,' 1861, 3 vols.
  3. 'Follies of the Year,' by J. Leech, with notes by S. Brooks, 1866.
  4. 'Sooner or Later,' with llustrations by G. Du Maurier, 1866-68, 3 vols.
  5. 'The Naggletons and Miss Violet, and her Offer,' 1875.
  6. 'Wit and Humour, Poems from "Punch,"' edited by his son, Reginald Shirley Brooks, 1875.

[Illustrated Review (1872), iii. 545-50, with portrait; Cartoon Portraits of Men of the Day, 1873, pp. 128-33, with portrait; Gent. Mag. (1874), xii. 561-9, by Blanchard Jerrold; Illustrated London News (1874), lxiv. 223, 225, with portrait; Graphic (1874), ix. 218, 229, with portrait; Yates's Recollections (1884), i. 158, ii. 143-9.]

G. C. B.


Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.38
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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438 i 19 Brooks, Charles W. Shirley: for Norwood Green read Kensal Green