Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/Lord Lytton
NOVELIST, POET, DRAMATIST, ESSAYIST, AND CABINET MINISTER.
Lord Lytton, whose writings have been enormously popular under their author's several changes of name, was born in May 1806, the third son of William Earle Bulwer, Esq., of Wood Bailing and Heydon. The distinguished author has been at one time Lytton-Bulwer, at another Bulwer-Lytton. His eldest brother William holds the family lands, granted to his ancestor by the Conqueror. The second brother, Henry, whose death was lately recorded, was created Lord Bailing for his eminent services as a diplomatist. The third, youngest, and most famous of the family, is the subject of this notice—Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer, Baron Lytton of Knebworth. He married, in 1827, Rosina, daughter of Francis Wheeler, Esq., the surviving issue of which marriage is a son, well known as a writer under the nom de plume of Owen Meredith. Lord Lytton's other child, a daughter, died unmarried in 1848.
The great novelist was very young when first he began to write. When he was only fifteen, he sent out 'Ismael, an Oriental Tale,' and a poem on 'Waterloo,' celebrating the heroic deeds of Corporal Shaw the Lifeguards-man:
Meantime brave Shaw usurps the martial plain,
And spreads the field with Gallic heaps of slain.
The young poet was sent to Cambridge, where in 1825 he won the Chancellor's medal; and after another volume of verse, gave the world 'Falkland,' his first novel. A large part of this work is made up of letters from one of the characters to another; and the old style of heading, 'From the same to the same,' becomes very tedious, as they talk in vapid platitudes, slightly spiced with Byronic morality. The preface is dated March 7, 1827, and the author says in it, he is 'entering a career with no motive and ambition in common with those of his competitors.' How many of them are alive now to witness the goal he has reached? Not one, probably. He said then, forty-five years ago, that he had 'shaped out an empire for himself, which their praise cannot widen, and which their censure is unable to destroy.'
Bold words for a young man invading the territories of imaginative literature; but we may safely assume that Mr. Bulwer felt his power, though his first production, 'Falkland,' shows very little more talent than went to novel-making in that time of Albums and Books of Beauty, nearly half a century ago.
His next work, however, showed what he was made of to peculiar advantage. He called it 'Mortimer, or the Adventures of a Gentleman.' His publishers did not like that title; but as 'Pelham' the book went down, and the author at once found himself famous.
'Pelham' was published in 1828. After it came 'The Disowned,' a novel of very doubtful merit, that owed its existence to the author's study of metaphysics. 'Out of that study,' he says, 'grew the character of Algernon Mordaunt.' Then came, in quick succession, 'Devereux,' 'Paul Clifford,' 'Eugene Aram,' a drama on that subject, 'Last Days of Pompeii,' 'The Crisis,' 'Rienzi;' his dramas, 'The Duchess of La Valliere,' 'The Lady of Lyons,' 'Richelieu,' and 'Money.' 'Godolphin,' a story of fashionable life, 'The Pilgrims of the Rhine,' and a political work entitled 'England and the English,' all appeared in 1833; and at this time the author of 'Pelham' became editor of the 'New Monthly Magazine,' a post he occupied for a year and a half. From his contributions in that time two volumes of essays, called 'The Student,' were afterwards compiled.
'Ernest Maltravers' appeared in 1837; 'The Sea Captain, or the Birthright,' the original from which the 'Rightful Heir' was reproduced a year or two back, made its appearance in 1839, and was hardly to be called a success; but 'Money,' first produced in 1840, was most successful, and has, with 'Richelieu' and 'The Lady of Lyons,' held the boards ever since. From 1841 to the end of 1843, the world received from his most prolific pen, 'Night and Morning,' 'Zanoni,' and 'The Last of the Barons.' Besides this immense labour as a novelist, Mr. Bulwer had been busily occupied by his parliamentary duties; had made several bold attempts to earn an independent reputation as a poet, by the publication of several poems of considerable merit; and had devoted himself to politics as a pamphleteer, and to social topics as an essayist. It is not to be wondered at that his health broke, happily to be restored to him again after a time. The story of his cure is told in his 'Confessions of a Water Patient' (1845).
In 1846, his first great work in rhyme appeared anonymously. It was a satire called 'The New Timon.'
In writing a couple of years ago about it, a contemporary essayist drew attention to the attack on Tennyson contained in the poem, and to the retort of the Poet Laureate in the columns of 'Punch.'
This reply appeared almost before the present generation of readers were out of their pinafores; and as it furnishes rather a curious example of the amenities of literature—one poet calling the other 'school-miss Alfred,' and being called 'you bandbox' by his angry rival in return—we will quote the lines of both authors. Doubtless the feud has long since been healed, or at all events forgotten, by the parties to it.
In 'The New Timon,' which, though published anonymously, was well known to be the work of the author of 'Pelham,' these lines occur:
Not mine, not mine O Muse, forbid!—the boon
Of borrow'd notes, the mockbird's modish tune,
The jingling medley of purloin'd conceits,
Outbabying Wordsworth and outglittering Keats;
Where all the airs of patchwork pastoral chime,
To drown the ears in Tennysonian rhyme!
* * * *
On 'darling little rooms, so warm and light;'
Chant 'I'm a-weary' in infectious strain,
And catch the 'blue fly singing i' the pane;'
Though praised by critics and adored by Blues,
Though Peel with pudding plump the puling Muse,
Though Theban taste the Saxon purse control's,
And pensions Tennyson while starves a Knowles.
Tennyson had had a pension of 200l. a-year granted to him—most people will think justly. He did not sit silent under this attack. What would be the consequence of such an attack on him now, from such a hand, it is impossible to conceive such things are out of date. This was his reply, and first and last appearance in the columns of 'Punch:'
THE NEW TIMON AND THE POET.
We know him, out of Shakespeare's art,
And those full curses which he spoke—
The old Timon, with his noble heart,
That strongly loathing, gently broke.
So died the Old: here comes the New.
Regard him: a familiar face—
I thought we knew him. What! it's you,—
The padded man that wears the stays;
Who kill'd the girls and thrill'd the boys
With dandy pathos when you wrote;
O Lion! you that made a noise,
And shook a mane en papillotes!
And once you tried the Muses too—
You fail'd, sir; therefore, now you turn!
You fall on those who are to you
As captain is to subaltern.
But men of long-enduring hopes,
And careless what the hour may bring,
Can pardon little would-be Popes
And Brummels, when they try to sting.
An artist, sir, should rest in Art,
And waive a little of his claim;
To have a great poetic heart
Is more than all poetic fame.
But you, sir, you are hard to please,
You never look but half content,
Nor like a gentleman at ease,
With moral breadth of temperament.
And what with spites, and what with fears,
You cannot let a body be;
It's always ringing in your ears,
'They call this man as great as me!'
What profits how to understand
The merits of a spotless shirt,
A dapper boot, a little hand,
If half the little soul is dirt?
You talk of tinsel! Why, we see
Old marks of rouge upon your cheeks!
You prate of nature! You are he
That split his life upon the cliques.
A Timon you! Nay, nay, for shame—
It looks too arrogant a jest,
The fierce old man, to take his name!
You bandbox, off, and let him rest!'
Time and a change in the mode of expressing literary amenities on the part of famous authors have made these verses quite curious. We introduce them here for this reason, and not with any desire 'to fan afresh the ancient flame' that prompted them. It will only be necessary for us to apologise for their insertion to such of our readers as may recollect their first appearance five-and-twenty years ago, or may have seen them since.
There was an interval of four years in which Bulwer did not appear before the public as a writer of fiction; but finding, as he says, 'bad habits stronger than good intentions,' he dipped his novel-writing quill in ink again, and set to work on two very dissimilar stories—'Lucretia,' and 'The Caxtons.' The former—having for its heroine Lucretia Dalibard, one of his greatest creations—drew down a storm of angry criticism about his head. The two chief personages of the story were poisoners. To this criticism the author replied in a long and able defence of his work, and an explanation of what he held to be the artistic principles and ethical designs of fiction.
'The Caxtons,' one of his most charming stories, followed 'Lucretia,' and was succeeded by 'My Novel.' At intervals of some years after one another, 'What will he do with it?' and 'A Strange Story,' were published. The latter was completed in 1862.
Lord Lytton has been a popular writer for over forty years, and in that time he has produced above a hundred volumes. He has a good claim to the titles of statesman and orator, in addition to those of novelist, poet, dramatist, and essayist. Such versatility of talent is rare indeed; yet, in all these various paths of literature, the veteran peer has outstripped most of those who have entered the lists with him. He might now rest on the laurels his great talents and great industry have fairly won at the hands of fame. Lord Lytton—then Mr. Bulwer sat—in Parliament first, in 1831, for St. Ives; afterwards representing Lincoln and Hertfordshire. He was created a baronet in July 1838; and in July 1866 was raised to the peerage, with the title of Baron Lytton of Knebworth.