Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sala, George Augustus Henry

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SALA, GEORGE AUGUSTUS HENRY (1828–1896), journalist, born in New Street, Manchester Square, London, on 24 Nov. 1828, was youngest child of Augustus John James Sala (1792–1828). His grandfather, Claudio Sebastiano Sala, a citizen of Rome, came to England about 1776 to assist his godfather, Sir John Gallini [see Gallini, Giovanni Andrea Battista], in arranging ballets at the King's Theatre and the Haymarket. His mother, Henrietta Catherina Florentina Simon (1789–1860), was daughter of a well-to-do planter in Demerara. In 1827 she made her first public appearance as a singer at Covent Garden Theatre under Charles Campbell's management, as Countess Almaviva in Bishop's version of Mozart's ‘Marriage of Figaro.’ A crayon portrait of her was published in the ‘Lady's Museum’ in the same year. Subsequently she mainly supported herself and five surviving children, (four boys and a girl) by teaching singing and giving annual concerts, both in London and Brighton. Occasionally she diversified her labours by accepting a theatrical engagement. In the autumn season of 1836 and 1837 she was ‘actress of all work’ at the St. James's Theatre under Braham. She died at Brighton on 10 April 1860, and was buried in Kensal Green (cf. Gent. Mag. 1860, i. 533). An elder son, Charles Kerrison Sala (1823–1857), who was educated at Christ's Hospital, resigned a clerkship in the tithes commissioners' office to become an actor; he acquired a reputation as a member of Macready's company at the Princess's Theatre, and made some efforts as a dramatist (cf. Gent. Mag. 1857, i. 375).

The youngest child, George Augustus, displayed unusual precocity. Having learned French from his mother, he wrote a French tragedy called ‘Fredegonde’ before he was ten. From 1839 to 1842 he was at a school in Paris, where the younger Alexandre Dumas was a fellow-pupil. Subsequently he spent a few months at a Pestalozzian school at Turnham Green. He there showed an aptitude for drawing, and his mother transferred him, at the age of fourteen, to the studio of Carl Schiller, a miniature-painter in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square. But he was soon withdrawn, and at fifteen—in 1843—was finally thrown upon his own resources. He was already a capable draughtsman and an insatiable reader. Some precarious employment as a clerk was followed by an engagement to draw railway plans during the railway mania of 1845. His mother and brother then introduced him to the green-room of the Princess's Theatre, where they were professionally engaged, and William Roxby Beverley, the scene-painter there, gave him occasional work. In 1848 he followed Beverley to the Lyceum Theatre, and painted some scenery for Charles Mathews and Madame Vestris. His sociable temper and artistic promise recommended him to the authors and artists who frequented the theatre. About 1847 he drew the illustrations for Alfred Bunn's ‘Word with Punch.’ In 1848 Albert Smith commissioned him to illustrate his comic volume, ‘The Man in the Moon.’ Thus encouraged, he taught himself to etch, and afterwards took lessons in engraving. He came to know George Cruikshank (at whose funeral, in 1878, he acted as a pall-bearer) and Hablot K. Browne—‘Phiz.’ It was his ambition to follow in their footsteps. In 1850 Ackermann issued for him his first publication, a comic illustrated guidebook for continental tourists, entitled ‘Practical Exposition of J. M. W. Turner's Picture, Hail, Rain, Steam, and Speed.’ It was successful enough to induce the publisher to issue later in the year, in view of the agitation against the so-called papal aggression, a panorama by Sala, entitled ‘No Popery.’ Next year Sala drew four large lithographic plates dealing with the Great Exhibition. In 1852 he prepared, with Alken, views in aquatint of the Duke of Wellington's funeral.

Sala had already made some efforts in literature, and their reception encouraged him to seek another road to fortune. In 1848 he sent articles to a struggling weekly paper called ‘Chat.’ They were eagerly accepted, and he was appointed editor at a beggarly salary. In 1851 a promising opportunity offered itself. Charles Dickens accepted from him an amusing article, called ‘The Key of the Street,’ for ‘Household Words.’ From that year till 1856 he regularly wrote for that periodical an essay or story each week. His contributions exhibited unusual powers of observation, familiarity with many phases of low life, multifarious reading, capacity for genial satire, and at times a vein of sentiment imitated from Dickens. Thenceforth his energies were absorbed in literature or journalism. His convivial tendencies and the attractions that bohemian haunts offered him at first somewhat imperilled his progress, but his ambition and powers of work finally enabled him to resist temptation, and he found in ordinary club life all the recreation he required. He took a chief part in founding the Savage Club in 1857, and was soon admitted to other clubs of older standing.

Dickens was the first to test Sala's capacity as ‘a special correspondent.’ In April 1856, at the close of the Crimean war, Dickens sent him to Russia to write descriptive articles for ‘Household Words.’ He remained abroad till September, when Dickens's refusal to permit the articles to be published in volume form temporarily interrupted Sala's good relations with his editor. In 1858 a reconciliation took place, Sala renewed his connection with ‘Household Words,’ and the articles on Russia were issued separately as ‘A Journey Due North.’ In the same year Dickens inaugurated a new magazine, ‘All the Year Round,’ in which Sala was also a frequent writer. The papers he contributed to these periodicals he collected from time to time in volumes with such titles as ‘Gaslight and Daylight, and the London Scenes they shine upon’ (1859); ‘Lady Chesterfield's Letters to her Daughter’ (1860); ‘Breakfast in Bed, or Philosophy between the Sheets’ (1863). In 1863 a novel by him, ‘Quite Alone,’ appeared serially in ‘All the Year Round.’

Meanwhile other ventures divided his attention and extended his literary connections. Essays which he sent to a short-lived serial, called ‘The Comic Times,’ led to a lifelong friendship with the editor and proprietor, Edmund Yates [q. v.] In January 1856 the two men projected a new monthly magazine, called ‘The Train,’ which did not long survive. To the ‘Illustrated Times,’ which was established by Henry Vizetelly [q. v.] in July 1855, Sala contributed his earliest attempt at novel-writing—‘The Baddington Peerage: a story of the best and worst society.’ This was illustrated by ‘Phiz,’ and published in three volumes in 1860. Of another periodical, ‘The Welcome Guest,’ initiated by Vizetelly in 1858, he acted for a short time as editor. In its pages appeared the most successful of all his social sketches, the series entitled ‘Twice round the Clock, or the Hours of the Day and Night in London,’ which was published separately in 1859. In 1860 he, in succession to Peter Cunningham (1816–1869) [q. v.], began to contribute, at a salary of 250l. a year, a column of varied gossip and anecdote, signed ‘G. A. S.’ and entitled ‘Echoes of the Week,’ to the ‘Illustrated London News.’ His connection with that newspaper continued till 1886, when he transferred his weekly ‘Echoes’ to the ‘Sunday Times’ and a syndicate of provincial newspapers. They ceased in 1894. Some of these paragraphs he collected in the volumes ‘Living London, or Echoes Reechoed’ (1883), and ‘Echoes of the Year 1883’ (1884). A skit by himself, entitled ‘Egos of the Week’ appeared in ‘Punch’ (Spielmann, History of Punch, pp. 387–8). A more ambitious work, ‘William Hogarth, Painter, Engraver, and Philosopher: Essays on the Man, the Work, and the Time,’ ran through nine numbers of the ‘Cornhill Magazine’ in the second year of its existence (March to November 1860). Thackeray, who was editor, showed as much appreciation of Sala's talents as Dickens, and seconded his candidature at the Reform Club, to which he was elected on 13 March 1862. Revised and amplified, Sala's papers on Hogarth reappeared in volume form in 1866. But his most conspicuous achievement in connection with periodical literature was his establishment of ‘Temple Bar.’ Designed to rival the ‘Cornhill,’ it was financed and published by John Maxwell, at the suggestion of Sala, who was appointed editor with Edmund Yates as sub-editor. The first number was issued in December 1860. In the second number Sala began a serial story, ‘The Seven Sons of Mammon’ (3 vols. 1862), and there subsequently appeared in the pages of the magazine another novel by him, the best that he produced, ‘The Strange Adventures of Captain Dangerous’ (3 vols. 1863). He resigned the editorship in 1866, when Messrs. Bentley took over the magazine. In 1869 he wrote ‘Wat Tyler, M.P.: an operatic extravaganza,’ which was performed at the Gaiety Theatre and was printed.

But Sala was about to concentrate his energies in fewer channels. In 1857 he was invited by Joseph Moses Levy [q. v.], the proprietor, to contribute to the ‘Daily Telegraph.’ He was soon writing two articles a day, Saturdays excepted; and for nearly a quarter of a century, whenever he was in England, his output suffered no diminution. The facility with which he drew upon his varied stores of half-digested knowledge, the self-confidence with which he approached every manner of topic, the egotism and the bombastic circumlocutions which rapid production encouraged in him, hit the taste of a large section of the public. The proprietor of the paper treated him generously; and for the twenty years between 1863 and 1883 Sala reckoned that his income as a journalist averaged 2,000l. a year. But his prosperity was not unalloyed. Careless of money matters, he gave too liberal a scope to his tastes as a gourmet and as a collector of books and china, and was rarely free from pecuniary embarrassments. At the same time the tawdry style of writing with which he impregnated the ‘Daily Telegraph’ excited ridicule, which tormented him. The ‘Saturday Review’ for many years denounced it as turgid and inflated. In 1867 James Hain Friswell repeated this condemnation, amid some personalities, in a work called ‘Men of Letters honestly criticised.’ Sala brought an action for libel, and recovered 500l. damages. Subsequently Matthew Arnold, with good-humoured satire, exhibited the pretentiousness of Sala's articles in ‘Friendship's Garland’ (1871).

In 1863 Sala undertook his first tour as a ‘special’ foreign correspondent of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’ He was in America from November 1863 to December 1864, reporting the progress of the civil war. His ‘Diary in the Midst of the War,’ which was afterwards issued as a volume, displayed characteristics similar to those of his home-made articles, but his energy in collecting, if not in testing, information invested his work with genuine interest. A long series of like expeditions followed; and his ‘special’ correspondence, which grew more and more egotistic, became a feature of value to the ‘Daily Telegraph.’ ‘A Trip to Barbary by a roundabout Route’ (published as a volume in 1866) recorded a journey to Algiers in the train of the emperor Napoleon III. ‘From Waterloo to the Peninsula: four Months' hard labour in Holland, Belgium, France, and Spain’ (1867), represented his journal of travel between November 1865 and February 1866. During the rest of the latter year and part of the next he was in north Italy, for a time with Garibaldi's army, and afterwards in Venice during its evacuation by the Austrians. His letters from Italy formed the basis of his ‘Rome and Venice, with other Wanderings in Italy in 1866–7’ (a volume published in 1869). In 1867 and 1870 he was in Paris, on the first occasion preparing ‘Notes and Sketches’ of the exhibition, and on the second observing the opening scenes of the Franco-German war. A flying visit to Metz in August 1870 was followed by his arrest in Paris as a spy; but he managed to reach Geneva, and on 20 Sept. was at Rome when the Italian troops ended papal rule there. He was present at the opening of the German parliament at Berlin in the autumn of 1871, and witnessed in Spain in 1875 the accession to the throne of Alphonso XII and the close of the Carlist war. At the end of 1876, when war between Russia and Turkey was imminent, he was ordered to St. Petersburg, whence he made his way to Constantinople and Athens, returning home in the summer of 1877. He spent much time in Paris during the exhibition of 1878, and he described his impressions in ‘Paris herself again’ (1880). Between December 1879 and the spring of 1880 he was again in the United States, and he collected his correspondence in a volume called ‘America Revisited’ (1882). He hurried to St. Petersburg in March 1881, after the murder of the emperor Alexander II, and was there in May 1883 at the coronation of the emperor Alexander III. On 26 Dec. 1884 he started on his final journalistic tour—an extended journey through America and Australia. He had undertaken to lecture on his own account, chiefly about his journalistic adventures, as well as to describe for the ‘Daily Telegraph’ the countries and peoples he visited. As a lecturer he met with many rebuffs, but the result showed a substantial profit. He came home by way of India. His letters from Australia appeared in the newspaper under the heading, ‘The Land of the Golden Fleece,’ and formed the subject-matter of two volumes—‘A Journey due South’ (1885) and ‘Right round the World’ (1888).

During Sala's last years his energies were dulled by frequent illness. While continuing his articles in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ and his ‘Echoes of the Week,’ he resided chiefly at Brighton. In May 1892, however, he started, with the co-operation of his second wife, a weekly newspaper called ‘Sala's Journal;’ but despite his voluminous contributions, it failed after two years' trial, and involved him pecuniarily. In 1894 he produced ‘Things I have seen and People I have known,’ and next year not only a candid narrative of his ‘Life and Adventures,’ but a collection of genial gossip called ‘London up to Date.’ He had always interested himself in culinary literature, and claimed a practical acquaintance with the culinary art. The last book on which he engaged was an elaborate cookery book, ‘The Thorough Good Cook’ (1895). Owing to his pecuniary embarrassments his large library was sold by auction in March 1895, and in May Lord Rosebery conferred on him a civil-list pension of 100l. a year. He had always vaguely ranged himself with the liberal party. He died from nervous exhaustion, after a long illness, at Brighton on 8 Dec. 1895. Before his death he was received into the Roman catholic church.

He was twice married. His first wife, Mrs. Harriet Sala, whom he married in September 1859, died at Melbourne in December 1885. In 1891 he married a second wife, Bessie, third daughter of Robert Stannard, C.E., who survived him.

Besides the works already enumerated, and a memoir of ‘Robson (the Actor): a Sketch’ (1864), he edited many works of the American humourists for English publication, and, without much success, all the works of Charles Lamb in 1868.

[The Life and Adventures of George Augustus Sala, written by himself, 2 vols. 1895 (with portraits of himself and his mother); Memoirs of Edmund Yates; Memoirs of Henry Vizetelly; Times, 9, 10, and 13 Dec. 1895; Athenæum, December 1895; Daily Telegraph, December 1895.]

S. L.