Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/212

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Manor House became famous for its hospitality, and Dickens, Thackeray, Landseer, Clarkson Stanfield, Talfourd, Jerrold, and Cruikshank, were among his guests. The long list of his novels may now be given: ‘Rookwood,’ 1834; ‘Crichton,’ 1837; ‘Jack Sheppard,’ 1839; ‘Tower of London,’ 1840; ‘Guy Fawkes,’ 1841; ‘Old St. Paul's, a Tale of the Plague and the Fire of London,’ 1841; ‘The Miser's Daughter,’ 1842; ‘Windsor Castle,’ 1843; ‘St. James's, or the Court of Queen Anne,’ 1844; ‘Lancashire Witches,’ 1848; ‘Star Chamber,’ 1854; ‘The Flitch of Bacon, or the Custom of Dunmow,’ 1854; ‘Spendthrift,’ 1856; ‘Mervyn Clitheroe,’ 1857; ‘Ovingdean Grange, a Tale of the South Downs,’ 1860; ‘Constable of the Tower,’ 1861; ‘The Lord Mayor of London,’ 1862; ‘Cardinal Pole,’ 1863; ‘John Law the Projector,’ 1864; ‘The Spanish Match, or Charles Stuart in Madrid,’ 1865; ‘Myddleton Pomfret,’ 1865; ‘The Constable de Bourbon,’ 1866; ‘Old Court,’ 1867; ‘The South Sea Bubble,’ 1868; ‘Hilary St. Ives,’ 1869; ‘Talbot Harland,’ 1870; ‘Tower Hill,’ 1871; ‘Boscobel,’ 1872; ‘The Manchester Rebels, or the Fatal '45,’ 1873; ‘Merry England,’ 1874; ‘The Goldsmith's Wife,’ 1874; ‘Preston Fight, or the Insurrection of 1715,’ 1875; ‘Chetwynd Calverley,’ 1876; ‘The Leaguer of Lathom, a Tale of the Civil War in Lancashire,’ 1876; ‘The Fall of Somerset,’ 1877; ‘Beatrice Tyldesley,’ 1878; ‘Beau Nash,’ 1880; ‘Auriol’ and other tales, 1880; ‘Stanley Brereton,’ 1881. These novels all met with a certain amount of success, but those of later years did not attain the striking popularity of his earlier efforts. Many, however, were translated into various modern languages, and the editions were so numerous that some twenty-three pages of the British Museum catalogue are devoted to his works. The scenery and history of his native county had a perennial interest for him, and a certain group of his novels—that is, the ‘Lancashire Witches,’ ‘Guy Fawkes,’ ‘The Leaguer of Lathom,’ ‘Beatrice Tyldesley,’ ‘Preston Fight,’ the ‘Manchester Rebels,’ and ‘Mervyn Clitheroe’—may almost be said to form a novelist's history of Lancashire from the pilgrimage of grace until the early part of the present century. The historical element enters into many of his other works. ‘The Flitch of Bacon’ is founded on the ancient Essex custom mentioned by Chaucer and other early writers. In the remoter instances where the flitch was claimed the man only appears to have been present; but after the dissolution of the religious houses, when the custom became that of the manor, both husband and wife had to appear. In 1851 the lord of the manor declined to give the flitch; but the claimants obtained one from a public subscription, and a concourse of some 3,000 people assembled in Easton Park in their honour. This may have attracted the attention of Ainsworth, and in 1855 he offered to give the flitch. The candidates were Mr. James Barlow and his wife, of Chipping Ongar, and the Chevalier de Chatelain and his wife. The last named were well known in literary circles, and at the ceremony, 19 July 1855, Robert Bell and other well-known writers were present. It has been revived in 1857, 1869, 1874, and 1876. Similar customs are recorded at Whichnor, Staffordshire, and in Germany and France (Andrews, History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon Custom, London, 1877). Probably no more vivid account has been written of the great fire and plague of London than that given in ‘Old St. Paul's.’ The charm of Ainsworth's novels is not at all dependent upon the analysis of motives or subtle description of character. Of this he has little or nothing, but he realises vividly a scene or an incident, and conveys the impression with great force and directness to the reader's mind. Ainsworth came upon the reading world at a happy moment. People were weary of the inanities of the ‘fashionable novel,’ and were ready to listen to one who had a power of vivacious narrative. In 1881, when he was in his seventy-seventh year, a pleasant tribute of respect and admiration was paid to him in his native town. The then mayor of Manchester (now Sir Thomas Baker) entertained him at a banquet in the town hall 15 Sept. 1881, ‘as an expression of the high esteem in which he is held by his fellow-townsmen and of his services to literature.’ In proposing Mr. Ainsworth's health the mayor gave a curious instance of the popularity of his writings. ‘In our Manchester public free libraries there are 250 volumes of Mr. Ainsworth's different works. During last twelve months those volumes have been read 7,660 times, mostly by the artisan class of readers. And this means that twenty volumes of his works are being perused in Manchester by readers of the free libraries every day all the year through.’ It was well that this pleasant recognition was not longer delayed. The contrast was pathetically great between the tall handsome dandified figure presented in the portraits of him by Pickersgill and Maclise, and the bent and feeble old man who stood up to acknowledge the plaudits of those who had assembled to honour him. His last published work was ‘Stanley Brereton,’ which he dedicated to his hospitable entertainer. He died at Reigate 3 Jan. 1882,