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A JOURNAL OF POPULAR INFORMATION AND ENTERTAINMENT.
CONDUCTED BY JOHN TIMBS, ELEVEN YEARS EDITOR OF "THE MIRROR."
THE AUTHOR OF "ROOKWOOD," "CRICHTON," &c.
[IN this series of Illustrations, it is our wish to exhibit to the readers of the Literary World," occasionally, Portrait-sketches of the most popular Literati of the day. Each Illustration will be accompanied by a few biographical data; and, as the character of an Author is best sought in his works, it is not intended that criticism should be a prominent feature of this design.-Ed. L. W.]
Mr. Ainsworth was born in the year 1805. His father, Thomas Ainsworth, Esq., was a solicitor of eminence in Manchester; and his son was destined to tread in his steps; but preferred the barren paths of literature to the more lucrative profession of the law. He was brought up at the Manchester Free Grammar School, one of the best public schools in the kingdom, and a very old foundation, as will be evident when the reader is told that among many other distinguished persons educated there, was John Bradford, the Lancashire martyr, who was burnt in the reign of Queen Mary. Among Mr. Ainsworth's other writing alumni were Reginald Heber, the father of Bishop Heber; the great Lord Alvanley; Dr. Whitaker, the historian; Dr. Winstanley, an admirable scholar; Mr. Morritt, of Rokeby; and other eminent men.
Mr. Ainsworth has written several unacknowledged works; but his first performance, with his name, was Rookwood, a Romance, of which the fifth edition was published in the autumn of 1837. Its first appearance, in 1832, produced, what publishers gladly phrase, "a considerable sensation in the reading world." Romance-writing had lain dormant for some years: the increasing flood of literature had gradually carried the taste of the age into another channel; and the spirit that characterized the inventions of Mrs. Radcliffe, Monk Lewis, Maturin, and other "romancists," was about to be classed with the forgotten productions of the past. But the appearance of the soul-stirring Rookwood revived all the old feeling for the mysterious, with an improved and
In the affectionate Dedication of the fourth edition of Rookwood to his mother, the Author writes: "Hereafter, if I should realize a design which I have always entertained, of illustrating the early manners and customs, as well as the local peculiarities, of the great commercial town to which I owe my birth, I would inscribe that book to my father-'une pauvre feuille de papier, tout ce que j'ai, en regrettant de n'avoir pas de granit;'-as a fit tribute to the memory of one whose energies were so unremittingly and so successfully directed towards the promotion of the public improvements in Manchester, that his name may, with propriety, be associated with its annals. Would that he had lived to see the good work, he so well began, entirely accomplished." Again: "My father has a share, and an important one, in these pages. To his wellremembered anecdotes I am indebted for the character of Turpin."
more intense tone. The origin of the work is thus well described in the Preface to the fifth edition:
"During a visit to Chesterfield, in the autumn of the year 1831, I first conceived the notion of writing this Tale. Wishing to describe, somewhat minutely, the trim gardens, the picturesque domains, the rook-haunted groves, the gloomy chambers, and gloomier galleries of an ancient hall, with which I was acquainted, I resolved to attempt a story in the by-gone style of Mrs. Radcliffe, (which had always inexpressible charms for me,) substituting an old English squire, an old English manorial residence, and an old English highwayman, for the Italian marchese, the castle, and the brigand of that great mistress of Romance. While revolving this subject, I happened, one evening, to enter the spacious cemetery, attached to the church with the queer, twisted steeple, which, like the uplifted tail of the renowned Dragon of Wantley, to whom 'houses and churches were as capons and turkeys,' seems to menace the before-mentioned town of Chesterfield and its environs with destruction. Here, an incident occurred, on the opening of a vault, which it is needless to relate, but which supplied me with a hint for the commencement of my Tale, as well as for the ballad, entitled 'The Coffin,' introduced in the course of the narrative. Upon this hint I immediately acted; and the earlier chapters of the book, together with the description of the ancestral mansion of the Rookwoods, were completed before I quitted Chesterfield."
In this work, the Author has been charged with extravagance; bnt, the extra
vagance was intentional: he had no settled structure of story; his object was to blend the natural with the supernatural; the sober realities of every-day life, and the calm colouring of rural scenery, with the startling situations, the wild grouping, and fantastic delineations of romance, in a degree that could not be accomplished without some appearance of irregularity and exaggeration. What is here charged as a fault was a leading attraction, if not a merit; and next to the romance must be placed the realities of the story, which have the most fascinating minuteness and accuracy. Thus the Author speaks of "the real Rookwood Place," for which he has not drawn upon imagination, but upon memory :—
"The general features of the venerable structure, several of its chambers, the old garden, and, in particular, the noble park, with its spreading prospects, its picturesque views of the hall, 'like bits of Mrs. Radcliffe,' (as the poet Shelley once observed of the same scene,) its deep glades, through which the deer come lightly tripping down, its uplands, slopes, brooks, brakes, coverts, and groves, are delineated with, I think, entire accuracy. These sylvan retreats rise to my recollection, as I now, in fancy, retrace them, with the vividness and distinctness of reality. How fresh is even the thought of such a scene! The fern is crushed beneath our feet; the rooks are cawing overhead; the lordly stag gazes proudly at us from yon steep acclivity; that umbrageous thicket invites us to its shade."
It must, however, be conceded, that the brilliant episode of "the Ride to York mainly decided the success of" Rookwood;" and this episode, contrary to general
expectation, does not appear to have been elaborated by the Author. He states:
"The 'Ride to York,' a portion of the work, which appears to have enjoyed the greatest share of favour, cost me the least time, and the least trouble in execution. It was written in as few hours as the equestrian feat described took in its accomplishment. My pen galloped over the leaves with unwonted ease, and with unwonted celerity. So thoroughly did I identify myself with the flying highwayman, that, once started, I found it impossible to halt. Animated by kindred enthusiasm, I cleared every obstacle in my path, with as much facility as Turpin disposed of the impediments that beset his flight. In his company, I mounted the hill-side, dashed through the bustling village, swept over the desolate heath, threaded the silent street, plunged into the eddying stream, and kept an onward course, without pause, without hinderance, without fatigue. With him, I shouted, sang, laughed, exulted, wept. The whole panorama of the country between London and York seemed to pass before me; and, as I had not, at that time, travelled along the Great North Road, I was surprised, upon verifying my descriptions, (which I did, before the appearance of the work,) to find them tolerably accurate. The pains of authorship are great; but its pleasures, when they occur, are greater. And among the latter, I may instance the composition of this Ride to York.""
In 1837, appeared Mr. Ainsworth's second acknowledged work, Crichton, which obtained equal success with its predecessor. In this splendid Romance, we are struck with the highly-coloured description of the gay and intriguing court of Henri III., or, rather, of Catherine de Medicis ; its 300 lovely and high-born demoiselles, to whose charms even the vivacious Abbé de Brantôme could not render justice amongst his Dames Galantes - who possessed beauty almost supernatural, and who, in the "vray paradis de monde," which they created around themselves, surpassed even the laughing and bewitching heroines of Grammont's Chronicles; whilst, second only in our admiration is the Author's scholastic and antiquarian knowledge of la vielle France, and his accurate historical and local information of the time-a period so replete with dark and fearful incident for the romancewriter.
In 1838, Mr. Ainsworth engaged in the editorship of Bentley's Miscellany, a monthly publication which had been commenced a few months previously, under the superintendence of Mr. Charles Dickens (Boz.) In this work, first appeared Mr. Ainsworth's Romance of Jack Sheppard, the merits of which have been noticed in the Literary World, from its second Number. Of the character and tendency of this work, and of its treatment by our contemporaries, we have already spoken out; (see Lit. World, vol. ii. p. 66;) and as our opinion has not been dictated by any favouritism, (for we are personally unacquainted with the Author,) but by a conscious sense of fairness towards a writer of extraordinary graphic
power, we are content to be left in the critical minority. Popularity, we know, resembles ripe fruit, at which the greatest number of birds are sure to peck. To the graceful and feeling composition with which Jack Sheppard abounds, we have had the pleasing task of pointing attention, in the pages of our Miscellany; and we have done this with the conviction that many of Mr. Ainsworth's descriptive passages equal, if not exceed, in truth and vigour, and attractive mettle, the writings of any contemporary in the same class of composition. Jack Sheppard has been completed and published in three volumes, as the reader may be aware; and in the same Miscellany wherein it first appeared, Mr. Ainsworth has commenced the historical Romance of Guy Fawkes. Simultaneously, though in distinct publication, appears the Romance of the Tower of London. Our sense of the superior claims of these works to public attention is best proved by our frequent cognizance of them in the Literary World.*
Mr. Ainsworth's personal appearance is prepossessing. His figure is tall and elegant; his face is replete with intellect and expression; his forehead is of fine expanse, and his eyes have that peculiar softness which better associates with the charming heroines of Henri's court, than with the lawless wights of Southwark Mint. He has, likewise, a pleasing voice; his manners are frank and unaffected, and those who enjoy his friendship can bear ready witness to his unfeigned liberality and kindness. Mr. Ainsworth married, before he was twenty-one, the daughter of Mr. Ebers, the librarian, of Old Bond-street; and is now a widower.
THE OLD BUREAU DRAWER. "Author. Who now can taste a treatise of deep
And ponderous volume? 'Tis impertinence To write what none will read; therefore will I To please the young and thoughtless people try." Shelley's Scenes from Faust. AMONGST all the relics of furniture, of a time gone by, that tyrant Fashion, in spite of her taste for the renaissance, does not allow to hold the same station in her boudoir as formerly, is the old bureau. Well do we remember the respect in which we held this antique pile of drawers and pigeon-holes, and gilt handles, when we were in childhood. Our bureau stood in the corner of our bed-room; it was of walnut
It would be injustice to withhold that the success of Jack Sheppard, Guy Fawkes, and the Tower of London, has been heightened by the startling genius of the pencil of George Cruikshank; though not in a greater proportion than the popularity of Oliver Twist was advanced by the same masterly illustrator.
tree wood, and contained six long shallow drawers in its front; with a large flap at top, that turned over upon two supports, which were pulled out, as occasion required, to form a sort of secretary. And what a source of amusement did it then disclose to our infantile gaze; for, when we first recollect it, we were little enough to sit on its leaf without overbalancing it, and so inspect its compartments at leisure. What rows of small drawers, and miniature closets over them, with tiny doors panelled with old looking-glass, and developing more shelves and secret recesses within, with locks to every division, ornamented with large tarnished 'scutcheons of brass and gilt scroll-work. We knew its contents by heart, but we never tired of inspecting them. Some of the drawers were full of bugles and spangles, that had helped to brighten the ball-dresses of our ancestors. Others contained old books in glossy harlequin bindings, illustrated by coarse wood-cuts, brown with age; and through some of them the worm had eaten a tunnel that went from beginning to end, leaving a small round hole in every page. There were old lockets in some of the little closets, of plain and antique make, enclosing morsels of hair of various shades and in different forms, but no one could tell to whom they had belonged. They had been there many, many years, long before grandpapa was a little boy; for he had played with them when young, in the same manner as we then did, and they were ancient even in his boyhood. And yet these old lockets had at some time been objects of interest to their possessors. Tales of broken hearts and crushed hopes, poignant and severe at the time, might have been connected with their being; and sad farewells and vain remorse, with tear-bringing recollections of the lost and loved, might have woven their gloomy chain around those mute appealers to the memory but their owners had died long since; the very stone on their graves had become worn and broken, and the inscriptions of their names were no longer visible, even if the long, coarse grass that overshadowed them had been cleared away. Some other of the recesses contained curious shells, old whist-markers, and foreign beads of gaudy colours; and in the pigeon-holes were bundles of aged and half-legible letters, whose seals were quite flat and blank with pressure, or crumbling with antiquity. The great drawers in front were kept locked; but we remember to have peeped in them once, and seen a quantity of ancient wearing apparel, of faded and rustling silk, mingled with fragments of broad dingy lace, and
odd pieces of flowered and quilted satin, like old gentlemen's dressing-gowns in sentimental comedies. Altogether, we looked upon our old friend with mixed feelings of awe and affection; and when we began to store our own infantile collections in its recesses, it assumed a value and importance in our eyes, fit for the guardian of such precious relics.
Time passed on; we grew up, and went abroad in the world. The romance of life commenced, and our mind and sentiments changed under the influence of its vicissitudes. We began to think of childhood as a by-gone dream-a bright and happy vision of summer skies, and fieldflowers, and butterflies, that only infancy can picture; and we mused, with half-pleasurable, half-melancholy retrospection, over the days when we played with the shells and spangles on the flap of the old bureau.
When we returned home again, our old friend was gone. The family had increased, and more room was required in the house; the more cumbrous portion of the furniture was condemned to the appraiser, and the bureau was carried away in his van, and soon forgotten by all except ourselves. Still we lamented its departure; and determined, if ever we came across an article of similar make, to purchase it, and consign it to our own room, were it only to awaken old associations. Fortunately for our intentions, we one day saw a counterpart of our lost treasury, amongst some broken and imperfect furniture at a second-hand shop in the neighbourhood. The price was moderate, and we paid for it directly, nor would we wait to have it cleaned before it was brought home; we kept that pleasure for ourselves. In routing out the dust and cobwebs from its drawers and closets, we discovered, in one of them, a bundle of papers, tied together with some bobbin. We were about to commit them to the flames, when a few words caught our attention, and induced us to look over the rest. A strange collection of letters, papers, &c., indeed, they proved; apparently of all dates and sizes, and put together without the least regard to order or subject. As they are, we have sent them to the Editor of the Literary World, and trust they will contribute to the amusement and edification of his readers.
MASTER PETER DODDLE TO HIS PARENTS. (Very nicely written in small-hand.) My dear Parents,
I have written to inform you that our Midsummer Recess commences on Wednesday, June 17; and our Vacation will