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longed just before that period which will illustrate the
convivial habits of the times. I forget what the name
of the club was, but it had its monthly dinner at which
the notables met, told their anecdotes, made epigrams,
and as a matter of absolute obligation, sang songs. It
was a strange part of the performance, and there was
only one mode of getting out of the singing, namely,
by telling an original story, which was still more
difficult almost as difficult in those days as in ours
because I suppose there never was, since the beginning
of the human race, an original story, except the account
of its creation ; ever since, the serpent seems to have
wound himself into all stories and destroyed the

My old friend Venables, a portly, genial, heavy man,
who had long been a member of the club, at the
appointed time was called upon for his song.

It was his delight on these occasions to lean back in
one of those high Windsor chairs with his elbows on the


arms, throw forward his huge legs, twirl his thumbs,
and pressing his chin on to his breast, strike up in a
solemn tone the heroic ballad of ' Chevy Chase.'

As a ballad it is interesting ; as a song badly sung,
when the singer is half asleep, and his words come as
indistinct, guttural sounds, it is not so exhilarating.
The hum of bees may be monotonous, but it is nothing
to dear old Venables' hum when he got to the manly
declaration :

' I'll do the best that do I may

While I have power to stand
While I have power to wield my sword
I'll fight with heart and hand.'

And then, by way of catching his audience, the old
man, who was to some extent a real artist, went on
without taking his eyes off his watch-chain :

' And when I have no power to stand,

Why, then, we'll all combine ;
And surely you'll be your pint stoup,
And surely I'll be mine ?'

One man saw through old Venables' scheme, which
was to exhaust the patience of the company, and put
an end to the foolish practice. The penalty for not
singing or telling a story was that the defaulter should
drink a large tumbler of salt and water.

Venables went on to the bitter end, repeating a verse
here and there, and when he happened to miss a word
muttering, ' No, no/ and fetching up the lagging
portion, while all the company were waiting the end
of their agony.

At last the battle of ' Chevy Chase ' was over, and
the widows came 'their husbands to bewail,' and old
Venables gave a solemn winding-up snore.


He sang it from beginning to end.

Next it came to the turn of another elderly gentle-
man of the name of Philpots ; he also was a big man,
and the moment he was called upon protested that he
never sang a song in his life, and could not sing.

That made no difference, and could not be accepted
as an excuse, for he had the alternative of drinking
their healths in the salt and water. One performance
would do equally as well as the other. I should have
preferred that the whole had drunk it except myself.

' I don't know a story/ said he ; ' how can I tell you
a story ?'

' Then drink !' they shouted. ' Give him the tumbler,
and see that it's full a brimmer for Philpots ! Phil-
pots for ever ! Take your time, Philpots ; perhaps you
may change your mind.'

' Now look here/ said the victim, who was not without
generalship, for he had been an officer in the volunteers
in the time of the proposed Buonaparte invasion
' look here, I'll tell you what I'll do : if you'll give me
a little time I'll oblige the company, and give you
a song or tell you a devilish good story, whichever you

They agreed that this was something like, and
articles of peace were arranged. Philpots was to
name his conditions.

* Take your time, Philpots. Philpots is a brick !'

' Well, then/ said he, 'the only stipulation I make
is that Venables shall sing us " Chevy Chase " over
again, and that will give me time to think of my song.'

There was a good deal of laughter at the trick,
because there was not a man there who would not
rather take his tumbler of salt and water than hear


that ballad over again. The conditions, however, having
been accepted, Philpots got off.

Looking back to this period, it is difficult to believe
that memory does not deceive me. One can scarcely
conceive of gentlemen in any stage of conviviality
making so foolish a rule, one so destructive of social
enjoyment. But I think the ballad of ' Chevy Chase '
and old Philpots abolished it.



ONE of my pleasantest reminiscences were the partly
amateur and partly professional entertainments that
took place at the celebrated seat of the distinguished
author, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, about the year
18 5-.

At that time a gentleman of position usually sought
to enhance the family dignity by a seat in Parliament.
The most brilliant mediocrity even could not succeed
without the patronage of the great families, while the
great families were dependent upon those who had
the franchise for the seats they coveted.

Forty-shilling freeholders were of some importance
in those days ; hence these theatrical performances
at Knebworth Park, for Sir Edward wanted their
suffrages without bribery or corruption.

Those who were the happy possessors of what they
called the ' frankise ' were also distinguished enough
to be invited to the great performances at the candi-
date's beautiful estate.

It was a happy thought to give a succession of
dramatic entertainments, amongst which ' Every Man


in his Humour ' was one. Sir Edward knew his con-
stituents and their tastes ; it would be better than
oratory at some village inn, to ask them to the stately
hall of Knebworth, and give them one of our fine old
English plays.

I have already said that I had made up my mind in
my earliest days to go to the Bar or the stage, and
that love for the histrionic art (sometimes called the
footlights) never left me. It leaves no one, for we
are born with the love of the stage whether we can
act or not.

For some reason or other I was invited to join the
illustrious company which assembled on those eventful
evenings, although I was cast for a very humble part
in the performance. Nor is there much to wonder at
when I tell you who my colleagues were.

First comes that most distinguished comedian of his
day, Charles Mathews. I had known him for many a
year, and liked him the better, if that was possible,
the longer I knew him.

Mathews was the leader of the company ; next
was another illustrious man whose name will live for
ever, and who was not only one of the greatest authors
of his time, but also the most distinguished of the
non-professional actors. Had he been on the stage,
Mathews himself could not have surpassed him. This
was Charles Dickens.

After him comes a great friend of Sir Edward,
John Foster, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and author
of the 'Life of Goldsmith,' as well as editor of the
Examiner newspaper.

I am not quite sure whether Macready was present
on this particular occasion, but I think he was ; there


were really so many illustrious names that it is im-
possible at this distance of time to be sure of every
one. Macready was a great friend of Bulwer, and
with Dickens and others was engaged in giving stage
representations for charitable purposes in London and
the provinces, so that it is at least possible I may be
confounding Knebworth with some other place where
I was one of the company.

Amongst us also was another whose name will
always command the admiration of his countrymen,
Douglas Jerrold. There were also Mark Lemon,
Frank Stone, and another Royal Academician, John
Leech, Frederick Dickens, Eadcliffe, Elliot Yorke,
Henry Hall, and others whose names escape my
memory at the present moment.

No greater honour could be shown to a young
barrister than to invite him to meet so distinguished a
company, and what was even more gratifying to my
vanity, asking me to act with them in the per-
formance. There were many ladies, some of them of
the greatest distinction, but without the leave of those
who were their immediate relatives, which I have no
time now to obtain, I forbear to mention their names
in this work.

The business for business it was as well as the
greatest pleasure, was no little strain on my energies,
for I was now obtaining a large amount of work, and
appearing in court every day. I had the orthodox
number of devils at least seven to assist me, and
every morning they came and received the briefs they
were to hold.

Alas ! of the illustrious people I have mentioned all
are dead, all save one lady and myself!


When will such a company meet again ?

I was no sooner in the midst of Knebworth's
delightful associations than I was anxious to return
to the toilsome duties of the Law Courts, with their
prosaic pleadings and windbag eloquence. I was
wanted in several consultations long before the courts
met, so that it was idle to suppose I could stay the
night at Knebworth. But what would I have given
to be able to do so ?

Not my briefs ! They were the business of my life,
without which the Knebworth pleasures would not have
been possible. I never looked with any other feeling
than that of pleasure on my work, and whenever the
question arose I decided without hesitation in favour
of the more profitable but less delightful occupation.

But I managed a compromise now and then. For
instance, after I had done my duty in the consulta-
tions, and seen my work fairly started in court, I
contrived to take the train pretty early to Knebworth,
in order to attend rehearsals as well as perform in the

I should like to say that these preparations for the
evening were not always unattended with personal
danger even to life, for during our rehearsal one after-
noon the Royal Academician, whose duty it was to wield
a large scimitar, narrowly missed lopping my head
off with it, in which case I should never have made
my two ends meet again with any satisfaction.

However, as the Royal Academician nearly put an
end to my career in one way, Charles Mathews offered
to make me immortal in another. He was not only a
brilliant actor but an artist that is, a painter of con-
siderable talent and kindly offered to paint my


portrait as a consolation for nearly losing my head,
and, as I think, a set-off against the unsuccessful
attempt by the other painter.

Sir Edward's good-nature caused him much distress
at my having to journey to and fro. What could he
do ? He offered me the sole use of his library during
the time I was there if I could make it in any way
helpful, and said it should be fitted up as a bedroom
and study. But it was impossible to do other than
I did. The rehearsals were nearly always going on
we had audiences as though they were matinees and
they afforded much amusement to us as well as the
spectators when we made our corrections or abused one
another for some egregious blunder. This, of course,
did not include Mat hews, who coached us from an im-
provised royalty box, where he graciously acted as
George IV., got up in a wonderful Georgian costume
ior the occasion. George was so good that he diverted
the attention of the audience from us, and made a
wonderful hit in his new character.

I will not say that at our regular performances we
always won the admiration, but I will affirm that we
certainly received the forbearance, of our audience,
which says a great deal for them. This observation,
however, does not, of course, apply to the professional
artists, but only to myself, who, luckily, through all
the business still kept my head.

And it will be easily understood that this was the
more difficult, especially if I may include my temper
with it, when the good-natured Baronet actually
invited several of his Hertford friends and neighbours
to take part in the performances, some of them being
friends of my own and members of my profession.


So that at this electioneering time the whole of that
division was alive with theatricals and ' Every Man in
his Humour/ which was exactly what Sir Edward

It was an ordeal for some of us to rehearse with
the celebrities of the stage, but I need not say their
good-humour and delight in showing how this and
that should be done, and how this and that should
be spoken, was, I am sure, reciprocated by all the
amateurs in studying the corrections. Never were
lessons more kindly given, or received with more
pleasurable surprise. Some could scarcely conceive
how they could so blunder in accent and emphasis.
However, most things require learning, even Advocacy
and Acting.

Elliot Yorke was stage -manager, and wrote a very
excellent prologue. It must have been good, it was so
heartily applauded, and the same may be said of all of
us. I think Radcliffe studied the part of Old Knowell,
while I played Young Knowell. Speaking after this
interval of many years, I believe we were all word-
perfect and pretty well conscious of our respective
duties. Charles Dickens arranged our costumes,
while Nathan supplied them. He arranged me well.
I was quite satisfied with my Elizabethan ruff wound
round my throat, but must confess that it was a little
uncomfortable for the first three or four hours. My
hose also gave me great satisfaction and some little

I thought if I could walk into court without chang-
ing my costume, what a sensation I should create.
What would Campbell or Jervis say to Young
Knowell ?


My father, as I have mentioned, lived at Hitchin,
about six miles from Knebworth, and my professional
duties calling me so early to town, I arranged to
sleep at Hitchin, and go to London by an early train
in the morning. Sir Edward was much concerned at
all this, and again wondered whether his library could
not be appropriated. But the other was the only
practicable plan, and was adopted. Every day I was
in court by nine o'clock, worked till five, then went by
rail to Stevenage and drove to Knebworth, three miles.
That was the routine. It was then time to put on
my Elizabethan ruff and hose. After the play I
once more donned my private costume, and supped
luxuriously at a round table, where all our splendid
company were assembled.

After supper some of us used to retire to Douglas
Jerrold's room in one of the towers, and there we
spent a jovial evening, prolonging the entertainment
until the small hours of the morning.

Then my fly, which had been waiting a long time,
enabled me to reach Hitchin and get three hours'
sleep. One night I took two of the audience, Charley
Wright and Peter Cunningham, with me to Stevenage,
where they had lodgings.

All this was hard work, but I was really strong,
and in the best of health, so that I enjoyed the labour
as well as the pleasure. One cannot now conceive
how it was possible to go through so much without
breaking down. I attribute it, however, to the
attendant excitement, which braced me up, and have
always found that excitement will enable you to
exceed your normal strength.

I had very many theatrical friends, all of them

VOL. i. 16


delightful in every way. Amongst them Wright and
Paul Bedford. Such companions as these are not to be
met with twice, each with his individuality, while the
two in combination were incomparable. They kept one
in a perpetual state of laughter. Paul was irresistible
in his drollery, and whether it was mimicry or original
humour, you could not but revel in its quaint conceits.

Such men are benefactors ; they brighten the darkest
hours of existence, turn sorrow into laughter, and
enable men to forget their troubles and live a little
while in the sunshine of humour. Banish philosophy
if you please, banish ambition if you must banish some-
thing, but leave us humour, the light of the social
world. All who have experienced its beautiful influence
can appreciate its value, and understand it as one of
the choicest blessings conferred on our existence.

The dullest company was enlivened when Wright
entered upon the scene. I remember Paul being
told one day at the Garrick Club that a certain poor
barrister, who had been an actor, was going to marry
the daughter of an old friend. 'Ah!' said he, 'yes,
he's a lover without spangles'

Who but Paul would have thought of so grotesque
a simile ! And yet its applicability was simply due to
the language of the stage.

I remember Robson, too, and his wonderful acting ;
he had no rival. Nature had given him the talent
which Art had cultivated to the highest perfection.
Next come the Keeleys' impersonations of every phase
of dramatic life originals in acting, and actors of

But I must not linger over this portion of my story.
It would occupy many pages, and time and space are


limited ; I therefore take my leave of one of the
pleasantest chapters in my reminiscences.

All, alas ! have passed away all I knew and loved,
all who made that time so happy ; and reluctantly as I
say it, it must be said : ' Farewell, dear, grand old
Knebworth, with all thy glories and all the glad faces
and merry hearts I met within your walls a long,
long farewell !'




ALDERSON was a very excellent man and a good Judge.
I liked him, and could always deal with him on a level
footing. He was quaint and original, and never led
away by a false philanthropy or a sickly sentimentalism.

Appealed to on behalf of a man who had a wife and
large family, and had been convicted of robbing his
neighbours, ' True,' said Alderson ' very true, it is a
free country. Nothing can be more proper than that
a man should have a wife and a large family ; it is his
due as many children as circumstances will permit.
But, Tomkins, you have no right, even in a free
country, to steal your neighbour's property to support
them !'

I liked him when there was a weak case on the
other side ; he was particularly good on those
occasions at least, such was my experience.

In the Assize Court at Chelmsford a barrister whom
I need not name, and who had a great defence practice,
was retained to defend a man for stealing sheep, and
I think in those days it was a capital offence at all
events, it was one where anything less than transpor-
tation for life would be considered excessive leniency.

The principal evidence against the man was that the


bones of the deceased animal were found in his garden,
which was urged by the prosecuting counsel as some-
what strong proof of guilt, but not conclusive.

It must have struck everybody who has watched
criminal proceedings that the person a prisoner has
most to fear when he is tried is too often his own
counsel, who may not be qualified by nature's certificate
of capacity to defend. However, be that as it may, in
this case there was no evidence against the prisoner,
unless his counsel made it so.

' Counsel for the defence ' in those days was a wrong
description : he was called the friend of the prisoner ;
and I should conclude, from what I have seen of this
relationship, that the adage ' Save me from my
friends ' originated in this connection.

The friend of this prisoner, instead of insisting that
there was no evidence, since no one could swear
to the sheep bones when no man ever saw them,
endeavoured to explain away the cause of death, and
thus, by a foolish concession, admitted their actual
identity. It was not Alderson's duty to defend the
prisoner against his own admission, although, but
for that, he would have pointed out to the Crown
how absolutely illogical their proposition was in law.
But the ' friend ' of the prisoner suggested that sheep
often put their heads through gaps or breakages in the
hurdles, and rubbed their necks against the projecting
points of the broken bars ; and that being so, why
should the jury not come to a verdict in favour of the
prisoner on that ground ? It was quite possible that
the constant rubbing would ultimately cut the sheep's
throat. If they did not, the prisoner submitted to
the same operation at the hand of his ' friend.'


' Yes,' said Baron Alderson, ' that is a very plausible
suggestion to start with, but having commenced your
line of defence on that ground, you must continue it,
and carry it to the finish ; and to do this you must
show that not only did this sheep in a moment of
temporary insanity as I suppose you would allege in
order to screen it commit suicide, but that it skinned
itself and then buried its body, or what was left of it
after giving a portion to the prisoner to eat, in the
prisoner's garden, and covered itself up in its own
grave. You must go as far as that to make a com-
plete defence of it. I don't say the jury may not
believe you ; we shall see. Gentlemen, what do you
say is the sheep or the prisoner guilty ?' The sheep
was instantly acquitted.

There was another display of forensic ingenuity by
the same counsel in the next case, where he was once
again the ' friend ' of the prisoner.

A man was charged with stealing a number of gold
and silver coins which had been buried a few hours
previously under the foundation-stone of a new public

The prisoner was one of the workmen, and had seen
them deposited for the historical curiosity of future
ages. Antiquity, of course, would be the essence of the
value of the coins, except to the thief. The royal
hand had covered them with the stone, duly tapped
by the silver trowel amidst the hurrahs of the loyal
populace, in which the prisoner heartily joined. But
in the night he stole forth, and then stole the coins.

They were found at his cottage secreted in a very
private locality, as though his conscience smote him
or his fear sought to prevent discovery, His legal


friend, however, driven from the mere outwork of facts,
had taken refuge in the citadel of law ; he was equal
to the occasion. Alas! Alderson knew the way into
this impregnable retreat.

Counsel suggested that it was never intended by those
who placed the coins where they were found, that they
should remain there till the end of time ; they were
intended, said he, to be taken away by somebody, but
by whom was not indicated by the depositors, and as
no time or person was mentioned, they must belong to
the first finder. It was all a mere chance as to the
time of their resurrection. Further, it was certain
they were not intended to be taken by their owners
who had placed them there they never expected to
see them again but by anyone who happened to come
upon them. Those who deposited them where they
were found parted not only with the possession, but
with all claims of ownership. Nor could anyone
representing him make any claim.

All this was excellent reasoning as far as it went,
and the only thing the prosecution alleged by way of
answer was that they were intended to be brought to
light as antiquities.

'Very well/ said the prisoner's counsel, 'then there
is no felonious intent in that case ; it is merely a mis-
take. Antiquity came too soon/

And so did the conviction.

I was instructed, with the Hon. George Denman,
son of my old friend, whom I have so often mentioned,
to defend three persons at the Maidstone Assizes for
a cruel murder. Mr. Justice Wightman was the
Judge, and there was no better Judge of evidence
than he, or of law either.


The prisoners were father, mother, and son, and
the deceased was a poor servant girl who had been
engaged to be married to another son of the male
prisoner and his wife.

The unfortunate girl had left her service at Graves-
end, and gone to this family on a visit. The prisoners,
there could be no doubt, were open to the gravest
suspicion, but how far each was concerned with the
actual murder was uncertain, and possibly could never
be proved.

The night before the trial the attorney who acted
for the accused persons called on me, and asked this
extraordinary question :

' Could you secure the acquittal of the father and
the son if the woman will plead guilty ?'

It is impossible to conceive the amount of resolution
and self-sacrifice involved in this attempt to save the
life of her husband and son. It was too startling a

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