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With Twent>' Illustrations



London, New York, Torosto and Mdbourfic





The House of Cassell, now nearly eighty years old, holds a
unique phice among English publishing houses. It was
the pioneer of some important movements — the bringing
of educational literature within reach of the mass of
English people, the serial publication of great books, and
the modern development of illustration in both books and
periodical publications. It has grown from small begin-
nings into a huge institution whose name is familiar all
over the world.

The history of the House of Cassell falls into four
epochs. The first was that in which John Cassell's in-
dividuality counted for everything, and ran from his vague
beginnings as a publisher in the early 'forties to his death
in 1865. The second was the eighteen years of George
William Petter and Thomas Dixon Galpin's supremacy,
from 1865 to 1883. The third, dating from the formation
of the Company in 1883, was chiefly dominated by the
personality of Sir Wemyss Reid, the general manager from
1887 to 1905.

The last epoch began with the appointment in 1905 of
Sir Arthur Spurgeon, the present general manager, and
has been noteworthy for a complete reorganization of the
business on modern lines and the restoration of its old
prosperity and activity, which had been somewhat dimmed
during the latter years of the nineteenth century.

The records here presented owe much to the collabora-
tion of various members of the staff of Cassell's, past and
present. The narrative has drawn largely upon their





1. Factory Hand and Temperance Reformer . . 3

2. From Tea Merchant to Publisher ... 12

3. La Belle Sauvage ...... 19

4. The Growth of Educational Literature . . 25

5. John Cassell and Lord Brougham and Others . 35

6. The Taxes on Knowledge — American Experiences 43

7. The Last Years 54



1. Cassell, Petter and Galpin

2. Some Editors and Arnold-Forster

3. Departmental Managers

4. The New Order ....

5. Forty Years of Illustration

6. Magazines and Periodicals .

7. The First Halfpenny Newspaper, and

Others .....

8. Serials and Books

9. The Novelists : " R. L. S," and Others

10. The Machinery at La Belle Sauvage

11. The Social Side of La Belle Sauvage
Index ......





John Cassell



La Belle Sauvage Inn ....

Coach Emerging from La Belle Sauvage Yard

Relief from Old La Belle Sauvage (showing the
Crest of the Cutlers' Company) .

The Entrance to La Belle Sauvage Yard in 1782

George William Petter

Thomas Dixon Galpin

Sir Wemyss Reid

Rt. Hon. H. O. Arnold-Forster

W. E. Henley

Sir J. E. Millais

Sir Luke Fildes, K.C.V.O., R.A.

Henry Morley

Dean Farrar

Robert Louis Stevenson .

Sir Rider Haggard, K.B.E.

Col. Burnaby

H. G. \Vells

Fleet Lane View of Cassell and Company's Premises

La Belle Sauvage Yard, 1921 . . . . .























John Cassell was born on January 23, 1817, and died
on April 2, 1865. Though he accomphshed many things,
the principal achievement of his forty-eight years was
the building of the publishing house that bears his name.

Cassell was a living paradox. He surpassed proba-
bility, defied heredity, rose superior to environment.
A poor boy without material resources, he came to deal
in extensive enterprises and control what were, in his
day, large capitals. Uneducated himself, he did more
than most men of his time to promote the higher educa-
tion of the English masses. The son of a publican, he
was an ardent teetotaller and a powerful advocate of
temperance reform. A mechanic by training, he devoted
his life to purely intellectual labour. Hardly anything
John Cassell did was what he might have been expected
to do.

Little is known of his family. His great-grandfather
was a Worcestershire man who had migrated into Kent.
He died at Bcckcnham in 1760. William Cassell, his son,
married a farmer's daughter, a Miss Matthews, whose
family had occupied the same homestead for more than
a century. They were blessed with many children, of
whom the youngest, Mark, broke away from the Kentish
associations and from agriculture, and became the land-
lord of the Ring o' Bells Inn at No. 8 Old Churchyard,
Hunt's Bank, Manchester. He had chosen his wife, how-
ever, from the rural stock ; her father was a farmer in
the Nuneaton country.


The Story of the House of Cassell

This Boniface of an industrial suburb was John
Cassell 's father, and it was at the Ring o' Bells that John
Cassell was born. The family enjoyed fair comfort during
the first ten years of the boy's life; but Mark Cassell,
disabled by a fall, became a helpless invalid, lingered
so for three years, then died. Mrs. Cassell courageously
faced the heavy burden of maintaining the family. She
was a capable and resourceful woman, who had somehow
acquired skill in upholstery, and at that craft she con-
trived to earn a living. But so laborious a life left her
little time for the care of her son, who went to factory
work. His " education " had been meagre. It is thought
that before his father's death he had attended one of the
schools of the British and Foreign Society, then largely
used by the children of Nonconformist parents. The
little knowledge thus acquired was eked out at a Sunday
school conducted by the Rev. Dr. McAll. And this was
the sum of his schooling.

The lot of the unlettered poor in the Lancashire of
the early nineteenth century was vividly described by
Thomas Whittaker*, a friend of Cassell in his youth :

" The food had to come through the fingers of the family
— as soon as a shilling or two could be earned by any of us
we had to help. My term of toil began when just over six
years old, and from that moment continued, either in print
shops or cotton mills. The hours were long and the work hard,
so that often, when in the midst of my work, I fell fast asleep,
standing bolt upright, and was not infrequently awakened by
the man whose help I was knocking me down like i dead fish
on the floor. I had to rise not later than five, walk a mile
to the mill, where I was kept going with very little intermission
for meals. I did not get home until 8 p.m., when I would drop
asleep from sheer exhaustion and weariness."

Cassell entered on this Calvary probably at a little
earlier age than Whittaker, and soon revolted from it.
He first tried working for Mr. Phythian, who made tape

* Thomas Whittaker, a well-known Temperance advocate, eometime
Mayor of Scarborough.


The Carpenter's Shop

and the like things, but being discontented, he went on
to a more genteel manufacturer of velveteen, who paid
higher wages, — and was still discontented. A boy of lively
spirit and curious mind, he loathed the dreary prospect
of life as a factory hand. He detested the monotonous
work, hated the dull confinement of the mill, was
oppressed by the sordid conditions of the mean streets
about him. By the age of sixteen he had abandoned it
all and set out on a desultory search for more pleasant

By accident he became a carpenter. His Odyssey
in the streets of Manchester brought him to a carpenter's
shop, where he stood watching the men make the plain
deal tables used in artisans' kitchens. Presently he re-
marked that he thought he could make a table if they
would let him try. With mingled good-humour and
scorn the master carpenter invited him to begin. He
took off his coat and set to work. It was said by un-
critical friends that his first table was almost as good
as the work of an old hand. But the master carpenter
perceived that he had a youth of energy, determination
and ideas to deal with, and offered him a job at the bench
at weekly wages.

Before long he found carpentering hardly more satis-
fying than tape making as an outlet for his abounding
mind. Cassell was a born reformer — an apostle of dis-
content with things as they are, an evangelist of better

It happened that the first reforming movement which
caught him up and bore him along was temperance.
Livesey's " teetotal " campaign had just begun. The new
doctrine of total abstinence as the only real cure for tlie
social evil of drink was not easy to practise nor popular
to preach. For the working masses tea and coffee were
at almost prohibitive prices; milk was a luxury. Beer
was the cheapest drink, the most attainable ; even
children were suckled on small ale. The crusader against
beer had these practical obstacles to face, and his con-


The Story of the House of Cassell

verts were called upon for high self-denial and strength
of will. None the less, the movement grew, and it was
fortified by the support of a number of medical men,
who added scientific physiological arguments to the
crusaders' moral and religious pleas.

It was a teetotal doctor who brought Cassell in. He
" signed the pledge " at a meeting held by Mr. Thomas
Swindlehurst, to whose son he related the story in a
letter long after :

" 11th July, 1861.

" The circumstances under which I identified myself with
the Temperance movement were, that I was attracted to the
Tabernacle, Stevenson Square, Manchester, by a course of
lectures which were given by Dr. Grindrod. I was fully con-
vinced of the truth and importance of the question under Dr.
Grindrod's lectures, and I did not sign any declaration until
your father came and delivered a lecture in the same building
as that in which I heard Dr. Grindrod."

Livesey's reminiscences give us a glimpse of the John
Cassell of eighteen. Livesey first saw him listening to
one of his lectures at Oak Street Chapel, Manchester.
He well remembered Cassell " standing on the right, just
below or on the steps of the platform, with fustian jacket
and a white apron on." Thomas Whittaker adds features
to the portrait. Cassell, he says, was " a marvellous man,
young, bony, big, and exceedingly uncultivated. ... I
was his model man as an orator ; and, as he subsequently
told me ... it was his desire to be like me that deter-
mined him to take to the road and the platform. He
never let go the desire to be somebody and to do some-
thing from that moment."

The total abstinence movement it was, undoubtedly,
that awoke John Cassell's latent powers. He was about
eighteen when he became involved in it. From that time
onward he closely observed the habits and conditions of
the industrial mass. He perceived its blank ignorance.
Its grey life moved his sympathy and anger. He had
already resolved to emancipate himself. He now deter-


Arrival in London

mined to release as many others as he might. To this
end he slaved untiringly at " self-education." Somehow
— by what actual means there is no knowing — he acquired
a wide, discursive knowledge, a liberal if chaotic educa-
tion. Probably he used the mechanics' institutes, by
that time set up in most industrial centres largely by
force of the compassionate enthusiasm of Brougham,
who later on was to become a powerful influence in
Cassell's life. Hardly anywhere else could he have
made his acquaintance with French and obtained
those peeps into science whose fascinations in after
years prompted some of the features of his famous
" Popular Educator."

From 1835 to the autumn of 1836 he was hot-gospelling
for teetotalism in the Manchester district. Then a rest-
less desire for larger experiences set in, and he fared forth
on foot to London. He made his great walk a missionary
temperance tour, lasting about sixteen days. He spoke
to any audience he could get in any town or village, and
eked out his little store of money by doing odd jobs
of carpentering. When he reached London his wealth
totalled threepence. On the evening of his arrival he
went to the New Jerusalem schoolroom, near the West-
minster Road, where a meeting was being held.

" There were not more than fifty persons present," says
Mr. J. P. Parker, who was there ; " and, as we were glad to
get help from any advocate who offered his services, when
Mr. Cassell gave his name he was readily accepted. He stood
on the Uttle dais, a gaunt stripling, poorly clad and travel-
stained. He was plain, straightforward, and earnest, but very
broadly provincial in speech. At the end of a few minutes he
stopped abruptly. Somebody in the meeting cried out ' Go
on I ' ' IIow can a chap go on when he has no more to say ? '
was the reply ; and honest John gave in. A few years ago,
in the course of conversation with Mr. Cassell, I reminded him
of the fact that I have stated, and this was his reply : ' I was
very low in pocket and mind that night ; for I had not the
money to pay for a lodging, and being too proud to ask for
help, I walked the streets of London all night.' "


The Story of the House of Cassell

There was, however, in the chair at this meeting a
man prepared to befriend him. It was Mr. John Mere-
dith, the honorary secretary of the New British and
Foreign Temperance Society. He and the Rev. W. R.
Baker, a Congregational minister, sometime travelUng
secretary of the society, conceived a warm interest in
this lonely young man with a mission when he called
on them at their office in Tokenhouse Yard. Mr. Baker's
sister, who saw him there, said there was nothing particu-
larly prepossessing about him except " his simple and
candid manner of expressing himself." And she adds,
in her own homely style: "He had but little book
education, and hands accustomed to labour, but he had a
mind bent on improvement and a heart filled with love
towards his deluded fellow-countrymen. My brother saw
that he possessed considerable natural talent waiting
opportunities to develop itself. He encouraged him, in-
troduced him to many meetings, and met him at many
more. From that time, whenever he required counsel or
friendly sympathy, John Cassell knew where to seek it,
and thus . . . my brother had the satisfaction of seeing,
after a lapse of a few years, the same individual rise to
an enviable position in our great metropolis."

Cassell spent six months in London, holding temper-
ance meetings wherever he could get anybody to listen
to him. One of the early teetotal reformers was John
Williams, w^ho had been a chief carpenter in the Navy,
but in the 'thirties was in business as carpenter and
undertaker in Duke Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, now
Sardinia Street. Williams was a devout Methodist,
zealous for missionary work in such unpromising regions
as Clare Market, and had helped to start one of the first
total abstinence societies in London. To him Cassell
brought an introduction from a tradesman of the same
craft in Manchester, and they joined forces at once.
Williams's grandson, Mr. Farlow Wilson, late printing
manager at La Belle Sauvage, thus describes their methods
in his "Recollections of an Old Printer":


The Temperance Agent

" Their plan of operation was this : Some half-dozen Temper-
ance advocates would assemble near to a public-house, my
Uncle Alexander . . . would play a tune or two on his llageolet,
and when this had attracted a group of listeners, the real pro-
ceedings would begin with a brief prayer by my grandfather,
this being followed by an energetic address from John Cassell.
Those were rough times, and that was a rough neighbourhood,
and it not infrequently happened that the speaker and his
associates would be assaulted and driven away with such mis-
siles as the street afforded. They were, however, not the men
to be daunted ; they persevered, obtained the sympathy of
the women, who were the greatest sufferers, and ultimately
established a society numbering some hundreds of total

" I well remember to have been taken by John Williams
and John Cassell to a meeting held in a hall at Milton Street,
Finsbury, at which they both delivered addresses, and while
returning we met a drunken man staggering from side to side
along the footpath. Cassell, as W'as his wont, improved the
occasion by expressing hope that when I became a man I would
never be a slave to ' the cursed drink.' "

Mr. Farlow Wilson, visiting his grandfather in the
year 1850, mentioned that he was in tlie employment of
John Cassell. Someone present remarked : " Cassell was
only a carpenter, I think ? " " Only a carpenter ! " cried
the old man. '' Tell me, lad, who is there need be ashamed
of being a carpenter, or a carpinters son? "

Cassell became, in April, 1837, a recognized agent of
the newly formed National Temperance Society. In its
interests he travelled all over England. To carry out the
arduous programme of this ardent society a man wanted
skill as a speaker, ingenuity as an organizer, but, above
all, courage and tireless endurance. Cassell possessed
all these qualities, and he succeeded. In two months he
took 550 pledges.

He had no pre-arranged programme. As he pa.ssed
from town to town he attracted attention by twirling
a large rattle, and the crowds of curious men and women
who assembled were soon entertained by his vigorous


The Story of the House of Cassell

speech and infectious earnestness. It was characteristic
of his curious, acquisitive mind that when in Wales he
picked up enough Welsh to wind up his addresses with
something in that language.

Not infrequently the publicans organized opposition
to temperance speakers. Mr. Arthur Humphreys, in the
Manchester Guardian (January 23, 1917), recalled a lively
meeting held by Cassell at Shaftesbury. " Amidst the
row I was the first to sign the pledge," said Charles
Garrett, then a boy of thirteen, who lived to become
president of the Wesley an Conference, and was one of
the founders of the cocoa-house movement — the first
effort to provide " counter-attractions " to the public-
house. Another of Cassell's converts was the late T. H.
Barker, who became secretary of the United Kingdom

The character and quality of this earliest phase of
the teetotal movement may be summed up in a few
sentences from a letter written by Richard Cobden to
Livesey. Cobden was personally one of the " moderates,"
but his words show the tendency of the temperance man
to become a teetotaller. Temperance reform, he said,
lay at the root of all social and political progression in
this country. English people were in many respects the
most reliable of all earthly beings; but he had often
been struck by the superiority that foreigners enjoyed
because of their greater sobriety, which gave them higher
advantages of civilization even when they were far behind
us in the average of education and in political institutions :

" If you could convert us into a nation of water-drinkers,
I see no reason why, in addition to our being the most energetic,
we should not be the most polished people, for we are inferior
to none in the inherent qualities of the gentleman — truthfulness
and benevolence.

" With these sentiments, I need not say how much I rever-
ence your efforts in the cause of teetotalism, and how gratified
I was to find that my note (written privately, by the way,
to Mr. Cassell) should have afforded you any satisfaction.

Cobden's Letter

" I am a living tribute to the soundness of your principles.
With a delicate frame and nervous temperament I have been
enabled, by temperance, to do the work of a strong man. But
it has only been by more and more temperance. In my early
days I used sometimes to join with others in a glass of spirit
and water, and beer was my everyday drink. So that you see,
without beginning on principle, I have been brought to your
beverage solely by a nice observance of what is necessary to
enable me to surmount an average mental labour of at least
twelve hours a day. I need not add that it would be no sacrifice
to me to join your ranks by taking the pledge."




Four or five years after his appointment as agent of
the National Temperance Society, Cassell had developed
from an ill-paid, ill-lettered and obscure itinerant mis-
sioner into a celebrity who hobnobbed with celebrities.
His house in St. John's Wood was the meeting place of
writing people, artistic people, reforming people ; he was
the constant host of George Cruikshank, Mj^s. Henry
Wood, and the Howitts.

The transformation was due to his own quality, un-
doubtedly; but it was speeded up by the good fortune
which, in 1841, during one of his temperance tours in
the Eastern counties, threw him into the company of a
Lincolnshire woman, Mary Abbott. She was a few years
older than Cassell, a calm-eyed, discerning, managing
woman. Fit mate for the ambitious and high-spirited
man who fell in love with her, she was equally enamoured
of him. In less than a year after their meeting they
were married, had spent a short honeymoon in Wales,
and settled down to housekeeping in London.

The house in St. John's Wood had been impossible
to Cassell at the age of twenty-four but for the little
fortune his wife inherited from her father. This was,
in fact, the original material basis of all Cassell 's enter-
prise, for it enabled him to begin doing business for
himself and reaping the fruits of his own boundless energy
applied to his own penetrating observation.

The habits, tastes and views of the people were an
open book to Cassell. From his boyhood he had keenly
interested himself in every social phenomenon that came
within his view. One of the facts he had noticed, as a
traveller and a teetotaller, was that he could get tea and


A Packet-Tea Merchant

coflfee only with difficulty and at high prices. For people
of small means home-brewed ale and home-made wine
were the normal drink ; the poor took cheap beer, rum
and gin. Cassell had come to the conclusion that cheap
tea and coffee would not only promote temperance in the
masses but put money in the purse of the man who
purveyed them ; and he had resolved to be that man if
ever enough capital came his way.

With the aid of his wife's legacy, then, he began as
a tea and coffee merchant in Coleman Street, in the City.
The business was an immediate success. It was moved
to larger premises successively in Abchurch Lane and in
Fenchurch Street. Cassell was one of the early believers
in large advertising. Teetotallers, and therefore potential
customers for tea, were to be found all over the country ;
but the only means of informing them of the existence
of John Cassell and his cheap tea was the Press. Through
the newspapers he reached the pledged teetotallers, and
at the same time created a large clientele among the
gentile public, who, if they did not care twopence for
his doctrine, were eager to take advantage of his prices.
He invented the " packet " system of tea-selling which
has become a commonplace of modern business.

This avatar was not a long one. But it helped him
towards his real destiny in a curious way. He wanted
more advertising, and wanted it cheap. He therefore
bought a second-hand printing press with which to laud
his wares. Very soon he was employing the idle moments
of his machine in the printing of temperance tracts,
which he wrote himself. Thus, simply, began his transla-
tion from the condition of tea merchant to that of pub-
lisher. One interesting point about this embryonic stage
of the House of Cassell is that, having put roughly illus-
trated covers on one or two of his tracts, he noticed that
they were much more successful than the rest. Stored
up in his shrewd mind, this was the germ of the Art
Department of Cassell and Co.

Taking a brother-in-law into partnership, Cassell had


The Story of the House of Cassell

a larger leisure and was better able to indulge his pet
tastes. Thenceforward he spent much of his time in
the pleasant work of editing and publishing periodical
papers. His first venture grew out of the temperance
crusade — a little magazine called the Teetotal Times.
It was printed for Cassell by William Cathrell at
335 Strand, and begun in 1846. The next year the
Teetotal Essayist appeared to supplement and fortify the
Times. They swallowed each other up in 1849, and sub-
sequently made one appearance a month for some years

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Online LibraryCassell & CompanyThe story of the House of Cassell → online text (page 1 of 21)