Theodore Edward Hook.

Gilbert Gurney online

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^yjV. VIVIENNR N" 18



Several ot" the following chapters have already appeared in print.
Two of the incidents contained in them have been dramatized ; one
on the French, and the other on the English stage.

This circumstance, which has been noticed by one of the ablest
and most impartial of our periodicals (the Athenceuni), has arisen
from the fact of the Editor's having, in society, frequently described
the events which actually occurred many years since. He does not,
however, think this a sufficient reason for omitting them in his
bundle of gleanings from the late lamented Mr. Gurney's papers, in
which they stand orif/inafh/ recorded.



When I resolved upon commiUing lo paper sundry passages of my
life, I determined most carefully lo abstain from the perpetration of a
piece of antobiography — not because the public has been somewhat
surfeited with that kind of literature; since, if I have my will, mj^
memoranda of the scenes and circumstances which I have witnessed,
and which have occurred lo me, will never meet the public eye — but
because, for the most part, "Reminiscences," and " Livesand Times,"
and the like, are extremely tiresome to read, seeing that the matters
and events, incidents and occurrences, which are, or were at the time at
which they were set down, all of great importance to the recording in-
dividual, have (as all those books savour sadly of senility) lost all interest
for the reader, long before they reach his eye.

Nevertheless and notwithstanding, such is the force of habit, and
such the dominition of principle, that, for the life of me, I cannot pre-
vail upon myself to leave my notes huddled together without some-
thing like arrangement, nor without just so much notice of myself and
my family as may serve to account for my curious wanderings over
the face of the earth, and for many of the transactions in whicfi I have
been doomed to bear a principal part.

Begin we, therefore, with the beginning. " A fig for your dates," says
the Smyrna man to the Tunisian. Nevertheless, in this place, dates
are really essential, as marking the progress of the writer through his
chequered career. Be patient, reader, whomsoever thou mayst chance
\^ to be, and I will be brief.

I was born in the same year, and in the same month of the same
year, as Lord Byron — but eight days later — on the SOth of January —
a memorable day, too. I always felt a sort of sympathetic self-satisfac-
tion as Byron advanced in age and reputation, in the recollection that
— although, with my inherent respect for his rank and talents, I could
not possibly take the liberty of coming into the world before him — I
/,/ began my life so nearly about the same period.

There was, nevertheless, something very disheartening to me in the

1 *


sombre serionsiicssof niyyoto' defete. \ would ralhcr have been born
on fhe anniversary of a victory or a coronation. Lei me be ever so
good a boy, I could enjoy no holiday on my birlh-day — never could
be laken to a play — seeing Ihat the ihealres were all closed ; and more-
over, and above this, I lost twelve thousand pounds which my godfather,
the late Sir Charles Smith, would have left me, if I had been christened
after him, as he had proposed, and my parents had intended : but,
happening to be born upon the anniversary of the martyrdom of our too
conceding king, my sire, somewhat superstitious, would not hear of
my bearing the same name as the unfortunate monarch ; — so I was
christened Gilbert, and lost my legacy. Sir Charles having taken huff
at my not being named after him, as our old friend Pepys did at Mrs.
Brown's, where he and Sir William Penn were godfathers, and Mrs.
Jordan and Shipman godmothers to her boy — ihat being the king's
t)irth-day, upon which Pepys rose early and putsix spoons and a silver
porringer into his pocket to give away } but in the sequel did give the
midwife ten shillings, and the nurse live shillings, and the maid of the
house two shillings ; — "yet forasmuch as he expected to give his name
to the child, but did not (it being called John), he forbore, then, to
give his plate." Thus, by similar mishaps, did Gilbert (liu'iiey lose
Iw elve thousand pounds, and John Browne a porringer and six spoons.
. The saying goes that it is "a wise child who knows his own father."
Lyf For myself it is a disparagement neither to my own personal wisdom
/ nor to my mother's unquestionable character, to admit that I knew
p^/^. .very little of mine. A faint vision of a large red face, a white head, a
^ l)lack tail, and a brown walking-stick, floats in my mind, the possessor
of which I was taught in infancy to respect as my parent. He died,
however, before I was three years old, in the house in which he had
lived for upwards of twenty years, and in which I was born ; it stood in
Bolsover-street, Cavendish-square, — a street which no longer exists,
thanks to the extraordinary improvements which have taken place in that
part of the metropolis; it having, several years since, subsided into
a chaos of old materials, whence has arisen one of the most magnificent
promenades in Europe. Like the Dragon's teeth, the buried bricks
of former houses have given birth to a legion of palaces.

I remember our particular house perfectly; the front parlour had
two windows looking to the street, over the blinds of which I recollect
my father had a strange propensity for looking out at the passengers ;
and so earnestly did he indulge in the i)ursuil (if standing still, may be
so called), that in its enjoyment he would remain intently watching the
most trifling occurrence which came under his observation, with his
nose flattened against the pane, as little aware of the circumstance as
the ajixions hero \\ho stuck his spear through his fool without know-


iiig il, while leaning his chin on the reversed end of il watching the lale
of a baUle. I remember, loo, that opposite to the windows, one of
w hich, that nearest the lire-place, was the solace of my parent's leisure,
there was a recess in which stood a sideboard, perpetually decorated
with cruets, beakers, and glasses, and three mahogany cases, two for
smart-handled knives, and one in the centre for s|)Oons, over which
sideboard was aflixed lo the panel (for the room was wainscotted), a
round mirror, encircled w ilh gilt boluses, supporting two branches for
candles ; and over the mantel-piece hung a portrait of my father him-
self, when a smart young man, by an artist of the name of Abbot, who
obtained a reputation for painting Lord Nelson more than once, and
who, I recollect, lost his life by swallowing, as a draught, a mixture
sent him from an apothecary to be used as a gargle.

The drawing-room had three w indows in it ; over the lire-place there
hung a picture of my mother, by Wlleatley, and in one panel at the side
was a portrait of my sister Jane, who died before I was born ; and in the
other a likeness of my brother Cuthbert, who was seventeen years my
senior, and in India at the time of which I now speak.

My grandfather I never saw; he was a physician iu the West of
England, or rather, as 1 suspect, an apothecary, etc., for 1 never could
find his name in any old list of the college. He set my father to study
the law, who, being deticienl either in talent or industry, soon found,
lo use a colloquial phrase in a double sense, that "he could make
nothing of it;" he, therefore, abandoned it as a profession, and marry-
ing soon afterwards, the old gentleman contributed liberally during
his lifetime to support the establishment of the young couple, and at
his death bequeathed them a fortune perfectly adequate to all their
wants and wishes.

My mother's maiden nan»e was Gataker. and my father, who has
been represented to me as a proud man, was \cty vain ol the con-
nexion. The earliest of her ancestors married a Miss Jocosa Burley;
but the one from which, it seemed, she claimed to descend, was a
clergyman who had been married four times. Certain it is, that I have
at this moment a seal of my father's arms impaled with those of his
wife; and there I find the lion rampant per fess, sable and gules, and
the cross patlee tleury with blue lips.

My father never was known so seriously and suddenly to lose his
temper as when he was thought lo be descended from Ihe Norfolk Gur-
neys (not that a more honourable or respectable family exists ; and quite
sure am I that a monarch might be proud of a connexion with one of
its members, whose noble heart and charitable disposition would do
honour to a throne) ; because he fancied his to be an elder branch of
the house, and that he sprang from Ihe De Gourneys, while they were


yet resident at Le Brai, before the conquest ; and so satisfied of this fact
was he, that nothing but a request from ray mother to the contrary
prevented his christening, or rather naming, my eldest brother Cuth-
bert, Eudes, after his pet ancestor, who assumed the name of Gournay,
when Roilo, at the division ofNeustria, amongst his adherents, be-
stowed upon him the fortress so called.

All (his was a question of time and history, but hence arose his firm
conviction that, instead of the junior, it was the elder branch of the
family that settled in Somersetshire, and that the Gurneys of Barew
Gurney and Inglishcombe, with all the accumulation of the Harpelree
property, had of right the precedence of the Gurneys of Keswick.

Of the plain blue cross on his shield my father was justly proud;
and his gurnet capsized upon his chapeau gules, was to him a point of
no little importance ; and having not only great respect for his memory,
but strong faith in his accuracy, I have continued to use the same arms
and crest even up to the present moment, without doubt, hesitation, or
disturbance of mind.

I pass over the first sixteen or seventeen years of my career at a
dash — per saltum. My school life was not a ha[>py one. V was idle
and careless of my tasks — I had no aptitude for learning languages —
I hated Greek, and absolutely shuddered at Hebrew — I fancied myself
a genius, and any thing that could be done in a hurry and with little
trouble, I did tolerably well — but application I had not; and when my
excellent mother (who survived her husband eighteen years) suggested
to me, on the advice of Mr. Graham, a most worthy man and excel-
lent magistrate, to enter myself of Lincoln's-inn and commence the
study of the law, I could not help calling to her mind the history she
had herself told me of my fathers signal defeat in the same pursuit.

There is something extremely vague in the term studying for the
bar — in seven cases out of ten it means doing nothing, under a gentle-
manly pretence; in mine nothing could be more unlike what it pro-
fessed to be; I paid my entrance-money, gave rny caution, and thence-
forth proceeded to " mine [nn " for lour or live days in each term,
threw on my gown, walked into hall, and dreading the fatigue of even
eating professionally, wrote down my name and walked out again.

It was necessary, however, to satisfy my kind and anxious mother,
who, with something more like certainty than ever I considered justi-
fiable by appearances, anticipated my elevation to either the Woolsack
or thf King's Bench — the latter by far the more probable — that I should
put myself under somebody who might do me the favour of permitting
mo 111 (opy his papers ^m<e«, while he did her tfie kindness of taking
three hundred pounds per annum out of her pockrl in return for his
goodoature : and aceordinglv 1 was hariicssed under tin' inspection and


direction of the worthy magistrate whose name I have already men-
tioned, and confided to the care of a very learned gentleman of the
profession, who, at the time of my writing this, is filling a situation not
very far helow one of those which my too fond pari^nt, in the ardour
of her affection, had destined for my occupation. What might have
been the result of my serious application to the dry drudgery of this
learned man's office it is impossible for me to surmise. It so hap-
pened that the experiment was destined never to be tried, for, among
my fellow-pupils at his chambers, there was one whoso society and
conversation I found so much more agreeable than the elaborated tau-
tology over which I had to pore from ten o'clock in the morning till ten
at night — dinner alone intervening — that I gradually relaxed from a
regular attendance upon my work, first, to a gentle indifference, and
then to an absolute aversion and distaste for the whole pursuit.

My young companion was a bit of a poet, a bit of an artist, a bit of
a musician, and above all, — to me at the period delightful, — a bit of
an actor. He knew several of the regular actors — they visited at his
father's house — I was invited by my young friend, and met Cliarles
Kemble and Mathews. The latter at that period was new to London
— his merits were not yet appreciated — he wanted that nerve and con-
fidence which subsequent patronage and ultimate success inspired. I
well remember the evening. Charles Kemble was grave and gentle-
manly ; but Mathews, although quite gentlemanly enough for all earthly
purposes, was gay as a lark. He gave us imitations and personifica-
tions. There, yet unseen by metropolitan eyes, his old Frenchman,
his old Scotswoman, all the bright and vivid pictures, now grown fa-
miliar to the public, were exhibited to us fresh in all the charms of no-

That night decided me as to Lincoln's Inn — not that I intended to
mount the stage myself, but after seeing that exquisite mimic, the best
actor off the stage that ever lived, I resolved to put into execution a
design which I had previously imparted to my young friend — a design
no other than that of writing a farce for one of the theatres.

The moment this notable scheme look possession of what I fancied
my brain, law was at an end; I had no patience with the parchments.
As that \Aitty (now veteran) George Colman the younger says in his
"Reckoning with Time," — which, by the by, he wrote when he was
five and forty, and fancied himself old, —

" Congreve beat Blackstone hollow,

And in my crown no pleas had Hale
To .supersede Apoilo."

It is quite clear that when a man takes what is called a fancy, the
one pursuit is paramount. A geologist will tell you that there is nothing


in the world so interesting, so engrossing, so captivating, as peram-
bulating a dull and miserable country, chipping off bits of rock, and
scooping out lumps of clay. He sees no beauty in Richmond Hill —
his only delight is in discovering and telling you of what it is composed.
The finest mountain in the world has no charm for his eye in the
mass. No ; to be agreeable to him, he must go and knock a little bit
of it off, and wrap up that little bit of dirt in a little bit of paper, and
carry it to Somerset-house, and then take another little bit of paper,
and write a history of it.

To ordinary folks nothing can be much more dull than such a course
of proceeding ; to the geologist it is delight — upon me the particular
taste for dramatic-writing had a similar effect : Act I. Scene I. — "Enter
Sir Jeremy Bootjack ;" delightful thought! — there I saw him dressed
as nobody ever was dressed in his life — he, the said Sir Jeremy, ap-
pearing in a sort of mongrel full dress, with jockey tops and a pig-tail :
whilst all the lovers and their ladies were to be flirting and tom-fooling
about in the costume of the then present day. But what was all that
tome? Munden and Dowton, and all those men, wore court suits,
and jack boots, and cocked hats, and pigtails ; and I was sure it was
right, and so to work I went ; bought three or four French vaudevilles
(which, it being then war-time, were not quite so easy of access as
they became after the Duke of Welhngton had set Europe to rest and
raised England to the pinnacle of glory, whence smaller people than his
Grace have been every day dragging her down), and, filching an inci-
dent from each, made up my very effective drama.

Young as I was at that time, and inexperienced in such matters, a
little observaUon assured me that the English audiences, who are, in
, point of fact, as undramatic in their notions as Methodists, would not
/be satisfied with a single incident, which, on the foreign stage, amply
L' serves to amuse and delight. The French go to a play prepared to view
the affair theatrically, and are ready to catch the slightest allusion, and
enter into the spirit of the author — with the English it is necessary to
thump in your meaning, to make every effect clear " to the meanest
'^ , comprehension," or else you fail ; and as to incidents, there must be
a dozen in a farce, one after the other, if you mean that people should
laugh or be pleased. This being clearly the case, I set to work, and,
as I have just said, crammed the materials of some four or five light
French pieces into my maiden drama (as an Indian cook sticks kabobs
upon a skewer), and was, when I had finished it, convinced that I had
at least equalled Foote, emulating therein the exultation which a dra-
matist of our own day expressed at having given "Billy the go by" —
Billy meaning Shakspeare ! — I recollect so well the anxiety with which
I copied out my MS., the infinite pains I took to dasli and underline


Uic points which I felt quite confident would set the house in a roar,
and the nervous solicitude with which I read my first ell'oit to my
young friend, who had promised when it was finished to present it to
the manager.

My exemplary mother, who had a sort of instinctive horror of actors
and actresses, was not slow to find out the enormity — as she thought
it — of which I had been guilty. Something fell from my young friend
during a visit which we were paying her, which developed the impor-
tant secret — for such I intended it to be ; and the result of the dis-
covery was the following letter. Upon recording which, it may be as
well to observe that my surviving parent had, shortly after my admis-
sion into Lincoln's-inn, given up her house in Bolsover-street, and
retired to the neighbourhood of Teddington, leaving me in possession of
some ready-furnished lodgings in Great Suffolk-street, Haymarkel.

But for the letter — here it is : —

" Teddington, Ma,/ 8, 18—.

" My dearest Gilbert, — I take up my pen with regret to address you
upon a subject to which I once before slightly alluded, and upon which
I am quite aware our opinions are at variance.

" I think I may assure myself of your readiness to give me credit
for an anxious desire for your happiness as well as your respectability,
and for having no wish either to curtail the enjoyments which your
income justifies, or to restrain the amusements which are congenial to
your age and inclinations; but there is one point upon which I feel it
my duty to speak out, — to warn you of dangers by which what appears
,^^most innocent pursuit is environed, and to endeavour, if possible, to
check you in a career which I know you are on the point of beginning,
or, perhaps, have actually begun — I mean that of a dramatic author.

" I dare say you will laugh at me for my apprehensions, and even
ridicule the partiality which, in the midst of my fears, magnifies my
son into a "dramatic author," because, as 1 happen to know, he has
written a farce. Everything has a beginning ; and if this farce bo
produced and succeeds, it will only be the first of a lengthened race;
if it fail, you will be exposed to the ridicule of the newspapers and the
green-room. Why adopt such an alternative?

" Now, understand mi^ my dear Gilbert. Do not imagine that I feel
any of those blind and determined prejudices against actors and ac-
tresses which you have, more than once, half playfully and half in
earnest, accused me of maintaining. I have no doubt that they may
be extremely worthy persons in their way. What I contend for is,
that while pursuing your studies for a serious avocation, in wliich no
success can be hoped for, without sedulous altentioiT, it w ill be ruinous
to associate with a class of riicn nnd women whose whole existence is


one tissue of ardficialityf who see iialtiie not in her proper colours, but
through the liarkened medium of theatrical lamp-hght, and who, from
the constant mechanical repetition of exalted senlimenis, the personifi-
cation of conflicling passions, and the assumption of a diversity of cha-
racters, are rendered callous to the realities of life, — except when they
may personally aflecl their own inleresls, — and are imbued with a
contempt for those principles and qualities which they habitually treat
as mere matters of acting.

" It is curious to observe, although the effect may be extremely na-
tural, how the force of habit weakens the value and importance of the
most serious objects in our existence. How different are the feelings
of the man who administers an oath to a witness in a court of justice
from those of the individual to whom it is tended ! The undertaker's
man at a funeral, if he be serious at all, is sad only in the way of
business. No ceremony of that nature or character could be made
either solemn or affecting to him. The butcher never could be
brought to pity the struggles of a dying lamb. The dramatic per-
former, in the same way, talks of honour, and virtue, and the best
affections of the heart, like a parrot; and although, here and there,
there may be one whose taste for literature induces him to dwell upon
some splendid passages of our great dramatic poets, he speaks and
thinks even of those professionally, — and considers them relatively to
the 'effect' they will produce in the delivery, and not with reference
to the principles they inculcate or the virtues they applaud.

" But it is not with the individuals I quarrel; nor is it just that a
universal censure should be applied to a community in which there
are, no doubt, many exceptions to the general rule. It is to the art, or
calling, and to the pursuits connected with it, I object, as affecting the
study of the law. I hate lecturing, and, indeed, am not well qualified
for it; but experience convinces me that the avocations of the lawyer
and the dramatist are incompatible. You need not tell me that there
are many attractions in the prospect of success as a dramatist, which,
to a very young man, are in a high degree alluring — the facility which
it affords to an introduction to the gay and lively, the entree to the
playhouses, — the society of wits, — the association with talent and
beauty. But ask yourself, my dear child, whether these enticements
are to be admitted or rejected. Look round, and see whether any in-
stance exists of high professional success in any other pursuit, where
the equivocal avocation of play-writing has been adopted."

I recollect perfectly well throwing down my mother's letter when I
came to this passage, absolutely indignant at the supposition of the in-
compatibility of my two pursuits. But when I came to the examination
pf facts, I found myself unable to make out a case. Sheridan was my


Strong hold : but Ihat failed me; for although his genius placed him in
the first ranks of society (and he was then yet in full strength and
vigour), he had never established himself in a profession. Murphy
was a barrister ; but although he was a good dramatic author, he never
shone at ihe bar. Our own George Colman, with talent equal to any-
thing, began with the law; he became an admirable dramatist, but no

Then 1 bethought me of Addison, whose one great play established
him in the highest class of dramatic authors, but I found myself little
better otT; for ha, like Sheridan, made no figure in any learned pro-
fession : but having been for many years avowedly "a man of letters,"
married Lady Warwick, got into Parliament, and was made Secretary
of State. Now, said I, I have my triumph. I'll quote Addison upon
my exemplary parent. But no : what his biographer says of him
set'led that quesUon : — "In 1717 he rose to his highest elevation,
being made Secrelary of Stale ; but it is universally confessed that he
was unequal to the duties of the place." This, considering the Secre-

Online LibraryTheodore Edward HookGilbert Gurney → online text (page 1 of 43)