Smalley, George W.
CHAPTER XI: Litterateurs in Society -Journalism
LITTERATEURS IN SOCIETY.-JOURNALISM.
THERE is, as I shall have now made clear, no society in London which can be called political rather than legal, diplomatic or sporting. For the political elements, even in the society in which they preponderate, coalesce with others and are moulded into a tolerably homogeneous whole. Is there any society which can be styled par excellence literary, artistic, or theatrical? Yes, and no. Society of the best kind does not admit of the application to it of these epithets. Writers, painters, and players are occasionally seen by ones, twos, and threes in society; but they do not give it its tone. On the contrary, they derive their tone from it. They have their clubs and coteries, their bachelor dinner-parties, and their other entertainments, which may be called literary, theatrical, musical, artistic, as the case may be, and which are graced by London society's recognized representatives, perhaps by Royalty itself. Then there are certain inferior social circles where the gentlemen of the play, the brush, or the buskin, instead of being, as in the fine world, nonentities, are personages of the highest consideration.
Let me explain my meaning by a few instances. Lord Tennyson is very seldom seen in any section of London society. It is rare for him to come up to London. When he does so, he takes a house in the Belgravian quarter, dines with, or himself entertains, men of such eminence as the Prime-minister and the Lord Chancellor, or, if the weather chances to be fine, and he is in an exceptionally goodhumor, honors the afternoon receptions of notoriety-hunting hosts
|or hostesses with his presence. Mr. Browning, the poet of incomprehensible mannerism, the taste for whose writing in England is probably to be explained in the same way as the popularity of double acrostics, is an altogether different person. He lives for society, and in society. If he cannot be at the houses of the great, he is satisfied to be seen at the establishments of the small. But he must be in evidence. He is an agreeable man-full of anecdote accommodated to his audience, profound or superficial, light or serious, literary, scientific, poetic, historical, or what you will. He is more than a septuagenarian; yet he enjoys the mild distractions of the most commonplace drawing-rooms with the unsophisticated freshness of early youth. He has the vanity, as characteristic as irritability itself, of the race of bards. His venerable fascinations are, as he piques himself on believing, irresistible by ladies of all ages and all degrees. He does not trumpet forth his conquests to miscellaneous assemblages, but he is fond of telling the favored fair of his achievements among their number. Mr. Browning is a professional diner-out, and has not yet satiated his appetite for evening- parties. If peers and peeresses, plutocrats of high degree, and others well placed in the London world, do not happen to invite him, he condescends to shine in the firmaments of society's minor queens.|
The region in which he thus finds himself is, to the social student, the most curious imaginable. Poets, painters and players, publicists, critics and essayists abound. The women are mostly the wives of professional men, not a few of them lion-hunters by calling, and assiduous in their attention to those whom they style notabilities. They, as well as their husbands and their families, not only admire, I doubt not, sincerely, genius for genius's sake, but see in its representatives connecting links between their own bourgeois orbit and the sphere of what is called society. The poet and the artist, the actor or actress, sometimes the humble journalist himself, are looked upon less as messengers from the region of intellect-interpreters of divine and noble thoughts to ordinary men and women-than as heralds from the smart and fashionable world of which it is their privilege to have more than a glimpse, and in some of the mysteries of which they are supposed to be initiated.
Men like Mr. Browning, who are quite as much courtiers, even parasites, by profession as they are poets or men of letters by achievement, touch with one hand the social circles of the middle
|class, and with the other the very ark of the fashionable covenant itself. From that depository of snobbery there is transmitted a magnetic current which runs through the body of the bard, and thrills with its agitating impulses the system of his humble worshippers.|
Mr. Matthew Arnold is another orb of literary light in the social empyrean. He is less conspicuously or aggressively the man of the world, pure and simple, than Mr. Browning. He has more of obvious refinement and breeding, and betrays scarcely any tendency to parade his familiarity with London society. On the other hand, he abounds in affectations, conceits, and vanity. But, paradox as it may seem, these rather heighten than detract from the charm of the man. He lets you know that he is on the best terms conceivable with himself, but he does it in a manner so bland, polished, and gentle, that you mentally decide that he would be difficult to please if he were not so. How, one asks instinctively, could he help liking such an agreeable self ? Mr. Matthew Arnold is in every sense of the word a highly-bred, high-spirited gentleman.
Over these qualities he casts the lustre of a well-stored and disciplined intellect. He is an acute and powerful critic as well as a charming poet. He has done more to place his countrymen en rapport with the best of French literature than any other intellectual teacher of his day. He is a witty and amiable talker, seldom flippant, always entertaining, sometimes serious, never a pedant, occasionally satirical, but rarely spiteful. He is adored by his family, and comes under the category of spoiled fathers. Young ladies in general worship him. He is fond of comfort, luxury, and ease, as well as content, when necessity demands, with plain living and high thinking. The houses which he chiefly loves to frequent are those whose interior is so calculated to please the sense of eye, taste, and smell as Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Flower's, Lord and Lady Rosebery's, and other opulent or titled hosts. Curiously enough, he seems to be better known to-day as a writer of prose than of poetry. Fifty years hence it will be forgotten that he ever wrote prose at all. Much of his verse has the stamp of immortality. His essays on literature or religion are written for the day, and are merely pieces of journalistic causerie.
Mr. Lecky is another ambassador from the community of letters well received by London society. Tall, with a bland, meek countenance, a voice suggestive of spun silk, a manner expressive now
|of dogmatic positiveness and now significant of dreamy abstraction, he is a pleasant and improving rather than an enlivening companion. His wife is Dutch, a lady of more esprit than is usually possessed by her nation or by the wives of literary men generally.|
There are two other considerable English historians who are to be seen frequently, in the English capital, outside their libraries or studies-Froude and Kinglake. The former is the first of living writers of English prose. As years have gone by they have brought with them no deterioration of quality in his style. With the exception possibly of Cardinal Newman, he is the only wielder of the English tongue who can play upon it with the same felicity and evoke from it the same subtle modulations of tone as the notes of a musical instrument yield when manipulated by a performer of the highest order. Mr. Froude's social manner is a little too gentle and a little too feline. The eyes are somewhat too visibly busy in their operations. They too evidently take in everything that is passing. There is, too, a sternness of expression, almost a cruelty, in the neighborhood of the lips which causes one to suspect that Mr. Froude's elaborate gentleness and studied suavity are the veil of an implacable resentment when it is once excited, and of a contempt for, and disbelief in, human nature at large.
Mr. Kinglake's appearance is venerable and chivalrous. He has seen the world and every sort of society, both in London and in Europe. He has lived among politicians, great writers, and wits. He belongs rather to the generation of Palmerston, Delane, Thackeray, Hayward, and Bernal Osborne, than to that of to-day. He opened up the East half a century ago to English travellers. The volume in which he recorded his impressions of it marked an epoch in English literature. He has known Paris-the Paris of thirty years ago-as well as London, and one of his chief grounds of quarrel with Napoleon III. was purely personal. With the exception of his deafness, he is in possession of all his faculties. His memory is as remarkable as his humor. It is the memory not of a statistician, but of a philosophic historian. He can trust to his generalizations from scattered experiences as implicitly as if they were all docketed in commercial form.
Mr. Laurence Oliphant can scarcely be reckoned now among the literati of London. But he moves in a mysterious way, comes and goes without warning, and may be on the banks of the Thames before the season is over. Although absent, he is not forgotten. LITTERATEURS IN SOCIETY. -JOURNALISM.
|His fame lives in the lips of countless acquaintances, who keep up the tradition of his friendship. He scintillates pretty constantly in magazine articles, and recently published, in a spirit of ponderous whim, a totally unreadable and incomprehensible volume. Nature intended Mr. Oliphant for a publicist, a social satirist, an author of clever sketches and stories of the world or of jeux d'esprit. A curious twist in his temperament and a yearning after notoriety made him a sort of Pall Mall Messiah; the evangelist of a gospel modishly mystical, the hierophant in drawing-rooms and boudoirs of a religion the primary object of whose worship was Mr. Oliphant himself.|
Few Englishmen are so widely known. His fame is spread through the United States of America. He has lived in Paris and in most other European capitals. He began life as a diplomatist, and he discovered the famous French correspondent of the Times, M. Blowitz. He has made several forms of superstition fashionable, and I doubt whether the idea of esoteric Buddhism would have occurred to any of its latter-day prophets but for his example. He unites in himself, if I may say so without disrespect, the practical acuteness of the Yankee and the visionary dreaminess of the Oriental. He is always hovering between Nirvana and New York. On the other side of the Atlantic lie has become infected with the contagion of a Barnum. His Asiatic and European experiences have caused him to engage in the attempt to mingle Barnumism with Occultism. Decidedly a droll creature, this-one of whom it is difficult to say whether, had his nature been traversed by a less pronounced vein of eccentricity, he would have been more famous or more useful.
Mr. Laurence Oliphant is the pattern on which several London litrateurs seem to have modelled themselves. Some of them have burlesqued his oddities; others have been satisfied to reproduce the blend of society and authorship impersonated in him. To this latter order belong Mr. Hamilton Aide, a drawing-room writer, fond of entertaining his friends and being entertained by them; and Mr. Augustus Hare, who writes, as in conversation he tells stories, for a select public, chiefly composed of dowagers and spinsters of mature years. Had this gentleman been born in a different sphere he might have emulated the great Cook himself-without whose aid it is said the English Government could not have planned their Nile expedition-in the chosen path of his genius. For Mr.
|Hare is an adept at personally conducting tourist-parties composed of well-to-do matrons of quality on the Continent, or of showing them the sights of Old London.|
I have often heard it said that the reading public in England is almost exclusively composed of women, and certainly popularity with ladies is indispensable to the success of young authors. Before Mr. Oscar Wilde founded the worship of the sunflower, he made, I am given to understand, a kind of reputation by endeavoring, I know not with what success, to teach Mrs. Langtry Greek. This is a very clever and long-headed young man indeed. He always reminds me of Brutus, who, for purposes of his own and with triumphant results, feigned idiocy. Mr. Oscar Wilde saw that if anything was to be done with a capital of moderate talents, it was necessary to create a sensation. Having secured, with the help of a few popular or well-known ladies, an audience, he proceeded to pose as the high-priest of AEstheticism. Men laughed at him; but it was a sort of folly that paid. Mr. Wilde presented the appearance of a fribble, calculated his arrangements to nicety. If he was laughed at he could afford to laugh at others, and kept his tongue in his cheek. He has had imitators, whose names I cannot remember, but he has never been eclipsed in the peculiar metier of his choice.
As women seem in London to have the power of creating literary success, so they are sometimes ambitious of that success themselves. Indeed, among the ladies of particular coteries it is nearly the exception to encounter one who does not write. The truth, I suppose, is that the circulating libraries must be supplied, and it does not probably much matter with what. Some of these dames of the pen go a good deal into society. Mrs. Singleton, best known by her nom de plume of " Violet Fane," is the best representative of a numerous tribe. She has uncommon powers of satirical description and dialogue. She is a poet, and she has in high perfection the conversational art, possessed by some fashionable and well-bred women, of uttering the most audacious or pungent sentiments in a voice of resigned melancholy, reproving naivete, or childish simplicity.
I now come to an entirely different department of literature, if literature it can be called-Journalism. The journalist, it is customary to say, is powerful in England, and I believe that the multitude of those who are desirous of adding journalism to their
|regular occupations is, as the sands of the sea-shore, innumerable. But men who mould public opinion by their writing have seldom the opportunity or the inclination to mix with society. Certain it is that one only catches fleeting glimpses of them. But does journalism in England mould public opinion, or what are the relations in which it stands to it? If the articles one reads in the newspapers were a fair reflection of the national mind upon any given subject, and at any particular crisis, then it would follow that whenever the press is excited the country must be excited too. But is that the case? Nothing of the kind. The London newspapers, in the morning and the evening, lash themselves into a fury over the shortcomings of English ministers in every quarter of the globe. Thousands and scores of thousands of Englishmen throughout the country read those diatribes and invectives, for the most part admirably written, with warm approval.|
But nothing comes of them. The public no more thinks of acting in accordance with their precepts than it does of taking as its rule of life the high-flown sentiments in the drama which it has just been applauding. Journalism stimulates the people only in theory. The leading articles, though the assertion may seem a contradiction in terms, are absolutely ineffective because they are so effective. The average Briton, after having read one of them, acts precisely as the pious church-goer does who has listened to a sermon which has kindled within his bosom a glow of emotion. Church-goer and newspaper-reader alike do their duty. Sermon and article equally discharge the function of a safety-valve. The press interprets what it declares to be the deliberate conviction of the nation, and the nation, having said " Quite so !" goes on its way.
It has been said that one of the consequences of the French Revolution was to supersede the priesthood of the Church by the priesthood of the pen. Exactly; and just as the tendency of ecclesiastical sacerdotalism was to relieve individuals of any necessity for being religious themselves, so the tendency of journalistic sacerdotalism is to relieve them of any necessity of political exertion, or of bringing popular pressure to bear upon those in power. The average Briton consults his newspaper with the same awestricken confidence as the pious Roman used to consult the entrails. But in the former case, unlike the latter, the business begins and ends with consultation. If the English journalist is to do anything,
|it must be because he can rouse his readers to act. But to the latter it appears that their duty terminates with the perusal of the article. The journalist, therefore, does not spur the multitude. He rather, albeit unconsciously and with the best intent, administers to them an anodyne or a soporific.|
Journalism, from the point of view from which I shall look at it here, is interesting as affording a social link between politics and literature. In the present House of Commons there are exceedingly few men, as it is natural for Frenchmen to estimate them, who have achieved anything like eminence as publicists. There are several newspaper proprietors and, especially among the Irish, a host of journalistic dabblers. Mr. Justin McCarthy, a novelist as well as a writer of articles, is the one Hibernian senator of any literary importance, and he has done himself harm by taking to a parliamentary career. He has, that is to say, created for himself a false position. He- has transformed himself from an English litterateur into an Irish politician. Among English ministers the only ex-journalist is Sir William Harcourt, of whom I have already had occasion to speak; though Mr. Courtney, till lately a Treasury official, was another.
The House of Commons to-day contains but a single publicist and author of real distinction, Mr. John Morley. Mr. Morley continues to combine the profession of politics with that of literature, and, marvellous to say, neither suffers by the union. He is, however, the exception which proves the rule. Much of his literary career was a political apprenticeship. Many of his best books are political studies. Above all, he is a Radical by conviction. Unlike many, or most, effective writers for the press, he has a natural gift for oratory and debate. So far as I have been able to judge, I should say the effect of his literary training upon him had been, not, as is usually the case, to make his speeches academic, but to imbue him with a holy hatred of commonplace. Though good houses are open to him, he goes sparingly into society; though he has received enough homage and flattery to spoil him, he assumes none of the airs of the oracle. He is a quite gentlemanlike man of the world, easy and unaffected, never straining artificially after conversational effects, with just enough bitterness to give flavor to his comments, and with a keen sense of humor and fun.
Mr. Henry Labouchere is in every respect, save that he too is a professed Radical, a contrast to Mr. Morley. He has never
|given himself to serious literary work, but he is an admirable writer of short, sententious, pithy paragraphs, spiced with not offensive personality, and sometimes quite delightful in their daring. The truth is, he has taken up publicism as he has taken up-and never, perhaps, when his real purpose is considered, quite unsuccessfully-many other things. Long years. I am prepared to believe, were required before he could divest himself of that native modesty which shrinks instinctively from publicity, and recoils in positive horror from the idea of vulgar fame. But at last he overcame this ingenuous weakness, and, if he will forgive me for saying so, I am persuaded that notoriety is now to him as the breath of his nostrils.|
Supremely indifferent to the praise or blame of his fellow- creatures, he cannot live without occupation, and the one occupation lie cares for is that which, while it contributes to the moral improvement of the human race, does not in too marked a manner avert their glance from himself. Thus, he started some years ago a weekly newspaper, as he had before run a theatre, and distinguished himself as a besieged resident in Paris. As a politician it is natural to him never quite to be satisfied with the advance made by the leaders of his party along the path he indicates. If he supports a ministry he is, by a law of his being, in opposition to it as well. He is not so much a follower of Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Chamberlain, a Liberal or a Radical--he is Henry Labouchere.
Few men of the day have made their mark so plainly in so many careers. Mere fussiness would not have enabled him to do this. His mind is strong as well as acute. He has been pitted against some of the hardest heads in the City of London, and has proved himself their equal. He is a prodigious worker, though methodically unmethodical. His faculties are always on the alert. His mind and, so far as is necessary for the processes of his mind, his body, is as severely in training as a prize-fighter's. He takes no exercise. He smokes cigarettes incessantly, but he never drinks, and he seldom eats. He is a pure Rechabite-not on principle, but from preference. In London society he is seldom seen. He has a capital establishment in town, and, near town, another on the banks of the Thames. He is a great authority on all matters theatrical. He is now quite domesticated. Hospitable, and never happier than when lie is entertaining parties, big or small, of the complexion which London society designates as Bohemian, he is
|certainly a favorite. Even those who most disagree with, and disapprove of, the political doctrines which he affects, speak of him almost affectionately as "Labby."|
His name is greeted as a household word, and is sure to raise an appreciative laugh on any stage or platform on which it is mentioned. He is, perhaps, the one man in England who has an unlimited power of startling society without shocking it. This is partly because he is never supposed to be quite in earnest, never taken quite literally or au serieux; partly, too, because there are certain laws of taste which he seldom violates ; partly, and perhaps principally, because he is credited with many of those attributes which Englishmen admire with blind loyalty. He has, that is to say, the cachet of what can only be described as "swelldom." He was born to social position and to fortune ;was the nephew of a highly respectable and pious uncle, who ultimately became a peer, and who left him a fortune, or the nucleus of a fortune. His educational training, Eton, Cambridge, and diplomacy, were all eminently aristocratic. London society, therefore, if it sees in him a brebis egare, sees in him also a sheep between whom and the fold there yet exists a certain connection. Then he has been favorably regarded by royalty. He has, in a word, a certain breeding which, co-operating with a shrewd, cool judgment and a wide knowledge of the world, prevents him from being offensive. He may regard life and all its concerns, political or social, as a game, but he knows the laws of the game, and these laws he never violates. Some persons may wonder how and why he is tolerated; this is the explanation, a sufficient one.
To London society the daily journal is a reality, but the journalist scarcely a name; rather a nonentity. It is only the infusion of the commercial and the political, the business-like and statesmanlike elements, into the social, which occasionally acquaints London society with the identity and patronymic of the London editor. Since the days of Delane, there has been no conductor-in-chief of any London newspaper who has figured as a personage in society. Sir Algernon Borthwick, now the doyen of the London press, is indeed an exception. But then his social position is independent of the happy accident which makes him proprietor and conductorin-chief-the acting editor being a worthy and genial justice of the peace, Mr. Hardman-of the Morning Post. It is as a servant of society first and a fellow of the press afterwards that, assisted by
|his gifted and popular wife, he has secured for his house the prestige of a brilliant social centre. Every one who is any one goes to "the Borthwicks'," and every one is proud of going there. There are no hosts who have achieved a success more indisputable-none who are kindlier and worthier. But one might exhaust the vocabulary of praise and compliment over these charming people. Society in London would not be society without them. The chief of the editorial staff of the Times is Mr. Buckle, a gentleman in the bloom of early manhood, an Oxford scholar, of singularly prepossessing manner and appearance, quiet, self-possessed, with an air of tranquil determination and unaggressive self-assurance about him, the irreproachable embodiment of a discreet caution. The opinions of the Times are often criticised, and its policy condemned. This I regard as a tribute to its power. One may be sure that the articles published in a daily broad-sheet would not excite such animated differences of estimate unless their intrinsic importance were felt on every side. And is it not probable that the men who are responsible for the conduct of the Times, the sagacious, if unsympathetic and frigid, Mr. Walter, whose experience is great and whose insight into English feeling is not contemptible, as well as those who are associated with him in the management of the journal, may know their own business quite as well as those who cavil at them?|
The editor of the Times occupies, and always will occupy, a position among English journalists entirely unique. The institution he controls is not only a great English newspaper. In the opinion of foreigners, and in the opinion of many Englishmen too, it is the greatest of newspapers; perhaps the only great newspaper in the United Kingdom. After the Sovereign and the Premier comes the Lord Mayor-so, at least, many of my compatriots think; after the Lord Mayor comes the Times, and nothing will ever eradicate from the Continental mind, whether in the case of politicians or of the masses, the belief that the views expressed by the Times are inspired by the Government of the day. This is a delusion, of course, but it is one of those delusions which die hard, which are almost immortal.
The editor of the Standard is Mr. Mudford. He does not make his presence in London society too cheap. He is a busy man, and he has, quite an unusual thing for the British editor, literary tastes. He understands his craft better than most of his contemporaries,
|and has the power (exceedingly rare among English journalists, who are not, for the most part, men of the world, and who try to acquire an importance which, as a matter-of-fact, they never win, by professing extravagant loyalty to a party which ignores them) of looking at any political conjuncture with judicial impartiality, be he Mr. Mudford or any other. The danger is lest the ablest of editors, for the very reason that he does from time to time so successfully identify himself with public opinion, should, when a critical emergency arises, mistake effect for cause, and assume that what he says is, for the mere reason that he says it, the interpretation of public opinion. So well has he played the part of exponent, that at last he imagines there can be nothing to be expounded apart from his own ideas. A little more imagination, and perhaps a dash more cynicism, would help him to avoid this error. Before one can be a political prophet one must succeed in divesting one's self not only of all partisanship, but, a far more difficult matter, of all conceit; the only quality to be trusted to is that which is purely intellectual, and which, in pronouncing on a given situation, is perfectly unbiassed, unelated by the memory of its past successes. Mr. Mudford's social manner at once impresses you in his favor. No one could pronounce him anything but a strong man. When he talks, he talks wisely; and if there is anything worth hearing, he listens well.|
Among other journalists known in London society as journalists are Mr. Lawson of the , Mr. Hill and Mr. Robinson of the , Mr. Greenwood of the , and various gentlemen to whom I have, at different times, had the honor of being presented as responsible for the Pall Mall Gazette. Plump, well kept, exuberant, prosperous, ever smiling, humorous and cheerful, Mr. Lawson is something more than one of the proprietors and editors of the Daily Telegraph. He is an exceedingly wealthy man, partly the result of business success, and partly of the well-directed munificence of opulent relatives. He entertains lavishly at his town house and his country house, is the father of a son about to become a member of Parliament, and of another in the Guards. As I have elsewhere intimated, his newspaper is one of the authors of Mr. Gladstone's political fame; but he is too shrewd and sagacious to indulge his vanity by dwelling on this circumstance; and though I should think that few steps of importance were taken in the office of his newspaper without his
|cognizance, or approval, or initiative, the role of which he is most fond is that of a country squire compelled by the pressure of political business and patriotic emotions not unfrequently to visit London.|
Mr. Hill is laudably assiduous in his attendance at the social functions of the leaders of the party to which his paper, the Daily News, is attached. He is a man with a quiet, dry manner, who improves on acquaintance, and who has a power, unparalleled among his journalistic colleagues, of saying trenchant and biting things in a quiet, even an amiable, way. He generally strikes the stranger as too much of the philosopher and too little of the politician. Perhaps nature meant him rather for the scholar's library and writing-table than for the newspaper-office. Mr. Greenwood, on the other hand, with much literary knowledge and training; as competent a judge, I should say, as exists in London of literary finish and efficiency; himself a writer of singular verve and incisiveness, has, with experience, contracted many of the associations, and imbibed many of the sentiments, of a statesman. He is reputed to be violent, even venomous, in his literary onslaughts on politicians and their policies. But really in journalism one must study effect, and if Mr. Greenwood writes at a white heat of indignation, or prompts others to do so, it does not follow that he himself can form no estimate of men and of affairs unprejudiced and cool to freezingpoint.
There are other points of social convergence briefly to be illustrated between periodical literature and politics. Mr. Henry Reeve, the editor of the , when he is not suffering from gout or at his country estate, is often to be met with in the diningrooms and drawing-rooms of the hosts and hostesses of London society. He may be likened to a highly modernized edition of Dr. Johnson. Tall, portly, quite elderly and almost dignified, he utters alike paradoxes and platitudes with a volume and depth of voice implying that there is no appeal against them. Many years have elapsed since he was obliging enough to take French literature and politics, in a word, everything to do with France, under his protection. He acts, or at one time he acted, as a species of English Consul-General for French literature, and there is perhaps no well-known translation of a French work of importance so unsatisfactory as Mr. Reeve's version of De Tocqueville's It is a tradition with him to be on good terms
|with the successive occupants of the French Embassy in London. Society, politics, history, philosophy, and letters, on every branch of these Mr. Reeve claims to speak with oracular authority. Then, too, lie affects to act as the interpreter of the esoteric ideas of Whiggism, that droll political composite of assumption and timidity.|
The editor of the Quarterly Review, Dr. William Smith, is, notwithstanding his years and his responsibility, a cheery and genial gentleman. He pretends to be nothing more than he is, a keen, experienced impresario, with enough of varied erudition and insight into popular feeling to be a trustworthy judge upon any ordinary topic without being infallible. He lacks the slightly pretentious pomposity of Mr. Reeve. If he magnifies his apostleship, it is within narrower limits and in a less aggressive way. He does not affect to be so deeply behind the scenes as the editor of the Edinburgh Review, but he is, for all that, well informed, thoroughly pleasant and instructive to talk with.
Periodical literature is also represented in London society by the conductors of one or two miscellanies who occupy a position midway between that of the editor of a daily paper and of a quarterly review. Mr. Knowles, the editor of the Nineteenth Century, has the same craze for social omniscience which I have repeatedly observed among the private secretaries of ministers or the more aspiring of Foreign Office clerks. The world is his oyster; society his happy hunting-ground, useful and attractive to him mainly as offering him recruits for a magazine in which the order of social precedence is rigidly observed. Dukes and marquises first, then peers of inferior degree, then bishops and philosophers, the procession being wound up by any poor devils who have contrived to puff themselves into momentary notoriety. If you are worth knowing from Mr. Knowles's point of view, it must be either because you can help him with his magazine, or because you know some person else who may be useful for that purpose. He is, as it is his business to be, an acute, calculating little man, always, as a look at him is enough to tell you, engaged in mentally reckoning as to whether A. or B. or C. can forward his enterprise, and, if so, up to what point. To Mr. Knowles, who displays, if it is permissible to employ a vernacular expression, all his wares in his shop-window, there could be no greater contrast than the editor of the Fortnightly Review, Mr. Escott, who, though I suppose he must
|give some attention to his professional pursuits, and has the credit of understanding them, never alludes to them in conversation, and when talking is not easily enticed into the expression of an opinion about them or about any other matter. This may be wise, but life is short, and on the occasions on which I have met him it has not seemed to me to be worth while to induce him to break his not too conciliatory or courteous reserve.|
Lord Houghton is one of the most distinguished and gradually disappearing links which exist between society and literature. His intellectual faculties are undimmed. Age has now overtaken him, but the glory of his younger brilliancy and his enjoyment of life and its good things has not abated. With the exception of a slight deafness, he is a victim to no infirmity peculiarly incidental to his years. He is still indefatigable as an after-dinner speaker, and can talk, whether in public or in private, in an air half romantic, half satirical, the secret of whose charm none of his juniors seems to have discovered. He has been the acquaintance or the intimate friend of almost every man of distinction in politics, literature, diplomacy, or science, who has lived during the last halfcentury. He has, moreover, given the world much that it prizes and will preserve in prose and poetry. If he is sometimes the theme of merriment to his friends, his accomplishments can never be anything but the subject of admiration. He has seen the world in many aspects far outside the limits of his own country, has popularized and embellished travel, and has delighted more than one generation of wits in Continental capitals with the whimsicalities of his wit and his paradoxical conceits.
As for the novelists of London, their name is legion, but to London society they are names only. Mr. Wilkie Collins leads the life of a recluse. Other masters of fiction avoid the capital as much as possible; and as for the lady novelists, they either work too hard to have any time to spend upon society, or they limit their appearance in it to visits paid in fashionable country houses.
One editor of a weekly paper has been already presented to the leader in the person of Mr. Labouchlere. Mr. Edmund Yates, though not, like Mr. Labouchere, a Member of Parliament, is as little unknown as he is to London society. Vivacious as a talker, well equipped as a raconteur, he has the twin gift of a tenacious memory and a quick eye. He is one of the comparatively few men of letters in London whose memory carries them back to the
|period when society appreciated literary sparkle in its conversation more than it does to-day. Full of vitality and vigor, he makes his presence felt wherever he is. His most characteristic gifts, his pleasantry, his antitheses, his neatness of expression, are French rather than English.|
The fortunes of Punch, the London Chaivari, are directed by Mr. Burnand, a gentleman who, though so immersed in his occupations that he has little time to spare for society, is welcomed in many sections of it when he can be induced to lay his professional labors aside. His appearance, with his bushy eyebrows, his hair brushed well back from his forehead, and, above all, the black cravat which he affects in evening dress, is Gallic rather than British. He is a farceur of the best type, gifted, like Mr. Yates, with a liberal allowance of histrionic power, and never more amused than when he is amusing. But he has higher qualities. That he is possessed of no ordinary strength of judgment as well as fertility of resource is shown by the skill and success with which he conducts what is one of the most remarkable papers in the world. In England Punch has provoked many imitations; none of them has touched or even seriously threatened its ascendency. The secret of humorously interpreting with pen and pencil the superficial or the deeper sentiments of the hour rests with it and with it alone.
Between the editors of the Saturday Review and the Spectator there is, at any rate as regards personal appearance, a marked dissimilarity. Mr. Walter Pollock, the conductor of the former journal, the gifted member of a gifted family, a model of grace and breeding and the best fencer in England, is tall, slight, with fair hair and beard. Mr. Hutton and Mr. Meredith Townsend, who control the Spectator, are each of them gentlemen of middle age, with the look of philosophers and teachers rather than of men of pleasure or society. Yet they both of them are to be met with in society. Mr. Hutton is the friend of Mr. Gladstone, whom he not seldom entertains at dinner, while wherever authorities on the Indian Empire of England are, there is Mr. Townsend likely to be found in the midst of them.
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|Chapter I: The Court and Royal Family|
|Chapter II: The Princes and Royal Dukes|
|Chapter III: Cosmopolitanism of London Society|
|Chapter IV: Diplomatists and Their Hosts|
|Chapter V: Some of Society's Sets|
|Chapter VI: Society in Town and Country|
|Chapter VII: Lawyers, Judges, Doctors, Divines, and Soldiers in London Society|
|Chapter VIII: London Society, Politics and Politicians|
|Chapter IX: Statesmen in Society|
|Chapter X: Senate and Salon|
|Chapter XI: Litterateurs in Society -Journalism|
|Chapter XII: Actors, Actresses, and Artists in Society|