BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll


The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas


Passages of a working life during half a century

by Charles Knight

Excerpt:

VOL. II. c

and-twenty .... not our line .... excuse . . . . gentleman waiting." I began at last to think that for a fashionable publisher there was a grand subject for imitation in Lord Burleigh's shake of the head. Sometimes a book would be offered me that appeared really worth a venture. .A huge ungainly Scot walks in, dressed in a semi-military fashion,—a braided surtout and a huge fur cape to his cloak; spluttering forth his unalloyed dialect, and somewhat redolent of the whiskey that he could find south of the Tweed. He at length interested me. He had come to London a literary adventurer. He had been his own educator, for he was once a working weaver. Many were the schemes of books that he was ready to write—schemes that had been in the hands of most publishers, famous or obscure. He was known, I found, to one of the ablest of the staff of the " Times," —a gentleman to whom was committed the charge of the Foreign department of that Journal, which, even forty years ago, founded its success upon the marked talent and reliable knowledge of its writers. Out of the budget of Robert Mudie I selected a plan for a book on London—something in the manner of one which he had published, " The Modern Athens." It was to be called " Babylon the Great." The work was a success. I was acquainted with this singular man for some years. He would occasionally use his powers to good purpose; but his writings were too often inaccurate. He approached nearer to the idea of a hack author of the old times than any man I ever saw. He would undertake any work, however unsuited to his acquirements or his taste. Late in his career, he produced a book—forgotten now perhaps, and too much overlooked by scientific naturalists

in his own day—which exhibits remarkable powers of observation and description. Before he had been condemned to a life of incessant literary toil in London—only made more heavy by sottish indulgence—he was a genuine naturalist, who had looked upon the plants, the insects, the birds, and other animal life of his own moors and mountains, with a rare perception of the curious and beautiful . "The Feathered Tribes of the British Islands" is not an every-day work of science without imagination.

I used sometimes to avail myself of the privilege of propinquity to have a gossip with the worthy old gentleman who first made the name of Colnaghi famous amongst collectors. He once gave me a piece of advice, which to some extent made me shy of pursuing an interesting study of human character. He had seen William Henry Ireland entering my door, and sometimes making a long visit. I delighted to talk with the author of the Shakspere forgeries, having no very harsh opinion of the man who, when a lad of eighteen, had hoaxed the big-wigs of his day, and had laughed in his sleeve when Dr. Parr reverently knelt and rendered thanks that he had lived to read a prayer by the divine poet, finer than anything in the Liturgy. How joyously would he now look back upon his imposture of 1795, preserved by his inordinate vanity from any compunctious visitings that might lead him to think that a fraud was not altogether to be justified by its cleverness! He was now nearly fifty years of age; doing hard work of authorship wherever he could find employment; wretchedly poor, and perhaps not altogether trustworthy. "Take you care of that Mr. Ireland," says my kind neighbour the printseller. "He used to be very fond of looking over my Rembrandt etchings and other portable rarities. But— I will say no more." I was not taken with any of poor Ireland's schemes. He had outlived his very questionable fame as the author of Shakspere's "Vortigern and Rowena." Thirty years had passed since he made his "Confessions." Unhappily I had at this time transactions with a forger of a very different class.

At the period when I settled as a publisher in London, translations from the French were in far greater demand than at present, when an acquaintance with modern languages is much more general. I had published two very interesting versions of memoirs connected with the war in La Vendue, which were profitable; and I was desirous thus to extend my business operations in a way which involved less risk than the purchase of original works. I procured two quarto volumes by M. Charles Dupin, who had collected his materials in this country with considerable industry, and had used them with rare impartiality. I quickly brought out " The Commercial Power of Great Britain," by the employment of "several hands," as old.title-pages express such a division of intellectual labour, without attaching to the term "hands" the offensive signification it is now thought to imply when used with regard to factory workers. Amongst the "hands" that I called in was a well-known writer, described as "a very clever, accomplished, and gentlemanly fellow, who won golden opinions of every body."* W. G. Graham was the most superlative coxcomb that ever took his daily lounge through Bond Street

* Autobiography of William Jerdan, vol. iii. p. 211.

or the Park—his Hessian boots of the nicest fit— his lavender gloves of the most spotless hue—his tie perfect—his "conduct of a clouded cane" more than "nice." I scarcely dared to talk of common literary drudgery to the exquisite editor of "The Museum," but I was not repulsed with scorn. Yes, he would endeavour to find time to do what I wanted. Very rapidly did he accomplish his task. He got out of a hackney-coach in all imaginable haste, placed a sealed packet in my hands, explained that he was suddenly called from town, and—would I give him a check on account. The bulk of the parcel was an evidence of his industry —of his talent I had no doubt; so he went off with his check, and very quickly cashed it. I am not sure that I ever saw him again. Indeed, I never desired to see him; for when I opened the packet, guarded with seal after - seal as a most precious treasure—lo! the half-dozen quires of paper of which it was composed, though seeming to be as honest copy as ever went to the printer, were as false as the coin with which the magician in the "Arabian Nights" deluded the stall-keepers of the oriental bazaars. The outer leaves of each section were the fairest of manuscripts; the inner leaves were blank paper. Months passed away. I had found more trustworthy "hands." One day I received a letter, which is now before me: "If you can give me your check for as much of the enclosed as may not be due to you I should feel greatly obliged." I might have exclaimed "Not so bad as we seem," had I then been familiar with the phrase. The " enclosed " is also before me— a Bill drawn by W. G. Graham on Mr. G. B. Whittaker, at two months for £60, dated September 16th. 1825, duly accepted by the eminent bookseller, and endorsed by the drawer. The " clever, accomplished, and gentlemanly fellow," had from me what he asked for. On the 19th of November the acceptance became due, and when presented had a terrible word written across the face in ominous red ink, " Forgery." That November was a time of dread for commercial men. The panic came in the next fortnight, involving several publishers in its ruin. The wretched man of whom I write had committed other forgeries upon the house of Mr. Whittaker, whose bankers, for their own safety, requiring a list of all his acceptances, were surprised to find some of a speculative character —such as large engagements for hops. His business, though otherwise intrinsically sound, was denied the usual amount of discount, and he was compelled to stop payment. The bold swindler had defrauded many connected with the publishing trade besides myself. One victim was resolved to shew no mercy if Graham could be apprehended. He was saved an ignominious end by escaping to New York, where his career of fraud was quickly closed. He was shot in a duel soon after he landed.


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