1891 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Isaac D'Israeli

Samuel Smiles, "Isaac D'Israeli" A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 1:141-55.



It is necessary here to introduce a name which constantly appears in the records of Mr. Murray's career, and a friendship which was only interrupted by a series of untoward events to be narrated in a subsequent chapter.

It cannot now be ascertained what was the origin of the acquaintance between the D'Israeli and Murray families. The first John Murray published the first volumes of Isaac D'Israeli's "Curiosities of Literature," and though no correspondence between them has been preserved, we find frequent mention of the founder of the house in Isaac D'Israeli's letters to John Murray the Second. His experiences are held up for his son's guidance, as for example, when Isaac, urging the young publisher to support some petition to the East India Company, writes, "It was a ground your father trod, and I suppose that connection cannot do you any harm;" or again, when dissuading him from undertaking some work submitted to him, "You can mention to Mr. Harley the fate of Professor Musaeus' 'Popular Tales,' which never sold, and how much your father was disappointed." On another occasion we find D'Israeli, in 1809, inviting his publisher to pay a visit "to my father, who will be very glad to see you at Margate."

The earliest letter which can be found is addressed to the firm of Murray and Highley as follows:—

Mr. Isaac D'Israeli to Messrs. Murray & Highly.

"Exeter, March 3rd, 1796.

GENTLEMEN,

I think it very incumbent on me to inform you that a book published by Ridgways, called 'A Dictionary of Literary Conversation,' is a mere republication ad verbatim, of many articles from 'The Curiosities,' with a very few new articles of their own. The book has sold very rapidly, and is now in a second edition. They threaten another volume. If they go on publishing 'The Curiosities' at a cheaper rate, and you tamely submit to it, there is an end of all literary property. I have just now written a note to the Monthly Review and the British Critic to notice this depredation. All this I conceive to be my duty. The work is your own, and not mine. If you act in this affair at all, I shall be glad to know what will be done. If you want any information further, you may write to me. I am, gentlemen, yours, &c.

I. D'ISRAELI."

What the result of this remonstrance was we have now no means of discovering, but when young John Murray started in business on his own account, his acquaintance with D'Israeli, who was twelve years his senior, soon ripened into an intimate friendship. A very large mass of letters, notes, and scraps of memoranda testify to the constant, almost daily communication which was kept up between them, for D'Israeli, in addition to his own work, very soon became the literary adviser to his friend.

In Oct. 1803, he writes, "By letter from Margate" (where his father was then living) "I find a cutter had yesterday come into the Downs with a number of wounded men and for reinforcements. This does not appear in the Times nor Press this morning. It shows we have sustained loss of men, however, and the action was very hot. I hope to hear to-day that these gun-boats have not escaped us after all."

In 1804 Mr. D'Israeli was engaged upon a work which is now all but forgotten, and of which Lord Beaconsfield does not seem to have been aware, as he makes no mention of it in the Memoir of his father prefixed to the "Curiosities of Literature" in 1865.

The author, however, as is evident from his constant allusions to it, and his anxiety about its success, attached great importance to this book, which was entitled "Flim-Flams! or the Life and Errors of my Uncle, and the Amours of my Aunt, with Illustrations and Obscurities, by Messrs. Tag, Rag, and Bobtail." The work is rather ridiculous, and it is difficult now to discern its purpose, or even the humour on which the author would appear to have prided himself. It is slightly in imitation of Sterne; but without his sentiment, wit or humour.

In April 1804, D'Israeli writes:—

"Mr. D'Israeli to John Murray.

DEAR MURRAY,

The last letter you wrote, was received at a moment that I could not properly attend to it. I am extremely obliged by the real solicitude you have shown on the occasion — nor has it been entirely useless. I have had that proof returned and made two or three additional touches, besides retaining the rejected note of the Edinburgh Review which I like well. You are probably too deeply engaged in serious business at the present moment, to attend to such Nugae and flim-flams as the world are on the point of being 'illuminated' by.

However, I write this, to give you some hopes. I confided the three sheets printed to two friends, and I have every reason to believe I succeed to the best of my wishes. One writes me, that it will 'provoke perpetual laughter and at the same time preserve a great deal of curious information.' I have observed how it worked upon a grave mind (the friend who read carefully the sheets before me). He acknowledges the satire to be very just and muck wanted; and is of opinion that a volume annually of the same kind, would be a pleasant companion to the Literati. What I liked better than his opinion — he laughed most seriously! However every year cannot produce such a heap of extravaganzas as I have registered, nor so merry a crew of lunatics, as I shall have the honour of putting into a procession.

"As I have written an account of the death of the author — who dies with laughter — whom nothing can revive but the galvanic science of Professor Murray, I must consult you on this before it is printed. I mention that I prefer you to Professor Davy, because by many patient experiments you, to my knowledge, have more than once restored a dead author to life!

There was no avoiding Clarke's knowing I was the author, nor the printer. In the present case we must trust to their honour, for, as Mark Antony says — 'They are all honourable men!'

Mrs. D'I. is most sensible to your enquiries and has taken it into her profound views that you have gone off to be married! and though I speak so much in favour of your wisdom, still she thinks it will so end."

Again he writes on the eve of publication: "I think the third volume abounds with that kind of story or incident which will be found entertaining."

The work appeared in due course in the early part of 1805, but it was never appreciated by the public; it was severely criticised in the Critical Review, and the author's exaggerated expectations gave place to the deepest disappointment. "An idea has spread abroad," he writes, "that the F. F. is a libel. Longman and Rees will not suffer the book to lie on their table. I wrote to know if the Edinburgh Review really considers it a libel whether we ought not to retain Erskine."

No libel action, however, was brought, and in due course a second edition, 'with an apology for the author and the work" was prepared, but here again D'Israeli's nervous anxiety is displayed in the following letters:—

"Mr. D'Israeli to John Murray.

It is absolutely necessary to stop going on with our second edition.

"Your personal interest is more deeply involved in this, than mine. You will incur a great risk, which I have very strong doubts will never be repaid.

"Secondly, my own ease of mind is as much as possible at risk. The work certainly gives great offence to many; the execution is at times most bunglingly performed, and I am convinced the curiosity of a certain part of the public was stirred, which occasioned the demand. Whatever real merits may be in the work are entirely outnumbered by the errors of its author.

"The printer has only done three sheets, perhaps a fourth. These sheets may at present be deposited in your warehouse. The expense of the printer may be divided between us, or I will repay you. Dagley I will undertake myself to satisfy.

"I have maturely considered this affair. To prevent a serious loss to you, and deep vexation for myself, I have immediately hit on this plan. What has just passed cannot be recalled, and I will bear the consequences.

"Pray then return the MS.; stop the printer.

"If it were really necessary, the work might be resumed a year hence. If there's no second edition, no other reason need be given than that the authors would not give any.

"When it is out of print, if ever the few on hand are sold, it may be more talked of; at present the current runs all against it."

Mr. D'Israeli to Mr. Murray.

"DEAR MURRAY,

I begin to think the book is not half so bad as some choose to think. What I am doing will convince you, that I want not spirit and confidence, as well as modesty and timidity. I am preparing to set down. I hugely like my address to be prefixed to the Second Edition, which I am putting in order. I am certain that the Second Edition will be improved, but I wish also to have wit enough to convince the Wronghead family, in this new preface, that the odium they would throw on me is unjust. You will judge how I succeed in this.

I. D'I."

Mr. D'Israeli to Mr. Murray.

"DEAR MURRAY,

I sent you an alteration for the advertisement, to run thus — "To this edition is prefixed an APOLOGY for the AUTHOR and the BOOK."

Since yesterday I have now the satisfaction of adding that the Apology is quite finished — and to my content! I do think it to be much superior to anything in the work itself; and I am very desirous of you and Dr. Grant seeing it. It is very entertaining; I think the sense is not heavy, and the humour genuine and pointed. I am sure there are several original views in it, as the whole is a defence of 'Flim-Flamming.' I think it ought to be expressed thus in the advertisement.

You mentioned something about the Doctor's dining at your house to-morrow. Does he? I am going to the Institution to hear Mr. Dibdin on British Literature.

Yours,

I. D'I."

The foregoing correspondence has been printed as illustrating the character of a remarkable man, and throwing light on a little known episode of his literary career.

Besides the "Curiosities of Literature," and "Flim-Flams," Mr. D'Israeli published through Murray, in 1803, a small volume of "Narrative Poems" in 4to. They consisted of "An Ode to his Favourite Critic;" "The Carder and the Currier, a Story of Amorous Florence;" "Cominge, a Story of La Trappe;" and "A Tale addressed to a Sybarite." The verses in these poems run smoothly, but they contain no wit, no poetry, nor even any story. They were never again reprinted.

Before leaving the year 1804 it is necessary to print the following letter, which is of especial interest, as fixing the date of an event which has given rise to much discussion — the birth of Benjamin D'Israeli.

Mr. Isaac D'Israeli to John Murray.

"Dec. 22nd, 1804.
MY DEAR SIR,
Mrs. D'Israeli will receive particular gratification from the interesting note you have sent us on the birth of our boy — when she shall have read it. In the meanwhile accept my thanks, and my best compliments to your sister. The mother and infant are both doing well.
Ever yours,
I. D'I."

The following letters will afford an insight into the nature of the friendship and business relations which existed between Isaac D'Israeli and his young publisher as well as into the characters of the two men themselves.

Mr. D'Israeli to John Murray.

"Brighton, August 5th, 1805.

MY DEAR SIR,

Your letter is one of the repeated specimens I have seen of your happy art of giving interest even to commonplace correspondence; and I, who am so feelingly alive to the 'pains and penalties' of postage, must acknowledge that such letters, ten times repeated, would please me as often.

"We should have been very happy to see you here, provided it occasioned no intermission in your more serious occupations, and could have added to your amusements.

"With respect to the projected 'Institute,' if that title be English — doubtless the times are highly favourable to patronize a work skilfully executed, whose periodical pages would be at once useful for information, and delightful for elegant composition, embellished by plates, such as have never yet been given, both for their subjects and their execution. Literature is a perpetual source opened to us; but the Fine Arts present an unploughed field, and an originality of character. The progress of the various Institutions is so much sunshine to this, work. These will create an appetite, and while they provoke the curiosity, will impart a certain degree of understanding to the readers, without which a work can never be very popular. Could you secure the numerous Smatterers of this age, you will have an enviable body of subscribers. But the literary department of the work may be rendered of more permanent value. You are every day enlarging your correspondence with persons of real talent. Shee is a man of genius, with a pen rather too fluent. Various passages in his prose might have been thrown out in the second edition, but an ardent Irishman is rarely known to eat his own words. 'General' Duncan may command the Oxford troops, though some of them perhaps are the 'Heavy Horse.' Diversified talents are useful. You ask for a definite plan. Put into action, these and many more quarters will provide a number of good things, and it will not be difficult to lay out the tables.

"But Money, Money must not be spared in respect to rich, beautiful, and interesting Engravings. On this I have something to communicate. Encourage Dagley whose busts of Seneca and Scarron are pleasingly executed; but you will also want artists of name. I have a friend, extremely attached to literature and the fine arts, a gentleman of opulent fortune; by what passed with him in conversation, I have reason to believe that he would be ready to assist by money to a considerable extent. Would that suit you? How would you arrange with him? Would you like to divide your work in Shares? He is an intimate friend of West's, and himself too an ingenious writer.

"How came you to advertise 'Domestic Anecdotes?' Kearsley printed 1250 copies. I desire that no notice of the authors of that work may be known from your side.

"I have seen nothing of the Prince [of Wales] here: Brighton has had a dull season. But a Prince called on me, whom I much esteem — Prince Hoare; he is Secretary for Foreign Correspondence to the Royal Academy, and lent me the third number of his 'Academic Annals,' a very useful project which the Academy has now adopted. He is to give an annual account of the state of the Arts throughout Europe. Perhaps he might contribute to your Institute.

"At this moment I receive your packet of poems, and Shee's letter. I perceive that he is impressed by your attentions and your ability. It will always afford me one of my best pleasures to forward your views; I claim no merit from this, but my discernment in discovering your talents, which, under the genius of Prudence (the best of all Genii for human affairs), must inevitably reach the goal. The literary productions of I. D['Israeli] and others may not augment the profits of your trade in any considerable degree; but to get the talents of such writers at your command is a prime object, and others will follow.

"I had various conversations with [Sir Richard] Phillips here; he is equally active, but more wise. He owns his belles-lettres books have given no great profits; in my opinion he must have lost even by some. But he makes a fortune by juvenile and useful compilations. You know I always told you he wanted literary taste — like an atheist, who is usually a disappointed man, he thinks all belles lettres are nonsense, and denies the existence of taste; but it exists! and I flatter myself you will profit under that divinity. I have much to say on this subject and on him when we meet.

"At length I have got through your poetry: it has been a weary task! The writer has a good deal of fire, but it is rarely a very bright flame. Here and there we see it just blaze, and then sink into mediocrity. He is too redundant and tiresome. 'Tis possible enough, if he is young, he may one day be a Poet; but in truth there are few exquisite things and too much juvenility. There is nothing sufficiently defined, no pictures with finished design and bright colouring, and the greater part is a general vague commonplace. The poem on the 'Boy blowing Bubbles' pleased me the best. That on 'Sensibility' I do not see contains anything very novel. The whole is composed with some fancy not yet matured, with art not yet attained, and with too great a facility for rhyming. Compression, condensation, and nicety of taste are much wanted; and on the whole I think these poems will not answer the views of a bookseller. 'Tis a great disadvantage to read them in MS., as one cannot readily turn to passages; but life is too short to be peeping into other peoples' MSS. I prefer your prose to your verse. Let me know if you receive it safely, and pray give no notion to any one that I have seen the MS.

"I see there is a third edition of 'The Sabbath,' in spite of the cold insolence of the Edinburgh Review. I observe that you are meditating an important expedition to Edinburgh. A Scotchman is a good test of his adversary's sagacity; I am sure you do not want for any. Mrs. D'Israeli's best regards: she received a letter from your sister.

Believe me, as ever, yours, &c.,

I. D'ISRAELI."

Mr. D'Israeli to Mr. Murray.

"It is a most disagreeable office to give opinions on MSS.; one reads them at a moment when one has other things in one's head-then one is obliged to fatigue the brain with thin/ring; but if I can occasionally hinder you from publishing nugatory works, I do not grudge the pains. At the same time I surely need not add, how very confidential such communications ought to be.

"When you write, make your letter as short as you choose, for I see you are deeply occupied. The Prince's band is now arranged before my house, and I shall be overtaken by a storm of music! Mellish has been the grand dasher here; had 25,000 depending on two or three races! Had his horse Sancho not been extraordinarily successful 'tis said he meant to have shot himself. He kissed and hugged him on the grounds. At length closes his present account with a poor 5000 winner. Rode a donkey-race with Lord Petersham, who, Phaethon-like, could not manage his ass, and was dashed into a cloud of dust, rolling on the earth by (like Phaethon) carrying himself too near it. I have not done with Mellish; I hope one day to begin on him. He has thrown out a fine estate in Yorkshire, from a dice-box; anticipated his mother's jointure; drives round the Steyne all the morning, to the terror of nurses and children; bursts into the shops of milliners. This delightful boy of folly has not yet shot himself; but the time ought to be very near. He is getting old-twenty-five! He has lasted a good while, and the chink of his last guinea will soon be heard.

Your humble and affectionate nephew,

I. D'I."

Mr. D'Israeli to John Murray.

"DEAR M.,

A very particular friend of mine has sent me a pair of fine birds, one of which I mean to have dressed for supper at ten o'clock to-night. I shall be employed on the 'Curiosities' till ten, and if you will partake of this fine bird (and bottle) you have only to cast up your weekly accounts and be with me at the moment of its unspitting. Meanwhile,

Always yours,

I. D'I.

Saturday, 5 o'clock."

Mr. D'Israeli to Mr. Murray.

"DEAR M.,

You will please to call on me to go to the theatre, as I shall take a coach going and returning. Pray let us be there at the Prologue. The 'Honeymoon' is not the production of a person known to you. The author was a Mr. Tobin, and died some time back.

"I thank you much for pens, paper, &c. I have such high hopes of what I shall hereafter write, that nothing less than the wing of the poetical Swan can carry me in my flights. I have hitherto had no great luck with a goose-quill.

"Your last note has so much personal feeling for me in one part, and so much real wit in the other, that I have begun to calculate the expenditure of your genius. Notes of this kind will exhaust you, I think, in the course of the winter season. What a pity you should incur such a waste! Yours,

SEMPER IDEM."

Mr. I. D'Israeli to John Murray.

"DEAR MURRAY,

I am delighted by your apology for not having called on me after I had taken my leave of you the day before; but you can make an unnecessary apology as agreeable as any other act of kindness.

"I think you have admirably well disposed of a part of your wine, and it is done with your accustomed ingenuity, which always triples the value of a gift. Hunter should be instructed to return the same number of empty bottles — the only opportunity you have is to get rid of them on these occasions. They break and perish in the heap at home. Empty bottles, too, is an old cant term at the University to characterise a certain set of dull fellows, or frivolous scribblers — so that a bookseller, of all men, should be cautious of harbouring them.

"You are sanguine in your hope of a good sale of 'Curiosities,' it will afford us a mutual gratification; but when you consider it is not a new work, though considerably improved I confess, and that those kinds of works cannot boast of so much novelty as they did about ten years ago, I am somewhat more moderate in my hopes.

"What you tell me of F. F. from Symond's, is new to me. I sometimes throw out in the shop remote hints about the sale of books, all the while meaning only mine; but they have no skill in construing the timid wishes of a modest author; they are not aware of his suppressed sighs, nor see the blushes of hope and fear tingling his cheek; they are provokingly silent, and petrify the imagination.

"I shall certainly not hint at your further absence from Fleet Street. And then, a great event in your life, a fortunate one as I am persuaded, must succeed — that will also produce great dissipation of mind; but I hope that after a few months you will be fixed as the centre point of all your operations, and have the orb you describe moving correctly about you. To drop the metaphor, be assured your presence is absolutely necessary in and about your shop. You had to emigrate to find a solid business; you seem to have succeeded; you must now transplant it to your own bit of ground, and nurse it with the skill and industry of the gardener. You must employ your talents in this great town, as well as elsewhere, and in your house as well as in the town. You will not be offended with the ardent zeal I feel for your welfare; I wish to see you rooted in the earth as well as spreading out in blossoms and flowers.

"Mrs. D'Israeli desires to be particularly remembered to you, love to Jane, compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Paget, and will be very happy to be introduced to Mary Anne, whom she thanks for her polite wishes. Pray include me in all these; I remember a beautiful Cupid's head, which just laid its chin upon your father's table, some twelve years ago. When I see Mary Anne I shall then be able to judge if I know her; a metamorphosis into a Venus from a cupid might perplex me.

Believe me, with the truest regard,

Yours ever,

I. D'ISRAELI."

Mr. D'Israeli to John Murray.

"Saturday, May 31, 1806.

King's Road.

MY DEAR FRIEND,

It is my wish to see you for five minutes this day, but as you must be much engaged, and I am likely to be prevented reaching you this morning, I shall only trouble you with a line.

"Most warmly I must impress on your mind the necessity of taking the advice of a physician. Who? You know many. We have heard extraordinary accounts of Dr. Baillie, and that (what is more extraordinary) he is not mercenary. I should imagine that one or two visits will be sufficient to receive some definite notion of your complaint. It will be a very great point if a medical man can ascertain this. Do not suppose that it is mere rheumatism which afflicts you, and bends your whole frame. The expense of a physician is moderate, if the patient is shrewd and sensible. Five or ten pounds this way would be a good deal. You also know Dr. Blaine, even intimately.

"I have written this to impress on your mind this point. Seeing you as we see you, and your friend at a fault, how to decide, and you without some relative or domestic friend about you, gives Mrs. D'I. and myself very serious concerns — for you know we do take the warmest interest in your welfare — and your talents and industry want nothing but health to make you yet, what it has always been one of my most gratifying hopes to conceive of you.

Yours very affectionately,

I. D'ISRAELI."

In another letter from Brighton, without date, Mr. D'Israeli writes:—

"Mr. D'Israeli to John Murray.

DEAR MURRAY,

I have repeatedly felt a secret satisfaction at the spirit with which, by Clarke's communications, I heard you pursued your expedition; and have no doubt but it will repay you, in proportion to the talent and industry you have exerted, and are so capable of exerting.

"I have received the three vases you have so kindly presented me. Were they of crystal, they would hardly be more precious than they now become, as your gift. I admire the feeling of taste which led you to fix on them. With me the moral feeling unites with that of Taste, and I contemplate at once the work of Art and the gift of Friendship.

"I have various things to say; the most important is, that having waited to the last moment, the chapter of the Edinburgh Review has been obliged to be finished, but is still just in time for any fortunate insertion, if you have any to offer. This evening, I imagine I shall be at home.

"To-morrow evening (Sunday) I conceive I shall be in town at nine o'clock. Monday evening I am to be alone: will you take your tea then? It will be alone with me, as my wife has a child's party. Suit, however, your own convenience.

Believe me, truly yours,

I. D'ISRAELI."