1871 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Josiah Conder

S. C. Hall, "Josiah Conder" in A Book of Memories: Great Men and Women of the Age, from personal Acquaintance (1871) 93-96.



One of the most esteemed and valued of the friends of James Montgomery was JOSIAH CONDER, some time editor of the Eclectic Review, and in his latter years editor of the Patriot newspaper. Both were organs of the Evangelical (Independent) Dissenters. To the Eclectic Montgomery was a large contributor; and among its other contributors were Robert Hall, Dr. Adam Clarke, John Foster (the Essayist), &c.

I cannot write the name of Conder without tendering grateful homage to his memory, for I owe him much. In 1824, when he edited the Modern Traveller (a series of popular volumes, compilations from heavy, inaccessible, and costly books), he engaged me to write the "History of Brazil;" and it was he who introduced me to the publishers Baynes and Son, by whom I was engaged to edit an "Annual," which they had applied to Mr. Conder to do — a task he had declined, recommending me to the work. This I called "the Amulet, a Christian and Literary Remembrancer," and that publication I edited during eleven years, until it was discontinued.

The reader may not consider out of place in this Memory a brief notice of these works, so long known and popular as "the Annuals."

Early in 1825 I undertook the editorship of the Amulet. The first volume was published in the autumn of that year "for the year 1826." It was in age the third of "the Annuals," having been preceded by the Literary Souvenir (in 1824), edited by Alaric A. Watts; and the Forget-menot (in 1823), which introduced the class of works into England; then followed Friendship's Offering, edited by Thomas Pringle; the Gem, edited by Thomas Hood; the Iris, edited by the late Rev. Thomas Dale (Canon Dale); the Bijou, published by Pickering. Mr. Charles Heath, the eminent engraver, not long afterwards issued the Keepsake, edited by Mansel Reynolds; and the Book of Beauty, edited by Lady Blessington; and in 1831 appeared the Anniversary, edited by Allan Cunningham. There were also three annuals for the young, edited by Mrs. S. C. Hall, Mrs. Alaric Watts, and Mr. Shoberl. The elder annuals were published at 12s., the juvenile annuals at 8s., and the Keepsake, the Book of Beauty, and the Anniversary, at the price of 1 1s. each, being greater in size, containing more and larger engravings, but in all other respects agreeing in character with the senior publications.

The idea was taken from Germany, where such Christmas gift-books had long been popular, and the publisher, Ackerman, was the first to introduce them into England. The Forget-me-not, with its happy title, was the parent of those books in this country.

The publications were costly, but they were all more or less profitable; the engravings were of great merit, productions of the best British engravers, for which very large sums were paid, varying from 100 to 150 guineas; in one case I paid 180 guineas to Le Keux for an engraving (5 inches by 4) of the Crucifixion, from a drawing by John Martin. The pictures engraved were by the best and most renowned English painters. The discovery of engraving on steel, not long before the period of the annuals, completely revolutionised Art; an engraving on copper yielded but a few hundred impressions, but the engraving on steel often produced a hundred thousand without material change. Hence the birth of the annuals. The literary contents consisted chiefly of trifles, but they were the trifles of great minds; there was hardly an author of celebrity of that age whose name did not appear as a contributor to one of them. Glancing over the Amulet, I find as contributors Coleridge, Montgomery, Hemans, Mitford, Landon, Opie, &c., whilst Scott and Wordsworth aided the Keepsake, tempted thereto by the irresistible bribes of Mr. Charles Heath.

The annuals undoubtedly had a salutary influence on Art; it was the first successful attempt to bring Art within reach of all classes. It is not too much to say that many of the engravings produced for these graceful gift-books have never been surpassed.

The Amulet had a distinctive feature; it was "a Christian and Literary Remembrancer;" that is to say, a serious and semi-religious tone pervaded it: undoubtedly, however, it vied in literary merit with the best of its competitors, while, to say the least, it was not behind any of them in its merit as a work of art.

I conducted it for eleven years, producing eleven volumes; but I was not fortunate in my publishers. The first two were issued by Messrs. Baynes and Co., who fell into difficulties; the next three by Wightman and Cramp; and the remainder by Westley and Davis, who became bankrupts in 1837; and as I was a partner with them in so far as the Amulet was concerned, my payment as editor being a share of the profits (which, by the way, during the six years amounted to somewhat less than a hundred pounds), I was involved in a ruinous loss. But that is one of a few of my "Memories" I pray to forget.

I return to a Memory of Josiah Conder. His father was an engraver, and he was born in London on the 17th September, 1789.

He was a Nonconformist by hereditary right: his ancestors had been Dissenters time out of mind, and had suffered persecutions for going their own way to God. He had the "prayers, example, and instruction" of several generations in the faith, of which he was an uncompromising, but gentle and charitable, advocate. One of his best friends — Isaac Taylor — bears testimony to the graceful vivacity and attractiveness of his manners, his intellectual tastes, his literary proficiency and acquaintedness with books, the beauty and feeling of his poetical compositions, and the acknowledged correctness of his judgment." Many of his hymns have taken a prominent place in our devotional literature. He obtained high reputation as a critic, editing the Eclectic Review, and was for a long time "the champion of Dissenting interests and principles" as editor of the Patriot newspaper.

His wife also was an accomplished lady — the daughter of the renowned sculptor, Roubiliac; and the sons have inherited much of the intelligence and integrity of the father.

He had lost an eye by an attack of small-pox in childhood, and used a glass substitute. He drew consolation from that apparent affliction, and considered it the fountain of after-blessing; probably it determined his course of life, by disposing him to sedentary employment, and a love of learning and books.

Isaac Taylor (a high authority) testifies to "the graceful vivacity and attractiveness of his manners, his intellectual tastes, his literary proficiency, and acquaintedness with books, the beauty and feeling of his poetical compositions, and the acknowledged correctness of his judgment in matters of taste."

I recall to memory, with much pleasure, a few days spent with him and his then young family at his pretty cottage near Watford. It must have been so far back as 1826 or 1827. I found him — and so report him — as so many of his friends said he was — a genial and kindly critic, a wise counsellor, sound of judgment, generous in his religious views, sympathetic with all who had anxieties and cares, with a mind holy, and a nature thoroughly upright, thoroughly Christian; and I may well regret that it was not my destiny to see much of him in after-life.

He died on the 27th December, 1856. I quote the concluding passage of a sermon delivered by Dr. Morison of Knightsbridge: — "We are thankful for every remembrance of him, as of one who had in him much of the mind of Christ — who not only trod the paths of literature with a dignified and intelligent step, but also walked humbly with his God; adorned every relation of human life, as a son, a husband, a father, and a friend; and whose last hours were sweetly irradiated by the bright shining of the Sun of Righteousness."

The following verse from one of his poems I am tempted to quote:—

Let Mother Rome the banns forbid,
When priests in wedlock join:
Sore Paul might do as Peter did,
And Luther's right is thine:
And we will keep, in spite of Rome,
Our wives, our Bibles, and our home.