1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Tickell

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:140-45.



It was a common trick with Tickel, when supping at a coffee-house with a friend, to quit the room upon some pretence for a few moments, and leave the friend to pay the reckoning. I met him and Joe Richardson one night in the Piazza at Covent Garden, and they insisted on my going with them into the coffee-house to take a few oysters. I readily complied, but reflecting that I had only a few shillings in my pocket, and fully aware of Tickel's practice, I kept watch over him, that I might run no hazard. At length, remaining till a very late hour, as might naturally be expected with men of such talents, I desired my friend Richardson to pay my share, and retreated. This habit was certainly not the effect of meanness or of parsimony in Tickel, but of a waggish humour, by which I should assuredly have suffered, as it would have been an additional pleasure to play it off on a novice.

I was well acquainted with the characters both of Tickel and Sheridan. It was supposed by some of their friends, though not of the most discerning, that Sheridan was jealous of the conversational powers of Tickel. If there really was any jealousy between them, which I sincerely hope was not the case, as they were originally warm friends, besides being connected by marrying two amiable sisters, the jealousy was more likely to be on the side of Tickel, as he had failed in an opera, entitled "The Carnival of Venice," and Sheridan had been successful in all his dramatic pieces, which are styled what are called stock-plays, and had, moreover, become one of the chief national characters as an orator and a politician. Besides, Sheridan's poetical genius was of a higher cast, as evinced in his "Monody on the Death of Garrick," and his admirable prologues and epilogues, which are equal to any in our language. It is not, however, to be inferred, that though Sheridan's powers were of a superior order, Tickel was not possessed of considerable talents, — in fact, that he was not a man of genius. He displayed great wit, humour, and an appropriate delineation and characteristic diversity of character in his "Anticipation," and poetical spirit in his "Wreath of Fashion," and more in his "Charles Fox, partridge shooting, to John Townshend, cruising." He was peculiarly spirited and entertaining in conversation.

A whimsical circumstance, exemplifying this last quality, occurred during a short visit which he paid at Oxford, to the head of one of the colleges. Dining in the common room, and happening to be more than ordinarily facetious, a very old member of the University, whose mind had been impaired by study and time, and who was very deaf, observing the effect of his lively sallies on the company, and hearing that his name was Tickel, asked the gentleman who sat next to him, and who was a wag, whether that was the Mr. Tickel who had been the friend of Mr. Addison. The gentleman told him it was the same person. The old member then expressed great regret that he sat at such a distance, and was too deaf to hear the brilliant effusions of Mr. Tickel's genius, particularly, too, as he might also hear some original anecdotes of his immortal friend the author of "Cato." The wag, to console him, promised that whenever Mr. Tickel uttered any thing of striking humour, or told an interesting anecdote, he would relate it to him. The wag gave a hint to the company, most of whom happened to be as sportive as himself, of the old member's misconception in taking the Mr. Tickel present for his grandfather, and promised themselves much entertainment from the mistake. Tickel exerted himself with great gaiety to exhibit his genius and learning, and the old member was quite agog to hear what passed. Whenever a laugh was excited by what Tickel said, the old gentleman resorted to his waggish friend, to know what he had heard. The wag either invented a bon mot, or told a ludicrous incident, which, perhaps, delighted the former even more than if he had heard Tickel's real effusion. This whimsical entertainment continued till the humour was no longer diverting to the party; and the object of this hardly allowable jocularity retired, proud that he had been in company with the friend of Mr. Addison, but lamenting that he could only profit by his wit and humour at second-hand.

Tickel, though such I believe was not the case, might envy the superior genius of Sheridan, but the latter had no reason to be envious of Tickel. Tickel had more of vanity, Sheridan more of pride. Tickel was perpetually gay and ambitious to shine in society; he was therefore always on the watch for some opportunity of making a brilliant sally, and often succeeded. Sheridan was contented to be easy and observing, and quietly waited till the stream of conversation should bear something worthy of his notice, and give occasion for some appropriate anecdote or sarcastic observation. In telling a story, Sheridan's terms were selected with so much judgment that the substance and point came forth with full effect, and admitted of no addition or embellishment, and his satirical strokes were shrewd, pointed, and evinced a very unfavourable opinion of mankind. In relating an anecdote, Tickel was too apt to decorate it with a flourishing luxuriance, and to look round to observe its effect on the company. Sheridan seemed only intent on telling the plain matter of fact, and generally addressed himself to an individual. Tickel seemed desirous of impressing the person whom he addressed with a sense of his sprightliness and fancy. Sheridan, when he spoke to a mere stranger in company, spoke in a kind of confidential manner that disarmed all awkward feeling, and excited an idea in the hearer that he was deemed worthy of conversation and confidence. This air of confidence on the part of Sheridan rendered his manner irresistible. There had certainly been some difference between Sheridan and Tickel, which even the death of the latter had not subdued in the mind of the former, for, on their return from Richardson's funeral, at which I was present, Sheridan behaved in a manner that indicated the decline of friendship between them.

Tickel could not but have been happy in his first marriage with an accomplished branch of the Linley family, a family distinguished for talents; but he was certainly not so in his second. The lady was a beauty, and brought some fortune. They kept a coach, an extravagance which her fortune and his income as a commissioner of the Stamp-office could not support. His wife expected him to be constantly with her, and when he wanted to take a walk with a friend, she importuned him to ride in the coach with her. At length he became embarrassed in his affairs, and desponding in his temper, and he, who was once all vivacity, sank into melancholy and dejection, insomuch as to render it doubtful whether his falling from the parapet at Hampton Court Palace was wholly accidental.

It is a melancholy consideration that almost immediately after his death, a near relation, who had been apprised of his desponding state, came with ample means to relieve him from all his necessities. His chief production was the popular pamphlet, entitled "Anticipation," in which he characterized with admirable ingenuity and humour the more conspicuous members of the House of Commons at that period. It was generally supposed that he derived considerable advantage from the hints of Lord North, who possessed great wit and humour.

The second Mrs. Tickel, it is said, found a less indulgent husband in her second marriage, and sank into a despondency like that which attended the last days of her former partner. A beautiful whole length drawing of her was made by my late friend Cosway, with all the taste and spirit which distinguished his works in miniature, from which there was a correct engraving. This lady was the daughter of a captain in the East India Company's marine, in which service he had amassed about twenty thousand pounds, but, being afraid to vest it in any public securities, he lived upon the capital, which gave Tickel little hopes of deriving much from the death of his father-in-law, and probably augmented that dejection which occasioned the termination of his life.