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De Libris: Prose and Verse by Austin Dobson

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newspaper "in a direct Line" ... "without Regard to the Distinction of
Columns,"--which is precisely the proposal of Papyrius.

By reading the afore-mentioned three columns horizontally and _onwards_,
instead of vertically and _downwards_ "in the old trite vulgar way," it
was contended that much mirth might observingly be distilled from the
most unhopeful material, as "_blind Chance_" frequently brought about the
oddest conjunctions, and not seldom compelled _sub juga aenea_ persons
and things the most dissimilar and discordant. He then went on to give a
number of examples in point, of which we select a few. This was the
artless humour of it:--

"Yesterday Dr. Jones preached at St. James's,
and performed it with ease in less than 16 Minutes."
"Their R.H. the Dukes of York and Gloucester
were bound over to their good behaviour."
"At noon her R.H. the Princess Dowager was
married to Mr. Jenkins, an eminent Taylor."
"Friday a poor blind man fell into a saw-pit,
to which he was conducted by Sir Clement Cottrell."[80]
"A certain Commoner will be created a Peer.
N.B.--No greater reward will be offered."
"John Wilkes, Esq., set out for France,
being charged with returning from transportation."
"Last night a most terrible fire broke out,
and the evening concluded with the utmost Festivity."
"Yesterday the new Lord Mayor was sworn in,
and afterwards toss'd and gored several Persons."
"On Tuesday an address was presented;
it happily miss'd fire, and the villain made off,
when the honour of knighthood was conferred on him
to the great joy of that noble family."
"Escaped from the New Gaol, Terence M'Dermot.
If he will return, he will be kindly received."
"Colds caught at this season are
The Companion to the Playhouse."
"Ready to sail to the West Indies,
the Canterbury Flying Machine in one day."
"To be sold to the best Bidder,
My Seat in Parliament being vacated."
"I have long laboured under a complaint
For ready money only,"
"Notice is hereby given,
and no Notice taken."


[80] Master of the Ceremonies.]

And so forth, fully justifying the writer's motto from Cicero, _De
Finibus_: "_Fortuitu Concursu hoc fieri, mirum est._" It may seem that
the mirthful element is not overpowering. But "gentle Dulness ever loves
a joke"; and in 1766 this one, in modern parlance, "caught on." "Cross
readings" had, moreover, one popular advantage: like the Limericks of
Edward Lear, they were easily imitated. What is not so intelligible is,
that they seem to have fascinated many people who were assuredly not
dull. Even Johnson condescended to commend the aptness of the pseudonym,
and to speak of the performance as "ingenious and diverting." Horace
Walpole, writing to Montagu in December 1766, professes to have laughed
over them till he cried. It was "the newest piece of humour," he
declared, "except the _Bath Guide_ [Anstey's], that he had seen of many
years"; and Goldsmith--Goldsmith, who has been charged with want of
sympathy for rival humourists--is reported by Northcote to have even
gone so far as to say, in a transport of enthusiasm, that "it would have
given him more pleasure to have been the author of them than of all the
works he had ever published of his own,"--which, of course, must be
classed with "Dr. Minor's" unconsidered speeches.

"_Bien heureux_"--to use Voltaire's phrase--is he who can laugh much at
these things now. As Goldsmith himself would have agreed, the jests of
one age are not the jests of another. But it is a little curious that,
by one of those freaks of circumstance, or "fortuitous concourses,"
there is to-day generally included among the very works of Goldsmith
above referred to something which, in the opinion of many, is
conjectured to have been really the production of the ingenious compiler
of the "Cross Readings." That compiler was one Caleb Whitefoord, a
well-educated Scotch wine-merchant and picture-buyer, whose portrait
figures in Wilkie's "Letter of Introduction." The friend of Benjamin
Franklin, who had been his next-door neighbour at Craven Street, he
became, in later years, something of a diplomatist, since in 1782-83 he
was employed by the Shelburne administration in the Paris negotiation
for the Treaty of Versailles. But at the date of the "Cross Readings" he
was mainly what Burke, speaking contemptuously of his status as a
plenipotentiary, styled a "_diseur de bons mots_"; and he was for this
reason included among those "most distinguished Wits of the Metropolis,"
who, following Garrick's lead in 1774, diverted themselves at the St.
James's Coffee-house by composing the epitaphs on Goldsmith which gave
rise to the incomparable gallery entitled _Retaliation_. In the first
four editions of that posthumous poem there is no mention of Whitefoord,
who, either at, or soon after the first meeting above referred to, had
written an epitaph on Goldsmith, two-thirds of which are declared to be
"unfit for publication."[81] But when the fourth edition of _Retaliation_
had been printed, an epitaph on Whitefoord was forwarded to the
publisher, George Kearsly, by "a friend of the late Doctor Goldsmith,"
with an intimation that it was a transcript of an original in "the
Doctor's own handwriting." "It is a striking proof of Doctor Goldsmith's
good-nature," said the sender, glancing, we may suppose, at Whitefoord's
performance. "I saw this sheet of paper in the Doctor's room, five or
six days before he died; and, as I had got all the other Epitaphs, I
asked him if I might take it. "_In truth you may, my Boy_ (replied he),
_for it will be of no use to me where I am going_."


[81] Hewins's _Whitefoord Papers_, 1898, p. xxvii. ff., where the first
four lines of twelve are given. They run--

Noll Goldsmith lies here, as famous for writing
As his namesake old Noll was for praying and fighting,
In friends he was rich, tho' not loaded with Pelf;
He spoke well of them, and thought well of himself.

The lines--there are twenty-eight of them--speak of Whitefoord as, among
other things, a

Rare compound of oddity, frolic and fun!
Who relish'd a joke, and rejoic'd in a pun;[82]
Whose temper was generous, open, sincere;
A stranger to flatt'ry, a stranger to fear;
Who scatter'd around wit and humour at will,
Whose daily _bons mots_ half a column would fill;
A Scotchman, from pride and from prejudice free,
A scholar, yet surely no pedant was he.

What pity, alas! that so lib'ral a mind
Should so long be to news-paper-essays confin'd!
Who perhaps to the summit of science could soar,
Yet content "if the table he set on a roar";
Whose talents to fill any station were fit,
Yet happy if _Woodfall_ confess'd him a wit.


[82] "Mr, W."--says a note to the fifth edition--"is so notorious a
punster, that Doctor Goldsmith used to say, it was impossible to keep
him company, without being infected with the _itch_ of _punning_." Yet
Johnson endured him, and apparently liked him, though he had the
additional disqualification of being a North Briton.

The "servile herd" of "tame imitators"--the "news-paper witlings" and
"pert scribbling folks"--were further requested to visit his tomb--

To deck it, bring with you festoons of the vine,
And copious libations bestow on his shrine;
Then strew all around it (you can do no less)
_Cross-readings, Ship-news_, and _Mistakes_ of the _Press_.

It is not recorded that Kearsly ever saw this in Goldsmith's "own
handwriting"; the sender's name has never been made known; and--as above
observed--it has been more than suspected that Whitefoord concocted it
himself, or procured its concoction. As J.T. Smith points out in
_Nollekens and his Times_, 1828, i, 337-8, Whitefoord was scarcely
important enough to deserve a far longer epitaph than those bestowed on
Burke and Reynolds; and Goldsmith, it may be added--as we know In the
case of Beattie and Voltaire--was not in the habit of confusing small
men with great. Moreover, the lines would (as intimated by the person
who sent them to Kearsly) be an extraordinarily generous return for an
epitaph "unfit for publication," by which, it is stated, Goldsmith had
been greatly disturbed. Prior had his misgivings, particularly in
respect to the words attributed to Goldsmith on his death-bed; and
Forster allows that to him the story of the so-called "Postscript" has
"a somewhat doubtful look." To which we unhesitatingly say--ditto.

Whitefoord, it seems, was in the habit of printing his "Cross Readings"
on small single sheets, and circulating them among his friends.
"Rainy-Day Smith" had a specimen of these. In one of Whitefoord's
letters he professes to claim that his _jeux d'esprit_ contained more
than met the eye. "I have always," he wrote, "endeavour'd to make such
changes [of Ministry] a matter of _Laughter_ [rather] than of serious
concern to the People, by turning them into horse Races, Ship News, &c,
and these Pieces have generally succeeded beyond my most sanguine
Expectations, altho' they were not season'd with private Scandal or
personal Abuse, of which our good neighbours of South Britain are realy
too fond." In Debrett's _New Foundling Hospital for Wit_, new edition,
1784, there are several of his productions, including a letter to
Woodfall "On the Errors of the Press," of which the following may serve
as a sample: "I have known you turn a matter of hearsay, into a matter
of heresy; Damon into a daemon; a delicious girl, into a delirious girl;
the comic muse, into a comic mouse; a Jewish Rabbi, into a Jewish
Rabbit; and when a correspondent, lamenting the corruption of the times,
exclaimed 'O Mores!' you made him cry, 'O Moses!'" And here is an
extract from another paper which explains the aforegoing reference to
"horse Races": "1763--Spring Meeting... Mr. Wilkes's horse, LIBERTY,
rode by himself, took the lead at starting; but being pushed hard by Mr.
Bishop's black gelding, PRIVILEGE, fell down at the Devil's Ditch, and
was no where." The "Ship News" is on the same pattern. "_August_ 25
[1765] We hear that his Majesty's Ship _Newcastle_ will soon have a new
figure-head, the old one being almost worn out."



"_Hic Finis chartaeque viaeque._"

"FINIS at last--the end, the End, the END!
No more of paragraphs to prune or mend;
No more blue pencil, with its ruthless line,
To blot the phrase 'particularly fine';
No more of 'slips,' and 'galleys,' and 'revises,'
Of words 'transmogrified,' and 'wild surmises';
No more of _n_'s that masquerade as _u_'s,
No nice perplexities of _p_'s and _q_'s;
No more mishaps of _ante_ and of _post_,
That most mislead when they should help the most;
No more of 'friend' as 'fiend,' and 'warm' as 'worm';
No more negations where we would affirm;
No more of those mysterious freaks of fate
That make us bless when we should execrate;
No more of those last blunders that remain
Where we no more can set them right again;

No more apologies for doubtful data;
No more fresh facts that figure as Errata;
No more, in short, O TYPE, of wayward lore
From thy most _un_-Pierian fount--NO MORE!"

So spoke PAPYRIUS. Yet his hand meanwhile
Went vaguely seeking for the vacant file,
Late stored with long array of notes, but now
Bare-wired and barren as a leafless bough;--
And even as he spoke, his mind began
Again to scheme, to purpose and to plan.

There is no end to Labour 'neath the sun;
There is no end of labouring--but One;
And though we "twitch (or not) our Mantle blue,"
"To-morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new."

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