Page images


HESE dialogues on passing events appeared in Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper, a

journal started by my father in 1846. They became at once very popular. The idea was a fresh and happy one that, like "Caudle's Lectures," went home to all classes of readers. Indeed, in Mrs Nutts we have indications of Mrs Caudle's vein Mrs Nutts might have been a poor relation of the Caudle family. Nutts is such a barber as the Gossip was, who for many years occupied a little shop against Temple Bar-with one door in the City and the other in Middlesex. He was the most talkative, the most knowing, the most confident of barbers. His mind had possibly been sharpened by the distinguished men from the Temple, and from the Fleet Street newspaper offices, whom he had shaved. He had more than

a smattering of literary and forensic gossip: he was something of a humourist, and, like Mr Nutts, it took very much in the way of news to surprise him. Mr Nutts observes that he has had so much news in his time, that he has lost the flavour of it. He could relish nothing weaker than a battle of Waterloo. To this state of satiety had the Temple Bar barber shaved and talked himself.

Indeed it is my firm belief that the "Barber's Chair," which in 1847 was set up in the offices of Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper, next door to the Strand Theatre, was the chair taken from Temple Bar; and that the most loquacious and original of barbers sat for Mr Nutts.

These weekly humorous commentaries on passing events, made by Mr Nutts and his customers, carry me back to the bright time when they were written. It was about the happiest epoch of my father's life. He had won his place; he had troops of friends; he could gather Dickens, Leigh Hunt, Maclise, Macready, Mark Lemon, Lord Nugent, and other merry companions, to dine under his great tent by the mulberry-tree at West Lodge; he was in good health-a rare enjoyment in his case; and his own newspaper and magazine were

prospering. On the stage, in the volumes of Punch, and in his own organs, he was addressing the public. All his intellectual forces were at their brightest. With Dickens, Mr Forster, Leech, and Lemon he had recently delighted picked audiences as Master Stephen in "Every Man in his Humour." He wrote about this time to Dickens that his newspaper was a substantial success; and that henceforth he was beyond the reach of stern Fortune, who had treated him roughly for many a weary year. Dickens, in reply, said, "Two

[ocr errors]

numbers of the Barber's Chair' have reached me. It is a capital idea, and capable of the best and readiest adaptation to things as they arise."

Suddenly the glowing lights of the picture faded. A daughter who was living in Guernsey fell dangerously ill; and he was called away from the editorial chair, and from the "Barber's Chair." He was so affected by the danger in which he found my sister that he could not write a line. Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper began to appear without Mr Nutts and his customers; and each week the newsboys would ask, Barber?"


Answered in the negative, they would take a

less number of copies. Week after week, while my father remained away, the circulation of the paper fell. Not only was his pen absent, but he had weighted it with heavy contributors, who were possibly sound, but unquestionably dull. He could not say nay to a friend; and directly he had installed himself as editor of a weekly journal, he was besieged. He would take a series, thinking rather of the pleasure he was giving the writer than of the way in which the public would receive it. Thus he became entangled in a currency series of interminable length, that tried the patience of readers to the utmost. In Angus Reach he had a lively and spirited colleague, and Frederick Guest Tomlins was a fair manager; but these could not make way, in his absence, against the dull men, and the decline of circulation continued. My father returned to London to find a newspaper which he had left a handsome property, dwindled to a concern that hardly paid its expenses.

The "Barber's Chair" was resumed, and with it the flagging paper revived. Messrs Nutts, Nosebag, Tickle, Bleak, Slowgoe, and the rest of the authorities of the barber's shop, talked about the events

of the week in the old sprightly manner. Nutts and his wife cross to France, and the lady is rudely treated at the Customhouse. They were searched, said Nutts, as though they had brought a cutler's shop and a cotton-mill in every one of their pockets. Slowgoe reproaches the barber as the advocate of universal peace, "and all that sort of stuff;" and defends war on the ground that "there's nothing so little as doesn't eat up something as is smaller than itself."

One week, a poor babe is picked up in a basket, on a doorstep the same week the papers have an account of the betrothal of the young Queen of Spain to a man whom she loathed. She sobbed as she was forced to plight her troth to him. The two cases are contrasted in the barber's shop. On the one hand we have Betsy of Bermondsey, and on the other Isabella of Spain. Bessy gets on in life "as a football gets on by all sorts o' kicks and knocks." Betsy has the humblest fortune, but she gives her heart away, and is all the lighter and rosier for the gift. And " she marries the baker, and in as quick a time as possible she's in a little shop, with three precious babbies, selling penny rolls, and almost making 'em twopennies by the good-natur

« PreviousContinue »