William Ernest Henley; a Study in the "Counter-Decadence" of the 'Nineties

By Jerome Hamilton Buckley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2.
CASE HISTORY. GLOUCESTER: 1849-1873

FOR the bookshop of William Henley in Gloucester, 1849 was an epic year. As on a seismograph, the fluctuations in local taste recorded themselves upon his ledgers. In February a fourth edition of Modern Painters sold well, despite its anonymity. And several weeks later it was joined by The Seven Lamps of Architecture, which disclosed the authorship of John Ruskin. By March Mrs. Trollope's sensational new novel, The Lottery of Marriage, had joined the bestseller lists. Then the pièe de résistance of the spring season -- and probably indeed of the whole generation -- the first number of David Copperfield, was announced for May Day. Safely launched, the Dickens serial rolled triumphantly down the months, growing in bulk and power and public estimation, until at its maturity it moved beyond time to the place of things perennial. Yet, whatever its taste for fiction, Gloucester was not deaf to the moral muse; Martin Tupper's Proverbial Philosophy, now almost a classic, had lost nothing of its appeal by July when a handsome reprint of the author's Crock of Gold arrived from London. Still, momentous or profitable as these works might prove to the bookseller, they were as nothing in comparison with the August arrival. For on the twentythird of that month, Mrs. Henley was delivered of a first-born son. And William Ernest -- as the child was christened -- promptly became the bookshop's proudest acquisition. After his advent, the appearance in October of Currer Bell Shirley, elsewhere so widely acclaimed, could not here but seem anticlimactic.

William Henley claimed no kinship with the Earls Henley of Northington nor with the fluent orator of Pope's second Dunciad. That he came of "ancient yeoman stock" was pedigree enough1; his sense of humor

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1
See Cornford, Henley, p. 22.

-31-

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