The Lord Flame Chapter, E CLAMPUS VITUS

"Ye sons of fire, read my Hurlothrumbo.
Turn it between your Finger and your Thumbo,
And being quite outdone, be quite struck Dumbo."

"Pride is the serpent's egg, laid in the hearts of all, but hatched by none but fools."

Lord Fire (Samuel Johnson) March the 29th, 1729


Hurlothrumbo, or, The Super-Natural was produced at the Little or New Theatre in the Haymarket on Saturday, March the 29th, 1729 ( it should have been reserved for the following Tuesday). At the second performance of the piece it was followed by an epilogue, written by Byrom (Remains, i. 349.) The play was published by subscription in the same year, the title-page announcing " Mr. Samuel Johnson, from Cheshire " as the author. It bore the motto : " Ye sons of Fire, read my Hurlothrumbo, Turn it between your Finger and your Thumbo, And being quite outdone, be quite struck dumbo."

There was a dedication " to the Honourable the Lady Delves," signed " Lord Flame," and a second dedication " to the Right Hon. the Lord Walpole " (who had subscribed for thirty copies), signed Sam. Johnson. There was a list of subscribers, containing besides many fashionable, a number of well-known Lancashire and Cheshire names, including that of "Mr. Byrom, F.R.S." Finally, there was a "Prologue by Amos Meredith, Esq.," written in a style of which the appropriateness may be gathered from the following triplet : "

Diamonds to Swine are despicable Things ;
Lost to the Mole the vernal Verdure springs ;
And Adder's hiss, through Senesino sings;"*

and an " Epilogue, by Mr. Byrom." A second edition, a facsimile of the first, but for the words " second edition" and "price 1s. 6d." on the title-page, was published in the same year. Copies of both editions are extant.

Byrom's single excursion into a domain not only foreign, but in itself antipathetic to him, is easily explained. It amused him and the Lancashire and Cheshire set among whom he moved in town to clap on the back Mr. Samuel Johnson, from Cheshire and of Manchester, dramatist and dancing-master. But there is also no doubt that Byrom enjoyed the opportunity of promoting a whimsical theatrical success, which demonstrated, by a kind of argumentum ad absurdum, the con- temptibility (as it seemed to him) of the stage, and of the operatic stage in particular.

Although in his earlier days he occasionally visited the theatre, it is clear that his fastidiousness of taste was offended by popular comedy (cf. Remains, i. 125, 129); and his wonder at those who could take a deep interest in Italian opera is sufficiently attested by his famous Epigram, and by his good-humoured banter of the " Operamania " of his friend "Sir Peter." On January 22nd, 1731 two years after the Hurlothrumbo episode he records in his Diary : " We drank good wine, and talked about plays ; I was against plays." (Remains, i. 453.)

Gradually his habits both of thought and life became such as to estrange him completely from such public diversions as the theatre, though crying anathema was not in his way. See his Diary, April 18th, 1737 : " Mr. Lovel .... seemed to say that Mr. Law always carried things to an extremity, and upon my asking if he had seen him of late, we began to talk and dispute, and especially about plays, which Mr. Lovel had condemned before Mr. Law, but that Mr. Law was wrong in being so severe and saying that it was worshipping the devil .... I said it was very well to be against an evil in all manners, some one way, some another ; that I only wished that good people would not find fault with one another, if possible." ....

Samuel Johnson, said to have been born in Cheshire in 1691, makes his first appearance in Byrom's Journal on October loth, 1722, where he is mentioned as "repeating his opera" (Httrlothrumbo to wit) to some friends in Manchester (Remains, i. 46). A few days afterwards he gave or conducted a ball there, when " a vast mob " collected to " see the girls come'' (ib., 47). Early in 1724, or possibly rather sooner, " opera Johnson," as Byrom calls him (ib., 60) brought both his fiddle and his manuscript up to town, where the latter was perused by Mr. Ralph Leycester (ib., 73). Byrom and his Manchester friends took occasional notice of him in London, and his opera was from time to time "repeated" (ib., 84, 89, 91, 98, 184, 188: "so we went to the King's Arms, and Johnson sent for his fiddle, and Mildmay was much pleased." Johnson's conceit required no fostering : see Byrom's amusing story, ib., 70, of his defiance of Byrom's adversary Weston. "And pray, master," says Johnson while he was haranguing him " don't talk so fast. Can you write Hurlothrumbo 1 "

The eventful day of the production of Hurlothrumbo at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, was. as already noted, March the apth, 1729. " Dick's coffee-house," Byrom writes to his wife on April 2nd, "resounds ' Hurlothrumbo ! ' from one end to the other. He had a full house and much good company on Saturday night, the first time of acting ; and report says all the boxes are taken for next Monday, and the quality they say expect an epilogue next time (there being none last) from Mr. B It is impossible to describe this play, and the oddities, out-of- the-waynesses, flights, madness, nonsense, comicalities, &c. ; but I hope Johnson will make his fortune by it for the present .... for my part, who thinh all stage entertainments stuff and nonsense, I consider this as a joke upon 'em all" (Remains, i. 349).

With this candid description may be compared that quoted from WHINCOP by GENKST (iii. 247) : " This play was acted for above thirty nights running so great a heap of nonsense and absurdities was never packed together ; but to those who had the ill nature to be delighted with seeing a man make a fool of himsef, it afforded an uncommon pleasure. The author played Lord Flame himself, speaking sometimes in one key, and sometimes in another, sometimes dancing, sometimes fiddling, and sometimes walking upon stilts. ..."

I am not aware that a perusal of the play, which I have thought it my duty to undergo, enables me in any important particular to add to, or modify, these criticisms. Hurlothrumbo, which extends over five acts, and of which neither names nor incidents suggest the slightest contact with reality, is so far as I can see sheer burlesque ; war, love and spiritualism all entering into the compound. Baker, the original compiler of the Biographia Dramatica, whose opinion of Johnson seems to have been ridiculously high, goes so far as to say that " his works have madness in them, but at the same time it is evidently the madness of a man of great abilities. In his Hurlothrumbo, more particularly, there are some beauties, in the midst of numberless absurdities, that would do honour even to our first-rate geniuses." And he quotes a few of them, beginning with the profound maxim, which has struck Mr. Austin Dobson as a proof that Johnson sometimes "deviates into sense:" " Pride is the serpent's egg, laid in the hearts of all, but hatched bynone hut fools."

During the years which elapsed between the conception and the production of this nonsensical work it is quite possible that its author may have picked up such pearls anywhere ; and it is still more likely that a friendly hand, while working up the whole piece into the completeness of absurdity which was necessary for success, here and there added something of the nature of wit or sentiment. That hand, if, as a matter of fact, any such was at work, was clearly Byrom's own, who in a letter to his wife, written about the middle of May, 1729, virtually confesses himself the author of the three lines, cited above, on the title-page of the printed Hurlothrumbo. " The author of ffurlo," he complains, "to mend the verse, has printed it, 'Ye sons of Fire,' contrary, they say, to the original MS. in the Cotton Library" (Remains, i. 355). The reception of Hurlothrumbo, managed by an unpaid claque, was decisive. " We had seven or eight Garters, they say, in the pit ; I saw Lord Oxford and one or two more there, but was so intent upon the farce that I did not observe many quality that were there ; we agreed to laugh and clap beforehand, and kept our word from beginning to end. The night after, Johnson came to Dick's, and they all got about him like so many bees ; they say the Prince has been told of Hurlothrumbo and will come and see it; he said he would call on me to-day, but he has not. I shall get him to vary some passages in it, if I can, that from anybody but himself would make it an entertainment not quite so proper for the ladies ; and I would have our ladies here see it because they know the man " (ib., i. 349). He goes on to advise that till " this whim is over," Johnson's pupils at Manchester should receive instruction from his brother.

On April 1sth, Byrom informs his wife of the continued run of Hurlothrumbo, and adds that " Mr. Amos Meredith is the reputed author of the prologue to it, and an acquaintance of yours of the epilogue, which they say is a very comical one ; if I can get a copy of it, I'll send it if you have a mind " (ib., 350). In a letter written a week later he speaks of the play, which he has just seen again, as still running. "Johnson dines with the Duke of Montague, Duchess Bedford, Lord Walpole, &c., and [they] will have him print his play and they will get him subscriptions enough ; he gets money every night more or less, and can't think of anythmg else to be sure while this lasts. Several ladies have been there several nights together, and you would hardly be gratified forconversation, say the folks, if you han't seen Hurlothrumbo, &c., &c. (**, 350-

About the middle of May the play was published. The dedication to Lady Delves, which is fully as absurd in style as anything in the piece, makes mention of " the taste of Montagu, Wharton, or Meredith, Stanhope, Sneid, or Byrom," and refers in the same fashion to other patrons or subscribers. The publication seems to have helped to keep the ball rolling ; for Byrom reports about this time that " the Westminster scholars at their election, I hear, made verses on Hurlothrumbo. I see here a new book against Mr. Pope, with a dialogue in it between Hurlo and Death ; and in short, who but Hurlothrumbo at present? If people talk of a thing as inconsistent in any manner the word is now, " In short, mere Hurlothrumbo." (Ib., 355 ; Bailey's Dictionary, 1731, defines " Hurlo-1 hrumbo" as "a bawling, noisy preacher, orator, &c., who lays about him violently, using much action and gesture ; also one who uses many extravagant expressions and rants.")

A Hurlothrumbo Society is said to have been formed ; and doubtless other extravagances were committed ; so that Baker, in the Biographia Dramatica, repeats a rumour " that Sir Robert Walpole promoted the success of the piece as far as lay in his power, making it serve to divert the attention of the public from some state designs of his own, which were at that time ready to be put into execution." On the other hand, Fielding in The Author's Farce, produced in the year 1729, refers with some bitterness to Johnson's success, which he couples, more or less inappositely, with that of Orator Henley : " If you must write, write nonsense, write operas, write Hurlo- thrumbos, set up an oratory, and preach nonsense, and you may meet with encouragement enough. Be profane, be scurrilous, be immodest, &c." (Act i. sc. 5 ; cf. a more harmless passage in the The Pleasures of the Town, the "puppet-show" included in The Author's Farce, where Charon hesitates about taking aboard " Hurloborumbo-menbo-Hurlo- borumbolo, I think he calls himself; he looks like one of Apollo's people, in my opinion; he seems mad enough to be a real poet.)

There is no reason to suppose that Hurlothrumbo was " the foolish piece said to be written by S. Johnson," which the great owner of that name refused to repudiate. He was at the time an undergraduate at Oxford. ( See the authorities cited in my notice of the author of Hurlothrumbo in the Dictionary of National Biography, vol. xxx., to which I must refer the reader for an account of Samuel Johnson's later productions and fortunes. I add to the notes there given the remark, that Arbuthnot has no claim to the authorship of a pamphlet published in 1733, and afterwards included in his Miscellaneous Works (1750, the collection repudiated by his son) : Harmony in an Uproar, a Letter to Fdh Hdl, Esq., Mr of the Oa He in the Haymarhet from Hurlothrumbo Johnson, Esq. (See G. A. Aitken, Life and Works of John Arbuthnot, 1892, p. 145).

This note, though already lengthy, must not be closed without a quotation from Dr. Mainwaring's letter to Byrom, dated Manchester, June 1 6th, 1729, which fitly characterises both the author of Hurlo- thrumbo and what was probably his delightful delusion as to the relations between Byrom and himself: "We are honoured with the Lord of Flame, and have a company of players in town, but we can't persuade his Lordship to give us Hurlothrumbo upon the stage. ' Pish ! ' he cries, ' what do you mean ? Nobody here has any soul above their breeches' pocket ! how should they understand it ? Even in London, except Dr. Byrom and two or three fine geniuses, they cannot taste it at all.' " (Remains, i. 377.)

Byrom seems to have been pleased with his Epilogue, and notes on July 1st, 1729, that he was told by his friend Dr. Desaguliers F.R.S. how much it had diverted him (ib., 383).] L Enter Hurlothrumbo. LADIES and Gentlemen, my Lord of Flame Has sent me here to thank you in his Name. I. My Lord of FLAME. This was the every Body in Cheshire was a Mouth, they chief character of Hurlothrumbo, played, would all cry out aloud, God save the Lady by the author, according to the Biographia DELVES!") as "Lord Flame"; and so Dramatica, " with a violin in his hand, pleased was he with his histrionic title, that which he occasionally played upon, and he afterwards tried to remove the post- sometimes walking on high stilts. His master at Manchester for non-delivery of a dress on this occasion was such as he com- letter so addressed. (Astothiscomplicated monly wore, vis., a suit of black velvet, episode see Remains, ii. 174 5). In his with a long white flowing periwig." John- play entitled The Blazing Cornel: the Mad son signed his dedication to Lady Delves Lmws, or the Beauties of the Poets, he en- ( whom he assured that "if every Pore in acted the similarly-named part of LordProud of your Smiles, he's mounted many a Story Above the tip-top Pinnacle of Glory : Thence he defies the Sons of Clay, the Critics, " Fellows," says he, " that are mere Paralytics, With Judgments lame and Intellects that halt, Because a Man outruns them, they find fault." He is indeed, to speak my poor Opinion, Out of the reach of critical Dominion. 10 {

Enter Critic.

Adso ! here's one of 'em.

Cr. A strange odd Play, Sir ; {

Enter Author ; pushes Hurlothrumbo aside.

Au. Let me come to him ! Pray, what's that you say, Sir ?

Cr. I say, Sir, Rules are not observ'd here

Au. Rules, Like Clocks and Watches, were all made for Fools. Rules make a Play ? that is

Cr. What, Mr. Singer ?

Au. As if a Knife and Fork should make a Finger.

Cr. Pray, Sir, which is the Hero of your Play ?

Au. Hero ? Why, they're all Heroes in their Way. Wildfire ; and on the frontispiece to the long inscription commemorating him as edition of this play published in 1732, he " Mr. Samuel Johnson, afterwards ennob- appears in this character, holding a violin led with the grander title of LORD FLAME;" and bow in his hand and standing on stilts, but some wiseacres havingresented this fri- which are made to resemble legs and feet. " volity, another inscription of an altogether ( EARVVAKER'S East Cheshire (1880), ii. gloomy cast was'placedbyitsside(*'i.,57i). 570, note A.) On his tombstone near n. Adso! A mutilation of the contrac-Cr. But, here's no Plot ! or none that's understood.

Au. There's a Rebellion, tho' ; and that's as good. 20

Cr. No Spirit, nor Genius in't.

Au. Why, didn't here A SPIRIT and a GENIUS both appear ?

Cr. Poh! 'tis all Stuff and Nonsense

Au. Lack-a-day ! Why, that's the very Essence of a Play.
Your Old House, New House, Opera, and Ball,
Tis NONSENSE, Critic, that supports 'em all,
As you yourselves ingeniously have shown,
Whilst on their Nonsense you have built your own.

Cr. Here wants

Au. Wants what ? Why now, for all your canting, What one Ingredient of a Play is wanting ? 30 Music, Love, War, Death, Madness without Sham, Done to the Life, by Persons of the Drain. ; Scenes and Machines, descending and arising; Thunder and Lightning; ev'rything surprising!

Cr. Play, Farce, or Opera is't ? 19,20. But here's no PLOT ! or none House" was Drury Lane. Covent Garden, tltafs understood. which was not open till December, 1732, There'sa REBELLION, tho1 ; and cannot be meant by the "New House." thafi as GOOD. Lincoln's Inn Fields had been open about It must be borne in mind that the Plat of fifteen years when liyrom wrote ; the King's 1722, and the Rebellion of 1715, were Theatre (the homeof Italian opera) twenty- still pretty fresh in men's memories. four ; and the Little Theatre in the Ilay- 22. A SPIRIT and a GENIUS. Both of market, where, as in all the English houses, thesefigureamongthepersonsof thedrama. English operas were constantly performed, 25. Old House, New House. The "Old not more than nine.

Au. No matter whether ; Tis a REHEARSAL of 'em all together. But come, Sir, come ! Troop off, old Blundermonger, And interrupt the Epilogue no longer! [

Author drives the Critic off the Stage.

Hurlo, proceed !

Hurlo. Troth ! he says true enough ; The Stage has given Rise to wretched Stuff. 40 Critic or Player, a Dennis or a Gibber, Vie only which shall make it go down glibber. A thousand murd'rous Ways they cast about To stifle it ; but, Murder-like, 'twill out. Our Author fairly, without so much Fuss, Shows it in puris Naturalibus ; Pursues the Point beyond its highest Height ; Then bids his Men of Fire and Ladies bright Mark how it looks, when it is out of sight. So true a Stage, so fair a Play for Laughter, 50 There never was before, nor ever will come after, Never, no never ! Not while vital Breath Defends ye from that long-livd mortal, Death.

36. A REHEARSAL. Probably the ex- direction of morigeration, Byrom probably pression was suggested by a reminiscence of alludes to some falling-off in the old cri- the celebrated medley of styles and charac- tic's asperities. He died early in 1734, ters (ranging from Sun and Moon to Draw- shortly after the complimentary benefit in cansir and the Two Kings of Brentford) which Pope had taken a, for him, not ill- which is quite erroneously supposed natured part, to have extinguished Heroic Plays. 48. His men of Fire and Ladies bright.

41. A DENNIS or a GIBBER. Colley "If you can find anything in any Play Gibber, in view of his varied capacities as worthy of your Praise I am sure the Snpcr- proprietor, manager, author, and actor, Naturals will support it." (Dedication to hardly needs any further apology for his Lady DELVES.) "Yet you great Men, endeavours at "pleasing to live ;" as for that shine among the Angels, did con- John Dennis, whose failings are not descend to support me." (Dedication to generally supposed to have been in the Lord WALPOLE. )" Death ! " Something hangs on my prophetic Tongue ; I'll give it Utterance, be it right or wrong : " Handel himself shall yield to Hurlothrumbo, And Bononcini too shall cry ' Succumbo ;'" That's, if the Ladies condescend to Smile : Their Looks make Sense or Nonsense in our Isle.

56, 57. " HANDF.L himself shall yield to behveen HANDEL and BONONCINI, ante IIl'RI.OTHKUMHO, And Bo.NONCINI tOo p. 35. shall cry ' SuccuMBO.'" See Introdue- 58. thafs. That is. tory Note to the Epi^ram on Ihe Feuds

* ed. Senesino (Francesco Bernardi) (October 31, 1686November 27, 1758) was a celebrated Italian contralto castrato, particularly remembered today for his long collaboration with the composer George Frideric Handel.