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LITTLE PEDLINGTON. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE
LATE CAPTAIN POMPONIUS NIX, L.P.L.V.
"There's hope a great man's memory may ontlive his life half a year.”
SCARCELY had Little Pedlington recovered from the shock inflicted upon it by the death of its illustrious antiquary, Simcox Rummins, F.S.A., when it was doomed to receive another heavy blow by the loss of the renowned Pomponius Nix, formerly a Captain in the Little Pedlington Loyal Volunteers. Though late in the evening when the melancholy event occurred, the intelligence flew like wild-fire: in less than three minutes it was known from one end of Little Pedlington to the other; and (the town clock just then striking eight) the inhabitants, as if impelled by one feeling of respect and affection for the departed, instantly closed their 'shops. For the next four-and-twenty hoursfrom North Street to South Street, from the Market Place to the Crescent, from High Street to the Vale of Health-nothing was heard but “ Nix is dead !” “Nix is no more !” “Nix is gone!”
“ Nix is nothing!”
The extinction of such a being as Nix was not to be recorded in that obscure corner of a newspaper usually appropriated to births, marriages, and deaths, and disposed of in the summary style of “ Yesterday, at his house in such a street, died Mr. So-and-so, in the such a year of his age :” consequently, in the next number of Mr. Fiat's “ Little Pedlington Dictator,” á PARAGRAPH was devoted to the occasion.
“ It is our distressing duty to announce the death of Captain Nix, which occurred, at his house in the Crescent, on Wednesday last, at eight, P.M. The event, for which no proximate cause can be assigned, may be said to have been both sudden and unexpected ; for, although in his sixty-sixth year, he was in such excellent health that, on the very night previous to his decease, he ate a hearty supper of pickled salmon, calves' liver, broiled mushrooms, lobster salad, and toasted cheese, and drank freely of strong ale and rum-punch. The next morning he rose at his usual hour, complaining merely of having passed a somewhat restless night, and of feeling a sensation of tightness across the chest. Within a few hours afterwards he was a corpse. Such is the uncertainty of life! It would be offensive to the memory of a man so universally known as the gallant Nis, were we, in this place, to presume to enter into any details of his life. Those are the property of his
Dec.-Vol. LI. NO, cciv.
country and of Little Pedlington, and must be treated of with care and deliberation. The Life of Nix must be written in a soul-dissecting spirit, and with a piercing insight into the under-current of the more purely metaphysical workings of the subtle springs of intense passion, as distinguished, in a highly-philosophical sense, from the complicated frame and bearings of action. A work written in such a spirit we pronounce would be the most delightful book in the language. He to whom the task must be confided is (next to ourselves) Humphrey Grubs, a master-spirit, whom (although as yet he has done nothing) we have taken under our especial patronage, and who, we pronounce, is destined to work a revolution, and commence a new era, in the art of biographical writing."
In the “Little Pedlington Weekly Observer” appeared the following:
“ In another part of our paper of this day we have recorded the death of our eminent and gallant townsman, Captain Pomponius Nix, L.P.L.V. Of course a copious biography of him will be published, as, indeed, there ought to be; though, considering how long it is since he was engaged in the active duties of his profession, we apprehend that very little interest would attach to it. Nevertheless, if his afflicted and only daughter, Miss Lucretia Virginia Nix, (now, alas ! at the age of only forty-five left an unprotected orphan,) should be in possession of a vast mass of exceedingly interesting documents concerning her late distinguished parent, as no doubt she is, we see no reason why a very readable, and, indeed, exciting book might not be made out of them, though it is far from probable that many, if, indeed, any such have been preserved ; in which case it would, as we have said, be impossible to produce an interesting book, unless, indeed, in the absence of such materials, the young lady's memory should supply her with facts of a nature to take a strong hold of a reader's attention. Besides, from the Captain's long and intimate acquaintance with the élite of Little Pedlington—the Jubbs, the Rumminses, the Daubsons, and the Hoppys, and such highly-gifted women as the Crippses and the Scrubbsesmuch concerning him, both in the way of correspondence and anecdote, might be gleaned; though we think it very unlikely that anything of that kind should have been preserved. Indeed, we have good reason for stating that such is the fact; yet, notwithstanding, it is possible we may have been misinformed; and though, upon the whole, we think it far from likely that we can be in error, nevertheless, upon a point so doubtful, and in this early stage of the business, it is more than probable we may be wrong.
Of course the work will not exceed one octavo volume; indeed, it ought not; unless, indeed, materials should accumulate beyond the compiler's expectations, in which case there is no reason why the work should not be extended to three, or even four volumes. Upon the whole, however, we think that two handsome volumes in quarto would be best
, though, perhaps, in that form the book might not be so saleable. At all events, should there be a considerable deficiency in the materials, as it is probable there may be, Yawkins would do well to confine the publication to a thin duodecimo, as, indeed, there is every reason for believing he will, for no man understands his business better than that liberal and enterprising publisher, nor is any man more deserving of support. But why does he not allow Snargate, or even Sniggerstone, an occasional chance ? There is room enough for all in a place like Little Pedlington. Though, supposing the · Life of Nix' was offered to our friend Snargate for a certain sum, which he declined to pay for it, and double that sum was given by Yawkins, we think the compiler was perfectly justified in closing with Yawkins; and although we do not know that any such arrangement has been made, yet, if so, we are justified in this our opinion. At any rate, Yawkins, no doubt, is prepared to pay a good round sum for the copyright, say twenty, or even twenty-five pounds, and, indeed, he ought; but if, on the other hand, the work should not be worth so large a sum, Miss Nix ought not to demand more than fifteen, or even ten pounds, nor will she. Of course Miss Nix herself will prepare the work for the press, though we think it had better be intrusted to Jubb; notwithstanding, we are, upon the whole, of opinion that Hoppy, who has immortalized himself by his ' Guide,' is the fittest person for the task. Yet, considering that Hoppy has never yet appeared in the field as a professed biographer, it might be imprudent to trust a work of such importance to his care, not but that he would do it sufficiently well. Upon the whole, however, we think Jubb ought to be selected, though we see no reason why all three should not put their shoulders to the wheel. Of course the work will appear in a month, or six weeks at the latest, before the public curiosity concerning the illustrious and immortal deceased shall have entirely subsided. It ought not, however, to be got up in a hasty or slovenly manner; and should it swell to any considerable size, a year, or even two years, ought to be devoted to its preparation. Indeed we do not see how, in any case, it can be done in a shorter time; but as, in these matters, it is necessary to strike whilst the iron is hot, two months is the latest period within which the work ought to appear, whether as regards the profit of the publisher, or the fame of the immortal Nix. We have every reason to believe that the price of the book will not, under any circumstances, exceed ten shillings, nor, indeed, ought it. Yet, on the other hand, Yawkins would be perfectly justified in charging fifteen shillings, or even a pound for it, should his outlay on the speculation warrant him in so doing. Of course it cannot be to his advantage to lose by the publication, nor, indeed, ought he ; so that if, upon calculation, he should find that seven-and-sixpence, or even five shillings, would induce a larger sale, whilst it left him a considerable profit, he would be right to sell the book for the smaller sum, as he would clearly be a gainer by such an arrangement. For, be it remembered, that, in these times, no man would pay a pound, or even half that sum, for a book, if he could get it for less, nor, indeed, ought he. At all events we are right in the main.”
No sooner had the spirited and enterprising Yawkins read this paragraph than he despatched to Miss Nix the following note :
“ Market-square Library,
Saturday morning, 5 min. past 9. “ MY DEAR MADAM,-Allow me to offer you my sincere condolence upon the calamity which has lately befallen you, in common with all Little Pedlington, in the death of your eminent and highly-esteemed father, and to assure you that I shall be happy to treat with you, upon the most liberal terms, for the publication of his memoirs. For worlds I would not, at the present moment, intrude upon a privacy which is
rendered sacred by grief; but if you could favour me with an interview, if possible without an instant's delay, you would greatly oblige,
“My dear Madam, “With the profoundest sorrow, and impatiently waiting your reply,
“Thomas YAWKINS. “P.S. Doubtless your mind is too much distracted for thought; but it might be as well if you would just cousider whether · Life, Times, and Correspondence would not be preferable to mere ‘Memoirs.'”
To this note Miss Nix sent a verbal answer by her maid. Miss Nix's nerves were so shattered by the blow which she had lately received that she found it utterly impossible to hold a pen. She therefore trusted Mr. Yawkins would excuse a verbal message. As yet Miss Nix had seen none but a most intimate friend or two; nevertheless, as Mr. Yawkins had always been highly esteemed by her dear, departed father, she would willingly receive him, if he could make it convenient to call in the course of an hour.
Proud of this flattering preference, Yawkins, precisely at the expiration of one hour, proceeded to the residence of the aflicted lady. As he turned the corner he saw Sniggerstone issue from the house. He affected not to have noticed the circumstance, and went on, thinking it, however, the oddest thing in the world. But, oh! were it not for the odd things which do pass in the world, the world would be by no means so amusing a world as it is.
It seems that, in the interval between the receipt of Yawkins's note and his visit, Miss Nix had requested and obtained an interview with both Sniggerstone and Snargate concerning the publication of the book. The enterprising Snargate, who was the first received, liberally offered to publish the work in any way the lady might choose, and upon these terms :-- That Mr. Snargate would make all the requisite disbursements for paper, printing, advertising, &c., Miss Nix merely giving ample and satisfactory security for the repayment of the same, whenever he might demand' it: that Mr. S. should be protected against any loss whatsoever that might be occasioned by the enterprise : that Miss N. should have no claim whatever for any profits arising out of the sale of the first nine-tenths of the first edition of the work; but that upon the sale of the remaining tenth Miss N. should be entitled to one clear half of the profits arising out of the same, Mr. S. first deducting twentyfive per cent. for his commission. And this is what the liberal and enterprising Snargate called the share-and-share-alike scheme.
The lady not feeling violently tempted to close with this offer, wished Mr. Snargate a good morning, and promised to “ let him know."
Next came the enterprising and liberal Mr. Sniggerstone.
Mr. Sniggerstone commenced by stating that he had rather not have anything to do with the work upon any consideration whatever : that “ Lives and Times,” and “ Memoirs,” and “ Autobiographies,” were a drug in the market; that so many obscure people, who were of immense importance to nobody but themselves, had published their “ Life and Times,” that he doubted whether even the “ Life and Times” of a Nix would“ do.” Ilowever (he continued) he would, to oblige Miss Nix, publish the work upon her own account, she paying all the ex
penses as they might from time to time arise; and that, out of the respect in which he held her late father, he should desire no other remuneration for the trouble of publishing the book than the clear profit of the first edition. After that, Miss Nix should have the option of entering into a new arrangement. And he concluded by expressing his conviction that no man in Little Pedlington could, with anything like justice to himself, make her a better offer.
Miss Nix, being, if possible, less charmed with these proposals than the others, dismissed Mr. Sniggerstone, also with a promise to "let him know.”
Mr. Yawkins, still thinking the circumstance he had just witnessed remarkably odd, gave a gentle rap at the door of Miss Nix. He was admitted, and presently ushered into a little back parlour which was partially darkened. The moment he appeared, the fair mourner, tall, scraggy, and forty-five, burst into a violent fit of tears; in consequence of which, Mr. Yawkins thought it but decent and proper to make sundry wry faces, twist his mouth into all imaginable shapes, put his handkerchief to his eyes, and emit a small gurgling noise from his throat. These the customary preliminaries performed, Miss N. made a motion to her visitor to take a seat.
“ You expressed a wish to see me, Sir,” said the young lady, after a short silence. “ The exception I have made in your favour by receiving you at such a time, Sir, is a proof of the singular confidence I place in you.” “ Yes, Mem; flattered-honoured-but- confound
impudence,” he would have added, as the thought crossed his mind that the knocker appended to her door had scarcely yet ceased to vibrate from the touch of Sniggerstone-as a fine writer would express it. However, this being a business-visit, the business feeling prevailed; and he continued :
_” The fact is, Mem, that seeing by our' Weekly Observer' of this morning, that something or other may, or may not, be got up concerning your late distinguished father, which is, or is not, to be prepared for the press by they cannot say whom, and published, or not, by either one house or the other, but which they cannot possibly determine; I have acted upon that information, Mem, and now wait upon you, as the fountain-head, for confirmation of it. Now, Mem, if you are in possession of any documents relating to your late eminent parent, such as Journals, Leiters, Literary Remains, Notes of his Table-Talk"
“ An immense mass, Sir, and of the most interesting kind,” replied the lady, interrupting him. “ There are his Journals,” (pointing to a score of small red-leather memorandum-books which lay on the table;) “there are his Journals, in his own hand-writing, for the first fifty years of his life; and there,” (pointing to a trunk which stood in a corner of the room,)“ there is a trunk, full, Sir, of documents of all kinds : for, throughout his life, my revered father fortunately preserved all papers, even to a coffee-house bill for his dinner.”
“Bravo !” exclaimed Yawkins, rubbing his hands; “ there we have · Autobiography,' and plenty of materials for · Appendices.' And · Letters,' Mem?” said he, inquiringly.
Amongst those, Sir, are, I believe, all the letters he ever received, together with copies of most of those he wrote.”
“ Bravo! again; there's our . Correspondence. For the rest, we must write to every one in Little Pedlington whom he might ever have