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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821–1895)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard (1823–1902)
 
NO better biography of Frederick Locker can be given than that by himself in ‘My Confidences,’ published since his death by his son-in-law, Augustine Birrell. When Mr. Locker begins them, he laments that he had not kept a journal, as it might have been of some interest; but it was now too late. He certainly describes the man he was,—a somewhat whimsical, modest person of culture.  1
  Born of a distinguished naval family, twice married to women of rank and wealth, a man of society as well as of letters, he steered his bark in and out of the inlets of life, and skirted the borders of its placid lakes and verdant shores without attempting to sail in stormy seas. Thus he lived and died a prosperous, amiable gentleman.  2
  “I am well content,” he writes, “to range with humble livers, provided I am allowed my share of humble memories.” With an agreeable inconsistency, he records the annals of the Locker family. His great-great-grandfathers were barristers, and clerks in city companies; one of them, John Locker, a member of the Society of Antiquaries, is referred to by Johnson in his ‘Life of Addison,’ as eminent for “curiosity and literature.” The grandfather of Frederick Locker, William Locker, after fifty years of active service in the navy, was retired. When he commanded the ‘Lowestoffe,’ a youth of eighteen, one Horatio Nelson, was his second lieutenant; Cuthbert, afterwards Lord Collingwood, serving under him in the same vessel. In 1792 William Locker hoisted his flag as commodore at the shore; his health failing, he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Greenwich Hospital, where he died in 1800, and was followed to the grave by his friend Lord Nelson.  3
  Frederick Locker’s father, Edward Hawke Locker, was the youngest son of William Locker. He left Eton to become a clerk in the Navy Office, and not long afterwards was appointed civil commissioner of Greenwich Hospital. He was also one of the founders and a promoter of the Royal Naval Gallery. According to Lockhart, among the distinguished friends of Edward Hawke Locker “Scott was an old and dear friend.” In May 1814 Mr. Locker was charged with a mission to Elba, where Napoleon had just arrived from Fréjus after his abdication; an account of which the commissioner published in The Plain Englishman, a periodical which he conducted in association with Charles Knight:—
          “Napoleon,” he wrote, “takes much snuff; he is short and fat; his head handsome, though too large for his body; his smile is pleasing, but his laugh is singularly discordant, almost a neigh; his hand is white and delicate, and his limbs have that roundness which does not become a man and a soldier; but like all men of eminent ability, his manner was plain and unaffected.”
  4
  Frederick Locker’s mother was the daughter of the well-known vicar of Epsom, Jonathan Boucher, who passed much of his youth in America, and there formed a friendship with George Washington, a friendship broken by political differences. The letters of Washington to his grandfather, Mr. Frederick Locker lent to Thackeray when he was writing ‘Henry Esmond.’ Of his mother, the poet writes that she was “exceedingly handsome, but timid and anxious, pious, and deeply read in Graham’s ‘Domestic Medicine.’” For all this, she was as “merry as a grig—while plying us with tracts, and hanging texts over our bed-heads. For years the question worked on a perforated card in colored worsteds, ‘Do you ever pray?’ was present to me. Finally she came to the belief that every soul would be saved; even Lord Hertford, the typical wicked nobleman of her time.” Edward Hawke Locker, writes his son, was an able upright man, in a way strait-laced and circumspect; so prejudiced in regard to the early fashion of his period that he could not be persuaded to surrender his queue, till some other Locker came behind his chair at dinner and cut it off. He did things foreign to his character; and Mr. Birrell, in an editorial note, remarks that the traits described in the Johns and Williams were as noticeable in Frederick.  5
  Frederick Locker was born in Greenwich Hospital in 1821. In his father’s apartment the boy grew up among delightful surroundings, books and choice pictures. He never forgot the endearing sentiment of those early days. It was a Philistine age; but he speaks of the excellent taste in the paintings and furnishing of the apartments. “The picture by Hogarth of David Garrick and his wife was so lifelike that we children were afraid of it, and persuaded their father to sell it to George IV.”  6
  The tale of Frederick Locker’s school days is dismal. He went through six schools in his seven years of pupildom. At the age of eight his father writes to Mrs. Locker, when the lad was at a school in Clapham, that “for all the teacher’s pains, Fred remains as idle as ever.” The child’s memory of that teacher was that “she had all the qualities of a kitchen poker, except its occasional warmth.” After the desultory and unsatisfactory schooling,—especially at one school where the teacher, a clergyman, thrashed him with the buckle ends of his own braces,—his father began to despair of him. What was the use of his being good at fives and tolerably so at cricket, if he spelt abominably and could not construe a line of Latin? The parents abandoned their aspiration for church or bar, and with some difficulty obtained for the boy a place as clerk in a colonial broker’s counting-house, where he was to learn the business without pay. He turned out as incapable and inefficient at commerce as at everything else; developing, however, a turn for quizzing his masters and superiors, while giving a good deal of his time to the cut of his trousers. He named his wit at this period, empty, “a sneeze of the mind.”  7
  In spite of the duties given him at this place, he learned nothing. His much-tried father was advised to remove him. This was done; but when his prospects were at the darkest, he proved that “there is a budding morrow in midnight.” One memorable day, by the kindness of his father’s friend Lord Haddington, he was transferred to the Admiralty as a junior in the private office. About this time the verse faculty sprouted. He remained in this place some years; but losing his health, was given leave of absence, and fled to the Continent, where he found his first happiness. At Paris he met Lady Charlotte Bruce, Lord Elgin’s daughter, and was struck with her many charms. She returned to England; a correspondence took place; he followed her home, proposed to her, and was married in 1850. While she lived he moved in brilliant society,—at home, in Rome, and in Paris. The marriage was a happy one. The Queen had a warm regard for Charlotte, rejoiced in her humor, honored her by giving her her books, and commended her to those select courts which she decreed in the earlier days of her widowhood. “I have never,” says Locker, “felt much at my ease with royalty, and I never shall.” He speaks with enthusiasm of the prize-fight between Tom Sayers and Heenan; of the strange tremor which ran through him when the men stood up and shook hands; and of the marvelous qualities Sayers showed on that day,—of temper, judgment, and staying power.  8
  The Admiralty was not a genial soil for poetry, yet he planted the laurel there. He contributed to Blackwood’s, the Cornhill, and the Times, in prose and verse. In 1859 he published what he called certain sparrow-flights of song,—‘London Lyrics,’—bearing in mind “the narrowness of the scope of his little pipe.” When Thackeray encouraged him, he speaks of the fine rapture, the flood of an author’s ecstasy which never rises to high-water mark but once. This was when Thackeray had sent him the proof of his ‘Verses on a Human Skull,’ to be published in the Cornhill. In 1874 he married as his second wife the only daughter of Sir Curtis Lampson, whose name he adopted. In 1879 he published an olio of prose and verse, with the title of ‘Patchwork,’ revealing himself as the poet of society singing out the hearts of polite London folk to their faces. The work he is best known by is ‘Lyra Elegantiarum’; an anthology of airy graceful verse, which has exhausted the field where he gathered his gleanings.  9
  Up to the event of Mr. Locker’s first marriage, the ‘Confidences’ observe a sequence more or less historical. The story then breaks off abruptly, and a series of essays follow, on the incidents of his life, portraits of authors, and criticisms on their books. In his closing paragraph in ‘My Confidences’ he asks his readers to think kindly of Pierrot. They will regard him also with gratitude and affection. The evening of his days was passed at Rowfant, where he died in May 1895.  10
  The verse of Frederick Locker-Lampson is of the kind which the French call vers de société, and which may be seen in all its English varieties in his ‘Lyra Elegantiarum.’ He belongs to the seventeenth-century school of light and airy singers; of which Carew, Suckling, Lovelace, Herrick, and Sedley were masters, and which in the days of Queen Anne was conducted by such modish, jaunty ushers as Pope and Prior. But he belongs to it in its nineteenth-century conditions, which, in common with Hood, Praed, and Thackeray, he has bettered and enlarged with his finer taste, purer sentiment, and more genuine human feeling. His ‘London Lyrics’ are the perfection of humorous-pathetic poetry.  11
 
 
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