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CAN BE READ IN THIS DIAGRAM FROM LETTER TO LETTER IN ANY
THE SOLUTION IS GIVEN IN THE ACCOMPANYING DEMONSTRATION.
SEE PAGES IX. TO XII.
AN ECCENTRIC BOOKSELLER.
BY C. EDGAR THOMAS
HE year 1766 saw a new ministry under the Earl of Chatham, it saw the development of discovery in the southern voyage of Willis and Carteret, the repeal of the Stamp Act, and Lorraine annexed to France. Incidentally it saw the birth of one destined to rank as a curious eccentric; and important as the other events are it is on that score alone that the year 1766 now claims our attention.
The eccentric in question was the ill-fated William Nelson Gardiner, child of fortune, Jack of most trades, impecunious artist, itinerant stroller, unsuccessful bookseller, eccentric, last of all-suicide. Judged by the standard of the world Gardiner was a failure, and not even a splendid failure. And yet ?—as a general rule it is the failures of life that are the more interesting, seldom the successes.
Gardiner was born at Henry Street, Dublin, on June 11th, 1766, the son of John and Margaret Gardiner. His parents were of the lower class of society, the father at one time being' crier and factotum' to Judge Scott, and the mother a pastry-cook. The son has described his mother as being the best and most pious of women, our sheet anchor," and his father as a strictly honest man, excellently tempered, who-" like myself had neither ballast nor reflection.' Despite his humble upbringing, young Gardiner contrived to obtain some semblance of education. At first he attended an academy presided over by a Mr. Sisson Darling, where he was esteemed an ordinary boy," but this did not prevent him from being "selected, according to annual custom to represent on a rostrum, Cardinal Wolsey," upon which occasion precious work I dare say I made of it," he afterwards confessed. In considering the early influences of Gardiner, the atmosphere of his school life is worth noting. Mr. Darling was evidently a very original type of master.
Neither he nor his ushers assumed any power to punish the slightest offence. A book was kept in school, in which the transgressions of every week were registered, with the proofs and evidence to the same. On Saturday the master sat as Judge, and twelve of the senior boys as jury, and every offender was regularly tried and dealt with according to justice. There was no venal judge, whose passions became law-there was no packed jury to defeat the ends of truth. If ever there was an immaculate court of justice, that was it. Early evidencing a taste for drawing-he himself termed it an itch-some kind friends enabled Gardiner to pursue his penchant for art, and for three years he studied at the Dublin Academy where he gained a silver medal. In later life he amusingly spoke of his first artistic effort as being "an attempt to immortalize Mr. Kennedy, my mother's foreman; and vanity apart, it was at least as like to him as it was to anyone else."
At this period Gardiner's talents began to expand in his own words, “I rode tolerably, I hunted passably, I shot well, I fished well, I played on the violin, the dulcimer, and the German flute, tolerably, and my fondness for painting strengthened every day." He found, and this belief remained with him to the end, that he could easily make himself a second-rate master of any acquirement he chose to pursue.
In due course, like most young men of his time, Gardiner became fired with the ambition to come to London. Probably, like Whittington, he fondly imagined its streets to be paved with gold, but the lights o' London, as we shall see, proved to be no more friendly to poor Gardiner than they have been to many other venturesome seekers. In his case the Latin proverb Veni, vidi, vici requires modification: he certainly came, he certainly saw, but he most certainly did not conquer. First of all he supported himself by fashioning black shade profile miniatures for a shadow-portrait manufacturer-a Mr. Jones, in the Strand, who made " reflecting mirrors and cut profiles in brass foil, denominated "polite remembrances to friends." Gardiner's job was to daub the portraits of any who were fools enough to sit to me." The pay was little for the skill required, and so Gardiner, ever restless, tried his fortune on the stage, joining a
travelling company as scene-painter and actor. The manager was a Mr. Davis, who had played with Foote, and who was endeavouring to establish a theatre of his own at Mile End. Gardiner played comedy, and occasionally tragedya line of business for which his experience of life surely fitted him—and his last appearance was made as Darby in the Poor Soldier at the Haymarket Theatre. Success passed him by, although it is possible that he attained some small eminence in the histrionic art, which, properly developed, might have led to something. But to such a nature the stage evidently proved less fascinating upon close acquaintance than it had appeared to be at a distance. He declared that it suited not his finances or his stomach, and we next find him back at his old profession and employed by a Mrs. Beetham of Fleet Street. Somehow or other, one account says accidentally,' Gardiner shortly afterwards managed to scrape acquaintance with Francis Grose the antiquary, who, while thinking little of his talents as a painter, was yet struck with him, and particularly with his abilities as an engraver. Through his good offices, Gardiner found employment with R. Godfrey, the engraver of the " Antiquarian Repertory," and about this time he acquired some considerable skill as an engraver in the chalk or stipple manner. At his leisure he had engraved "an original design (stolen from Cipriani) of Shepherd Joe, in' Poor Vulcan,'" and this he submitted to Messrs. Sylvester and Harding, the Fleet-street publishers who eventually took him into their employ. This engagement, Gardiner himself admitted "lasted through my best days": it was a great chance, and had he availed himself of it, his story might have been different. While with this firm he was engaged upon their Shakespeare Illustrated, Biographical Mirror, Memoirs of Grammont, The Economy of Human Life, etc., while many of the plates to Lady de Beauclerck's edition of Dryden's Fables were entirely his own. Among his colleagues on the staff was Bartolozzi. Whether he purposely modelled his style upon that of this artist or not, the fact remains that much of Gardiner's work bears a distinct resemblance, and he actually claimed as his own some of the plates bearing Bartolozzi's name. Subsequently he worked for Bartolozzi, and occasionally he painted, and during the years 1787-1793 he exhibited at the Royal Academy. At this period Gardiner must have been doing well as an engraver, and had he possessed stability of character and remained working at his profession, he might easily have profited by the opportunity given him. But no, he never liked the profession of engraving. Gay, volatile, and lively as a lark, the process of the copper never suited me." An unfortunate summons from his father caused Gardiner to quit his employers and repair to his native place Dublin, where he contrived to squander what little money he had saved.
He soon returned to London, taking lodgings in the house of a Mr. Good, a stationer of Bond Street. While here he elected to play the part of Peeping Tom to his neighbours, with the result that he contracted an inflamed eye. The story may be read elsewhere, and it is only referred to here because Gardiner attributed to this indiscretion and its result his failure to obtain a living in other directions.
His next project can only be described as fantastic in the extreme. It was nothing less than to take Holy Orders! A little thought might have convinced him of the futility of his ambition, but nothing daunted he was, through the kindness of Dr. Farmer, entered at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Here he remained two years, but scenting little chance of obtaining a Fellowship he removed to Corpus Christi College, where, in 1797, he took his degree. Finding that his hopes of obtaining a Fellowship here were equally small, Gardiner relinquished his ecclesiastical ambitions, and again sought solace in his old profession. In London his former employer Harding engaged him to copy portraits. "In this the testimony of the best artists in England are my witnesses that I beat hollow every one else. It was a line which suited me, which I liked, but which my cursed stars would not patronize."
But the final folly-the crowning folly of a life of follies-was still to come. His prospects of the Church having vanished and his eyes beginning to fail rapidly, Gardiner set up as a bookseller in Pall Mall ! Not that he was unsuited
for this calling; he was not, inasmuch as he possessed a considerable knowledge of books, and had delved much into the lore that is a necessary complement to this profession. But his manner and personality were such as to preclude him from success. His eccentric appearance, behaviour, and conversation brought him some notoriety, and although many people visited his shop out of curiosity,