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Some of his schoolmates have recorded their impressions of Thackeray as a Charterhouse boy. Mr. J. F. Boyes writes:
“In the two or three years I am recording I scarcely ever saw Thackeray seriously angry, or even his brow wrinkled with a frown. He has been called a cynic: it is doubtful if a real cynic could ever be manufactured out of a boy who had such powers as he had of sarcasm, and who used them so little unkindly. . . . He had no school industry. Not one in those early days could have believed that there was much work in him, or that he would ever rise to the top of any tree by climbing. . His beau-ideal was the serious and sublime; he was too familiar with, too much a master of the humorous to think as much of that mastery as his admirers did. I have heard him speak in terms of homage to the genius of Keats that he would not have vouchsafed to the whole tribe of humorists. A rosy-faced boy, with dark curling hair and a quick intelligent eye, ever twinkling with good-humor. He was stout and broad-set, and gave no promise of the stature which he afterwards reached.... For the usual schoolboy sports and games Thackeray had no taste or passion whatever, any more than in after-life for those field sports which seem to have been the delight of his fellow-humorist and school-fellow, Leech. . . . For a non-playing boy he was wonderfully social, full of vivacity and enjoyment of life; his happy insouciance was constant. Never was a lad at once so jovial, so healthy, and so sedentary."
At the University.-- In February, 1829, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for two years, leaving, like Byron, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, without taking his degree. From a letter of March, 1830, we gather that he was “coached” three times a week from eight to nine by Fawcett; that from nine to ten he attended Fisher's lectures on mathematics; from ten to eleven he listened to Starr, the lecturer on the classics. With Badger, a freshman, he read Greek plays from eleven to twelve, and then from twelve to one studied Euclid and algebra. His evenings were given to one or the other of these subjects, or to collateral reading on Thucydides or Æschylus. “This is my plan which I trust to be able to keep." A good plan and a worthy intention! But one wonders whether Thackeray, who in later years confessed his chief faults to be " indolence and luxury” kept to such a full program. We do know that a strict adherence to this program did not hinder him
from the full enjoyment of the varied social life of the University - that he fenced, played chess, and, what is more to the purpose, did a vast amount of desultory reading in poetry, fiction, and history. He even spoke at the Union, the famous Cambridge debating club, on the character of Napoleon, but he felt his attempt was a failure.
His university career was not brilliant, neither was it a failure. As Walter Bagehot has said the value of an English university education consists more in the friendships there formed than in the actual information through formal studies. While at Cambridge he formed friendships with men like Edward Fitzgerald, Monckton Milnes, W. H. Thompson, R. C. French, John Sterling, Alfred Tennyson, James Spedding, John Alten, and William Brookfield. To have made the intimate acquaintance of such men indicates a well-spent college life, and corroborates Mr. Merivale in his belief that “All that our poor Pen [Pendennis] then was, Thackeray in his honorable course at that critical time was not. Neither selfish nor conceited, not noisy and dissipated at college, ungrateful and loveless at home - but full of home-thoughts and loving-kindness, tender, modest, and manly, wellgraced and pure."
Getting Under Way.- Shortly after leaving Cambridge he took the customary trip to the Continent, residing for some months at Weimar, the literary center made famous by Schiller and Goethe. Schiller was no more, but Goethe at the ripe old age of eighty-one added luster to Weimer. He received young Thackeray "in rather a more distingue manner than he has used the other young Englishmen here.” In the Life of Goethe by G. H. Lewes there is a long letter of Thackeray's giving his impressions of Goethe and the Weimar circle. The literary atmosphere of the courtly Weimar circle must have been charming to the sensitive youth, and it is not unlikely that what he there saw and felt had its influence when in after years he chose literature as his profession.
In the fall of 1831 we find him again in London, entered as a law student at the Middle Temple. Though he regarded
the profession as an honorable calling, he was not enamored of it, nor is it likely that he studied more diligently than did Pendennis. When on July 18, 1832, he became of age, he renounced the law and all its rigors, and hurried to Paris to study French and drawing, and to go into society and attend the theaters.
In January, 1833, Major Carmichael became associated with The National Standard, a venture in journalism. With the appearance of the nineteenth number Thackeray became its editor, and a few weeks later he purchased the paper. After an existence of thirteen months the paper died. With its failure went a part of the fortune which Thackeray had inherited on coming of age. How he lost the remainder, which has been estimated to have been sufficient to produce an income of from £400 to £500 a year, has been a matter of speculation. He undoubtedly lost some at play, more was lost in his first journalistic venture, some in an Indian bank failure, and much loaned to needy but forgetful friends, for this reputed cynic was a most generous friend.
Always fond of drawing and hoping that his genius lay in that direction, he now took up the serious study of art. In Paris he worked diligently, and, when not engaged in copying pictures in the Louvre, managed to have a gay time with his fellow students who were living the free Bohemian life. He never distinguished himself as an artist, though like Clive in The Newcomes he had some talent in caricature. He enlivened much of his later literary work with his sketches, which, while deficient in draughtsmanship, portrayed his meaning more completely than might have been done by one with more technique and less sympathy and understanding. He also frequently delighted his friends by decorating the margin of his letters with humorous sketches.
His studies in Paris failed to make him an artist, but his life in that cosmopolitan center, like his childhood days in India, his schooldays at the Charterhouse, his Cambridge residence, his taste of German life, contributed to that variety and richness of information so indispensable to the novelist who would portray life not as he pictures it from the seclusion of a cloistered library but as he has experienced it. From his private letters, from his later articles in the Constitutional, and from the Paris SketchBook, we find that Thackeray was interested in the political, social, and literary life and customs of France, and that like Pendennis he would not have hesitated, at twenty-four hours' notice, “to pass an opinion upon the greatest scholars, or give a judgment upon the encyclopaedia.”
Marriage. - In 1836 Thackeray and his stepfather took a leading part in establishing a newspaper, The Constitutional and Public Ledger. Major Smyth became chairman of the stock company and Thackeray was appointed the Paris correspondent. Both invested heavily and lost heavily when the paper failed, Thackeray losing the last of his patrimony.
In the meantime, trusting to his salary as correspondent to the Constitutional, Thackeray had married Isabella Shawe, an Irish young lady whom he had met first at his grandmother's. The date of the marriage, often given erroneously, has been determined by a record in the house of the British Ambassador at Paris. It is August 20, 1836. His friends may have thought it imprudent for Thackeray to marry when his income was uncertain, but Thackeray would never admit that he had been reckless. Twenty years after his marriage he wrote to Mr. Synge:
“I married at your age with £400 paid by a newspaper which failed six months afterwards, and always love to hear of a young fellow testing his fortune bravely in that way; . . . though my marriage was a wreck, as you know, I would do it again, for behold, Love is the crown and completion of all earthly good.”
At first the young couple lived in Paris, but after the failure of the newspaper they returned to England, living in London on Great Coram street, Thackeray supporting his family by his literary talents. Three daughters were born: Anne Isabella, who later became an author of some note; the second died in infancy; and Harriet Marion, who later married the distinguished critic, Sir Leslie Stephen. It was soon after the birth of the third child that the health of Mrs. Thackeray failed, her mind giving way. She was placed under proper care; the two chil
dren went to live with Thackeray's mother, and thus Thackeray's happy married life came to an end before he was thirty.
“ People afterwards called him cynical (writes Mr. Marzials] because he saw so clearly the evil in things good as well as the good in things evil. But the wonder rather is that he did not come out of such an ordeal soured, dispirited, disenchanted with life itself - doubting if it be indeed worth living - and preaching to others revolt and despair. This effect his trial never had. It left him with a heart saddened indeed, but full of courage, and full especially of a great tenderness for all human sorrow and suffering."
Miscellaneous Writings.- Before Thackeray became widely mis known as a novelist he had served a long apprenticeship as correspondent, journalist, editor, essayist
, and even poet, though his kotor poetry, good as it is, never has ranked with his prose. In 1838 the Yellowplush Papers, full of frolic and satire, appeared in Fraser's; this was followed by Catharine, the disagreeable story of a criminal. The story was written as a satire on what Thackeray called the Newgate novels. Disgusted with the false romanticism with which novelists were investing the careers of criminals, Thackeray wrote Catharine to show the public the vulgarity and loathsomeness of the real criminal. When one of his critics described Catharine as "one of the dullest, most vulgar, and immoral works extant," Thackeray felt that hc had succeeded, even though this critic had failed to see the purpose of the satire. The Paris Sketch-Book (1840), Fitz-Boodle's Confessions and Professions, The Irish Sketch-Book (1843), From Cornhill to Grand Cairo (1844), a record of a trip to the orient, are some of his productions. In the last named work is one of his best poems, The White Squall, ending with the tender lines,
"And when its force espended,
Came blushing o'er the sea,
A prayer at home for me."