David Rands, who maintains a site about the life and works of W. B. Rands, has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web his father's biographical notes of about this prolific writer of children's literature and originator of The Boy's Own Paper. Readers may wish to consult the Rands site for more information about this little-known figure who had an immense influence upon Victorian children. In preparing the following text, which I scanned and converted to HTML, I have made minimal editorial changes, such as following house style (AJR uses quotation marks instead of emphasis for book titles) and changing paragraphing, eliminating a great many one-sentence paragraphs. In addition, I have added section titles [GPL]
n writing this brief biography of William Brighty Rands, the versatile Victorian author, I feel I should say at once why I have undertaken this task. My main reason is that all authorities on literature of the period acclaim his works, which cover such diverse fields as poetry for children (which earned him the title of "Laureate of the Nursery"), fairy tales, essays, works on Chaucer and philosophy and a novel. Some authorities have stated that his writings have been much underrated and that some of the best of them are worthy of re-publication. I am further persuaded to bring his name before the public because it seems that, largely as a consequence of his persistent habit of writing under pseudonyms — I have traced at least 30 — he failed to make his due impact on his generation. In this connection, I feel it is doubtful whether the full extent of his literary output will ever be known. Why he sought, as one commentator put it, "to hide his light under a bushel" it is not possible to say with certainty though I shall endeavour to give an explanation.
Much of his poetry appeared in such children's journals as Good Words for the Young, Good Words and Strahan's Annual, while he wrote a fairy story every Christmas for some years in Tom Hood's Comic Annual. He also wrote literary criticism for The Contemporary Review, to which he also contributed articles on current events. Anonymous articles by him also appeared in the Spectator, whilst he was also a contributor to several other journals, now extinct.
His Parents and Childhood
on of a devout mother, and a father of outstanding independence of spirit and considerable sensibility, William Brighty Rands was born on Christmas Eve, 1823, in Keppel St., Chelsea, a road no longer in existence. Both his mother and the doctor who attended her at his birth declared that he was an eleven-month baby. His mother, Kezia, was a woman of strong religious susceptibilities, bordering on the fanatical; while his father, George, of the same religious persuasion — they were Calvinists — had considerable force of character "with an inclination towards the arts." The home was a poor one, the father being at one time a candle-maker, and later a dealer in china and glass. Kezia supplemented the household earnings by clipping wicks. But, despite their poverty, they contrived, by dint of sacrifice, to have their son educated. William was, however, in the main self-educated.
Much of William's life is told by himself in a number of articles, all under pseudonyms. Some of the most revealing of these appeared in what appears, from the type and size of the pages, to have been the long extinct St. Paul's Magazine, under the title "Autobiography of an Irreconcilable." In a foreword, William explains that he uses the word "Irreconcilable," as an interpretation of the part of the speech of Socrates before his judges, in which Socrates describes the dire fate which awaited a person who is antagonistic to the "establishment". "An antagonist, or an irreconcilable," W. B. Rands wrote,
is not necessarily a haunter of barricades, or in any unrecognised form, a social or political conspirator. Neither of these characters would suit me, and in reading these notes, the reader will please to bear in mind that an irreconcilable is simply an uncommitted person. He need not be cantankerous; he need not be ungentle; he need not be unsociable, when association can be made truthful. His ideals, religious, domestic and other, would be found, when expressed in general terms, to be in accord with those whom most men and women agree to call good, wise and great. But, on the question of method — that is to say of the laws and customs directed to the cultivation of these ideals — an irreconcilable is simply an uncommitted person; one who not only makes no show of acquiescence in these matters, but who formally holds aloof from everything which could fairly be held to commit him to any such acquiescence.
In these memoirs, William talked at length about his parents and his early working years. "It was said of my father," he wrote, "that he would walk barefoot round the world to rip up a case of oppression and I daresay it was true." The son relates several instances in which his father took up the cause of people, who, he considered, had been harshly or wrongly treated. And the father had, too a strong spirit of independence. One incident illustrating this latter quality occurred when George Rands, while on his nine-mile walk home to north-west London, after having been kept late at his work in the East end, was stopped by a policeman, who demanded to know what was in the parcel he was carrying. George refused and dared the constable to interfere. On being told by the officer that he must accompany him to the police station, George Rands replied: "All right; it is on my way." And off they went. Outside the police station, the parcel was opened — and revealed a bundle of cotton on which his wife was to work. The father's parting shot was: "You ought to know an honest man when you see one, and I hope you will the next time." "My father," comments the son, "seems to me to have fancied that everybody ought to see at a glance that he was an honest person and something more. Upon what point in one's idiosyncracy such a feeling would naturally be founded, I can give no opinion; but I know that, until comparatively late in life I used to have exactly the same kind of feeling and always resented the merest shadow of suspicion as a gross injury. Having to give references, on applying for a situation was a sore trial to me."
William refers to his father as cantankerous — in the sense that he was always ready to intervene on behalf of anyone whom he took to be unkindly or wrongly treated. On one occasion, he went on an expedition to "rout up" — his father's expression — the case of a woman [wrongfully] confined, as he thought, in a madhouse. "And rout it up he did," says William. "My father, tall and broad- shouldered, was quite irresistible in such matters and drove all before him." George Rands seems to have been a man of some parts. His son says he was musical, a clever mimic. He had been a strolling player in his younger days, had more than a common humour and, though utterly uninstructed, had hankerings after fine scenery and pictures. He was, too, fastidious in his eating and drinking, was a good painstaking cook, "and was not made for poverty. " In another context, William says he may have understated his father's natural aptitude in artistic matters. He had been abroad — to France, if not further afield — and was wont to speak with great warmth of the pictures in the Louvre. "He was a great admirer of common things," writes William, "and used occasionally to displease my mother by laying out small sums in trifles of 'bigotry and virtue' in which she saw nothing."
Although he had been on the stage — he had appeared with Mrs Siddons in "Macbeth" — George Rands advised his son not to make acting his profession, although he had a natural aptitude in this direction. Indeed, William might have made the stage his career, but for the advice of a friend, who told him he would have to start in subordinate parts at a small salary. But William does appear to have had some experience of the profession, for he says he had done some lecturing, adding, "it is, therefore, noticeable that I never had stage-fright, though though I have acted before, perhaps, 300 people."
Writing about his mother, William says she was, in some respects, excessively unlike his father. "She would live on nothing, or next to nothing (which she and the rest of us often had to do)", he writes.
She did not know 'Auld Land Syne' from the "Evening Hymn" and had no taste whatever. There was always something gaunt about her, inspite of the remains of the considerable personal beauty which she had derived from her mother; while she was impatient of all fastidious ways, means and ends.
Besides these points of difference, she had another. It was evidently essential to her to have a set consistent body of opinions and these she held firmly, as far as her capacity led her, with perfect intelligence; but, above all, unwaveringly. Not that she did not read and enquire, and constantly pray to be "guided into the truth;" but that she would have a reason for everything and had never, I am sure, for an instant in all her life, conceived such a thing as sacrificing conviction to authority. Where she hesitated, it was not in the presence of external influence, or great personal authority; it was from some doubt or feeling of her own. For instance, she had been bred a very strong Calvinist, and had no doubt that Calvinism, in its extreme form, was to be found in the Bible."
"My mother's religiousness (so to call it)," wrote William, "might almost be described as fierce, she prayed in the morning, at mid- day and again in the evening, always aloud and against a chair. Her prayers were painful and prolonged, of the order which is known among religious people of a certain class as 'wrestling with God.'" William described his mother as
incredibly compassionate, as far as her imagination carried her into cases of suffering and of moral complication. She would take the part of the most desperate criminal or wrongdoer, if she fancied she saw a leaven of good intent in him . . . If a man was run down, or in danger, or left in the lurch, she would, if possible, hunt him up, and openly side with him, if her conscience would let her ... If a young woman had been running wild, she would go and see her, "Judge not that ye be not judged" were words constantly on her lips.
Despite her compassionate nature, Kezia's religious scruples impelled her to punish her son for small misdeeds with a Victorian harshness, which would now be regarded as excessive. One or two instances of this kind are recalled in William's memoirs. Once while walking through a churchyard in the East End, he got lost, for a long time. "My fright till I found her," he wrote,
was extreme; the idea of losing her at all was bad enough, but to lose her in that tall, damp grass — ah how I remember the faint purple mallows that grew there! — among graves, and in sight of that steeple with a hole through which I could see the bell, was maddening. Yet, when I found my mother, by frantically dashing to and fro among the gravestones, She had not an atom of sympathy for me; on the contrary, I got a severe scolding.
On another occasion, as punishment for a small fault, his mother prevented him from accompanying his father on a May Day expedition to Epping Forest, which the latter had promised him. "This sort of thing did me much harm," he says, "forming as it did part of the process by which I was perpetually made to feel alone — a feeling which took possession of me at an incredibly early date." The May Day incident prompts Rands to express strong opinions about what he calls "the vindictive treatment of the young," and gives the key to much of his writings for and about children, in which he showed himself as a pioneer in their sympathetic treatment. Indeed, his poem Lilliput Levee in which "the children, clever, bold folks, turned the tables on the old folks" is a poem of brilliant insight, anticipating completely psychological theories adumbrated generations later. He does not tell us the fault that called down his mother's punishment, but he says that it was a small one.
I think the punishment was wrong in essence as it certainly was excessive in degree (the latter through my mother's lack of imagination). She had the notion, derived mainly through her religious training, that every fault should be followed by some punishment specially affixed to it, and imposed by some external authority. Alas, it is a very common notion — but without a grain of sense or justice in it. My mother, where her creed did not darken her natural instincts, was the tenderest of women; but, for all that, the vindictive theory of discipline is simply a relic of savagery, and one of the most godless and detestable of its kind, too.
Brought up in such an atmosphere as he was, it is not surprising that William developed a strong religious sense at an early age, though he denies that this was due to training. "I was a born worshipper," is the way he put it,
with a strong tendency to mysticism of a kind that turned naturally to the One true Object of worship, and found pleasure in thinking of His presence anywhere and everywhere as a fact.
I am perfectly certain it was not my earthly father that gave me my first image or suggestion of God and that the sensation or sense, so to speak, of divine things and of a Divine Being in whom I lived, moved and had my own being was not primarily an instilled sense. At an age which was so early that I dare not even state it, I used to enter into sudden silent prayer at any and every time of day or night when I was awake. "Thou God seest me" were often the only words into which my feelings shaped themselves; and the feelings were usually those of awe and happiness mingled.
A story which he tells concerning himself, which presumably relates to a rather later date, throws a revealing light on his character. "In the 'yard' of small houses in which we lived," he wrote,
there was a goat, which was allowed to run pretty loose, and with this animal I struck up a friendship. Somewhere close by was a large boys' school, and, of course, among these boys my Bible-reading and my serious speeches in rebuke of "bad words," fighting, quarrelling and injustice caused much amusement.
Imagine a small, slight boy, wearing a cap that went all over his head (because he was always having earache), and walking up and down the "yard" half the day. with Dr. Watt's Divine and Moral Songs in his hand and a goat at his side. The humour of the thing could not possibly escape these boys, and I was known among them as the Reverend Mr Billygoat.
"School-boy Days": Rands's Education
ne of the results of so studious a boy being brought up in a strongly dissenting family was that at the age of nine, according to his own account, he was a master of the controversy between Trinitarians and Arians and could quote chapter and verse from the Bible to support his arguments. "Till I went to school," he says, "I had nobody to tell me I was too young to meddle with such matters and it was not likely that I should say it to myself, when I very rarely, if ever, came across anyone who knew half as much about them as I did." Yet it must not be supposed that he was a serious prig. On the contrary, he says, he often got into trouble for being so ready to laugh and the greater number of his offences were against seriousness.
Rands was in many respects very precocious. His parents used to say that he could read when he was only two and he himself records that at five, apart from unusual words, he knew as many words as he did at 20. Talking of his early prowess in reading, William says he learned in a similar manner to Gutta Percha Willie in George Macdonald's book of that title. Willie developed his reading abilities by comparing words of similar appearance in Dr. Watts's hymn "How doth the Little Bee", which he knew by heart. W. B. Rands wrote: "I learnt by my eyes, picking out words as I picked out cats from dogs, and trees from lamp-posts." He added that it was by the same method that he was able, in later years, to learn foreign languages rapidly — he mastered several — as well as musical notation.
W. B. Rands says he was 13 years of age before he "opened his lips to sing." This arose, he wrote, "from my strong sense that, in music, there was something orderly to learn, and that I had not learnt it." He made some progress with the aid of an old pitch-pipe in the house and then "got stuck" until he earned a little money from his first job. "Instead of spending pence given me for food, I saved up and at last bought a damaged flute, price 9d." He had already invested a penny on "a tattered and imperfect instruction book." In his mature years, he apparently became something of an accomplished musician, for I remember my father saying that he used to walk about the house playing a violin, which he had made himself.
Of his school-days, William says,
I was nearer 10 that 9 when I started. My school-boy days did not make any great length, and what there were of them was a great deal broken up. Sometimes I was unwell and sometimes I was wanted by my father as an errand-boy, and then I used to have many a long walk with a load.
When, at the age of about 10, I first came to anything like positive knowledge of the severities of ordinary school discipline my distress was indescribable. Two boy friends of mine — to one of whom I was particularly attached — were at a school where the cane and rod were both freely used. The hints they gave me of what daily took place at their "crack" academy (for such it was) made me ill. I scarcely slept at night.
Not the pains alone, or chiefly, but the indignity and indecency, were what upset me. I heard of one boy getting so many "handers" for not doing his Virgil, that his mother had to poultice him for days. Well, I could not stand it; and, what is more, I didn't.
William goes on to explain that he pegged away at his own parents, the boys' parents and the boys themselves until they were removed — "not to another 'crack' place, by any means, but under a good man; and to that school I went myself".
William's desire for knowledge was insatiable, and as he had a prodigious memory — he used to say he remembered by heart books he had read — his progress was rapid. "But the parents of other boys did not understand," he says, "that my diligence arose, not from a sense of duty, but from a natural appetite, amounting to greediness, and a natural facility for acquiring." He tells a story about the father of his two friends inviting him to their house, and, in the boys presence, praising him for his "bookish diligence," "All this I received with a bad grace. At last I remarked point blank: "I know I am clever, but I was born so." "You should leave others to praise you, master Blank," was the father's retort, to which William replied fiercely that he was not praising himself, but disclaiming praise. The argument continued, William defending the man's sons, who were both older than him, by saying that he was sure they attended to their lessons as much as was necessary and that different people were intended to learn different things.The affair ended in a row and William soliloquised afterwards: "What a ludicrous affair between a boy of 10 or 11 and a man of 45. I was ill-mannered, but morally right; for he was clearly wrong in inviting me to meet his boys, my friends, on the usual footing of visitor and then turning me into an instrument for putting them to shame." There had been an "incident" at the tea-table earlier, when William, to the embarrassment of the boys' mother, refused the thin bread and butter, which had been set apart for him, and took the thick.
Quite early in his boyhood, William became a Greek scholar and could read much of the New Testament in that language "pretty well." This achievement also led him into an embarrassing situation, when the father of one of his own father's customers invited him into the house, when he was delivering a shilling bundle of wood in a snowstorm. He found he was being set up as an example to the man's son who was lectured for his incapacity. "Glad enough was I to get out into the snow again," William wrote, but, incidentally, he revealed another side of his character — his susceptibility to female charms, for he adds that he was taken by the beauty of the boys' sister, seated at a piano in evening dress and was for a long time haunted by waking visions of her curls and shoulders.
Apparently, the boy was popular rather than otherwise at school. He tells a story of once assuming the authority of the school-master when the latter was absent. From the bottom of some stairs leading to the school-room, he called out "All home," before the school was due to disperse, not unnaturally, the boys took advantage of the felicitous happening — and were quickly away. William says he cannot recall being scolded for his behaviour, of which, he felt sure, the master must have been informed.
Part of the liking his fellows felt for him, he says, came from the fact that he was always helping them at their lessons, particularly anything relating to the Bible and spelling. But some boys", he went on, "both disliked and persecuted me; which was, I have no doubt, natural enough. It probably galled them to find a little "runt" of a boy, who was always ill and never went to school and was somewhere between 5 and 6 years old, knowing better than they did some of the things they were taught every day. With many faults, and those, of course, greater than I knew or know, I had the reputation of being a little boy who would go through anything rather than tell a 'story'. This had several obvious conclusions. One of them was that my word was always taken against that of other boys and another was that, greatly to my own pain and confusion, I was put in the position of referee." He adds that he used to be very puzzled at the persistent efforts of certain boys to get him to fight and says that he saw later on that they were tired of hearing Aristides called the Just. "And Aristides was tired of it himself and never liked it."
In another part of his reminiscences, William tells of his excessive personal fastidiousness, endless washings and defiant shyness in certain particulars. Modern psychologists might see in this behaviour evidence of a sense of guilt, accentuated, if not engendered, by his strict upbringing. "It may well be imagined" he says, "that I found plenty to excite my violent disgust. I certainly did and am quite sure I never concealed it. Here one of my bad points would be only too sure to come out — I mean a tendency to absolutely isolating scorn, when once disgust had set in. The utter contempt and turning away with which I treated anything dirty or indecent must and did make me pretty hotly hated here and there; and the more so as I invariably and savagely 'told' of anything that came under the head of what boys in my days called 'impudence.'"
Often, William's curiously ambivalent attitude towards his attainments came out. Whilst he displays pride in achievement, he at the same time disclaims credit, arguing that he was merely following his bent. Apart from the stories I have already told illustrating his distaste at being held up as an example to other boys, there are others that show this characteristic.
Early in his school career, he was introduced to the art of preparing a "Christmas-piece" — the decoration with ornamental writing called "flourishing," of the central portion of a large sheet of paper, the outer regions of which had been adorned with scenes from the scriptures. He had not attempted one before, for, he says, it was a separate item in the school-master's bill, and, moreover, the blanks cost a shilling. However, the master let him have one for 8d. and William did his "flourishings" so well that his piece, with another, was selected for exhibition. But young William was annoyed when — apparently obeying the custom — his father took him round to friends to show off his work. He acknowledges a feeling of pleasure in knowing that he had done well. "But, for all this," he adds, "I used to feel anxious that others should do much better than they did, and I never acquired a power that I did not wish to communicate."
In another context, he says that, in recitation, he did badly until he was allowed to select his own pieces. Then he performed in a manner which simply left the other 50 boys out of the running — "competition was absurd; there was no other school-boy that could come near me." "After a short time," he adds, "the same feeling which made it unpleasant for me to 'take down' other boys made me stay away, or half stay away, on recitation days."
Having admitted that he had at least one weakness from a scholastic point of view — an inability to make progress in arithmetic — he acknowledges that he also had character shortcomings. "One of my faults," he wrote, "that of an extreme irritability, was a serious one and will be found to have shortened my life by many years." (He lived to the age of 58). He says he had an almost peculiar faculty of getting all of a sudden into a red heat of whirling fury — the sort of anger "that struck 12 all at once and then went on striking; as if all the Dutch clocks in a town ran down with a whirr."
Rands's Attitudes toward Education
illiam discloses an extreme dislike of the principle in schools of encouraging a spirit of emulation. He describes how his master offered a prize for the best essay on this subject. He attacked the principle so heartily in his essay that the master blushed as he read it out to the class — but, in the event — no prize was given!
William attacked cruelty in whatever guise it reared its head — either to human beings or animals. At one time, a correspondence was in progress in the papers on fagging, "binding" and "other brutalities" at Winchester and other public schools. "I was amazed," he wrote, "at the coolness with which the subject was discussed. If I had been at Winchester and had seen one-fiftieth part of what had been hinted at — if I had seen even one case of deliberate cruelty, I should there and then have killed the offender, if my physical powers had permitted it". His impulse would simply be the blotting out of a hated thing, not avenging a wrong done.
He had, in fact, a great distrust of the methods then in vogue for "cultivating a manly spirit" and had no use for the theory that "such and such battle had been won on the playing-fields of Eton". "If we took more pains not to cultivate bad passions," he wrote, "and not to familiarise young minds with each other's baseness, we should much less frequently have need of battles to be won on one side and lost on the other."
A hatred of cruelty and a firm conviction that all individuals should be allowed to do as they liked so long as they did not interfere with others is continually cropping up in Rands' works. Indeed, it has been said that his constant insistence on the need to maintain the liberty of the subject pre-dated John Stuart Mill's essay on the subject.
His views on fighting among boys was also very strong. "I was brought up very differently from most boys, if not all," he wrote in one of his Lilliput Lectures. "I was taught by my parents that, if I was struck on the right cheek, I should turn the left, and that I was to die rather than smite again. I never struck a blow and never received one, and I used to believe firmly that an angel from heaven would help me if I needed it. He says that one thing for which he was the most plagued and laughed at when a boy was that he would not fight. One boy followed him about for months and months, till he left the district, "for the sole purpose of making me fight." "Many a bad dream had that boy given me," he averred, "and to this hour (he was then a grown man) I sometimes feel his hot breath on my cheek and see his malicious eyes and doubled fist."
In this context, it might be interesting to recall that Rands often said that he "never forgot anything." Psychologists would agree that this, was probably true at least in regard to incidents, such as the case of the boy that repeatedly challenged him to fight, which had an emotional content; but Rands also asserted that he could remember books which he had read word for word.
In another part of the Lecture above quoted. Rands says he never knowingly hurt anything that had life. "To torture a fly, to tease a pet, but still more, to tease a playmate, to try to make another creature give up a part of its freedom, just to please our whims (without giving in return something it is glad to receive) is an offence in the eyes of God," he wrote. He was, indeed, a great lover of nature. "I can remember having silent dreams of waking pleasure on fine summer days," as he put it once. "when I felt the joy of watching other creatures do just as they pleased."
Another aspect of Rands' character was "a most exacting and overbearing idealism. "Ugly things made me ache all over — a public house, for instance, dirt, a black-eye, a butcher's shop —indeed, almost everything disgusted me, except skies, trees, women and children, and books." "Ridiculous as it sounds," he wrote of very early ambitions, "I began to turn things over in my mind, with a view to setting on foot some revolution by which the whole face of the world might be altered. "Those who do not find this quite laughable enough will be consoled when I add that my leading notion was that an army would be necessary for this purpose — that I began to ask people, old and young, whether they would join — that I had set myself apart as commander-in-chief." After this revelation Rands, answering a rhetorical question as to whether he was in other respects like other boys, declares that he was fond of tarts, buns, pictures, running and jumping, though thought throwing a somersault an ugly performance. The proposal of an army to quell ugliness was, of course, only the fantastic imagining of a child, but, as Alex H. Japp says in Poets and Poetry of the XIX Century, he had the idea that he was burdened with the message of a reformer — "that personal liberty in certain aspects could only be secured by a complete revolution in the ideas of government and its action" "Before John Stuart Mill published his 'Liberty'" wrote Japp, "Rands had in every corner open to him, proclaimed the same principles with exaggeration and emphasis, and they were apt to look at you, as with the tail of the eye, in essays and articles that professed to be playful or half-playful, as in some of those in Views and Opinions. These ideas of liberty come to more definite expression in the letters addressed to eminent men, which form a large part of his two volumes Henry Holbeach. Student of Life and Philosophy and in the Contemporary Review and elsewhere on such subjects as 'Moral Criteria'."
Rands's Early Employment
ands got his first job — in a lawyer's office at the salary of 6s. a week — when he was 13 years of age. He still continued his studies spending his money on books instead of food. He also mastered German in later years and a translation of the Niebelungen Legends by him appeared in Good Words for the Young. "While working at the solicitor's office," Rands says, "I went on working at such a rate with my studies in general, knowing, like the devil in the Apocalypse that my time was short, that at last my mother cut off the bit of rush-light by which I had been reading when she was asleep. "But it so happened that there was a gas-lamp right opposite the house and I had the to go on reading my Greek late at night by such light as this gave through the window and the help of occasional moonlight." He adds that a cold caught in his over-strained eyes brought on inflammation and he had to restrain his reading,for many months. "Not only so," he went on, "but there was an end of hard reading, in my sense of the term, for the rest of my life."
Rands left the lawyer's office under a cloud, for he was accused of stealing some of the food and wine brought in daily for his employer's dinner. Actually, he was later cleared, when another employee was caught in the act. After a scene at the office, at which his father gave the son impetuous support, Rands almost immediately got another job at the office of another lawyer — at a salary of 10s. a week. Here, the youth seems to have done well, for he was often given the responsibility of appearing before judges in Chambers. "Where the case was a straight-forward one," he recalled, "I was so successful a pleader that I was sometimes sent in place of a senior, and many a smile of quiet approval had I got from such men as Maule, Platt and Parke (afterwards Lord Wensleydale.)" These happenings inspired him with the ambition to become a barrister, but, of course, there was not the money for the training. "I had visions," Rands wrote,
of success as a conveyancing barrister, or as a pleader, and, as far as certain qualifications went, I should have done well. But, of business tact, of the power of dealing with the ordinary play or ordinary motives in ordinary human-beings, I had not an atom.
To draw a deed well or make a powerful and ingenious speech would have been easy to me, but the dullest "attorney sneak" in London could have outwitted me in "the conduct of a case."
However, one of his main duties at the solicitor's office was to serve writs, mostly to poor trades-people, and this soon began to make him "right down ill" — so he left.
By now, he was well-informed, not only in Latin and Greek, but in French and Spanish — he later mastered German and was studying Chinese when he died — and he obtained a post as foreign correspondent in a merchant's office near St. Paul's Cathedral, Here, he spent some happy years, as appears from the dedication to his book of essays, entitled Views and Opinions:
To Mr. G. B. Carr and all friends round St. Paul's, with unforgettable affection, and in the presence of a gift to the writer, which was in 1854 inscribed by seven kind comrades, with an assurance of their desire to hold and be held by long in sweet remembrance.
Rands Begins His Literary Career
hilst working at the merchant's office, W. B. Rands was also engaged in literary work, which was, and remained, his absorbing interest to the end of his days. In 1855, he edited the poetical works of Robert Bloomfield, and, in the same year, he published anonymously, Frost upon the Pane, a collection of Christmas stories, which was very well received by the critics.
My grandfather had for a considerable time studied stenography and in 1857 he joined the Parliamentary reporting staff of Messrs Gurney and was engaged in covering the deliberations of Committees. Often, my father told me, he worked well into the night, preparing his reports, keeping himself awake by swathing his head in wet towels and drinking cups of tea. His reports were, of course, written in long-hand, a very laborious proceeding, especially when compared with later methods, in which a corps of reporters covered a committee and dictated their transcriptions to typists. In the course of this work he was the recipient or a vote of thanks passed by the House of Lords for his services, This, I believe, is quite unprecedented. Rands was forced by ill—health to give up his work at the house in 1875.
But during this period of almost 20 years, W. B. Rands continued his literary activities with persistent vigour, writing numerous articles for a number or journals and composing original works. In 1857, he brought out a slim book of poetry, entitled Chain of Lilies. For once, he permitted his name to be attached to the work, but, by a strange piece of irony, it was the worst collection of poems he ever wrote. In after years, he recognised this and pleaded with his friends to forget the book.
In 1864, appeared Tangled Talk, an Essayist's Holiday as by T. Talker, a series of essays which had appeared in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine. In the following year was published The Stealing of the Princes, the story of the kidnapping from Altenberg Castle in Germany of the Princes Ernest and Albert of Saxony, from the former of whom our Royal Family is descended. The tale was topical at the time, for a son, Albert Victor, had recently been born to the then Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. Albert Victor pre-deceased his father. This exciting story must have required much research, but, though interesting, cannot be considered as anything but hack journalism.
Another work which appeared in the same year, Henry Holbeach, Student oF Life and Philosophy", was described by Professor and Mrs. Hugh Walker, in their work Outlines of Victorian Literature, published in 1925, as "a most remarkable book." "Nowhere," the Walkers assert, "not even In the masterly work of George Eliot, is there a sensitive picture which could surpass that of the minister of the Little Meeting — "a shoemaker, self-taught; his heart amply supplied with the milk of human kindness and his creed blazing with damnation. . . .Yet the world hardly knew the name of the man to whom it owed such literary gems. Rands worked under pseudonyms and few have thought it worth while to ask who the unknown writer was." In another paragraph, on Rands's children's poetry, the Walkers declare that he had "proved his title to a place beside the two great makers of verses for children, Lewis Carroll and R.L. Stevenson."
The book, Henry Holbeach as well as his children's poetry are also acclaimed by the Cambridge History of English Literature, which comments that it proved that Rands was a thinker as well as a skilful writer, and adds: "The uncertainty of the judgment of contemporaries is vividly illustrated by the fact that this striking work passed almost unnoticed and remains almost unknown except to students, while Sir Arthur Helps's commonplace Friends in Council, which is also the work of 'A student of life and philosophy', won for its author a high place among writers of the second grade." In common with other authorities, the Cambridge History of English Literature also compares Rands' children's poetry with that of Stevenson, "Stevenson," it states, "has been called 'The Laureate of the Nursery', but the title has also been claimed for W. B. Rands, and it seems more justly to belong to the elder writer [Rands] and certainly Rands preceded Stevenson, and the latter has nothing finer than 'Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful World.'" The Cambridge History goes on to state that Rands was second only to Lewis Carroll and Juliana Horatia Ewing in the production of those books about children and childhood which are among the most striking features of recent English literature."
A year after Henry Holbeach appeared a book of essays under the title Views and Opinions, as by Matthew Browne, a book full of thought and interesting comments on the life of the time. Lilliput Levee, which contained many of Rands' best children's poetry, was published, anonymously, in 1868 and 1869. This was followed two years later by a two volume work Chaucer's England, as by Matthew Browne. This is a description of the social conditions in England during the period of the great poet, illustrated by quotations from the poet himself. It has been described as "an admirable book — full of research and marked by fine insight and literary skill."
In the year 1871 appeared three more anonymous works: Lilliput Revels, a collection of short plays for children; "Lilliput Lectures, a series of assays designed to give children an insight, into "the world outside the home (at the end of one of these essays appeared Rands"a famous poem "Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful world"); and "Shoemaker's Village", Rands only work of fiction, which throws a vivid light on the kind of dissenting community in which the author was reared.
Lilliput Legends, a collection of fairy stories, appeared anonymously in 1872. Some of my grandfather’s best works for children were republished in a number of volumes at the end of the century over his name. Then, in 1907, appeared The Young Norseman, an interesting narrative for children, based on Norse legends. Where it was originally published I have so far been unable to discover.
Rands's First Marriage
ands was married at the Pariah Church of St. Mary, Lambeth, in October 1846, to Mary Ditton, daughter of a cheesemonger. How long he lived with Mary is nowhere recorded. In fact, there is no mention in any of the autobiographical material he wrote either of Mary, or of the daughter of a wealthy man whom he married in later life.
There were three children of the first marriage: a boy, J. J. C. Brighty Rands; Polly, the original of the poem so titled, who is believed to have married a man named Hulbert; and George, who migrated to Australia. He appears to have lived with Mary about 12 years. It is not possible to give the exact period when he left her to live with Hannah Rolls, daughter of John Rolls, a member of the Curriers Company and of the Court of Aldermen of the City of London. By him, Hannah bore four children: Paul William Rands, my father; Robin Maurice Rands; Margaret, who married Courtier Waterhouse; and Grace Dorothea, who married Malcolm Grahame Sharpe, who claimed descent from Rob Roy. When his first wife died in 1881, W. B. Rands married Hannah, at Camberwell Register Office.
I never knew my grand-father, who died about 10 years before I was born, but I have a clear memory of the things my father told me about him. Particularly do I recall his strange behaviour at of some sort of the things my father told certain times. Whenever he was out with his children in the Camberwell neighbourhood, where they mostly lived and he chanced to meet someone he knew, he would hastily hustle the children into a side street. He was also somewhat chary at receiving visitors at his home. Once when Robert Browning called to see him, he sent a message, via my father, "Tell him I'm out." But at one period, George MacDonald, author of At the Back of the North Wind, Gutta Percha Willie and other works, was a regular visitor.
Rands's Second Household
he household in which my father, his brother, and two sisters were brought, up, must have been a very strange one. From the stories told me from time to time by his children, I gained the impression of a kind of split menage — the author, often in the company of Hannah, who gave him much help, working in an upstairs room; and the four children more or less "huggermugging" together, as they used to put it, downstairs.The elder children were summoned frequently to make tea and take it upstairs, each time waiting with impatience to reclaim the pot and drink the remainder.
The children were never sent to school — although I was told that the father did take steps to have the children of his earlier union educated. What instruction my father and his brother and sisters received was given them in part by their mother; but they all learned a great deal from browsing over many books which filled the house. Not only was there the considerable library the father had collected himself, but also numerous books sent to him for review. My father told me that he was sent out periodically, with a sackful of books to sell to second-hand booksellers. All the children, but my father, who was the eldest and used sometimes in his later teens to help upstairs, lived in some awe of their father, for the latter had a deep, booming. voice, which he used to some effect when annoyed, and the two girls used at times to hide in the lavatory in order to evade his anger.
My grand-father suffered a great deal from ill-health, was very discriminating in his food, and in his later years avoided fats, even butter. He was a non-smoker, but occasionally drank wine. My father, particularly in his later years, was very critical of his father's treatment of the children of the household, particularly of his neglect to give them a systematic education; though it would be fair to say that all four of them grew up well informed, particularly, as one would expect, on literary subjects. But there was a sound basis for the criticism insofar as it rested on a comparison between their upbringing and the high principles preached by W. B. Rands in some of his writings.
My grand-father's ideas on child-nurture were rather ahead of his time and more in accord with modern psychological teaching. A brief quotation from an article on the "Nurture of Children" written by hi m 1869, illustrates this point:
As to punishment in general, make it your endeavour, from the cradle onwards, to get and keep on such terms with your child that the mere suspension of cheerful sympathy between you should be dreaded by him as involving a serious deprivation. As far as possible, share the penalty. Remember that restlessness or mischievousness is not always malice;the "plague of the household" may become a good boy if you set him to dig, to build, to make a model of a water-mill, or to dust and arrange your books.
Lastly, take things in time and, if a conflict of wills appears in the distance, rather call off a child's attention, before the consciousness is mutually clear, than let things drift on to the worst.
Rands's Self-Created Obscurity
he obscurity to which W. B. Rands resigned himself has been commented on by several authorities. "Thormanby," the actor William Willmott Dixon, writing in his book of reminiscences The Spice of Life, refers to my grand-father as
a highly gifted man, who would have won wider fame had he written always under his own name instead of "frittering his reputation away" on a number of pseudonyms. As Matthew Browne, he wrote some charmingly original essays in the Argosy... Rands wrote one story for the Argosy, "Shoemaker's Village", which is of quite unique excellence, full of the quaint, whimsical humour that was peculiarly his own. And as a writer of fairy tales for children he had no superior and hardly an equal. Lilliput Legends contains as much graceful verse and beautiful fancy as any poems for children I know.
the quiet, sober, bespectacled face of W. B. Rands.
It was of nature that Rands and I used to talk in a cosy, secluded corner of the "Cheese." We met on common ground, for I have ever been one of "the children of the open air". And Rands could talk as finely as he could write of Nature, quietly, tenderly, fancifully, — with just a faint undernote of enthusiasm running through his sober tones.
Some explanation of the reason why my grand-father adopted the whim — for so it seemed to me to be when pursued to such an extreme — of writing so persistently under pseudonyms appears in an article by him "Pseudonymity and Anonymity," which appeared in Evening Hours. This sets forth a carefully argued defence of the use of noms de plume.
The use of the pseudonym," he wrote, "or of a dozen pseudonyms, or a score, or ten score might be a perfectly innocent contrivance for avoiding difficulties in the way of winning bread. The cases are rare when it is in the bargain, or can possibly be in the bargain, that the person who reads what I write should be entitled to know my name. Of all things it is probably the most indifferent to him, as it is of all things the most accidental to me. He might, with equal reason, or justice ask to know my height, or my weight, or what I paid for my hat.
Later on in the article, he gives a direct clue to the reason why he himself adopted the practice.
Many years ago I was foreign correspondent in a merchant's office. If it had been known that I wrote in newspapers and magazines, I should have lost my berth. Now I did, in fact write under assumed names. If my principal had asked me whether I wrote, I should have felt bound either to tell him to mind his own business or to admit the fact. But I was perfectly entitled to write as I did under assumed names, and he was free, if he could, to penetrate a perfectly innocent disguise. I was, in fact, exercising a belligerent right; that is to say, I was protecting myself from possible injury; for though my employer had a legal right, he had no moral right, to say that I should not write in newspapers and magazines.
It is ironical to recall that this innocent contrivance "for avoiding difficulties in the way of winning bread" was referred to later by Alexander Strahan, who published the greater part of his children's writings, and who said in an appeal for funds for his widow after his death, that it "proved a constant disadvantage to him in a worldly sense." A practice started in the 1850s, he continued to persist in with the one curious exception of the inferior book of poems he published in 1857 under the title The Chain of Lilies, to which I have already referred. Thereafter, as far as I can ascertain, none of his numerous contributions to many journals ever bore his name.
It seems probable that the professional motive for adopting pseudonyms was not the only one. From his behaviour, it seems likely that he might have been swayed by a desire to keep out of the public eye on account of his "irregular" domestic life. The fact that he never sent the children of his second union to school, that he strived to obscure their existence when he met anyone he knew in the street, and discouraged visitors to his home all support his desire for remaining unknown.
Rands's Character and Some Anecdotes about Him
e lived for some years with Hannah Rolls while his wife was still alive. But it must be stressed that, although he left his first wife, there is evidence that he struggled right to the end to see that she and her children were provided for. I remember my father telling me that he and his brothers and sisters were mystified by the visits at their home of strangers who were surreptitiously handed parcels of food and clothing, which from subsequent knowledge, they judged, were for "the other family."
Certain it is that W.B. Rands worked very hard at all times. Indeed, my father was convinced that he worked himself to death, and this was supported by the verdict of his doctor, who declared that, at his death, he was worn out in mind and body.
A little humourous story told me by my father relating to the period when W. B. Rands was engaged at the Houses of Parliament illustrates one side of his character and the tension under which he was labouring at the time. One of the other reporters at the House queried the precise meaning of the word "brusque." "Go and ask Rands" was the advice given. My grandfather had a room at the House were he rested, and, when his fellow reporter knocked at the door and put his question, he was met by a shower of imprecations and books."Now you know what brusque means," commented his colleagues.
Another reminiscence of my father bears on the suggestion that Rands had not received the recognition to which he was due, at least in one respect. It was the evening when Stanley (later Lord) Baldwin spoke at the dinner to celebrate the golden jubilee of The Boys' Own Paper. "What a scandal!" remarked my father when the broadcast speech had finished. WBR, who first suggested the publication of such a periodical, was not even mentioned. "Another point mentioned to me at about this time was to the effect that W. B. Rands had not been given credit for the help, including some of the actual writing, he gave to Thomas Archer in his Life of Gladstone. There is, in fact, a reference to this work in a letter my grandfather wrote on 29th March, 1882 — apparently the last letter from his pen, for he died on the 23rd April that year — addressed to Archer. The letter, in an unsteady hand, is hard to read, but part is decipherable He says: "There is the opening of Gladstone. You and I ought to do some summary, if possible." Rands explains that he cannot sit up to write, and adds: "But, taking as the Lord bids us, the hopeful view, now and ever, I will trust I may be in a condition to help you a little by next Tuesday, or even before . . ."
Within a month. Rands was no more. He died, where he had lived for some years, at 67, Ondine Road, East Dulwich. The shock of his death caused his wife, Hannah, to lose her sight for a while. The grief she suffered was, no doubt, accentuated by a harassing scene at the graveside at Honor Oak (now Camberwell New) cemetery. The children of Rands' first marriage turned up at the ceremony and protested that they should have been responsible for the interment. This happening was also a great shock to my father, his brother and sisters, for they had no sure knowledge of the existence of these other children.
Hannah survived her husband by about 15 years and was buried beside him.
A few days before Rands died, an appeal was made on his behalf and that of the family by Alexander Strahan, founder and editor of the Contemporary Review, who was also the publisher of Good Words for the Young and other magazines, to which my grand-father had been a contributor. The Royal Literary Fund contributed £60. I do not know what was the final total of the appeal, though it exceeded £130. In his letter of appeal, Strahan wrote,
In my judgment no word lower than genius could rightly characterise the very special literary qualities shown in such books as The Shoemaker's Village, Tangled Talk, Lilliput Levee and Lilliput Lectures etc., and, though these works failed, not, as I venture to think, much to the credit of our public, to reward their writer anything like commensurately, they are well-known outside the United Kingdom, especially so in America, and have obtained a general recognition as belonging to our standard literature.
In another part of the appeal, Strahan refers to "the sensitiveness of disposition which led him (Rands) so persistently to practice anonymity (and the burden which that sensitiveness of mind was to him, only a very few personally acquainted with him know) was wholly against his extending his business connection, and was a constant disadvantage to him in a worldly sense." The letter also made the revelation, which I have not seen mentioned elsewhere, that for the last 12 years of his life. Rands might be said to have been "half an invalid." Strahan concluded: "It was one of the most prized gratifications coming to me in a long publishing career, that I was the main instrument in obtaining Mr Rands' pen for the delight of the public; and if, by urging this appeal upon you on his behalf, I can do him a last friendly service, it is my duty to do it.
Before giving a bibliography of Rands's works, I would like to make reference to the quality of certain republications nearly 70 years ago, and also to quote from other authorities on his works. In a collection of Rands's children's poetry under the title Lilliput Lyrics, published by John Lane in 1899, Mr. R. Brimley Johnson, who edited the work, introduced alterations, some senseless, and one, at least, could be termed a mutilation. I refer particularly to "The Duck and her Ducklings," the last verse of which was completely spoilt. Here are the two versions, side by side:
The duck was genteel, and she walked with great state,
Then cried, "Now, ducklings, mark my gait
So much, you see, depends on the style of the back;"
And the ducklings said, "Yes, mamma. Quack, quack, quack."
The duck was genteel, she was fond of pomp and state,
And she said to the little ducks "Pray imitate my gait.
"Everything depends on the Carriage of the back."
And the ducklings all said "Yes, mamma',' and "Quack, quack, quack."
In Innocent's Island, republished with Lilliput Revels by the same firm about 1900, a long passage somehow became disjoined from its context, making a glaring non sequitur, which, one would have thought, would have been detected.
Praise for Rands's Works
nd here are judgments on my grand-father's works, by two authorities other than those already quoted. Arthur Compton-Rickett, in his History of English Literature, wrote of Rands' children's poetry:
There is a delightful whimsicality about his work and some of his graceful absurdities will long outlive the portentous verses of many a contemporary." The writer then quotes two of Rands' nonsense verses; "Topsy-turvey world" and "Baa-baa, black wool, have you any sheep? Yes, sir, a pack-full. Creep, mouse, creep." etc. He concludes by quoting the charming poem entitled "Polly."
In another part of this book, Compton-Rickett expresses agreement with Prof. and Mrs Walker, "who have justly said he was much under-rated as Helps has been over-rated." (A reference to Rands' Henry Hoibeach, Student in Life and Philosophy, already mentioned). "The two volumes of Henry Hoibeach and Views and Opinions, Compton-Rickett, continues, "give us of his best in wise, witty and trenchant sayings on the life of his day. . . . He was not merely a maker of aphoristic apothegms; he had the power of visualising certain types of character with a dry humour that reminds the reader of Oliver Wendell Holmes."
F. J. Harvey Darton, in his Children's Books in England, published in 1958, refers to Rands' Chaucer's England as a work "not yet superseded".
It is in the three Lilliput books, that his chief originality appears, continues Harvey Darton. "He was, or seems, nearly always sincere in them, not as one writing for effect or condescending to children, though in Lilliput Lectures he defines and defends what he means by "writing down": his is the best argument that can be given for the faintly didactic manner which is sometimes needed, in all honesty, to bridge the gulf between old and young. His nonsense, however, has no pretence, and he often mixes it with a whimsical moral pathos which is entirely his own; as in the poem about the giant who was reformed by being given a custard three times as big as the moon.
His direct pathos, as in "The Ship that sailed into the Sun," has touches of great beauty, even when it is based on the lost-brother tradition of sentimentalism . . . There was always in his work something of that struggle to be sure he had really got inside the country of a child's mind. He succeeded not seldom. A certain amount of his writings remains in print. But a selection from all that is best and most spontaneous in them would have lasting value, for he often escaped from his period, even in his inequalities.
In another part of the book, Darton, writing of the period of Chaucer, says: "It is pleasant and relevant to remember that the main social conditions were excellently described by an eminent writer for children — W. B. Rands in Chaucer's England".
Last modified 23 October 2005