Shirley Brooks

Portrait of Shirley Brooks

Charles William Shirley Brooks was born in London in 1815. After initially studying law he decided upon a literary career path and became a highly respected and accomplished man of letters.

His association with The Morning Chronicle included summary writer in the House of Commons, investigations into the Rural Districts as part of their “Labour and the Poor” series, and their follow-on Agriculture and the Rural Population Abroad series in which he travelled to and reported on Southern Russia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt.

Shirley Brooks became synonymous with Punch, the famous London-based satirical magazine. He contributed regularly to Punch from 1851 onwards, being responsible for the popular “Essence of the Press” reports, before finally becoming editor in 1870 following the death of Mark Lemon.

The following is a piece published shortly after his own death that appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1874, written by a long-time friend and son of Douglas Jerrold, the fellow journalist and Punch contributor:⁠—

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1874.

Shirley Brooks.


I PROPOSED to offer to the reader a literary portrait, to discover all the habits and qualities of mind that made the subject of this outline—a figure of a man of letters not often seen in this country. But the materials have not reached my hands, and the task will probably fall to the share of some one better able to discharge it. Yet, to fill up the picture I had in my mind’s eye, it is necessary that the painter should have had a long and sympathetic knowledge of the subject of it. A surface view of Shirley Brooks has been already taken by many hands. My intention was to show how in him we boasted in England a thorough man of letters; an artist who dwelt incessantly in art; a literary man for ever steeped in books—thinking books and talking books. All his outward expression took a literary form. I feel certain that when he had once put the law aside for letters (a transaction of his early youth), he never thought for a day of getting away from his bookshelves. He was a literary man of the old, gay French type, and appeared to be quite unconscious that there were paths in life less steep to climb than his. There was a serene content in him, which stood by him through all the fortunes of his career. He would parry a disappointment with an apt quotation, and close a transaction with a mot. He had a bright memory and an alert intellect; so that his wit and humour were perpetually fed and enriched from the ample stores of his reading. He was no recluse, for ever setting his heel towards the faces of men; but a joyous, sociable dweller in the midst of his kind. Yet he seemed to be always just clear of his study. He had always something fresh, dug from his shelves, that he made to sparkle on the topic of the hour. A happy illustration of a homely incident delighted him. You could not get him out of literature, in short; and in this quality of thoroughness he resembled, I repeat, an old French type of savant that is now unfortunately passing away. The kind of literary man whom such editors as M. de Villemessant produce are to the old homme de lettres what the Italian image boy is to the sculptor. Shirley Brooks threw the grace and learning of his art about freely, for the very love of it. It belted him, as the atmosphere belts and encloses the earth. And there are abundant evidences of this lying far and wide among his hosts of friends. I hoped to be able to submit many of these to your readers, in addition to my own store; but they are not yet to hand, so I must be content either to hand mine over some day to another, or wait till such time as I may be in a position to do justice to the quality that, to my mind, was the noblest in the mind of Shirley Brooks.

His books are the most notable events, or should be, in the life of an author. When we have said that Shirley Brooks was the son of an architect, that he was born in 1815, in Doughty Street, where Dickens lived for years; that he came of a gentle stock; that early in life he was articled to his uncle, Mr. Sabine, a well-known gentleman of Oswestry; that after having pursued his legal studies in London to some purpose he forsook the law for letters; and that thenceforth he steadily rose to the place of honour in which death found him in the midst of his books and papers, working cheerily among those whom he loved—his life is told. He travelled less than any man of his mind and means I can remember. He went to Southern Russia, to inquire into the corn trade there for the Morning Chronicle, and his pleasant letters home were afterwards published in the Home and Colonial Library, under the title of “The Russians of the South.” We passed a few weeks together at Boulogne during the two or three summers when my father, Dickens, Gilbert à Beckett, and others—all gone now!—took their summer rest there; and he made a few holiday trips to Paris. I remember a chatty evening, full of his bookish sparkle, over a dinner at Philippe’s, which he thoroughly enjoyed. But Shirley Brooks was as essentially a London man as Dr. Johnson. He was driven once or twice to the waters of Harrogate, and he had a liking for a Scotch trip; but no liking for any place was half so strong in him as that which he cherished for Fleet Street and Covent Garden. He would go into the country for a few days under great persuasion; and when he got there he chafed till he returned to his morning papers, his voluminous correspondence, his own armchair, and his familiar books—all set in his own methodical way, and not to be touched by strange hands on any account. But he was at home, he was at his ease only in the thick of London. When his family and all his friends were far away fishing, shooting, yachting, he would remain contentedly in town; and after his long day’s work was done, he would issue from his pretty home in the Regent’s Park, and walk happily through the quiet streets to the Garrick for a gossip, or to his favourite hotel under the Piazzas, where he and Mark Lemon would laugh like boys, over a plain dinner and a glass of punch.

Lemon had the higher animal spirits, but Brooks had the keener tongue, the more cultured mind, the finer grace. Lemon’s fun bubbled from his loving heart. His eye compelled your laughter as much as his lip. You were aglow in his presence. Brooks was the well-bred gentleman, methodically genial—a sayer of good things you thought over. He was, as I have said, immersed in literature always, and could never be rid of his reading in his conversation; whereas Lemon was rather a man of the world, part of whose business lay in the pleasant ways of letters. Both were men of the old-fashioned, courteous address. In their denials they appeared to be conferring a favour. To the humble they were gentle; and they had their reward in the zeal with which all people in a printing house, an hotel, or their home pressed to serve them.

Let me note an instance of the effect which Shirley Brooks produced on those with whom he came in contact, viz.: the esteem in which he was held, throughout his life, at Oswestry, where he passed a few years of his youth, as his uncle’s articled pupil. When it became known that I should endeavour to present to the readers of the Gentleman’s Magazine a faithful sketch of my old friend (I met him for the first time in 1846) I received a letter from Mr. Askew Roberts, editor, I believe, of Bye-gones—the Notes and Queries of the Cambrian border, in which he testified to the deep impression Shirley Brooks’s death had made in Oswestry. “As a boy,” he says, “I remember the keen delight we always felt when Mr. Brooks came amongst us and took an interest in our sports. We all loved him, and I have felt it indeed an honour for so many years to be favoured with communications from him. Although we Oswestrians have only had hasty glimpses of Mr. Brooks of late years, his death—to all who remember his residence here—has been like that of a friend.” Shirley Brooks had the faculty of holding people close to him. He had a princely memory. He never forgot a face he had seen, nor the circumstances under which he had seen it. The tenacity of his memory was indeed extraordinary. In March, 1873, he wrote to Mr. Roberts:⁠—

I want to ask you, who know all about Welsh affairs, a domestic question. It is partly suggested by what his sceptical Grace of Somerset said about Welsh coal. All the coals we get, no matter what one pays (they are cheap now, 28s.), are more or less bad. But it has been borne in upon my mind, as the Quakers say, that there is corn in Egypt, that is to say, coal in Wales, which must be good, and which may be supplied somewhere in London. Do you happen to know how this is? … I remember that in the old days in Oswestry we used to have coals for almost nothing, and the late Minshull “the poet” (but I fancy this man had died before your time) wrote⁠—

And jaggers may by way of toll

Fling now and then a lump of coal.”

It must be quite forty years since Minshull wrote the doggrel.

This faculty of retention, applied industriously to literary pursuits by a man of fastidious taste, produced the thorough man of letters it was my ambition to describe to the readers of the Gentleman’s Magazine. Mr. Roberts tells me he has often been absolutely amazed at the wonderful memory Shirley Brooks had for little things. Here are two examples:⁠—

Some one having given an epitaph in our Bye-gones column, Mr. Brooks wrote to say he could find a more dismal one in Oswestry Churchyard, and indicated the spot—giving, almost complete in his letter, the whole eight lines that composed it! And a few months earlier, noticing a discussion in the Advertiser about a brooch, bearing the date at which the “twelve Apostles” became a political bye-word in Shropshire, he wrote and said, “I was in Oswestry at the Cotes and Gore contest, which was three years before 1835, the date of the brooch, and then I heard the term, ‘Lord Clive’s Twelve Apostles’ applied to the members as they had been in olden times; (for later, and before the Reform Bill there were two or three Liberals): I remember being remonstrated with for repeating the phrase, as profane!”

Traces of his sojourn in Oswestry are to be found in the “Gordian Knot” and the “Silver Cord.” St. Oscar’s, in the former work, is a vivid description of Oswestry; and Mr. Henry Cheriton is a faithful portrait of Mr. Sabine, the author’s uncle, with whom he lived, and whom he assisted in his charitable work in the local Sunday schools.

In his early time—say about 1842-5—Shirley Brooks signed his articles, which were appearing in Ainsworth’s Magazine, Charles W. Brooks: his second literary signature was C. Shirley Brooks: and finally he became Shirley Brooks. His full name was Charles William Shirley—the latter being an old name in his family. His early magazine papers, which brought him into communication with Harrison Ainsworth, Laman Blanchard, and other known men of the time, were of various kinds. One—“A Lounge in the Œil de Bœuf,” was a brilliant dialogue among the courtiers of Louis the Fourteenth. A second was an account of an excursion of some English actors to China, brimming over with humour. Then there were dramatic papers—some of remarkable power—as “Cousin Emily” and the “Shrift on the Raft.” These drew marked attention upon the young writer; and soon he was the centre of a strong muster of literary friends, who welcomed his beaming and handsome English face, and found pleasure in the wit and grace of his society.

His house became the resort of many men who were then rising, and have since risen, in the realms of literature and art. Angus Reach was his intimate friend; and they worked together for years on the Morning Chronicle—to which paper Brooks contributed the summary of Parliament during five Sessions—an experience that stood him in good stead afterwards in Punch. Albert Smith took many a hint and wise bit of advice from his friend Shirley Brooks. And then his life took a dramatic twist. It was probably his friendship with Charles Kean and Keeley that led him to the stage, and to the production of the delightful comediettas which brightened the reign of the Keeleys at the Lyceum Theatre. “Our New Governess,” “The Creole,” “The Daughter of the Stars,” and “Anything for a Change” are light and bright pieces that deserve a more grateful public than they have obtained. Some day a manager will open the acting edition of them, and find that there is very seldom any dramatic writing produced now-a-days equal to that to be found in “Our New Governess.”

But I have only touched on the literary activities of Shirley Brooks. His graceful pen—grace was his special quality—was a nimble one. Contributions to provincial papers, leaders for the Illustrated News, for the Era, for the Home News, travelled in copious streams. And here let me note how kind that brave and busy hand was: how tenderly it fell on a child’s head, how it drew animals to its caress, how warmly it pressed a parting friend. For years that hand toiled every week in a certain paper—giving the entire pecuniary result to the widow of a dear friend. First, the friend fell ill, and remained for many many months unable to work. The brain had lost its balance. It was a mercy when the spent writer died. All this time Shirley Brooks quietly stood by; did the sick man’s work for him, and, the sick man dead, continued the weekly task as his offering to his friend’s widow. There was real heroism in this sustained toil, given regularly away until it was wanted no longer, that I never permitted myself to forget whenever I heard men forming an estimate of Shirley Brooks.

Not a demonstrative, nor in any way a gushing or sentimental man, Brooks was hearty. But his heartiness had been polished; and he was to the unceremonious, bluff, and fast folk of the present day, somewhat ceremonious and modish. His manner always reminded me of that of a fashionable physician; and, by the way, he affected doctors—and they affected him. I think it is Mr. “Original” Walker who has observed that a gentleman is a man of education who will take a polish. My dear friend Shirley had taken that polish.

In the society of ladies, I have been always told, he was delightful. His fine presence and gallant bearing, his lively talk that assumed considerable knowledge in his listeners, and in this sometimes flattered them vastly; and above all, his gracious and sympathetic method of approach, bespoke the man who had enjoyed the advantages which the constant companionship of cultivated gentlewomen gives to a man. It is the bloom upon the polish. Shirley Brooks could pay a compliment in the old, respectful style, and turn the corner of a mistake or an awkward incident with a special grace that was all his own. Be it observed that there are hundreds of illustrations afloat of the points of character I am endeavouring to submit to the reader; but I have them not at hand, and I am writing far away from the friends who could pour them into my basket. So that my estimate must be taken on my own good faith, and my faculty of observation that ranged over twenty-eight years. Some twenty of these years ago Shirley Brooks had invited a certain gentleman and his daughter to one of those joyous parties of his which, alas! there are few alive to remember to-day. In his letter he had omitted to give the number of his house. This being requested, he made an elaborate drawing of his street door—writing, “This is that side of my door on which I am least anxious to see you.”

But it is impossible to convey a complete idea of the admirable writer about whom I am merely making a few notes, without his letters. For he was a great and careful letter-writer. How he found time to carry on the correspondence in which he indulged was a mystery to the friends who knew the amount of “copy” he was in the habit of throwing off every week. He read everything of mark that appeared; he kept a thoroughly literary diary, which, I believe, will presently see the light of print. He was fond of society, and a diner-out of the old school; he had always time for a gossip; he was well posted up in every event of the day; and yet he found time to write sparkling, witty, and kindly letters about nothing and everything, by the hundred. In some he frolicked like a schoolboy; in others he would set seriously to work to solve or illustrate some literary subject that had accidentally turned up. He would enter upon a long correspondence to serve a friend. You never found him exhausted; seldom tired. If you caught him lounging by the dainty conservatory he had in his house, after a long day upstairs in his study, he would be reading the last Quarterly, or dallying with a novel by one of his friends—but he would brighten for a talk, and be sure to shine in it. When he had finished his correspondence for the day, after his work, he would take his letters to the post himself. It was his orderly way. You could see his methodical mind in the precise writing, the unbroken lines, the absence of any sign of haste from his shortest notes. His books and pictures were arranged with extraordinary neatness. He had photograph albums of friends, with their autographs and characteristic bits from their letters contrived with exquisite care under each. One letter of his, which I happen to have under my hand, is a good example of his unsleeping watchfulness over all about him, over the welfare of a friend, over the success of any undertaking in which he was concerned. The opening paragraph refers to some domestic joke we had in common:⁠—

4th Monday in Lent (March 24), 1873.

My dear William,—I can write to you. The consciousness of innocence sits upon my brow, and also flutters over my inkstand; which I consider a rather fine image.

The C. K.* memorial will, I hope, be a success. Routledge began it, and is very energetic. It ought to be something artistic, at Windsor. Some folks are pushing about an “educational tribute,” &c., but I think we need not flavour everything with the smell of corduroy. ’Tis quite dominant enough already. You ought to be on the committee.

I was going to write to L. by order of E., to say that the latter, who, with Reginald, has been about Italy, and has seen all the sights, is making her way to Paris, and greatly hoped to find you there. I fear this hope will be blighted. I cann’t send you her address, tho’ I write to-day to Naples, as she will have left that before L. could write, but if I get a Marseilles address, I will send it.

Do you know Mrs. L. R.? She is a young artist of great merit. Frith and Tom Taylor prophesy a great career for her, and she is studying in Paris—having exhibited many pictures here, at the Academy, &c. It would be very kind if L. or you, or both, would give her a call, if you can. I subjoin the address. I know not what part of Paris it is in—you will. If you go, say that you are friends of mine, and that Mrs. Brooks will call on her when she comes. You will like her—she is very bright.

No news but those you read in the papers. They say to-day that Jessel is to be Master of the Rolls at once.

If M. Doré is in Paris, I beg my best compliments to him. Do you see Plimsoll wanted, or wants, him to paint a picture on the coffin-ships? And wouldn’t he do it grandly!—Kindest regards.—Ever yours,

Shirley Brooks.

I may note that M. Doré declined the subject—deeming it a political one, on the merits of which he was not competent to pronounce judgment with his brush.

Some—I trust many—under whose eyes these lines will fall will remember Shirley Brooks in his latter days, when the hard-fought fight had been won, and he had come out of it, his whitening hair being the only scars of the struggle. He never looked braver, handsomer, nor happier. He was as deep in his books, as familiar with his ink, as ever; but now he had his acknowledged place in the literature which he loved. The steel at Napoleon’s side was the same on the eve of the battle as on the morrow of victory; but on the morrow it was the sword of Austerlitz. How cheerily and kindly, in the heyday of his complete success, Shirley Brooks gathered his circle of friends about him, none who ever stood under his roof-tree will forget. That was a pleasant house in Kent Terrace, by the Regent’s Park, where so many men whose names are household words were wont to gather and be wisely merry. How many years have I seen out and in, sitting with hosts of friends round the mahogany tree of our dear friend! How many times has his manly and kindly voice said “God bless you all” to us, as the bells of the New Year broke through the stillness of midnight! He stood at the head of his table last New Year’s Eve, his friends crowded about him—the background his books and pictures; watch in hand. His happy English face, ennobled with silver hair, never looked fuller of the intellectual light that he had trimmed and burned—a student always—for nearly forty years. I remember that a sad feeling came upon me as I gazed at him, with his watch in his hand counting the dying seconds of the last New Year’s Eve he was destined to see. For he reminded me of my father in his study at Kilburn Priory, on his last New Year’s Eve, when he spoke so solemnly and slowly, as though in the midst of our revel, Death had whispered to him. The scattered flakes of white hair were the chief resemblance between the two; and it was these that revived the old scene in my mind—for I was struck with what appeared to me to be the almost sudden whiteness of my friend.

But no sad memory, no melancholy foreboding, was apparent on the night when, for the last time, Shirley Brooks blessed his guests, and wished them a happy New Year. All the old friends were there. Frith, Tenniel, Edmund Yates, Du Maurier, Burnand, Mrs. Keeley, Crowdy, J. C. Parkinson, Sambourne, and many others; and among the welcome strangers was Mark Twain, who proposed the health of the host in a speech brimming with his peculiar humour. Shirley Brooks replied quietly, and with a little fatigue in his manner. It was late, and he abhorred late hours. He had been an early man all his life; and to this good habit he owed that prodigious power of work which astonished his friends, who knew that he had never been a robust man.

Less than two months afterwards he was upon his death-bed. He was busy with his duties to the last hour of his life. On the morning of the day on which his eyes were closed for ever he looked over the forthcoming number of Punch and made some suggestions. He was at peace with all the world. He had blessed his wife for the loving care with which she had watched over him. His boys were at home with him. And he turned gently on his side, and fell into his long sleep, leaving hosts of friends to mourn him, and not an enemy that I ever heard of, to assail his memory.

*The memorial to Charles Knight, of which Shirley Brooks was honorary secretary. 

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1874.

Another article on his life appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette:⁠—

The Pall Mall Gazette, Tuesday, February 24, 1874.


The news of Mr. Shirley Brooks’s death will cause deep regret to a much larger circle of admirers than that composed by his sufficiently numerous private friends. For some years past he had been chiefly known, first, as one of the principal writers, secondly, as the editor of Punch. This latter post he had held since the death of Mr. Mark Lemon in 1870; but his connection with Punch as a contributor was of much longer date. And if Punch had never existed, though we should have lost the “Essence of Parliament” and much more from Mr. Brooks’s pen which was specially suited to Punch but to no other periodical, serious or comic, Mr. Brooks would still have enjoyed a considerable reputation—greater, perhaps, than belongs to him now—as a writer of novels and plays. Many who recollect that Mr. Shirley Brooks, apart from his distinguished success as a writer for Punch, possessed an independent literary position of his own, will think of him as the author of the “Gordian Knot,” which he wrote for we forget what magazine, or of the “Silver Cord,” which first appeared in Once a Week, under Mr. Brooks’s own editorship. Others, again, who look more to the theatre than to the circulating library for entertainment, will (if not too young) have pleasant memories of a whole series of pieces composed—and not “adapted” but actually invented—by Mr. Brooks for the Lyceum, under the management first of the Keeleys, afterwards of Mr. Charles Mathews. “The Wigwam,” a farce of North American Indian life, with parts for Mr., Mrs., and Miss Mary Keeley, was original in every sense of the word. “The Serf,” in quite another style, was a very effective play, and so well put together that the author seemed to have discovered the secret of dramatic construction, so little known to the great majority of our writers for the stage. A comedy, too, of serious interest—such as would now be called by the dreadful name of “comedy-drama”—was produced by Mr. Brooks at the Strand. What the title was, or what the subject, we should find it very difficult to say, if the question were put sharply to us as in an examination paper; but we have a distinct recollection of a very charming dialogue between two sisters who had fallen in love with the same gentleman, and of a romantic gipsy girl who talked poetically but almost too cleverly about the stars, and whose “uncontrolled personality” was contrasted with the self-contained demeanour of a selfish or at least highly conventional woman of the world; also of the complete success of the work, and of Mr. Brooks’s walking, in a very composed manner, across the stage amid the congratulations and applause of his friends and of the audience generally. We begin to think that the piece in question was called “The Daughter of the Stars,” and that Mrs. Stirling played in it; but it was brought out an astonishingly long time ago—if not in the early part, at least in the first half of the century, when Mr. Brooks, who died in his sixtieth year, was nearer thirty than forty years of age.

In twenty-five years a man of Mr. Shirley Brooks’s active disposition does a good deal; but only those who happen to have possessed some private knowledge of his career can have any notion of the amount and variety of the work performed by this able and indefatigable writer. He produced more novels and many more dramatic works than we have mentioned; he contributed to magazines, once celebrated, which, displaced by others of newer type and less formidable price, have ceased to exist; articles from his pen are to be found in the late Gilbert à Beckett’s “Table Book” and “Almanack of the Month”—discontinued for reasons totally unconnected with the question of success; and he wrote for Gavarni in London an admirable paper on the “Opera,” considered from a theatrical and social rather than from a musical point of view, in which the fashionable and semi-fashionable audience was analyzed and described as brilliantly as the performance on the stage. As regards his prose writings, Mr. Brooks was probably seen at his best in pieces of some length; and in such articles as the one we have indicated on the “Opera”—a sort of essay enlivened by descriptive passages, anecdotes, and here and there the introduction of living characters—he was strong and spontaneous throughout. In his contributions to Punch he could rarely command sufficient space for the exercise of his full powers, while his novels (a form of art which he had mastered, but for which he apparently felt no irresistible vocation) were more remarkable for good chapters and admirable pages than for that sustained interest failing which the best-written novel in the world has no chance of permanent popularity.

The most ambitious, and perhaps on the whole the most successful, of Mr. Brooks’s performances in the way of magazine articles was a paper he contributed to the Quarterly Review on the House of Commons. Without calling it “exhaustive”—which conveys a sense of effort—we may say that Mr. Brooks’s account of the “House” itself, with all its internal arrangements; of the members, the officials, the visitors, the reporters; of the manner of conducting a debate; of all, in fact, that need be known in connection with parliamentary business of all kinds, was as complete as it was interesting. Mr. Brooks delivered at Edinburgh and various Scotch and English towns—but never, we believe, in London—a lecture on the House of Commons, of which the article in the Quarterly formed the substance, if, indeed, the article and the lecture were not identical.

How, it may be asked, did Mr. Shirley Brooks acquire the interest he felt, the knowledge he enjoyed, in regard to parliamentary affairs? In the first place, he had always taken considerable interest in politics; indeed, his first connection with the press was in the character of political writer, while his first production for the stage was a dramatic version of “Coningsby,” which the Lord Chamberlain refused to license. Secondly, he was present in the House of Commons for several sessions as summary writer for the Morning Chronicle, when that journal, during a brief but brilliant period, was under the direction of the late Mr. Douglas Cook. If it was easy work for Mr. Shirley Brooks to write a terse, suggestive account (never a dry abstract) of a parliamentary debate, still easier must it have been for him, with his ear for sound and his eye for colour, to describe operatic performances. Whether he deserted the opera for Parliament, or Parliament for the opera, we forget; but it was as a contributor to the Morning Chronicle that he gained the special knowledge which he turned to such good account, in regard to the one for Gavarni in London, in regard to the other for the Quarterly Review. It was, of course, too, as summary writer for the Chronicle that he qualified himself for the work of preparing that “Essence of Parliament” which for years past has formed so agreeable and valuable a feature in Punch.

If there was one thing that Mr. Brooks prided himself on more than another, it was on writing good English; and the same qualities of mind which made him love clearness and accuracy of style made him confine himself to subjects and views of subjects which he felt to be well within his grasp. He knew a good operatic representation from a bad one; he could write a much better account of the first appearance of a new prima donna than critics who could tell (what he probably did not care to know) the exact range of her voice; and while reproducing the effect of a performance in admirable literary style, he avoided all technical expressions—which would only have disfigured his style—and never once reproached the unfortunate conductor with taking a “tempo” either too slow or too fast.

Mr. Brooks also went abroad for the Chronicle as correspondent. He addressed a series of letters to that paper from Paris immediately after the coup d’etat of 1851, and again another series (which, however, were not published) on the corn-growing districts of Southern Russia. We may be quite certain that Mr. Brooks wrote nothing about corn, as he wrote nothing about music, without being master of his subject as far as he pursued it. But the fact was the Chronicle had undertaken to publish reports on the condition of the labouring classes in all parts of Europe, and, finding this too gigantic scheme impracticable, had almost at the last moment to abandon it. Mr. Brooks, however, collected some of his letters—or perhaps reproduced their substance (minus the corn)—in a volume which appeared about the time of the Crimean war; and there are books on Russia of high pretensions which, apart from the question of style, cannot be compared for interest and information to the unpretending little work published by Mr. Shirley Brooks under the title of “The Russias of the South.”

Whether Mr. Brooks might or might not have made himself a greater position in literature by directing his ability exclusively to the production of novels and plays it would be idle now to inquire. It has been seen that he did excellent literary work of almost every description; and of his well-known talent for verse, especially satirical verse, we have not even spoken. Punch, which received so much of his best prose, received nearly all his best verses; and a collection of Mr. Shirley Brooks’s poetical contributions to Punch would form a volume worth preserving.

The Pall Mall Gazette (London), Tuesday, February 24, 1874.

Portrait of Shirley Brooks taken from Shirley Brooks of Punch, By George Somes Layard, Published 1907. Image courtesy of The Internet Archive.