Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795–1854)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 323–324.
In the nineteenth century it was not uncommon for talented Englishmen, and perhaps some not so talented, to combine the practice of law with literary careers. One who did so more successfully than most was the Brownings’ friend and correspondent Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd. He was born at Reading on 26 May 1795, son of a prosperous brewer. After early schooling at Hendon and Reading, he went to London at age 18 to study law under the prominent special pleader Joseph Chitty (1776–1841). He was called to the bar about eight years later, in 1821, and was honoured with the rank of serjeant-at-law in 1833. He represented Reading in the House of Commons for a number of years—introducing an International Copyright Bill, which, with modifications, was enacted in 1842. Having become Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd upon receiving a judgeship in 1849, he died of apoplexy while presiding in court at Stafford on 13 March 1854. RB, reminiscing some years later, said that he was carried home in his judicial robe, and intimated that Talfourd had taken a great deal of wine on the previous night, but this apparently was not unusual (see More Than Friend, ed. Michael Meredith, Waco, Texas & Winfield, Kansas, 1985, p. 172). Talfourd had dealings with EBB’s brother George in the legal profession. Meanwhile both RB and EBB, long before their marriage, were interested in the Serjeant because of his literary efforts. A staff member of The London Magazine, law reporter to The Times, and a contributor to various other periodicals, he was in RB’s circle of friends. His first important literary success was the tragedy Ion, printed privately in 1835 and produced at Covent Garden—starring William Charles Macready (q.v. )—on 26 May 1836. That night, after the performance, Talfourd hosted a supper party filled with English literary figures: Wordsworth and Landor were present; so was Mary Russell Mitford (q.v.), who was introduced to EBB on the following day; and so was the young poet RB, not yet well known, whom Talfourd reputedly honoured in a toast. It was at Talfourd’s home that RB met John Kenyon (q.v.)—an old school friend of RB, Sr., and also a friend and distant cousin of EBB. Another noteworthy event in the Browning-Talfourd relationship was RB’s dedication of his Pippa Passes “to the Author of ‘Ion’” in 1841. Talfourd, along with Bryan Waller Procter (q.v.) and John Forster, helped RB to prepare his Poems (1849) for publication.
EBB was among the many people who received gift copies of Talfourd’s Ion in 1835 (Reconstruction, A2243), and she responded with a long letter on 21 January 1836 (no. 523). About 10 years afterwards, writing to RB on 7 December 1845, she expressed embarrassment that he and her brother George had recently seen and examined this letter in an album at Talfourd’s home. She said it had been “excessively bad taste in me to say more than the briefest word of thanks.” She sent Talfourd copies of her Seraphim (1838) and Poems (1844), (Reconstruction, C174 and 86), and received gracious acknowledgements in both cases. In return for the 1838 gift he sent her a copy of his newly-written Athenian Captive. RB dined with the Talfourds on at least one occasion during the Brownings’ 1852 visit to London; this is mentioned in a letter written by EBB to Mary Russell Mitford on 11 September 1852. RB wrote a letter of sympathy, dated 5 April 1854, to Mrs. Talfourd after the Judge’s death, which had occurred on 13 March. Correspondence between EBB and Miss Mitford indicates that the latter too was greatly saddened by Talfourd’s passing.