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George John Cayley

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Published : 1 Article
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : 26/1/1826
Death : 11/10/1878
Views : 4094

Barrister, writer; son of Edward Stillingfleet Cayley, M.P. Student at Eton; admitted pensioner, Trinity College, Cambridge, 1845; awarded Chancellor's Medal (English), 1848; did not take degree. Admitted at Inner Temple, 1848; called to the bar, 1852. Travelled and lived in foreign countries, often adopting native dress. Newspaper correspondent in the Crimea during the War. Took some part in politics. Friend of Thackeray and his daughters. Contributed occasionally to periodicals. Author of Las Alforjas, 1853 (first published as "The Saddlebags; or, The Bridle Roads of Spain" in Bentley's Miscellany), and some miscellaneous writings in prose and verse.


Dickens was evidently acquainted with Cayley's parents, but not with Cayley. Relating to his wife, in 1853, the gossip that he had heard in Naples—specifically, Brinsley Norton's relationship with a Capri peasant girl and his subsequent marriage to her, Dickens added: "Another Booby of the name of Cayley ... lately disguised himself, without the least necessity, as a Sicilian mariner with legs operatically naked, and rowed away in the dead of night with another young Capri virgin—who would have gone, with the greatest cheerfulness and without any opposition, from her relations and friends, in the blaze of noon" (Mr. & Mrs. Charles Dickens, ed. Dexter, pp. 209-210).

In Las Alforjas (II, 80-83), Cayley discussed the writing of Dickens and Thackeray, giving his explanation of "why the young men of the present day prefer Thackeray to Dickens". He contrasted Dickens's "exquisite genius" with his "much less exquisite taste". As a result of the popularity that his writings brought him, wrote Cayley, Dickens "fell to imitating himself" instead of "going on improving his taste, and struggling earnestly to produce some perfect work". Cayley looked on Pickwick "as a free translation of Don Quixote, into the manners of modern England", with Mr. Pickwick as Quixote, Sam WeIler as the Sancho of British low life, and other correspondences of character. Kitton (Novels of Charles Dickens, p. 6) credited Lord Jeffrey with noting the resemblance; actually, it was Cayley who suggested it to Jeffrey: "I remember once asking Lord Jeffrey about this likeness between Pickwick and Quixote, and he said it had not struck him before, but he thought there was some truth in it" (Las Alforjas, II, 81).

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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