All along the northern edge of Whiteknights Park lies Whiteknights Road and towards the last stretch of this are a number of quiet residential roads: Green Road, Melrose Avenue, Talfourd Avenue, Belle Avenue, Earley Hill Roads and Holmes Road. Talfourd Avenue is named after Sir Thomas Talfourd.
He was born on the 26th. May 1795 one of eight children born to a Edward Talfourd wealthy Reading brewer, his mother being the daughter of Thomas Noon the Minister of the Independent Chapel in Reading. He was educated at Reading School under the famous Dr Valpy. It was here that he showed his literary and organising talents. He published his first work (by Longmans) "Poems on Various Subjects" including "Educating The Poor", "An Indian Tale" and "The Offering of Isaac". In March 1813 he made his first public appearance as a speaker to the Reading Bible Society.
On leaving school he became a pupil of Mr. Joseph Chitty an eminent lawyer and it was at that time that he published "An Appeal To The Protestant Dissenter of Great Britain On Behalf of the Catholics"- this perhaps being an early indication of his later radical liberalism and sense of fair play and justice. In 1815 at the age of 20 he published his first work which was also reprinted in America: “An Estimate of the Poetry of the Age”
In 1822 he married Rachel daughter of John Towill Rutt by whom he had three children His eldest son Francis was also a barrister and playwright.
He was called to the Bar by the Society of the Middle Temple in 1821 and joined the Oxford Circuit and gradually climbed through the legal profession, becoming a judge in 1848. Among his many celebrated cause for which he undertook defence was the proprietors of The True Sun Newspaper for libel and of Taits Magazine for libel, and of Moxon the publisher who was prosecuted for publishing an edition of Shelley which contained the aetheistical portions of “Queen Mab”
In 1844 he was made a Doctor of Common Law by the University of Oxford. And he was knighted in 1850 and soon afterwards elevated to the Bench. In 1850 he was made Justice to the Court of Common Pleas.
Among the best of his legal writings are his article "On the Principle of Advocacy in the Practice of the Bar" (in the Law Magazine, January 1846);
He also wrote plays, poetry and journalism. His early farce Freemasonry, or More secrets was performed at the Old Theatre in Friar Street in 1815. His political tragedy Ion (1836), which championed democracy and republicanism, was very popular in both Britain and America.
Talfourd supplemented his meagre income by contributing to The London Magazine, The Quarterly Review, The Edinburgh Review, The Retrospecive Review and The Encyclopaedia Metropolitana and The New Monthly Magazine; even after 1821, he contributed regularly to The Times on legal matters. The other literary works of Talfourd include: The Athenian Caoptive- a Tragedy”, “Glencoe- A Tragedy”, a volume of “Poems” and “Vacation Ramble”- a journal of a tour in Europe. He also wrote the ife and edited the Remains of Charles Lamb and of Hazlett. He left behind him several manuscripts and sonnets.
He also wrote “An Estimate of the Poetry of the Age” in which he also championed the ageing Wordsworth who by that time was subject to unmerciful ridicule. He was also a regular contributor to The Edinburgh Review.
His lietary talents became more widely appreciated with the release, upon the iring of friends after private readings, of the work Ion: Ion, which was privately printed in 1835, and produced in the following year at Covent Garden theatre. The tragedy was also well received in America, and was reproduced at Sadler's Wells in December 1861. This dramatic poem, its author's masterpiece, turns upon the voluntary sacrifice of Ion, king of Argos, in response to the Delphic oracle, which had declared that only with the extinction of the reigning family could the prevailing pestilence incurred by the deeds of that family be removed.
Reading MP and Great Reformer
He was MP for Reading (1835-1841, 1847-1849), These years were the days before universal suffrage and the latter Chartist Movement. The Great Reform Act of 1832 which initiated partial universal suffrage. But with the French Revolution in full swing the British establishment was nervous of anything which spark such trends here. Even after the Napoleonic War ended in 1815, the hardline continued.
Talfourds political career began in 1819 with a speech in Reading Town Hall proclaiming the right of public assembly in defiance of the recent Peterloo massacre. Reading MP from 1836-41 and in 1847-8, he was a radical liberal, campaigning for universal suffrage and black emancipation in the West Indies.
He also introduced and championed an International Copyright Bill, and his Proposed New Law of Copyright of the Highest Importance to Authors (1838); Three Speeches delivered in the House of Commons in Favour of an Extension of Copyright (1840) are the basis of our current laws, giving authors secure rights to their works.
Another act he was responsible for was the Infant Custody of Children Act (1839), which for the first time allowed the possibility of granting custody of children to the mother rather than the father as had traditionally been the case. He was famous for his literary dinners and knew all the writers of his day such as Charles Lamb, Mary Mitford and William Makepeace Thackeray.
Talfourd in David Copperfeld
Talfourd was in particular a great friend of Charles Dickens, who dedicated Pickwick Papers to him because of his work on copyright, and the character Tommy Traddles in David Copperfield is based on him.Although Dickens and Talfourd were not contemporaries or schoolmates as were David Copperfield and Tommy Traddles, in his personal diligence, gentle disposition, and journalistic output, Talfourd does indeed seem to resemble Traddles.
Talfourd and Dickens
Although the pair met in 1836 through the agency of novelist Harrison Ainsworth (who also introduced Dickens to both John Forster and Count d'Orsay), their relationship was cemented by their common interest in the May 1837 draft of his copyright bill, which finally passed into law five years later. In his copyright suit against Peter Parley's Illuminated Library for its piracy of A Christmas Carol (1843), Talfourd represented Dickens, who beat the pirate but found it was a mere Pyrrhic victory as Talfourd was unable to collect any damages from the bankrupt publishers.
A mark of the strength of their early friendship was Dickens's dedicating the September 1837 volume edition ofThe Pickwick Papers. Some seventeen years older than Dickens, Talfourd was a friend of the great literary lights of the Romantic era: actor-manager William Macready, poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, and the essayist Lamb. By the autumn of 1836 Talfourd was moving in a younger circle of artists and writers, including the painters Maclise and Stanfield, critics Jerdan and Forster, Dickens, and that Romantic hold-over, the editor Leigh Hunt. Talfourd's attempts to re-establish blank verse drama with such tragedies as Ion (1836, Covent Garden) and The Athenian Captive two years later (The Haymarket), and Glencoe, or the Fate of the Macdonalds (1840, The Haymarket) failed, despite the support of both Dickens and Macready. Talfourd proposed Dickens for membership in the Athenaeum Club, and brought him into the established London literary circles of Holland and Gore House.
In 1846 he and his wife visited the Dickenses in Lausanne, Switzerland, and in 1849 Talfourd met Dickens at Bonchurch, a seaside visit to which Dickens alludes fondly in his final reminiscence of the kindly lawyer. Although his own generation remembered Talfourd as a brilliant writer on legal issues and the editor of The Letters of Charles Lamb with a Sketch of His Life (1837), Final Memorials of Charles Lamb (1849-50), and his 1838 copyright bill, Proposed New Law of Copyright of the Highest Importance to Authors, those who read David Copperfield unwittingly celebrated his sterling qualities in the character of Tommy Traddles. Despite any substantive evidence to support the identification, it is universally recognized that the novelist based the character of Tommy Traddles on Talfourd, for whom Dickens published a laudatory obituary in Household Words on 25 March 1854.
Appropriately, as Dickens implies in his obituary, Talfourd was seized with an apoplectic fit while addressing a Stafford jury from the judge's bench, and died shortly afterward. He was buried at West Norwood Cemetery; among the local dignitaries and lawyers who formed the body of mourners was 42-year-old Charles Dickens.
He appears to have been very well liked and respected in all quarters and professions. A gentle, caring and diligent yet valiant man and staunch defender of justice, and freedom . A snippet form his work Ion may serve as an obituary:
So his life has flowed
From its mysterious urn a sacred stream,
In whose calm depth the beautiful and pure
Alone are mirrored; which, though shapes of ill
May hover round its surface, glides in light,