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Early Public Life

The turn of the new century brought with it a transformation of Hone's personal and professional prospects. In the later months of 1799, a long-time acquaintance with Sarah Johnson, his landlady's daughter, blossomed into a full-scale attachment; on 19 July, 1800, in St. Anne's, Westminster, the two were married. Unfortunately, not much is known about either Sarah Johnson or her mother. From various, usually glancing references in the surviving Hone letters, one senses that Sarah Johnson Hone was a practical, industrious, and persevering woman whose level-headedness was all that kept the large family together during numerous periods of insolvency. It is certainly true that Hone's correspondents greatly admired her. Indeed, in 1818 Alexander Galloway paid her a "compliment" that he was not accustomed to "shew to many ladies"; that is, he deigned to have a cup of tea with her in his own house because, in his view, "her worth and firmness demand this respect from all those who have had an opportunity of appreciating in its proper character her high merit."[1] The occasional letter from one of the Hones' children also suggests—albeit indirectly—that her demeanor within the family was warm and affectionate. Both William and the children looked to Sarah for practical advice and emotional support, and she was by all appearances generous and helpful on all counts. About Sarah's mother, information is even more scarce. She had been a widow at least since 1789, when Hone's father had come to Lambeth to preach and she invited him (and his son William) to dine with her.[2] She was also comfortably well-off, for she owned a relatively spacious house which more than once became the refuge for her daughter's family during periods of financial strain. Sarah was her only child.

For the first few months after they were married, William and Sarah Hone lived with Sarah's mother in the Lambeth house. Thanks to a gift of £100 from his new mother-in-law, William was able finally to give up his work as a legal copyist and set out on his own with a small stationery shop and circulating library. The enterprise enabled him to immerse himself in his first love—books and prints—and the bookselling trade offered the hope of a far more satisfying career than he had dared to imagine for himself as a mere copyist. Sadly, however, it also revealed for the first time a fact that would torment the Hone family repeatedly for the rest of their years—as an entrepreneur, William was both unlucky and inept. Soon after opening his first shop, for instance, he discovered that, as Hackwood puts it, "book and print buyers were somewhat rare in the locality of Lambeth Walk."[3] Consequently, Hone moved the shop to a more promising location in St. Martin's Lane. But here, though the book trade was more vibrant, his landlord revoked the lease, forcing the shop to move once again. Soon after setting up in yet another location, a wall gave way in his new premises, and Hone had to carry his family and his small bookselling stock back to the house in Lambeth once again. It was something of an understatement then when, writing to Hone in September of 1802, Venning claims that "Providence does not think itself under any obligation to bestow undeserving favours on you[.]"[4]

In the meantime, the Hone family had begun to grow. Sarah gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter, also called Sarah, on 20 July 1801, just one year after her marriage to William. A second daughter, Fanny, was born on 5 April 1803. Clearly, the increasing number of little Hones led William to feel an increasing pressure to make something of himself financially, and he began to seek out other opportunities. Thus, in 1804, Hone edited a recipe book called Millington's Cookery, much to the amusement of his friend Venning, but not much to the profit of the editor.[5] And in 1805, Hone was apparently driven to the point of giving up entirely on the book trade as he took what seemed to be more stable, reliable employment as a bookkeeper for a local hop factor. Even this was an unlucky situation, however, since his employer, a Mr. E. Lowton of Southwark, was both dishonest and bankrupt, and Hone's "bookkeeping" involved mainly a settlement of Lowton's assets upon his numerous creditors. Finally, in 1805 or perhaps early 1806, after this long series of unprofitable enterprises, Hone entered into a partnership with the veteran reformer John Bone—a partnership that would dominate his professional life for the next several years, first in the "Tranquillity" project and later in a joint bookselling operation.



Alexander Galloway to William Hone, 27 February 1818, Ogden MS 74, f. 22. [return]

Hackwood, p. 34. [return]

Hackwood, p. 64. [return]

John Venning to William Hone, 24 Sept. 1802, qtd. in Hackwood, p. 68. In Venning's half-serious letter he ascribes the cause of Hone's troubles to his religious laxity: "You don't go to Church." [return]

Hackwood refers to the book as Millington's Cookery; a more complete citation is Charles Millington, The Housekeeper's Domestic Library; or, New Universal Family Instructor in Practical Economy . . . . London: M. Jones, 1805. Venning's amused commentary is excerpted in John Venning to William Hone, 1804. [return]