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30 August, 2012

CHANGING TIMES: A CHAT WITH OLD HUMPHREY

George Mogridge (1787 – 1854) was a prolific 19th century writer, poet and author of children's books and religious tracts.  I have written extensively on Wrights Lane about his "Old Humphrey" character.

George Mogridge
"Humphrey"
In 1833 The Religious Tract Society of London invited Mogridge to contribute "articles on a variety of familiar topics treated in a popular manner." Mogridge chose to write these under a new pen-name, "Old Humphrey".  He originally intended "Old Humphrey" to be no more than a pseudonym, but with the unexpected popularity of the articles, the public were soon keen to know more about "Old Humphrey", and the author's identity became a matter of popular speculation in the press. In response Mogridge began to imbue his pseudonym with the character of an elderly, kind hearted gentleman, responding to one newspaper's article, "Who is Old Humphrey?" with an enigmatic description beginning:

"If you see an elderly-looking man parting two passionate boys who are fighting; giving twopence to a poor girl who has by accident broken her jug, to make all right again; picking up a fallen child out of the dirt; guiding a blind man carefully across the street; or hesitating for a moment if an importunate beggar is an impostor or not and then deciding in his favour; if you see such a one, so occupied, he is not unlikely to be Old Humphrey."

The 'Old Humphrey' articles proved so popular with the public that Mogridge was eventually to write 46 articles and books under that name over a period of 20 years.

From the time I began putting pen to paper, I adopted "Old Humphrey" as my alter ego.  His homespun philosophy and unique 19th century writing style completely captivated me and I have patterned much of my work after him.  I have even concocted imaginary conversations with him.  In fact, I visited him during a quiet spell this evening and we chatted about  a number of things, most notably the "changing times".  Typically, it was a rather one-sided conversation -- me the listener and he the talker.

Knowing full well that I was touching a nerve, I marvelled at how much times have changed since Humphrey was a young man at the peak of his writing career.

"We're always talking about the changing times; but though we moralize much, I fear we mend but little," Humphrey remarked, almost scolding me for bringing up the subject.  "It seems to be kind of privilege, charter and birthright among aged people to praise the past times, and deplore the present.  The shadowy future is not so frequently the subject of conversation."

"In my day, the pulling down of old houses and the building of new ones; the deaths of old men; alterations in the customs and fashions that once prevailed, and the changes in opinions of mankind, have so altered the world that it is indeed other than it was.  We used to take matters quietly and move about more at our ease, but now bustle is the order of the day..."

I took the opportunity to suggest that older people, in particular, might do well to remember that they too are changing.  "You're absolutely right," replied Humphrey.  "My limbs used to be more active than they are; and my brow was once free from wrinkles.  Whether I regard it or not, these grey hairs tell a tale to which I ought to listen.  

"Have the years through which I have passed been many?  You bet, and the fewer then are those that remain to me and the stronger the reason for my thinking less of seasons gone by and more of those that are to come.  

"Let me, then, amid the alterations of the times and the sundry and manifold changes of the world, look to Him who changes not and fix my heart where true joys are alone to be found."

I'll be darned if you haven't done it again Humphrey.  Time stands still for no man, but It is never too late to seek spiritual stability in our lives and we do not have to look far to find it.  Hope you don't mind if I quote you on this, old friend.
"Thoughts for The Thoughtful" by Old Humphrey,  a book left to me by my grandmother Harriet (Peck) Perry.  It was given to her when she was "a little girl", approx. 1865. 

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