Sir Arthur Helps, fourth and youngest son of Thomas and Ann Frisquett Helps, was born at Balham Hill, in the parish of Streatham and county of Surrey, on the 10th of July 1813. His father was then and for many years afterwards head of a large mercantile house in the city of London, and for the last thirteen years of his life treasurer of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. His mother was the only surviving child of John, fourth son of the Rev. Charles Plucknett, M.A., of Wincanton. After the usual preliminary training at Eton, young Helps went to Trinity College, Cambridge, passing as B.A. in 1835, when he came out 31st wrangler in the mathematical tripos, and taking his M.A. degree in 1839. Although he took no high honours at the university,—and indeed he had not health sufficiently robust, even if he had possessed the ambition, to achieve them,—he was recognized by the ablest of his contemporaries there as a man of superior gifts, and likely to make his mark in after life. They showed this by electing him as a member of the Conversazione Society, better known as the Apostles, a society which had been established in 1820 for the purposes of discussion on social and literary questions by a few young men attracted to each other by a common taste for literature and specula-tion. A body which in its early days included the names of Charles Buller, Frederick Maurice, Richard Chenevix Trench, Monckton Milnes, Arthur Hallam, and Alfred Tennyson had in it every element to make its gatherings delightful as well as useful. To be elected into its limited circle was a distinction of which Arthur Helps was proud then and to the close of his life; and, familiar as he was with the best and most intellectual society of his time, the social hours passed year by year with the Cambridge Apostles were always counted by him among his happiest, both in anticipation and in remembrance.
In the discussions of these and later days Helps may have found the suggestions for the dialogues of the Friends in Council, in which his genius appears at his best. But his first literary effort, which appeared under the title of Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd in 1835, the year lie took his B.A. degree, assumes a very different but scarcely less ambitious form, that of a series of aphorisms upon life, character, politics, and manners. As a rule, such things are only valuable when they come as the fruits of wide experience and matured thought. Still in this volume are to be found passages which may take their place beside the sayings of Vauvenargues, Chamfort, and other masters of aphorism of the second rank, and are quite equal in quality to the many pithy quotable sayings scattered through Helps’s later works.