MR. FREDERIC HARRISON
HALF A CENTURY'S FRIENDSHIP
WHAT a subject
have I here, more than full enough for a volume, and only to be
inadequately dealt with in a monograph, a paper suited to The
Quarterly or Edinburgh Review.
My intercourse, personal and on paper, with the last of the
great Victorians and the doyen of letters throughout the Edwardian
and Georgian periods until the present time, began more than fifty
years ago. Proudly, indeed, do I enter upon a record so full
of interest to the general reader and so fruitful to myself. At
every stage I am brought face to face with momentous events and
phases of thought, political, social, and religious problems long
since solved, for better or for worse. And the more closely I survey
the delightful task before me, the more incompetent do I feel in
dealing with it. For I cannot aver of myself, as of my illustrious
and, by five years, my senior contemporary, that I am still in the
plenitude of bodily as of mental vigour. Time, on the whole, has
dealt very kindly with me. In the diamond jubilee of my literary
career—1857-1918—I enjoy entire immunity from "that which doth
accompany old age," defective hearing, vision, and perception. Nor
can I complain of what is even worse to bear—namely, slights and
oblivion. No more generous body exists than the novel-reading
public. Newcomers, however brilliant their debut, however numerous
their editions, do not hustle old favourites off the stage. A
novelist whose first work attains the rank of a classic, modest
although it be and modest as may have been its author's emoluments,
cannot arraign Fortune.
Friendships equally with achievements make red letters in our
calendar. How I wish that I had put down in writing the exact date
and precise circumstances of first encountering kindred and
inspiring souls, those men and women who have straightway enriched
life and opened new fields of thought and endeavour. The aftermath
is remembered, the spot on which fell the handful of seed is
forgotten. Fortunately, Mr. Frederic Harrison's memory is better
than my own. On referring the subject to him, he writes:
VERY DEAR MATILDA,
— I am on holiday—at last—having read and passed for press within
the last five to six weeks my book of 460 pp. and four Review
articles, and written piles of MS. on various matters. So I take a
quarto page, a new pen, and my most amiable spirit to reply to your
very grateful letters. My memory holds out still, and I have a rough
diary of mere incidents and movements posted up since the year 1829,
the year in fact of my parents' marriage. (N.B.—From 1829 until 1847
these entries were from my father's books of accounts. He entered
every 6d. of expenses from setting up house, and I have those books
now. My wife, in The Cornhill Magazine, wrote a most interesting
paper on the habits of an early Victorian household out of these
diaries, and I used them in my own Autobiographical Memoirs, vol. i.
ch. i.) So your inquiry as to our first meeting. It was in July
1890. We were then passing the summer in our cottage—Blackdown
Cottage, Haslemere, in Sussex, not in Surrey, an old cottage and
farm on the Blackdown, which is 1030 feet high (not Hindhead, which
is eight miles off in Surrey). Our pretty old place stood 800 feet
above sea, and had magnificent views over the Weald of Sussex, four
miles from Haslemere Station, and one mile from Aldworth, Tennyson's
summer house. Why you wrote to me, and why you so kindly promised to
visit us, you know better than I. Anyhow, we were proud to have you
as a guest. We sent our man and carriage to fetch you from Haslemere. Our coachman, Williams, after twenty-four years' service with us,
is now driving a great motor omnibus in London.
Yes, it was twenty-eight years ago when I had the happiness to hand
out a bright and smiling lady who seemed to be on the right side of
fifty. It was love—i.e. lifelong friendship—at first sight, and we
have been lovers, in the sense of close and intimate friends in
thought, ever since. We spent a happy day rambling about that
timbered hill with our daughter, not quite four, and with Bernard,
not quite nineteen, from his first year and the Studio in Paris. How
well I remember that visit! Now for replies.
As I said, my articles were in first numbers of the three Reviews,
Fortnightly, Nineteenth Century, the third is The Positivist Review. It (the P.R.) contains 32 pp. every month, words of wisdom—from
others as well as mine. In 1917, the Review contained each month my
"Thoughts on Government," being a reissue of Part I. of my
Progress, 1875. This present year, 1918, it contained my (new)
"Moral and Religious Socialism," which began in May and continued up
to August. These two years contained a profoundly full summary of
the entire political and economic synthesis according to the Gospel
of Augustus Comte. They were as lucid as they were philosophic, not
from my own ability but from the truths of the Master. I am only the
phonograph. But all this—purely gratuitous—indeed, was published
at our own cost—was utterly unheeded, unknown, and buried. Not even
friends would spend their pennies in getting it. Probably only two
or three score people read it, and only two or three of these quite
understood and accepted it. All pure waste in our lifetime. Yet by
2018 A.D., or say A.H. I, these little pieces will be held to be as
well worth study as, say, Burke on the Revolution or his "Thoughts
on the Present Discontents." People will read any chatter, short
stories at 6s., and will buy dozens of picture papers at 1s. each,
but will not give 3d. [p.20-1]
for real wisdom. My life is spent in pouring out precious wine into
glasses without bottoms, so that all runs into the sewer. [p.20-2]
. . . My first visit to the East was from October 1 to November
1890—to Constantinople, Athens, and Rome. Lectured on Homer at
Newton Hall on November 2, the day after my return from sight of
Troas; lecture almost extempore, now in my Among my Books, 1912, ch.
viii. On November 15 I lectured on Athens at Toynbee Hall. This is
now in my Meaning of History, 1894, ch. x., and it is one of the
most suggestive things I ever wrote. (N.B.—John Morley was reading
it in the train coming from London to Bath the other day, and highly
praised it as real history.) So that not everything I write passes
like "bubbles in the air." Theophano was in twelve numbers of
Fortnightly, and was written at intervals over a whole year from
month to month. But the tragedy of Nicephorus was written as a
whole, and has a systematic plot and catastrophe, in form modelled
on Alfieri and Goethe rather than Shakespeare, and without any
attempt at poetic phraseology. I intended Tree to play it, but he
found it too big and costly, and, as Henry Arthur Jones told me,
Tree saw that the woman's part would overpower him. Mrs. Pat
[presumably Patrick Campbell] has read it. Well, here it is.—Yours
The play itself I give an account of farther on, and I here give a
few extracts from these letters, not one without typical literary
and, needless to say, personal interest, diversely written in
French, English, and Latin.
Juin 12, 1913.
(Gerbert, [p21] 125).
Le volume est arrivé. Admirable, mieux que jamais.
Comparable à George Sand.
I am not sure whether this high compliment was paid to my The
Dream Charlotte or The Romance of a French Parsonage,
both published some years before.
BATH, July 3, 1913.
I have returned my little Introduction [to The Lord of the
Harvest] marked for press without alterations in word or in
letter. I never correct a proof except to note printers'
blunders. Reading it in print, I like it as well as anything I
ever wrote, and that because I enjoyed it. You inspired me,
and I trust I caught some flavour of your idyllic tone, and that I
kept the "values true," as painters say.
Everyone has his little vanities, and my vanity is fine calligraphy,—see what a lucid and artistic hand is this,—and my whim is never to
alter a word in a manuscript or even in a letter. I follow Pontius
Pilate, a fellow of good sense, who has never been appreciated.
Quod scripsi, scripsi, said he, and so say I.
I enclose you my MS. to show you how I write for the press—tout
d'un trait. I am sure that fifty years hence the MS. of your
Lord of the Harvest will be secured for some library, and I wish
that but one page of my little Foreword may be preserved, tacked to
your copy.—Your aged friend and more than ever true admirer,
March 8, 1914
I rejoice to hear of your literary success. We both urge you to get
your Suffolk Courtship put into "Everyman." . . . I find that
I can read no new books—except yours. I spent my afternoons [of a
holiday sojourn with his wife near Bath] over Sophocles, Æschylus,
and now Xenophon on Socrates. [Oh, Mr. Harrison, Positive and
anti-female Suffrage as you are, you might here have alluded to the
accomplished woman scholar Elizabeth, whose translation of that
famous book has long been a classic!] And I have just finished
Tristram Shandy—my copy is first edition, 4 vols., 12 mo,
1765—and Don Quixote in a translation. I find the Spanish
difficult, but I can read The Positive Review of Mexico,
which translates our Calendar month by month. And I have Furtwängler's Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture—grand Greek
sculpture is my only hobby.
I entirely agree with you as to Bulwer [I believe re my admiration
of his Last Days of Pompeii and Rienzi]. If you saw
Bath forty years ago, you may be assured that it is almost the only
city in England which has not been changed. It has not grown and has
no new buildings. There is only one, the new hotel (a view of which
I enclose). (Shakespeare, "How many evils have enclosed me round!")
The charm of Bath is its magnificent country round, its parks,
gardens, and endless walks, etc., its mild climate, daily music, and
agreeable society. We know all whom we care to know, especially
clerics, bishops, archdeacons, rectors, and the best houses within a
motor drive. I belong to the Philosophical Institute and to the
Literary Club, and my wife works her Anti-Suffrage Committees.—With
her love and mine, ever your
With regard to this letter I wrote suggesting that the Archdeacon
and his new friend should change pulpits on Sundays, so refreshing
and such a tonic to both congregations!
April 6, 1914.
thanks for your letter and the kind words of Professor Hales, whom I
well remember years ago as one of the F. D. Maurice men. I am sure
that your Lord [of the Harvest] will have a long
By way of rousing intellectual elements dormant in Bath, I resolved
to read my Nicephorus in the old historic theatre here,
before our friends and a lot of Bath people. It has been adapted and
translated into German for an opera, and is now being translated as
a play in full. And, in order to secure copyright "acting rights,"
it has to be produced in a public theatre. So I took the title-rôle
myself, and got the amateur dramatic society to read it in parts on
the stage before an invited house. They all said they
heard—especially Nicephorus; and they seemed interested. One lady
who is deaf, and cannot hear a sermon in church, heard "every word" in the theatre. [Quite naturally, for she was not sent to sleep by
curate's twaddle-dum-dee!] . . . In any case, it was an event this
première of tout Bath.
I took this up partly to relieve my feelings about the awful public
crisis. We are going straight to the most horrible catastrophe in
English history. Ere this year is over, Britain will be in the
throes of dissolution. It is no use trying to make any more
compromises. I don't know which side is the most culpable. But civil
war is inevitable, and all without any real principle to fight
for—and certainly nothing but generations of evil to follow on it.
I am obliged to you for telling me about our Professor [the late Mr.
Beesly]. I have [had] no correspondence with him for some time. We
are likely to differ so deeply that I fear to write and could not
bear to open a discussion. I can hear his snort of contempt if he
ever heard of my playing in a theatre. I am a Gallio, I know, but
now a very sad one.
Oddly enough, I should say, were not oddities so-called of daily,
hourly occurrence, an early letter of Frederic Harrison has just
come to hand. I had taken up that striking Byzantine play,
Nicephorus, 1906, to re-read, when out slipped a letter which
ran as follows—we had not yet called ourselves by our baptismal
names, nor had I as yet received one of his epistles in Ciceronian
Latin. These endearing privileges were to come.
April 14, 1914 (Archimedes, 126).
thanks for your letter and views and all. If you really wish to read
my tragedy, let me present you with an author's copy. I prefer it as
a work of art to the romance of Theophano [by himself. Macmillan]. That was not written as a whole with a general plan at
all. It was taken up to give miscellaneous illustrations of the
Byzantine world of the tenth century, which I had been studying for
years. It came out in the twelve numbers of the Fortnightly.
. . . I am busy enough. I am continuing my Last Thoughts, and
have just finished my Commentary on the Common Prayer [Book?] and
Catholic Missal. My notes on our Calendar go on in the Pos. Rev.,
and next week I am writing a review of Bridges' Bacon. I have
promised to read a paper on R. Bacon at our Bath Literary Club, and
I shall give a course of history lectures for the Bristol University
branch at Bath. So I have enough to do—after sweets, the sour!
Your words about Ireland show me how unfit the ablest and best women
are for politics. They judge by their hearts, not their heads, and
mistake vague ideals for observed facts. [I fancy this refers to the
Casement incident.] Bloody war in Ireland, and possibly in England,
will not transfer cottagers to Abergavenny Castle. It will only keep
Liberal policy out in the cold for a generation. —Yours always
Such a compliment I cannot omit, but blushingly set down. Who so
modest as the really great? To think of F. H. thanking M. B.-E. for
a word of praise!
April 25, 1914.
"It is indeed a memorable compliment to me that you should take the
trouble to read my play, and with such minute attention and such
accurate memory. Your note about Princess Theodora not being in the
Dramatis Personæ had escaped me. I think she was thrown in at the
last moment to heighten the contrast between the callousness of the
wife and the grief of the sisters of Romanus, and perhaps also to
enable Tree to put on the stage another pretty girl (and Byzantine
court robes. . . . Yes, there are too many Johns). [In the
July 2, 1914.
Your letter reaches me here, but not the book. We both left Bath on
Monday, 22nd ult., with Olive for the first tour we have taken
together for twelve years. My wife's health has been so much
improved at Bath that we felt moved to go to Paris, partly to see
Bernard's three pictures [their eldest son] well placed in the
Salon, to make acquaintance with his many friends in Paris—artists,
connoisseurs, and patrons of his; secondly, to our Positivist
Society, where I was asked to give them my personal reminiscences of Auguste Comte, being now the only survivor of those who saw him and
talked to him in 1855.
Our journey (broken at Dover) did my wife no harm, and though she
did not attempt to walk in Paris, she was able to go to the Salon,
the Studio, the Luxembourg, and the meeting in the new rooms of our
Society. The reunion was most interesting—about one hundred
members, old and new. The President said fine things of her and me,
and I spoke for thirty minutes, reading parts of my presidential
address to the Sociological Institute—the English form of which will
be in the Positive Review for August. . . . The principal
etcher in Paris has etched in colour two of Bernard's Italian
landscapes, which G. Petit, the boss of painters (the G. Petit
Gallery is an annual exhibition), has purchased. So our visit was a
business affair for B. of much value. And our visit to the new rooms
of the Society was greatly appreciated by them and enjoyed by us. Bernard and I took Olive about to the various galleries, shows, to
the Bois de Boulogne, Bagatelle; and B. took her to the theatre. We
did not go out but lived en pension. After a week in Paris,
which by Sunday got very hot, we came on the 30th to this place. Our
Bath doctor thought it would be of use to my wife. . . . Ouchy is my
old favourite haunt, and I was really athirst to see the snow
mountains once more—of course, we shall not go touring about here. At present the Lake is not too hot, but 72º F. in my rooms—but we
may go up to some place on the hills, the doctor insists not above
4000 feet. At that, he thinks Switzerland will do her good. She is
wonderfully well in general health, and everyone says she looks
twenty years under her age. Only she has to be very careful not to
stand or walk.
As for me, I am quite well, I think. I can walk for two or three
hours uphill, and sleep well; but I hardly eat anything but eggs,
and fricassees, and vegetable food. I have brought some classics and
some poets, and have been since 6 a.m. in our balcony reading Horace
and Shelley at intervals, and looking across the Lake at the
Dent-du-Midi and Savoy Alps, and dreaming of glacier excursions, and
of Byron and Gibbon and all the memories of this centre of European
traditions. The regicide Ludlow, who lived and died at Vevey,
inscribed on his door:
Forti omne solum patria.
Our travelling abroad together for once all these years—our tour to
Switzerland, for our last look at the Delectable Mountains—has been
a bold experiment, but it has succeeded, as yet. Outside, in France,
in Europe, in the Balkans, in Ireland, I see nothing but chaos and
battle. I cannot write a word on it.—Yours always devotedly,
November 28, 1914.
I have been much pleased with your little volume. That bit about the
Marseillaise is really most interesting and authentic, after
Lamartine's gush. And the account of Doré interests me much. I had a Doré phase once myself. Do you know his Rabelais? Did I not once
before ask you this question? Do see Austin's new little book,
Kaisers War, with an Introduction of mine. The Kaisertum is
cracking up. But I fear our Radical Pacifists will try to stop
bringing the war to its proper end. There will be a desperate effort
to call uti possidetis, "as you are," a drawn battle about Easter. Germany is still in Russia, France, Belgium. Her borders are
untouched.—Yours always, F. H.
March 21, 1917.
am indeed grateful to you for giving me news of yourself, and I wish
you joy most heartily on the success of your new book [Twentieth
Century France. Chapman & Hall]. It is a fine compliment from
the great Frenchman. [p.30-1]
I must see it as soon as I am free of work. I am now just finishing
my memoirs of all I have lost in Her [his beloved wife], and have
made a collection of her essays to make a volume, I trust, after the
war. In making a record of all her activities, I am amazed at the
great mass of various tasks she took and completed in spite of her
poor health and many domestic cares. No one has any idea of what she
did. Our outreaching towards Humanity owed more to her than to any
of us men. Why am I left, the useless one?—and she who could have
done so much more is gone. Your beautiful "In Memoriam" [Westminster
Gazette] I purpose to put as the motto of the volume, and her
hymn, No. 58, [p.30-2] as the
L'envoi. . . .
I am re-issuing my "Thoughts on Government," 1874, in the current
Positive Review. I foresaw forty years ago the House of Commons
pretending to govern. And the French Chamber is as bad as
ours . . .
(Re Scott's novels.) I have always thought The Black Dwarf
one of the very worst. When I was at Ruskin's in 1899 he gave me to
read in Scott's own MS. that he bought, a folio or quarto written
about 2500 words every morning. That beats you.
I read no new book at all—I am now reading only tragedy: Sophocles'
Antigone, the greatest of all tragedies; Corneille's
Horace, Racine's Athalie, etc. etc. . . . I have been
occupied every afternoon this month by Lord Rosebery, who comes to
take me out in his car, or to take a walk with him in the parks and
country. He is a brilliant talker.—Affectionately yours always, F. H.
On November 6 of 1917 comes the following in Ciceronian Latin:
Fredericus Matildae suae S.D.
Gratissimo sane animo recepi litteras tuas amabiles, anno aetatis
meae sexto et octogesimo jam peracto. Socii enim sumus et aequales in
senectute, in litteris, in cogitationibus tam de rebus publicis quam
de rebus divinis. Nihil prorsus habemus, O sodalium meorum superstes
unica, quod senectutem accusemus. Anni quippe octogessimi corporibus
nostril nihil intolerabile afferunt, dum mentibus nostris—gratias
agamus Sanctae Humanitati—pauca certe detrahunt. Hoc si incredibile
videatur junioribus, qui nugis trivialibus vacare solent, monendum
est nos—praesertim te amica mea venerabilis—e juventute prima
animum totum dedisse in litteras vere humaniores, tam Graecas quam
Latinos, tam in versu quam in sermons pedestri scriptas. Quid dicam—non
solum in litteras Anglican led in quidquid France et externae gentes
optimum et celeberrimum tradiderunt.
Mirabile est quomodo stadia nostra in idem consentire videantur. Libros illos quos hodie te legere mihi scribes, ego autem praecipue
in menu habere soleo. Nihil pusillum, nihil vulgare, nihil obscenum
aut obsoletum in bibliothecam meam intrat. Die noctuque verso
praeclaras illas veterum tragedias et comedias—praesertim Aeschyli
Septem. Quippe τριλογίαυ Άτρειδώυ censeo ingenii humane maximum
partum fuisse, Swinburnius noster recce aestimavit. Si quis velit
Sophoclem—Graecorum omnium dulcissimum—senem ilium qui ad
nonagesimum annum novas tragedias fecit—Aeschylo proxime accessisse,
certe hoc erat in Άυτιγόυης suea τραγικωτάτη illa
orations Virginis moriturae:
Homeri, Aeschyli, Sophoclis et Aristophanis opera
omnia recenter perlegi—Euripides non aeque mihi arridet, forsitan e
memoria lugubre scholarium dierum. Inter Latinos, Vergilius,
Horatius, Catullus, Juvenalis, Plinius maxims me delectant. Lucretium, Taciturn, Persium studere laboriose potius quam legere
vacue fas est.
Hic legendi meus est mos. Mane, adhuc in lecto requiescens, cantica
illa recito quae conjux mea in aeternum deploranda tanto studio et ingenio confecit. Haec
sunt preces matutinae. Tum, quum epistolas
receptas, actorum diurnas scriptural ephemerides illas perfecerim,
converto me ad Ajacem Sophocleum cum commentariis optimis Ricardi
Jebb, aut "Poetae" nostri W.S. aliquid, vel Idyllium quod
Tennysonius noster e carminibus vetustis Med: Aevi elaboravit. Tandem in cubiculum scandens Scotti nostri incomparabilis historian
nonnullam mecum porto.
Morem legendi tuum, precor, mihi quoque describere velis.
Scribebam Bathonia die Vico. Nov. A.D. 1917.
If you want details and dates, turn to my
Autobiographic Memoirs (Macmillan, 8vo, 2 vols., 1911). It is
the most veracious, shameless, naked, unveiling, disembowelling
exposure of a man's inside ever seen in literature. [p.33] In its
pages it tells almost everything I could remember and find recorded
in letters, diaries, or books, even common trifles from October 18,
1831, down to October 18, 1911, when it was first published, ætat.
80. But even if you read that through with all the huge
bibliography, pp. 335-345, you would not know half what I have done,
seen, and written. Without that remarkable classic (as in the
twenty-first century it will be) you would not know one per cent of
my doings and writings. People here in Bath have no idea of what I
am or have done or written. It is not a double life I lead, a Hyde
and Jekyll [p.34-1] affair—it is a centuple life I lead. I have been, seen,
done, written fifty things they never heard of [dear harmless old
ladies and gentlemen, how should they?]. There is almost nothing
that I have not tried [p.34-2]—even stag-hunt, fox-hunt, hare-hunt. I have
ridden a race-horse on a race-course, and have been at all the great
great races, at times driven in my dog-cart, and in a four-horse
drag [carriage or coach, Thackeray], etc. etc. I have often been on
the top of every great mountain in Scotland, Wales, Cumberland,
Alps, Pyrenees, Apennines, Austria, and Greece. I have yachted in
the Channel and in the Mediterranean. I have been in every capital
and great city in Europe barring Madrid and Seville, and also in the
U.S.A. I have worked in every museum in Europe barring Madrid, and
have talked with nearly every famous politician and writer in
Britain, France, Italy, U.S.A., Holland, Greece, Turkey,
Scandinavia. I have been down coal-mines, I am an enrolled member of
two great Trades Unions. I have been the guest and the host of many
Labour leaders, including a visit to a prisoner in the Conciergerie
[no explanation], and I witnessed the decapitation of an Italian
officer in a riot. I was present at the Italian vote in the Duchies
for Victor Emmanuel and at the election of Tricoupis in Athens. I
have shaken hands with Gambetta, Mazzini, Victor Hugo, Garibaldi,
and sat in the gallery of the House of Commons beside the Comte de
Paris. I have heard every great actor since Macready and every
actress since Rachel and Grisi. I have tried everything—have been an
alderman, a J. P., an LL.D., D.C.L., Litt. D., a horseman from
boyhood, a swimmer, a mountaineer, a waltzer, a card-player, a
diner-out, member of a dozen clubs, a man about town, a Park
revolutionary orator. Only two things I have always barred: (1)
Tobacco in any form and drink. (2) Sport, meaning killing of
animals. But I have been on the Alps with hunters and have walked
over most moors in Scotland and Britain—indeed, have owned game
preserves. . . . Well, I can't go on. I only want to assure you that
you will never get to the end of me. . . .
I am really going to stop writing for the public now. I am going to
rest and read old books. I have always had of late at my bedside
Plato, and mystical stuff it is, and Malory's Mort d'Arthur, far
finer than Tennyson's "fashion-plate" Idylls. Now I am going to read
through Plutarch's Lives.
Glorious news! Early victory.—Your devoted friend,
From a later note about the same time:
I rejoice to hear that you are so cheerful and so
busy. We have just got home to Bath, having had three weeks at Lyme
Regis, far the most interesting and pleasant of all Channel ports, a
real old harbour of Plantagenets and Tudors—sent out ships to the
Armada, keeps her old stone breakwater. Read Persuasion. I am
wonderfully well. . . .
Then follows a sentence on the quite imaginary indifference of the
reading world to his own works. He styles himself effete, passé, oublie,
mort, as many others of his mental height in moments of
depression have done before.
"Will anyone read my novels when I am gone, doctor?" asked the great
Dumas of his doctor when on his dying bed. "We always give one to
patients about to undergo an operation," was the retort. "Straightway their own case is clean forgotten, and the ordeal is
GEORGE ELIOT AND MADAME BODICHON
IT was in the
spring of 1867 that I first met the great woman novelist now known
throughout the entire reading world. Our acquaintance began in this
way. I had spent the winter in Algiers under the roof of that
remarkable pair, Dr. Eugene and Madame Barbara Leigh-Smith Bodichon. The doctor had won his titles of fame by valuable works on the
colony, also by equally valuable medical services during visitations
of malaria, and last, but not least, when Deputy of the Chamber, by
his motion to abolish slavery throughout the French African colony,
a measure which was straightway carried into effect. Daughter of a
landed proprietor, Benjamin Smith, M.P. for Norwich, his English
wife before her marriage in 1857 had done much for education and the
improvement of the legal status of her sex. A charming water-colour
artist, she never attained the position her gifts merited, too many
objects occupying her ever-active mind. With her husband she
did much to improve hygienic conditions of the Algerian plain by
vast plantations of the health-giving American Eucalyptus globulus.
A rich woman, her wealth was always spent upon great objects, and as
the foundress of the first University for women (Girton College) in
the United Kingdom, she has won for herself an imperishable niche in
history. Women are very disloyal to each other, and her
biography yet remains to be written. No Girtonian has troubled
herself about her benefactress.
This noble woman was my intimate friend, and at the date I
mention we had returned together from a tour in Spain and a winter
in Algiers, myself, for the nonce, being again her guest at 5
On the morning after our arrival she said
"Now, Milly" (that was what the French call the petit nom
always used by my family and familiars), "put on your bonnet and go
with me to the Priory. I will ask Marian if I may present
My heart leaped at the proposal, for I knew that Marian was
the baptismal Mary Ann thus euphemised by George Eliot's closest
The Priory, that celebrated "gathering-place of souls," to
quote our equally great Victorian poetess, was one of the many St.
John's Wood villas almost to be called country retreats. The
comfortably proportioned two-storied residence, approached by a
drive, stood sufficiently apart from the road as to ensure its
inmates comparative quiet. Here Mr. and Mrs. Lewes lived
historic years; and although uncemented by legal ties, never was
union more complete or more fruitful in blessing to both: wit and
perennially youthful spirits on his part lightened the weight of
thought on hers, and kept alive the all-saving grace of humour.
Even her best friend could not introduce anyone without
permission. So I waited inside the gate till my hostess
beckoned me, and there I was in the presence of a tall, prematurely
old lady wearing black, with a majestic but appealing and wholly
unforgettable face. A subdued yet penetrating light—I am
tempted to say luminosity—shone from large dark eyes that looked all
the darker on account of the white, marble-like complexion.
She might have sat for a Santa Teresa.
Unaffectedly cordial was my reception, but hardly had I
recovered from one thrill when I was bouleversée, as the
French say, by the glamour of another. The conversation
naturally turned upon Spain, when suddenly Mr. Lewes accosted the
great woman with boyishly enthusiastic cameradeship.
"Now, Polly, what say you to this?"
Bishop Proudie in Trollope's immortal scene could not have
been more thunder-struck at hearing "the wife of his bosom called a
woman" than I was then.
What the "this" referred to I forget, but very possibly to an
idea afterwards carried out. In the following year Mr. and
Mrs. Lewes followed our footsteps south, their journey resulting in
The Spanish Gypsy, a poem, despite the invention of its
heroine's exquisite name and many fine lines, now all but forgotten.
As an hour later we passed out of the gate, my friend began:
"Shall I tell you Marian's compliment to yourself? 'I
congratulate you, dear Barbara,' she said, 'on possessing a friend
who is without fringes.'"
It is the only time that I have ever heard the word "fringes"
used for "fads," [p.40] and the
only time I ever received a commendatory one from the same lips.
How much more gratified should I have been had she expressed her
pleasure at meeting the authoress of such and such a novel!
But I can understand her reticence. What, indeed, would life
have been worth had she once begun to receive the confidences and
aspirations of youthful tyros? Her lot would have been worse
than Miss Mitford's.
My hostess's invitation to dinner for the next day was
accepted, and circumstances grave and gay made the occasion equally
ineffaceable. Quite sure of the great visitors' punctuality,
we awaited them in the drawing-room. True enough, the street
bell rang on the stroke of seven. What was Madame Bodichon's
dismay when her incomparable parlour-maid threw wide the door with
"Captain and Mrs. Harrison."
Then came a ripple of laughter—George Henry Lewes' hearty and
unfeigned, George Eliot's slightly remonstrant. The name was a
joke. It was beyond her competence to play the child. In
excellent spirits the simple but well-cooked dinner was partaken of,
Madame Bodichon involuntarily ever acting upon a precept of Mahomet
in the Koran—"Bestow not upon the rich." The more opulent her
guests, the plainer was their fare.
But conviviality had no meaning for these two. The
dinner-table topic resolved itself into this problem: How and by
what means would the world—that is to say, the terrestrial globe we
inhabit—come to an end? By combustion, submergence, gradual
decay, and so on. I seem to hear George Eliot's penetrating,
"Yet, dear Barbara, might not this come about—" Or, "Suppose
For myself, I was silent, overawed as some alumnus when
Pericles and Aspasia held their court.
Thenceforward I was invited to the famous Sunday afternoons
at the Priory, and I well remember George Eliot's kindly attempt to
set me at ease.
The entry into such a circle was no trifling ordeal to a
young country-bred, although already much-travelled, girl, and
already having several novels to her credit, the first of these now
celebrating its diamond jubilee. [p.42]
There in the centre of the room, as if enthroned, sat the
Diva; at her feet in a semicircle gathered philosophers, scientists,
men of letters, poets, artists—in fine, the leading spirits of the
great Victorian age. Frederic Harrison, almost the only one
left us of so memorable a group; Professor Beesly, Herbert Spencer,
Browning, William Morris, that charming poet and self-styled "singer
of an empty day"; Sir Frederick Leighton, Director of the National
Gallery; Philip Gilbert Hamerton, author of French and English and
cementer of Anglo-French friendship at a time when we seemed
perilously, if not hopelessly, Germanised, to our certain moral,
intellectual, and national abasement—these were only a few of the
noteworthy figures caught sight of as, timidly enough, I advanced to
Despite her grand aloofness from conventionalities and an
utter incapacity to overdo courtesy,—I will not use the word to
flatter,—George Eliot, never, that I ever heard of, hurt people's
feelings or pooh-poohed valueless admiration. She could not
have rebuked a naive worshipper with a Johnsonian, "Before you choke
me with your praises, Madam, remember what your praises are worth."
Not that I should have ventured upon so much as an allusion to the
masterpieces so dear and familiar, Adam Bede and the rest. And
seeing that she had nothing to fear from me on that score, as soon
as a break in the discussion permitted, she withdrew from the group
and chatted with me in the easiest, least bookish fashion possible.
Madame Bodichon had naturally told her of my farming days,
and that, having now lost my father and mother, I was entering upon
a literary life in London. Be this as it may, she immediately
began to talk of her own early life and of her father. Very
tender was her voice as she touched on the sacred theme, and so full
of tenderness were her large dark eyes that I quite understood Sir
Frederick Leighton's enthusiasm. For, our brief chat over, I
fell back, and taking the first vacant chair, it happened to be next
his. We were old acquaintances, had walked and talked in
Kensington Gardens, had set out in a bus for a Saturday Pop
together,—as the celebrated week-end concerts at St. James's Hall
were called,—and a most pleasant friend and neighbour he became.
On this Sunday afternoon he seemed oblivious of everything
around him, his eyes fixed on the priestess-like, rather Sybil-like
figure opposite. After a mechanically uttered phrase or two he
burst out—a lover's voice could hardly have been more impassioned:
"How beautiful she is!"
After all, was not the artist right? What is physical
perfection compared to spiritual beauty, the inner radiance that
transforms, etherialises features not flawless according to rule of
thumb? Meanwhile Mr. Lewes was doing everything to promote the
general pleasure—acting, indeed, a dual part, relieving the hostess
of all responsibility. Who could help comparing the pair to
Titania and Puck?—herself, queen-like, effortless, impassible; he,
anticipating her behests, here, there, and everywhere, taking care
that no guest should be neglected. Naturally, the German
element was never absent from these assemblages. Was not the
biographer of Goethe styled der Goetische Lewes by his
country-people, and had not homage been paid to both in the so
ironically called Fatherland? He now brought up a quiet,
gentlemanly-looking man, saying in German:
"I have the pleasure of introducing to you Herr Liebreich,
the discoverer of chloral." [p.44]
I had already spent many months at Stuttgart, as many at
Frankfort-on-the-Main, and had wintered in Vienna, so the question
of language was not disquieting. But a tête-à-tête with
a scientist did seem rather dreadful. My interlocutor,
however, tried to talk down to me, and I tried to talk up to him,
and soon the welcome clatter of cups and saucers relieved the
tension. There was a move towards the lower end of the room,
Mr. Lewes presiding at the teapot.
"To make tea, my friends," he said laughingly, "I hold is the
whole duty of man."
All now was comparative frivolity, gaiety, and persiflage;
mirth and music replaced Socratic discussion and talk worthy of
"We have a singing bird here," said Mr. Lewes. "She
must charm us before departure."
The fashionably dressed young lady in question, some Lady
Clara Vere de Vere, did not deny the delicate imputation, and true
enough, before the party broke up, those almost solemn precincts
were ringing with just such a song as might divert the guests of any
Belgravia, indeed, had forced an entrance into the Priory,
and, as we might expect, that intrusion was followed by an exodus.
More than one old friend and habitue, more than one distinguished
guest dropped off. The "gathering-place of souls" gradually
changed its character. Its doors had been thrown too wide, and
"fools rushed in where angels feared to tread." [p.46]
But I was soon to see George Eliot in intellectual and social
undress, to enjoy her company for an entire week, perhaps the only
person now living retaining such a memory.
Madame Bodichon had rented a High Church vicarage in the Isle
of Wight for the winter of 1870-71, myself being her guest
throughout the period, and before Christmas she invited her great
friends to join us.
"Yes, dear Barbara," came a reply in the exquisitely neat
handwriting of one who could do nothing flimsily—"Yes, dear Barbara,
we will come and weep with you over the sorrows of France."
They duly arrived, and a memorable week it was to the
youngest of the quartet, doubtless her fellow-guests little
suspecting that there was "a chiel among ye takin' notes."
From the first Madame Bodichon monopolised Titania.
Puck had to put up with me, and from the first he gave us all a
taste of his quality. As we sat down to breakfast next
morning, the sedate, middle-aged parlour-maid was greeted by "A
merry Christmas to you, Ann, and a marrying New Year." Too
well-trained to giggle, and perhaps not displeased with the
suggestion, Ann blushed like a sixteen-year-old and just managed to
stammer out her thanks.
With dinner-time came another display of irrepressible
frolicsomeness. Soup being removed, Mr. Lewes rubbed his hands
with a well-affected Epicurean air.
"You will, I know, dear Barbara," he said, "excuse the
liberty taken by an old friend. I have ventured to add a
little delicacy to your bill of fare."
Well tutored, Ann now removed the silver cover with a
flourish, and as she did so the uninitiated three sprang back with a
cry. Lo and behold! Instead of a rare dainty, an uncanny
thing like a crayfish uncurled as if alive! It was the scourge
with which the rector flagellated himself, and which the temporary
occupant of his sanctum had laid hands upon for our diversion.
A week of glorious walks and talks followed.
Fortunately, the weather was fine, and every day, most often between
lunch and tea, we paired off for long strolls, in what Swift would
have described as a "walkable" country. Sometimes we made
little excursions, and of one I retain a pathetic remembrance.
At a village station I met a pleasant novelist, to-day, I fear,
quite forgotten—by name, Georgiana M. Craik. Now I had been
cautioned by no means to disclose the name of Madame Bodichon's
visitors to chance-met acquaintances. But my conscience did
afterwards reproach me for not having whispered in this one's ear,
as the others sauntered up and down, "That lady in black is no other
than the author of Adam Bede."
Could persuasion, however, could anything have prevented the
other from metaphorically falling on her knees before the Diva?
I should very likely have brought about mortification and got myself
into a terrible scrape. George Eliot was in her zenith, the
gentle little author of Riverston and other tales had hardly popped
her head above the horizon.
During our walks Madame Bodichon would carry George Eliot in
one direction, Mr. Lewes and myself taking another. He
generally talked the whole time of "Polly." It delighted him
to discover in me a whole-hearted admirer of Felix Holt, a
work generally less admired than their great brethren. How he
laughed when I quoted that denunciation of his sex by Mrs. Transom's
maid: "creatures who stand straddling and gossiping in the rain."
But the crowning hour of the day came when dinner was over,
lamps were shaded, and we gathered round the fire. No
recreations were in request; whist, chess, backgammon, billiards,
would here have been the extreme of boredom. High talk mingled
with lighter topics have left golden memories.
And may I be excused for mentioning a proud remembrance?
On two occasions the shy country girl was listened to by the great.
Once all three heard me with profound interest, and once I gave them
the merriest moment of that especial symposium.
It happened that a Socialist friend, Mr. Cowell-Stepney by
name, had lately escorted me to a sitting of the International,
presided over by Dr. Karl Marx, the founder of International
Socialism, who more than any other man has influenced the Labour
movement throughout the civilised world. Now this sort of
experience was quite out of Mr. and Mrs. Lewes's way. Their
world was the world of the intellectual élite, not of "the man in
the street," the hewers of wood and drawers of water. So to
the least little particular I could give, all paid the utmost
I must not forget that during these evenings we sometimes
enjoyed a musical treat. George Eliot would sit down to the
piano and very correctly, perhaps somewhat too painstakingly, give
us a sonata of Beethoven from notes. The charm of the
performance was that it was done amiably and evidently in order to
give us pleasure.
"What shall it be, dear little boy?" she would ask, as she
turned over the contents of the music-wagon, and the "dear little
boy"—I love to hear these terms of endearment among the
great—generally demanded Beethoven. One sonata she played to
us was Op. 14, No. 2, containing the slow, plaintive Andante in A
minor, ever one of my favourites.
For light holiday reading the wonderful pair had brought
surely the strangest book in the world—namely, Wolf's Prolegomena,
which, however, had one advantage. It did not touch upon the
tragedy of the time. In this work the most gifted scholar and
first critic of his age (1729-1824) unfolded with equal erudition
and acuteness his bold theory that the Odyssey and Iliad
are composed of numerous ballads by different minstrels, strung
together in a kind of unity by subsequent editors.
As I have mentioned, our rectory adjoined the church, and on
Christmas morning, and in arctic weather, Madame Bodichon carried
her friend off to hear the fine musical service—Mass would be the
George Eliot listened with subdued rapture, the clear shrill
voices of the choir, the swell of the organ evidently evoking a
religious mood nonetheless fervent because unallied with formulary
and outward observance.
The midnight service had been proposed, but—
"No, dear; on no account would I keep George up for me so
late," said the great visitor, unlike her hostess in one respect,
indeed in many. Whilst Madame Bodichon could never have half
enough of anything she loved, whether good company, aesthetic
impression, or strawberries and cream—her abnormal energy craving
more and yet more expansion—George Eliot's nature needed repose.
She did not, in French phrase, chercher des émotions.
But why, oh! why did I neglect the seven days' wonderful
opportunity? With the unwisdom and self-assurance of youth, I
neglected notebook and tablets. It never occurred to me to set
down the high talk of that Ventnor drawing-room. Instead of
binding them into a sheaf, I let the golden ears fall to the ground.
Here are one or two, the topic being literary excellence and
fame—perhaps I should rather say, recognition and the criterion of
"There is the money test," George Eliot said, and paused, as
she often did before continuing a train of thought. [Would she
have uttered that sentence nowadays, when novels reaching fabulous
prices are clean forgotten before copies have become soiled in
Her next sentence even less commends itself to all lovers of
"Then there is the test of sincerity."
A canon not unassailable either. For of course the
only, the final, test of literature, whether grave or gay, is
duration, the ineffaceable seal of Time. Was ever any book
written with greater sincerity, for instance, than the Proverbial
Philosophy of Martin F. Tupper?—a book that enriched the author
and was for a time taken seriously. Who reads poor dear Martin
Tupper's twaddle-dum-dee nowadays?
If George Eliot, naturally enough, held aloof from literary
aspirants, Mr. Lewes never lost an occasion of helping them.
When the great week came to an end he said to me:
"Now you will, I am sure, like your new novel to appear in
the Tauchnitz edition. I will write to the Baron, and as you
say you are going to Germany in the spring, I will ask him to call
upon you. On arriving at Leipzig, you have only to send him
The German visit was carried out, and to Mr. Lewes I owed not
only the satisfaction and profit of having all my books
thenceforward published in the famous Continental series, but the
warm friendship and hospitalities of the first Baron and the second,
Yet a few words more about one of the greatest figures in our
national Valhalla, and one whose fame, if she ever troubled herself
about fame, has surpassed any author's wildest dreams. I am
sorry that she died half a century before she had an enthusiastic
following in Japan. I can fancy Mr. Lewes's exuberance over
the triumph, his "Well, Polly, after that I shall never venture an
opinion of your books, that is quite certain." Or, "Now,
Polly, see if a Chinese translation of Adam Bede won't be the
next pleasant surprise." It was really beautiful, this
absolute comprehension of a larger intellect and character by a
lesser and less stable.
A more agreeable walking companion could not be, but I
sometimes wished that we had not invariably paired off. There
were, however, excellent reasons for this arrangement.
Although not admitted to the confidential tête-à-tête of our
hostess and her visitor, I well knew what grave subjects would be
discussed by them.
The foundress of Girton College and the indefatigable pioneer
of legal reforms regarding women had one subject even nearer her
heart than even the educational, material, and social elevation of
her sex. Madame Bodichon entertained a passionate pity for her
pariah sister, a horror of conditions accepted, not to say in a
civilised but also in a Christian country. Had she lived
longer, she would have joyfully welcomed a growing repulsion in
France and a spirit of revolt against the system which, in plain
words and excused on behalf of the public health, legalises and
If righteous indignation characterised the doer, the woman of
action, I should call sensitiveness the other's leading quality.
I firmly believe that had George Eliot convicted herself of
inflicting a grave injury on any living soul, remorse would have
worn her out, killed her by inches. Her super-sensitiveness in
little things was painful to witness. Here is an instance.
During the week I was obliged to call in a surgeon, and have
a finger lanced on account of a painful gathering. Next
morning, in shaking hands by the breakfast table, she pressed, or
rather fancied she pressed, the injured part.
"Oh!" she said, with a look of positive anguish, "I have hurt
the poor finger. I am always doing this sort of thing."
And it was with difficulty that I could reassure her.
An instance of such sensitiveness was told me by Mrs.
Hamerton, who in her husband's lifetime had occasionally attended
the Sunday afternoon receptions. On her reappearance after a
year or two's absence, George Eliot asked news of her family and
"No gaps?" she said, with quite affectionate solicitude.
Again, when the widow of Arthur Hugh Clough, the poet of the
Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich and the subject of Matthew
Arnold's fine elegy Thyrsis, called one Sunday with his
little son, the hostess's first question was a pathetic, "What is
his name?" She always liked to call children by their names,
There is a suavity in sovereign natures. These alone
can discern the infinitely fine shades dividing simplicity from
annoyance, real from affected admiration. As a subtle writer
of the last century has admirably written: "It is a rare perfection
of the intellectual and moral faculties which allows all objects,
great and small, to be distinctly perceived, and perceived in their
relative magnitudes." George Eliot was "a soul of the high
finish" of which Isaac Taylor wrote. Here is an instance.
After that Christmas week I returned to 5 Blandford Square,
and had a very severe bronchial attack. So serious was my
condition that on partial recovery I was summarily ordered a
Mediterranean cruise, and with a friend sailed from Portsmouth to
Gibraltar, thence to Malta and Alexandria, thence to Athens, and
from Athens to Venice.
On my return in March I ran up from Hastings, my abode from
that period to this, to London. On the way to Madame
Bodichon's I called at the Priory, leaving with my card a bunch of
violets, one of the cream cheeses formerly a Hastings speciality,
also some pats of butter, golden of the golden, creamiest of the
cream. The unsophisticated, perhaps to ordinary folks
impertinent, attention was charmingly acknowledged on the following
Sunday afternoon. Taking both my bands when I entered with my
hostess, George Eliot said, with congratulations on my recovered
health and a smile:
"So, having recovered yourself, you are bent upon fattening
Little traits of quite other kind will, I am sure, be
The two great friends would sometimes stroll along the
streets together and look at the shops like other womenkind.
One morning as they sauntered down Bond Street, pausing
before each glittering display, George Eliot said: "How happy are we
both, dear Barbara, that we want nothing we see here!"
One point struck me. The Priory knew no pets. So
intellectually and humanly full were the lives of both master and
mistress that there was no room for cat, dog, bird, or goldfish.
Children, as has been mentioned, were occasionally admitted into the
learnèd precincts, but no live playthings. Did ever a dog wag
its tail and therein ask a caress from hosts or guests? I know
Nor except at the door was anything seen or heard of Grace
and Amelia, the two faithful middle-aged maids, who, as far as I
ever learned, knew nothing of their great lady's writings except
that they had made her famous. To the perpetual disappointment
of the worthy couple, Queen Victoria never drew up to the door, no
royal visit filled their cup to overflowing. Grace and Amelia
little dreamed that their own names would live in the book of fame!
Such is the irony of life.
To criticise the world's classics is to find fault with the
Pyramids for not being round, with Shakespeare for not having been a
novel-writer, with Victor Hugo for not having laid the scene of
Notre-Dame between 1789-94, and made Madame Roland his hero instead
of Esmeralda, and so on and so on. How futile, indeed, is all
criticism of the Immortals; how puerile are quibbling and cavilling
at leading spirits, "whose names are written on the book of Time."
One or two noteworthy estimates only of George Eliot, her
life-work and character, I give here. A great Victorian, one
of the greatest, who knew her well, and who is happily yet among us,
has said, "George Eliot was greater than her works." But must
not this be affirmed of creators in any field? Is not the
master ever greater than his masterpiece? Do we adore a
chef-d'œuvre in the same frame of mind as we adore a beautiful
landscape or sunset? The individual gift, the aspiration and
achievement, cannot be ignored by the least reflective.
Again, it is often urged that fame, adulation, and
intercourse with the most brilliant wits, geniuses, and most
renowned thinkers of her time were in her case a loss rather than a
gain. The idyllic charm, the raciness and spontaneity of
Scenes of Clerical Life, Adam Bede, and perhaps of The
Mill on the Floss, gradually gave way to a more laboured style
and a more introspective psychology. Romola—a midway
production—is an historical novel worthy of comparison with Bulwer
Lytton's ever-delightful Last Days of Pompeii, but Daniel
Deronda, 1876, if not a dead-weight on her reputation, as was
Count Robert of Paris on the great Sir Walter's, showed, as a
judicial critic wrote, [p.58]
"a marked falling-off in power, though many of the scenes are
sufficiently rich in pathos, humour, and insight."
In confirmation of my remark, another friend to whom, as to
Barbara Bodichon, she was "Marian" always, herself a wife and
mother, and by no means a commonplace writer—Madame Parkes-Belloc,
"The truth is, dear Milly, after her early years, and
especially after her installation as mistress of the Priory, she saw
very little of life—that is, of family life."
How could it have been otherwise? What room was there
in that Parnassian retreat for noisy bantlings? But George
Eliot had known childhood in earlier years. She was not
obliged, like Herbert Spencer, to borrow a friend's child or two in
order to study the workings and development of the human mind.
Although there were neither pets, human nor four-footed, nor
games at the Priory, it was by no means a case of all work and no
play. The founder of synthetic philosophy must be referred to
on this head. The two ponderous volumes Herbert Spencer has
devoted to his own life abound in references to his friend, hostess,
and lawn-tennis partner!
It is not surprising to find that one of George Eliot's
characteristics was diffidence of her own powers, and the
philosopher found it no easy matter in early days to persuade her
that she possessed all the gifts of a novel-writer. So
sensitive was she regarding her own gifts, even after recognition,
that Mr. Lewes used to put into a special drawer such reviews as
were encouraging only. Onslaughts and animadversions were
rigidly excluded. And did not Mr. Lewes once write to Spencer,
"Marian is in the next room crying over the distresses of her young
Here is a witticism at the expense of a certain Dr. A— who
was remarkable for his tendency to dissent from whatever opinion
another uttered. After a conversation in which he had
repeatedly displayed this tendency, she said to him:
"Dr. A—, how is it that you always take your colour from your
company?" "I take my colour from my company?" he exclaimed.
"What do you mean?" "Yes," she replied, "the opposite colour."
Here is another delightful story, but not referring to the
great novelist. Spencer used to attend the first Wagner
concerts at the Albert Hall with friends. One day he relates:
"As we came downstairs the lady of the party was accosted by an
acquaintance with the question, 'Well, how did you like it?' to
which her reply was, 'Oh, I bore it pretty well,' a reply which went
far to express my own feelings."
How seriously, one might almost say how sacred, George Eliot
regarded her calling the following story will show.
Her great friend Barbara, handsome, rich, spirited, generous,
was one of those fortunate individuals who could never for an
instant imagine herself an intruder, never conceive it possible that
she should be in anybody's way, least of all in the way of those who
loved her. One morning, with happy unconcern, she rang the
Priory bell half an hour before lunch, and was admitted and
announced. Tender-heartedness itself, the novelist rushed out
of her study, pale, trembling, agitated, her remonstrant "Oh,
Barbara!" even more poignant than could have been Sir Isaac Newton's
"Oh, Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast
done!" And quite certainly Diamond did not droop his ears, wag
his tail, and with his eyes plead for forgiveness so pathetically
as, ready to cry, poor Madame Bodichon murmured excuses then.
Ever on the alert where Polly's quietude and comfort were
concerned, straightway Mr. Lewes emerged from his study and, as the
culprit related, coaxed and soothed her as if she had been a child.
This, I believe, is the single occasion on which the close
friendship of these two noble and contrasted women was for a moment
Contrasted they were physically and intellectually.
Barbara Bodichon, née Leigh Smith, was everything that George Eliot
was not. If the rare lot of supernumerary gifts ever fell to
any woman, that one was the foundress of Girton College. Not
that she was an Admirable Crichton in petticoats. Although
half her life was spent in France and she married a Frenchman, she
never mastered French grammar or idiom. To the last she would
speak of à ma maison instead of chez moi. She
could no more spell her own language than could Queen Elizabeth.
Although very fond of music, she never acquired sufficient facility
to play the simplest of Haydn's easy sonatas. Except, indeed,
as a delightful artist in water-colours, and in that field regarded
as an amateur, she might be described as the most unaccomplished
member of a highly distinguished milieu.
But she was destined to live among the great, and what in
ordinary cases would have proved a disastrous upbringing developed
her remarkable endowments of heart, wit, and brain. Thus was
exemplified Selden's famous saying: "Wit and wisdom are born with a
man." So suited to her was her early education—in a certain
sense, we may say, lack of it—that when twelve years old everything
she said was worth listening to; without an approach to
precociousness, she talked well. Later, alike in English and
in French, despite utter disregard of grammar and syntax, she was a
brilliant and suggestive talker. I have heard Frenchmen extol
her conversational powers, so full was it of wit, acuteness, and
And if she failed in perhaps the one personal object nearest
her heart, if she is still regarded as an amateur by connoisseurs
and the art-world generally, she has achieved a rare and enviable
reputation. What indeed do not two generations of
English-speaking women already owe her in the matter of education,
and to-day what do not her sex owe her? To be one of the
first, most intrepid, and most liberal advocates of parliamentary
equality, at last has come posthumous triumph. Let us hope
that the newly enfranchised will prove themselves worthy of the
To Mr. and Mrs. Lewes came years of almost seclusion,
fabulous prosperity, alike intellectual and material, but the
ambition of Grace and Amelia was not fulfilled. No royal
honours were showered upon the greatest novelist of the age by the
sovereign characterised as "sour and unattractive" by another
"illustrious Victorian." [p63-1]
No Order of Merit for women was likely to be instituted by a queen
who said that suffragettes ought to be whipt. [p.63-2]
But George Eliot held the reading world in fee. I have heard
on excellent authority that Romola brought her a cheque for
£8000 down. And good fortune was wisely made the best of by
both. A pretty country house was purchased at Witley in
Sussex, drives in their own carriage replaced the long walks of
earlier days, Mrs. Lewes saying to her friend Barbara, who visited
them in their new home:
"Of course you did not acknowledge us till we kept a
She could jest then, but the days of playfulness were short.
Their holiday had come too late for overworked brains and physiques
of hardly normal robustness.
Mr. Lewes died in 1878, and on the morning of May 6, 1880,
Madame Bodichon received a note from her great friend saying that
she was to be married that day to Mr. J. W. Cross. I cannot do
better that cite the following passage from Chambers's
Encyclopædia, written by R. Holt Hutton:
"After the death of Mr. Lewes,
George Eliot, who was always exceedingly dependent upon some one
person for affection and support, fell into a very melancholy state,
from which she was rescued by the solicitous kindness and attention
of Mr. John Cross, an old friend of her own and of Mr. Lewes's, and
to him she was married on the 6th of May 1880. Their married
life lasted but a few months. George Eliot died in Cheyne
Walk, Chelsea, on the 22nd of December of the same year, and is
buried in Highgate Cemetery in the grave next to that of Mr. Lewes."
Madame Bodichon outlived her by eleven years, but thrice
happier for her had it been otherwise.
Always endeavouring to crowd the activities and achievements
of a dozen lives into one, both bodily and mental powers gave way
under the strain. Restfulness she never knew, and the close of
a noble and fruitful life was of sad helplessness and invalidism.
The crowning monument to her memory is her College of Girton.
Mr. Cross's biography of George Eliot is a classic, but it
must not be forgotten that he is a noteworthy Dante scholar. [p.65]
We have read how among her last literary recreations were Dante
studies under his guidance, and we can understand how she would glow
over the lines:
"Light intellectual replete with love,
Love of true good replete with ecstasy,
Ecstasy that transcendeth every sweetness."
How satisfactory the reflection that the biographer was in
every respect worthy of his subject, as he had been of the love and
confidence called forth by his devotion.
Let me in conclusion allude, not to the creator of Hetty
Sorrel or Silas Marner, of Mr. Casaubon, Dorothea, and Celia, but to
the deep thinker on grave problems. Is not genius prescient
always, the poet ever a seer, the "greatly dreaming" man or woman
ever a prophet?
During one of those long talks in the Isle of Wight,
1870-1871, the subject of Governments came up.
"A time will of course come, dear Barbara," said George
Eliot, in her slowly enunciated, thoughtful way, "when royalties
will disappear" (I believe the word "caste" was used also, but am
not sure). "Kings and queens will be pensioned off, with
cushions for their feet."
Are we not much nearer this period than we think? Are
not all thrones tottering, Habsburgs and Hohenzollerns trembling
before Time and his hour-glass, inherited privileges, unearned
prerogatives doomed to speedy and eternal disappearance? Let
us hope so.
I add a note from Mr. Cross:
July 6, 1908.
thanks for your note, which has been forwarded to me here. At
this time of the year I am always more in London than in Tunbridge
Wells. It is indeed long since I have had the pleasure of
seeing you, and I had never heard that you had been laid up.
But I am very glad to hear that you are now fairly well again.
I should very much enjoy coming over one afternoon for a chat, and I
will try if I can manage it; but I am going away shortly to
Switzerland, and my time is very much occupied in the meanwhile.
However, if I can't get to Hastings before going abroad, I will
certainly come over when I return, as I should like to see you again
and exchange views with you.—Yours very sincerely,
J. W. CROSS.
Here is the only letter I ever received from George Eliot,
and a charming one it is; her exquisite handwriting in itself a
lesson to us all, scribblers that we are!
21 NORTH BANK,
PARK, January 5,
have been to Weybridge for a few days, and I did not succeed in
finding a few minutes to thank you for your letter on Monday morning
before we set out.
Any sign of remembrance from you will always be welcome, even
without such sweet and encouraging words as you wrote about what I
I am rather a wretch just now, apt to be more conscious of a
disordered liver than of all the better things in the world. I
hope you are freer than you were from such bodily drawbacks.
Madame Belloc assured me that you were, and that you looked
Mr. Lewes and I often revive the memory of you with pleasure
(it is about the anniversary of our acquaintance with you); he
unites his wishes with mine that the year may bring you new
Always yours sincerely,
M. E. LEWES.
Yet a postscript more about the foundress of Girton College
and George Eliot's most intimate friend.
Long ago Madame Bodichon's writings ought to have been
collected, edited, and published by some grateful beneficiary of her
foundation. Not a bit of it! As I have before said, and
I reaffirm it now, the disloyalty, ingratitude, and jealousy of
women towards each other is flagrant and will ever with me remain an
unanswerable objection to women's political advancement.
Here is a list of these terse, lucid, admirably-written
expositions, in so far as I know not one having been reprinted.
Most likely Girtonians have never heard of them, and if so, would
very likely shake their heads over "poor, second-rate stuff."
See "On the Girl of the Period," Mr. Frederic Harrison,
Fortnightly Review, February 1918, true as the satire is biting.
(i) A brief Summary in plain language of the most important Laws
of England concerning Women, together with a few observations
thereon, by Barbara L. S. Bodichon. Third edition with
additions. Trubner & Co. London, 1869. Price 1s.
(ii) Reasons for and against the Enfranchisement of Women, by
Mrs. Bodichon. Spottiswoode & Co. London, 1869.
(iii) Illustrations of the Operation of our Laws as they affect
the Property, Earnings, and Maintenance of Married Women.
Edinburgh, 1867. Price 1d.
(No name given, but undoubtedly the work of Madame Bodichon. A
marginal note points to a knowledge of French law, unlikely to be
possessed by an Englishwoman.)
A generation earlier, wrote Herbert Spencer (Autobiography,
p.149), a conspicuous part had been played in public life by Madame
Bodichon's father [p.69], Mr.
William Smith, for many years Member of Parliament for Norwich. His
were times during which immense sums were lost over contested
elections, and he is said to have spent three fortunes in this way:
not for the gratification of personal ambition, but prompted by
patriotic motives. For, himself a Unitarian, he was the
leading representative of the much-oppressed Dissenters, and it was
he who, by untiring efforts, finally succeeded in obtaining the
abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts. Various of his
descendants have been conspicuous for their public spirit,
philanthropic feeling, and cultivated tastes. From the eldest
son, his father's successor in Parliament, descended Mr. Benjamin
Leigh Smith, whose achievements as an Arctic explorer are well
known, and Madame Bodichon, of note as an amateur artist and active
in good works. One of the daughters became Mrs. Nightingale of
Lea Hurst, and from her, besides Lady Verney, came Miss Florence
Among the younger sons was Mr. Octavius Smith, who might be
instanced in proof of the truth—very general but not without
exception—that originality is antagonistic to receptivity. For
having in early life been somewhat recalcitrant under the ordinary
educational drill, he was in later life distinguished not only by
independence of thought, but by marked inventiveness—a trait which
stood him in great stead in the competition which, as the proprietor
of the largest distillery in England, he carried on with certain
Scotch rivals. Energetic in a high degree, and having the
courage and sanguineness which comes from continued success, he was
full of enterprises, sundry of them for public benefit. Partly
because of the personal experiences he had in various directions of
the obstacles which governmental interferences put in the way of
improvement, and partly as a consequence of the fact that, being a
man of vigour and resource, he was not prone to look for that aid
from State agencies which is naturally invoked by incapables, he was
averse to the meddling policy, much meddling in favour then, and
still more in favour now. One leading purpose of Social
Statics being that of setting forth both the iniquity and the
mischief of this policy, a lady who knew Mr. Octavius Smith's views
planned an introduction; and this having been made, there was
initiated an acquaintanceship which afterwards grew into something
I have been very fortunate in my friendships, and not the
least so in that with Mr. Octavius Smith. In later years I
owed to him the larger part of my chief pleasures in life.
The Member for Norwich was an original, and evidently loved
to contravene social mandates, taking his little daughters out for
drives on Sunday in their ordinary frocks and pinafores, and
otherwise throwing the gauntlet at public opinion—even objecting to
the shibboleth, as he regarded it, of baptism.
How proud would he have been had he lived to see the fruition
of his efforts! How he would have gloried in Barbara's name
and fame! It was not to be. But there is fortunately a
prescience in the parental mind. Doubtless as the old man lay
dying with the map of Algeria on his pillow, reminder of that
beloved child long since lost to him in a double sense—by a French
marriage and by a thousand miles of sea—he felt that she would do
more and more credit to his name as the years wore on, and that
without vain gloriousness he could here take credit to himself.
Here are a few samples of Madame Bodichon's wit, humour, and
On high thought and small snobberies:
"I lunched the other day at the Deanery (with Dean and Lady Augusta
Stanley) to meet Mr. Gladstone. There was served a cut
gooseberry pie. That pie doing double duty is a standing
lesson to my housekeeper, and now she has to bring to table pies
that have been begun."
On other snobberies:
"My leg-of-mutton dinners, as I call them, I began in Algeria.
Whenever rich people dined with me, I gave them just anything.
When poorly paid French functionaries were invited, I always
provided a sumptuous repast."
(In London the leg-of-mutton dinners were also the rule, and not,
perhaps, always accepted with a good grace. When the table was
set the hostess would also go round with a bottle of water, and well
dilute the half-filled decanters of sherry and claret.)
Madame Bodichon had a rough-and-ready way of treating
practical details. When travelling with her in Spain, she
found me puzzling over pesetas, doubloons, and the rest.
"Why trouble your little head about Spanish money?" she said,
and bringing out her purse laid on the table an English shilling, a
two-shilling piece, a half-sovereign, and a sovereign. "Now,"
she added, poising each coin and its Spanish equivalent by turns on
her finger, "the weight of gold and silver will tell you nearly
enough what the money represents." A neat and expeditious way
of doing international sums, it seemed to me.
Other travelling maxims were equally original:
"Always travel with plenty of luggage. You are then sure to
meet with attention and get the best of everything."
Another maxim, appropriate nowadays to France as well as to
the Spain of forty years ago, was this:
"Stand on the platform by your handbags, and look helpless."
In many a provincial station to this day no porters appear:
the traveller on arriving has to address himself to the
stationmaster for help with hand luggage.
An advanced Liberal, a warm advocate of social reform, a
practical-minded thinker, this noble Englishwoman was not always
keen-sighted either in political matters or judging character.
"Thank Heaven," she said exuberantly, when John Bright's
motion according votes to the agricultural labourer was passed, "we
who are living now at least shall see no more Tory régimes in
The Act was followed by twenty years of Conservative
Misreading of character, or rather enthusiasm carried to the
point of infatuation, would lead to cruellest disillusion.
Upon one occasion she was thus nonplussed.
After a prolonged eulogy of some new protégée, whose
numberless gifts and charms were to raise her to social and
intellectual eminence,—who was, indeed, to set the world on fire in
many places,—I asked mildly:
"What has this paragon, this feminine Admirable Crichton, achieved
thus to raise your expectations?"
She thought for a moment or two, and at last got out:
"Well, she has given birth to a beautiful baby."
"My dear friend," I retorted, she will not attain immortality by
becoming the mother of a baby, however beautiful."
Like Herbert Spencer, whom she knew well, she loved to
Thus, especially to younger friends, she would put the
"Would you rather possess beauty, or be the cause of beauty in
She said that with herself the latter choice would kick the
beam, meaning that the gift of physical attractions and charm, of
æsthetic gifts, opportunities, and surroundings, would be outweighed
by the power of putting all these in some measure within reach of
others not thus endowed.
On men's choice of wives:
"What men like in women is something that smiles. Many prefer
little rags of women."
On her sex's lot:
"Child-bearing is the battle-field of women."
On a sentimental lady saying, after revisiting the scenes of
her early youth, that she felt as if by a longer stay she should
recover her "childish innocence":
"I hope you have not lost it, have you?"
On Victor Hugo's dramas:
"To my thinking they are as fine as Shakespeare's."
On Zola and his school:
"Such stories are the reverse of realism. They are
non-realistic because they do not represent life as it is."
On marriage (rather an unkind hit):
"Nothing delights me more than to hear of any man being refused by a
woman. Such experiences put men in their right place."
On George Eliot:
"I suppose the time will come when all educated folks will write
like George Eliot."
Presumably her meaning was that slipshod futility would give
way to well-thought-out utterances and expressions, also to strictly
philosophic studies of life and human nature.
To a friend who had given her a somewhat idealised photograph
of herself—a quite anti-Aristotelian view, by the way, and
suggestive of Cromwell:
"Take this back, and give me one with all your lines in it."
To the students of her college of Girton: "You must make laws
About herself and her unorthodoxy, alike voluntary and
"I am a rich woman, and therefore when I die there will be no fuss
about burying an unbaptized person in consecrated ground."
On setting up in her own house a night-school for farming
lads—the teacher being a Wesleyan, and the teaching non-sectarian:
"I need not fear clerical interference, because I am rich."
"Folks must die in real life; why they should die in novels I never
"Some of our friends are roses, some are cabbages. Mrs.— is a
first-rate cabbage." To this a witty friend added: "And some
In our Spanish travels I had excused extortion on the part of
a guide because he was a very old man. She retorted "Old age
is no virtue."
On French amiability:
"The reason of French good nature is that children in France are
always allowed their own way, their tempers not being soured by
perpetual crossing and nagging."
On a prematurely agèd and beardless man:
"So-and-so looks like the mummy of a boy."
On a book of travel dealing with art galleries, written by one
uninitiated in art:
"The point that struck me about the book was the skill with which
the writer has concealed her ignorance."
On a new novel by a friend:
"Your story has only one fault—there is no point in it."
We can generally appraise folks—i.e. thinking folks—by their
maxims. A favourite citation with her was from the Koran: "If
you have only enough money in your purse wherewith to buy flowers or
bread, choose flowers and let the bread go."
Yet, intense as was her love of beauty, she ever remained
practical of the practical. With her, in the words of the
great Locke, "knowledge was seeing." Holding a few wild
flowers in her hand, she would make the uninitiated understand
points of vegetable physiology not easily got at through books.
And as there are limitations even in the highest developments
of intellect and character, so was it here. Herbert Spencer
somewhere says that the proposition, two parallel lines can never
meet, is unverifiable, because two parallel lines can never be
followed infinitely. With Madame Bodichon, knowledge was
seeing, as far as it went; but there ever remained the beyond, the
Had her brother, Benjamin Leigh Smith, as she fondly hoped,
discovered the North Pole in 1870-71, her first query on his return
would have been:
"Well, Ben, and what lies beyond?"
Like the immortal Vathek of "England's richest son," she
"wished to know everything; even sciences that did not exist."
On the Grand Peut-être of Rabelais, the questions that have
occupied philosophers and mystics since Plato's Phædo, she remained
silent. So beset was she, not by a sense of her rights, but of
her duties, that, like Wilberforce, she "had no time to think about
her soul." Confident in the causes for which she had
sacrificed so much, rationalist in the highest sense of the word,
ardently believing that humanity was on the upward path, she
accepted the inevitable with unswerving courage and calm.
Neither disillusion, broken health, pain, nor grief had power to
shake that commanding spirit. In a certain vital sense she was
as unpractical as the most flighty-headed. A woman of ardent
faith in individuals and causes and of abnormal activities, Goethe's
excellent maxim for intellectual workers, "unhasting, unresting,"
she could never take to heart, always trying to make twelve hours do
the duty of twenty-four, always taxing her mental and physical
powers to the straining point.
I used to say to her: "My dear friend, excellently as you
husband your material resources, in another and equally important
sense you are ever on the verge of insolvency, without a pennyworth
of reserve force to your credit."
And, true enough, bankruptcy came upon her as a thief in the
Barbara Bodichon was a spirited and convincing writer on the
subjects she had at heart, but lacked one invaluable sense—she could
not read character, could not understand that others were less
generous than herself. Thus we were chatting in her latter
days, when she suddenly said:
"Now, Milly" (my family pet name), "you must write my life."
"Nothing easier, my dear friend," I replied, "nothing more to
my mind; but remember one thing. Rich women like yourself
should make their wills long before, owing to mental and bodily
failure, they fall into the clutches of toadies, sycophants, lick-spittlers,
and other two-footed parasites whose names are legion in human form.
And in making your will trust only to the disinterested, the Man
She did not take my advice, and what became of the many
precious documents thus falling into parasitic clutches her oldest
friends never learned.
One or two would have straightway been returned to myself by
any person possessed, say, of the faintest approach to honesty and
self-respect. The first was a most careful transcript I had
made of Barbara's prolonged stay in the Slave States of America
before the war—a most interesting piece of history. Other
papers of her own I had laboriously copied and revised. Then
there were very valuable letters of noteworthy people, English,
French, and American; autographs that would fetch, and doubtless did
fetch for the purloiner, large sums—all, all swooped upon as the
carrion kite swoops upon her prey.
As I have before insisted upon, women are very disloyal to
Will it be believed that in a long article on Women's
Education in Chambers's invaluable Encyclopædia, and which is
written by a woman, the name of Barbara Bodichon, the foundress of
the first university for women in England, is not so much as
"Barbara Bodichon's portrait is in every European picture
gallery," was wont to say an artist friend. Titianesque,
indeed, were her superb colouring, golden hair, blue eyes perhaps
too prominent, perfectly shaped mouth, and features humanly, not
classically, beautiful. There was here no cold, stately
classicism. Life exuberant and exuberating to the very full
emanated from her presence, an afflatus once calling forth
"Madame Bodichon, what a benediction to see you!"
And a benediction to how many was her friendship!
As I am now taking leave of George Eliot and her circle, I
here interpolate an interesting passage from Herbert Spencer.
In 1850 he writes (vol. i. p. 377):
"Already I have mentioned the fact
that in the spring of 1850 I met Mr. G. H. Lewes, and that in the
course of a walk home from a soirée a conversation between us
produced mutual interest. When Social Statics came out
he spoke highly of it, both privately and in public as literary
editor of the Leader; and naturally, when we met again, a
further step was taken towards intimacy. As we had many tastes
and opinions in common, the intimacy grew rapidly.
"When the summer came there resulted country excursions
together—the early ones being long Sunday rambles in Wimbledon Park,
Richmond Park, etc., a companion on the first occasion being Mr. E.
S. Pigott, now Licenser of Plays, and at that time interested in the
Leader as one who subscribed part of the capital. Later
in the season our excursions took a wider range. The longest
of them was up the valley of the Thames—by railway to Slough and
thence on foot to Cookham, where we slept; next day we went along on
the Thames-bank by Marlow and on to Henley, where our day's walk
ended; leaving there on the Monday we reached, by the help of a
coach-drive, Pangbourne, and eventually Goring, where we stopped for
the night; and next day we walked as far as Abingdon, whence we
returned by railway. The expedition was a memorable one for
both of us; not only because of its enjoyments, which were great,
but also because of its mental results. It was to the impulse
he received from the conversations during these four days that Lewes
more particularly ascribed that awakened interest in scientific
inquiries which is referred to in an extract from his diary
published in George Eliot's Life. And in me,
observations on the forms of leaves set going a train of thought
which ended in my writing an essay on 'The Laws of Organic Form,' an
extended exposition of which occupies some space in the
Principles of Biology. Later in the autumn, Kent was the
scene of another ramble, Gravesend, Maidstone, and Cobham being
among the places on our route. Lewes remarked at its close
that the ramble had not been so rich in suggestions as the preceding
one; but he had brought with him a volume by Milne-Edwards, and in
it for the first time I met with the expression, 'the physiological
division of labour.' Though the conception was not new to me,
as is shown towards the end of Social Statics, yet the mode
of formulating it was; and the phrase thereafter played a part in my
course of thought.
"As a companion, Lewes was extremely attractive.
Interested in and well informed upon a variety of subjects, full of
various anecdote, and an admirable mimic, it was impossible to be
dull in his company. Nowadays he is chiefly known by the
contributions to philosophy in his Problems of Life and Mind;
but his reputation was then mainly that of an extremely versatile
man—a critic and writer on general literature, a novelist, a
dramatist, an actor, an expositor of philosophy. This last
combination recalls a droll incident in his career. He
delivered a series of lectures on philosophy in the provinces, and,
among other places, in Edinburgh. There, after his last
lecture had been given, the play-bills announced the Merchant of
Venice, with Mr. Lewes in the part of Shylock. The
dramatic element in the performance was, I doubt not, good, and I
dare say his dramatic faculty justified the thought which he at one
time entertained of going upon the stage; but his figure was not
sufficiently impressive for many parts, and his voice was not
"I knew nothing in those days of his domestic life, nor,
indeed, of anything concerning him beyond that which our
conversations disclosed. But alike then and afterwards I was
impressed by his forgiving temper and his generosity. Whatever
else may be thought, it is undeniable that he discharged the
responsibilities which devolved upon him with great
conscientiousness and at much cost in self-sacrifice,
notwithstanding circumstances which many men would have made a plea
for repudiating them."