Reminiscences II.

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CHAPTER IX.

MIMOSA HOUSE


A COMPARISON—ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE FIFTIES—MORALS—REBECCA H―― AND HER GUARDIAN ANGEL—A SCHOOL—GIRL'S RELIGIOUS NOTIONS


I CAN but believe that one of the greatest changes of the Victorian era is a progressive moral standard.  The incidents and conditions described in the following pages could not, I dare aver, be paralleled in the present day.  In some matters we have gone back, in others we have remained stationary, yet in others it is satisfactory to feel that humanity has undoubtedly become more respectable.  Before beginning my narrative I will here put in a connecting word of explanation.

    Family circumstances are of no general interest, family sorrows—no matter the intervening lapse of years—are too sacred for printers' copy.  I will only say that when I was twelve years old I lost my mother, a beautiful, refined, and, for her day, highly educated woman.  From that time, partly owing to domestic affairs, partly owing to the fondness of an adoring father, the direction of my life was left in my own hands.  The direction was naturally not always of the wisest.  Circumspection at so early an age would be abnormal; prudence, self-interest, would be equally precocious.  But the opportunities thus put in my way had for result the first and vital stock-in-trade of a novelist, namely, an experience of life, a knowledge of men and manners as few possess on the threshold of life.

    About a hundred years since the greatest of great novelists, the immortal Goldsmith, entered upon the career of usher at Peckham, a young Suffolk girl, modest aspirant in the same literary field, took up her abode as governess-pupil at Mimosa House, very near the site of Dr. Milner's Academy.  And perhaps, could the author of "The Vicar of Wakefield" have revisited this earthly scene and compared the nineteenth century establishment for young ladies with that for the other sex familiar to him, his verdict would be in favour of the latter.

    Another suggestion is here evoked—who can say?  Might not the sordidness and crushing ignominies of the Peckham Academy have occasioned that reaction to which we owe the idyllic tale of Wakefield?  Certainly in the case of his humble follower a century later it was so.  Mimosa House, with its unutterably low ethic standards and intellectual dead level drew me towards the ideal as to a harbour of refuge.  On quitting those ever-abhorred doors, my first essay was in the field of pure romance.

    Here I must explain what is meant by that now obsolete term, a governess-pupil.  I was then to pay a small sum for board and lodging, teach the juniors for two or three hours every morning, and by way of return received lessons "from approved masters" in music, drawing, and dancing.  It may be asked what in Heaven's name a studious and rather severe young person should want of a dancing master?  The fact is, two maternal aunts, great authorities on such matters, had laid it down as an axiom that "dancing implies birth and breeding."  It was to please them that I had made the arrangement, an arrangement soon repented of; I very quickly renounced the dancing class for the piano.

    The drawing lessons proved a dead sea apple.  Twice a week a stout, good-natured lady, Mrs. R—, came to instruct the young ladies in copying Julien's heads with crayon, and pencil landscapes with flat pencils, the latter accomplishment being called "the Galpin style."

    No greater waste of time, no more complete illusion could be conceived.  The teacher knew nothing and her pupils learned nothing, no one apparently finding this out.

    The music lesson was a solid, honest fact.  Miss A—, the head partner of the school, had studied at the Royal Academy and was an accomplished musician.  I am also bound to add that she very conscientiously went through this part of her daily routine.  I never missed my lesson nor the stipulated use of a piano.

    Materially the girls were not badly off; that is to say, they had enough to eat, did not suffer from chilblains more than was then usual, and took outdoor exercise every day.  The pretence of the thing consisted in the utter want of education, either religious, moral, or intellectual, the daily giving of stones for bread and thorns for figs.

    Several of the elder girls, indeed, I should say the majority, belonged to a very low type.  Vices with which they ought to have been absolutely unfamiliar were openly discussed, and in language that savoured of the gutter, language new to my own ears as would have been the argot of the Quartier Latin.  It will be said, my duty was clearly that of an informer; but I had nothing whatever to do with the first class.  These loathsome confidences overheard by chance would never have been believed at headquarters.  And the offenders were the most profitable of Miss A―'s pupils.  Twenty governess-pupils could be had for the asking, but daughters of wealthy hotel-keepers were not so easy to replace.  Where had girls of well-to-do middle-class parents learned such abominations?  The matter has ever seemed a mystery to me.  No vile literature found its way into school lockers.  Principal and head governess were propriety incarnate, the two servants were eminently staid young women.  It would really appear as if in some natures evil takes root spontaneously, just as some plants become eaten up with green-fly despite the gardener's care.

    This ingrained depravity was less shocking than a want of sensibility, rather, I should say, a callousness to which only Balzac could have done justice.  And sad to say, this callousness, instead of being checked, was fostered, as the following story will testify.

    Among the younger pupils was a little girl of six or seven named Rebecca H—, daughter of a neighbouring baker.  Why this unfortunate child should have been signalled out as a shape-goat I could never understand.  It is true that Mr. H was a retail tradesman, and that instead of paying for his child's schooling, he paid in kind—that is to say, the yearly sum-total was taken out in daily cart-loads of bread.  Surely such a bargain was highly creditable to the baker and must have been far from disadvantageous to the schoolmistress.  The price of bread might rise or fall, little Rebecca's board and education cost a mere nothing, and meanwhile, from January to December, Mimosa House and all its hungry mouths were liberally supplied with the staff of life.  But the other girls belonged to just a higher rung of the social ladder, and the treatment of Rebecca H— arose partly from this reason, partly because she was a dull, plebeian-looking, plain child, and doubtless partly because degraded humanity must find its victim, some ugly toad it would be delightful to stone if foolish sentiment and genteel manners did not forbid.  The poor child was sometimes guilty of an offence doubtless due to physical infirmity, and here is an account of her punishment.

    At eight o'clock, just before bed-time, all the girls, marshalled by principal and head governess, trooped down to the kitchen.  There, stripped naked, in a tub, stood Rebecca H—, exposed to the taunts and objurgations of the rest.  For some minutes this disgraceful scene lasted, the chorus increasing in fury and volume.  "Oh, Rebecca!  Oh, dirty, odious Rebecca!  Oh, filthy Rebecca!" cried, howled, shouted these vicious lookers-on, the little naked figure bearing her martyrdom in stolid silence.  Not a tear, not a cry escaped her, very probably her feeling being one of intense thankfulness, amazement, that vindictiveness ended here, and that she was not beaten within an inch of her life as well.

    A pearl may lie on a dunghill in fact as well as in fable, and among this dehumanised, unsexed crew was one angel in ungainly shape.  Harriet A— was a large-featured, muddy-complexioned girl about twelve or thirteen, and with others of the first class, had a little boarder under her charge.  Each younger pupil was mothered in this way, for there was no matron or wardrobe woman; the young ladies made their own beds, and two maids did the rest of the work.

    As good luck would have it, Rebecca H— fell into Harriet A—'s hands, and no fairy godmother ever showed more devotion.  This unprepossessing, sallow, phlegmatic girl belonged to the category of noble women whose mission it is to protect every hunted-down creature that crosses their path.  The task came as a matter of course, by no means a self-imposed duty.  Harriet A— with all her care could not make Rebecca look pretty and taking as the other little girls.  Rebecca's hair would not curl, her Sunday frocks were plain and ill-made, the worthy baker evidently setting more store by learning than fashion, and the child herself was graceless and undemonstrative.  But what mattered these things?  Rebecca's very defects and disadvantages but endeared her the more.  Harriet did not want cent. per cent. back again with accumulated interest.  She lavished protectiveness and devotion upon one in need of both, simply because the need was there.  Were I to live a hundred years, never shall I forget that picture, a picture to reprove humanity as a great lesson of Lear, the little, ill-favoured, plebeian, despised child and her equally undowered guardian angel smoothing her hair, making the best of cheap Sunday frock, all the while uttering little words of endearment and love.

    The girls were of course taken regularly to church, once a day in winter, twice in the long days.  Prayers were also read night and morning.  There religious instruction began and ended.  Not a trace of pious or even reverential feeling could I ever discover in any.  Upon one occasion three or four of the elder pupils were discussing a future state.

    "Well," said a pert little minx of thirteen, "I only hope that when I do go to Heaven I shall be permitted to carry my work in my pocket, or how on earth should I get through the day?"

    This sally evoked a round of laughter.  It is hardly necessary to add that alike head and under teacher were taken upon trust.  No certificate of proficiency was or could be expected.

    At the end of six months I quitted Mimosa House, and from that day to this have never re-visited Peckham.  Whether the big red house with the large back garden still stands or has long since given place to semi-detached villas, I know not.  Certain it is that as a finishing school for young ladies Mimosa House of evil memory ceased to exist long ago.  No less positive is the fact that we might nowadays search the United Kingdom through without finding its counterpart.


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CHAPTER X.

THE TWO DROMIAS


AMELIA B. EDWARDS—DAMP FIREWORKS—THE ORGANIST OF WOOD GREEN—MY UNCLE—STERLING COIN—A TWELVEMONTH'S READ AT A BOOKSTALL—AN AUTODIDACTS


ONE result of that six months' stay at Mimosa House was the cementing of a very close friendship with the late novelist, Egyptologist, and founder of a Chair of Egyptology, Amelia Blandford Edwards.  My senior by several years, my superior in knowledge of the world and in intellectual attainments generally, this first cousin and boon companion seemed rather an elder sister.  Yet so strictly did we both adhere to the essential conditions of friendship, namely, a certain measure of reserve and absolute freedom of action, that, throughout an affectionate intimacy extending over thirty years, we never consulted each other about literary work or business.  Each went her own way unfettered by loving interference, counsel, or criticism.

    This excellent rule is, I feel convinced, the very basis of a good understanding; neither to proffer too much nor to expect too much, the principle on which hangs all satisfactory relationship.  A true poet, who, for reasons best known to himself, long ago gave up the lyre for the circulating library, has put this sentiment into four exquisite lines.  Were they made of daily application, how much smoother were the paths of domestic life!


"Vex not thou thy violet
     Perfume to afford,
 Or no odour wilt thou get
     From its little hoard!"


Thus wrote George Macdonald, and hardly a day passes but one sees the subtle wisdom thus expressed set at naught.

    In the case just referred to, only one matter, for which we were neither of us responsible, marred the intercourse of Amelia B. Edwards and her cousin.  This was that most unfortunate B. with which our second names began, a cause of frequent annoyance and occasionally of serious inconvenience.  As Frances Power Cobbe wittily said, we had each a bee in our bonnets, a bee that at all times buzzed most uncomfortably, and sometimes gave a sting.  It was a case of the two Dromios with change of sex and circumstance.  The prettiest possible compliment paid to M. B. E. would be intended for her namesake.  Literary successes or failures would invariably be attributed to the wrong author.  Alike the reading public and society in general blundered to the last.  And neither of us could make up our minds to give up that bewildering B, the cause of all the mischief.  Amelia stuck to hers for the sake of euphony, I to my own because Betham was my mother's maiden name and possessed literary associations.

    Sometimes drawing-room mistakes occasioned poignant anguish.

    At a famous literary breakfast, for instance, I was introduced to an Archbishop, who began blandly—

    "Ah! how glad I am to shake hands with the author of that charming book—"  My heart leapt into my mouth, for I had never in my life received so much as a poor little compliment from Canon, Dean, or Bishop, much less from a Primate.  Alas! exultation was short lived.  The fireworks proved damp.  "Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys," he added, alluding to a work on the Dolomite mountains by Amelia B.  Of course there was nothing to do but smile away his Grace's embarrassment and look for all the world as if my cousin's literary offspring were cherished fondly as my own.

    Upon another occasion a musical composer sent A. B. E. a little poem copied from the pages of a magazine, begging permission to set it to music.  Letter and song were sent on to me with the pencilled words: "This must be yours; I know nothing about it."  I returned both, saying, "Neither do I; ransack your memory."  Again the verses came back with words to this effect: "Ransack your own," and, unable to identify the piece, it was forwarded to the composer.  This gentleman, nothing daunted, betook himself to the British Museum, unearthed the original, and lo and behold, they bore my own signature! [p.77]

    To the very last the blundering went on.  A few years back a friend bequeathed me the sum of a hundred pounds.  As she was both mentally and bodily afflicted, the transaction was entrusted to a hanger-on, one of those persons unable to care for any interests but her own.  The legacy was of course made out in the name of Amelia Betham Edwards, and it was not without considerable difficulty that my cousin could convince the lawyers of the mistake.

    And another by no means laughable error was made a year or two after that life-long friend had gone to her rest.

    At the Hastings railway station an acquaintance, catching sight of me, drew back horrified as from an apparition.

    "I—I—I," she stammered forth—"I read in the papers that you were dead!"

    To the bulk of the novel reading public it was not a case of the two Dromios or even of the Siamese twins.  A. B. E. and M. B. E. were simply one and the same person.

    About this time Amelia filled the modest post of organist at a little country church near London; for a generation and more ago, Wood Green, Hornsey, was far too rural to be called surburban.  I suppose most intellectual workers have a dual capacity, a choice before them, not of Prodicus, rather of equally excellent and enticing paths.  Be this as it may, a lady who attained considerable literary eminence, who wrote at least one novel that will long keep her name alive and ended her career as an Egyptologist of European repute, began life as a professional musician, and—can any say?—but for accident, chance, casual circumstance, might so have ended it, occupying herself with dominant sevenths instead of hieroglyphics, with fugues, fantasias, and concertos, instead of the seventh dynasty, perhaps adding a woman's name to the pages of musical biography.  She was at this time a highly accomplished musician, a thorough mistress of the keyboard, and well versed in harmony and counterpoint.  Some compositions for the organ belonging to the period in question show considerable taste and skill.  At all times a tremendous worker, for years she devoted eight hours daily to the piano, other studies being pursued till far into the night.

    It was a curious household, that home in a part of London now pronounced quite uninhabitable, but, when Amelia's parents settled there more than half a century ago, almost genteel.  I confess to an ineradicable affection for the proximity of Colebrooke Row, with its associations of Charles Lamb, of Sadler's Wells dear to Shakespearians, of the sombre Irvingite church, and even the dusty little gardens of Percy Circus and Myddelton Square.  Islington, Pentonville, Bloomsbury, these made up the London of my youth, and youthful recollection confers an immortality of its own.

    Long before that stay at the Peckham School, a stay so barren of all pleasant experience, I had paid a long visit to London and become familiar with "merry Islington."  How pleasant on summer evenings to stroll past Charles Lamb's house by the New River!  How attractive the High Street with its fine old church surrounded by trees and green sward, recalling some market town far away!  And the stir and metropolitan aspect of the Angel corner!  All these have left inspiring memories.

    The young organist's home was east of Islington, herself being a Cockney, born within sounds of Bow Bells.  My uncle was an old Peninsular officer, who had served under Wellington in Spain and taken part in the battle of Corunna.  Slight and spare as a man could well be, taciturn, austere, and methodical to clockwork, he formed the strangest possible contrast to his lively, sociable, theatre-loving little Irish wife.  For years he occupied some post in a city bank, always setting forth and returning to the minute, after tea reading the Times or some historical work with his watch by his side; at the stroke of nine retiring to rest.  On Sundays he went every morning to a dull church close by, as regularly taking a walk afterwards with two elderly ladies of his acquaintance.  The walk would be along the City or Marylebone Road, never lasting a second longer than a stated time.  In the summer he spent a couple of weeks or so with one brother or another, the life of the Suffolk farm-house being his only annual change.

    That attenuated automatic frame held a valiant spirit.  On the breaking out of the Crimean War, my uncle, then considerably past middle age, sent in his name to the War Office with the words, "Able and willing to serve."  His monotonous, apparently joyless existence was made exceptional by pride in his brilliant daughter.  The success of her pretty novel "Barbara's History" shed a ray over a life that to outsiders seemed pathetic in its sameness and self-sought isolation.  Theatres, private theatricals, musical evenings, conversaziones were not to his taste.  Most often his evenings were spent alone.

    On Sunday evenings we used to take tea at the house of Mr. Sterling Coyne (I always feel inclined to write Sterling Coin), the playwright, in Wilmington Square.  There was an immense family of charming boys and girls, and after tea they acted charades or little plays, papa being stage manager.  Sterling Coyne had a fund of good things to tell us, one of which I will relate.  He was reading at a bookstall in Oxford Street one day when a friend tapped him on the shoulder.  "Wish me a good journey and safe return," he said; "I am off to-night to New York."  The friends chatted for a few minutes, then parted with a hearty handshake, Sterling Coyne resuming his book.

    Twelve months afterwards he was poring over some volume at the same bookstall when again he was tapped on the shoulder.

    "Good God, Coyne," cried a familiar voice, "you don't mean to say you have been reading three hundred and sixty-five days and nights at a stretch?"

    It was the friend who had there taken leave of him just a year before.

    Delightful, too, were the Shakespearian evenings at Sadler's Wells, "As you like it," in which the parts of Celia and Rosalind were taken by the sisters Leclerc.  The spectacular element was not then a foremost attraction.  Theatre-goers were enticed rather by an actress's charm and skill than by the richness or eccentricity of her gowns.  What an audience wanted was Shakespeare, not an historic pageant.

    As these brief memorials of a remarkable woman need no apology, I will add a few more particulars.  Very soon after this visit, the young organist of Wood Green finally relinquished a musical for a literary career.  Already, when nine years old, she had gained a prize offered for a tale in a penny temperance magazine.  Some pretty musical stories published in Chambers's Journal and elsewhere had followed at intervals.  About the same time the two Dromias appeared as novelists, the success of her first story deciding Amelia's future life.

    A few years later the little household near Wilmington Square was tragically broken up.  The old Peninsular officer and his wife died within seven days of each other, having just lived long enough to enjoy their daughter's early triumph.  It was not till many years later that romance was laid aside for Egyptology, a dozen or so novels having been written during the interim.  An exceptionally brilliant lecturing tour in America during the winter of 1889-90 was marred by an unfortunate accident.  Amelia never recovered from the shock, although not a single lecture had been relinquished in consequence.  In April, 1892, she died, having by her will founded a chair of Egyptology at University College, London, and bequeathed her fine library to Somerville Hall, Oxford.

    One characteristic has yet to be mentioned.  As an Egyptologist she was what our French neighbours call an "autodidacts," i.e., self-taught; and, indeed, she had taught herself most things that she knew.  "I can never learn of others," she once said to me; "I must be my own teacher and acquire in my own way."  A more ardent, self-sacrificing student never lived,


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CHAPTER XI.

IDYLLIC AND BIBLIOGRAPHICAL


REACTION—DRIFTS AND PIGHTLES—LORD OF THE HARVEST—BAIT AND BEVER-THE LAST WAGGON—THE BIOGRAPHY OF A BOOK—PUBLISHING OLD AND NEW


HOW refreshing the drifts and pightles of Suffolk after the prison walls of Mimosa House and the dust and glare of Pentonville!  How refreshing, too, the naive talk of our farming folk after the tittle-tattle of low-bred school-girls!  Here must be explained for the benefit of non-East Anglians that a drift, of common usage in Suffolk, means an enclosed lane, and is probably an abbreviation of drift-way, a common way for driving cattle in. [p.82-1]  Arthur Young, author of the famous travels in France, uses the word, but I am not familiar with its appropriation in this sense by many writers.  Pightle or pightel, from pight, an enclosed piece of land, [p.82-2] and in Suffolk meaning a little enclosed paddock or meadow, is used by that master of pure English, George Borrow.

    The words have not reached my ears since these early days, but to see them in print recalls exquisite beauty and rapturous enjoyment.

    Figure to yourself, reader, a long, well-wooded lane or natural avenue, leading from field to field or meadow to meadow; in spring time its banks redolent of white and purple violets, in summer, its hedges a tangle of wild rose and honeysuckle, overhead stately oak and elm lending perpetual shadow, musical with wood pigeon and little birds.  Except for occasional passage of lazy herd or tumbril slowly making way over grass-green ruts, all is quiet and solitary.  The drift indeed belongs to the farm, as much as orchard or potato garden.  A delicious retreat when no young colts are disporting themselves in its precincts is the pightle, now a glory of cowslips, sweetest of all sweet flowers, now of wild clover, pasturage of the bees.  A breeze blows freshly even in July, there are no sultry days in my beloved Suffolk, and here also the idler would find himself alone.  How delightful to lie cushioned on the grass, a favourite poet in your hand, or, following the poet's advice, your gaze fixed on the ever varying, ever spectacular heavens! [p.83-1]

    That bygone pastoral, I am tempted to say pageant, has never been supplanted by richer, more varied experiences.  With the reaping machine, the patent mower, the steam thresher, vanished all poetry from cornfield and farmyard.  With the improved kitchener, mechanical churner, and the inroads of gentility, farm-house life has become prosaic as that of a stocking factory.  But in former days it was not so.  Hardship there might be, boorishness there might be, yet a bucolic spirit from time to time reigned in these homely scenes, for a brief interval existence wore the aspect of Bacchanalia.  Their ruddy faces gleaming like red hot coals against the golden sheaves, the lusty reapers obeyed beck and nod of the "Lord of the Harvest," leader chosen for his prowess, commanding presence, and high character generally.  At a signal from the lord, all filed off to the nearest hedge for "bait" [p.83-2] and "bever," i.e., eleven and four o'clock collations of harvest cake and beer, a can of the oldest and strongest being supplied from the farm upon extra occasions.  Decency characterised the conversation, ofttimes master and men sitting down to bait and bever together.

    Meantime at home housewives were busy.  Alike in farm and cottage huge plum-puddings would dance in the boiler, before the dinner-hour being taken up to cool.  What a commotion among the wasps!  No matter the devices resorted to, as well try to keep schoolboys from green apples as drive away wasps from a harvest pudding.  To this day the sight of a wasp recalls that savoury steam on the window sill.

    But the crowning gala was the coming home of the last waggon.  When both crops and weather had proved propitious, when farmer and reapers were in high spirits, and, above all, when the moon was full, this was a festival indeed.

    Long before the procession approached joyous shouts and singing announced the culminating event of the husbandman's year, the prosperous gathering in, the happy close of so many anxious nights and laborious days.  Louder and louder grows the chorus of untrained voices, more distinct the tramp of feet and rumble of wheels; then in the summer twilight, the harvest moon rising in full splendour behind it, appears the last waggon, to-day, a triumphal car decorated with green boughs and field flowers!

    Is it to be wondered at that such scenes for a time held me captive? for a time at least keeping me to early association?  Any other young writer would, I think, have been influenced by a similar reaction; instead of describing school life, as depressing from the moral point of view as that portrayed by the great Brontë, taking refuge in idyllic scenes and ideal portraiture.

    Soon after returning home I set to work on my first novel (some youthful attempts I had destroyed long before), and as an author's experiences after such lapse of years assume almost the character of history, I will give some purely biographical details.  The production of a book, that is to say, the printing, publishing, and circulation thus retrospectively considered, may be as interesting as the genesis of a book itself, always presuming that the work in question can lay claim to a genesis, is not merely so much "copy" paid for per thousand words.

    I suppose that in the present day a young author's method of procedure would be as follows.  First of all he would send his MS. and fee to the Authors' Society; having obtained advice, next try his luck with a publisher; if successful, again address himself to Great Portugal Street, get an agreement properly drawn up, signed, and sealed, then betwixt hope and fear await the issue, criticisms, advances from other houses, editorial offers, notoriety, royalties.

    Very different was a young author's position when a Suffolk girl then just twenty put the colophon to her first novel, "The White House by the Sea."

    "Has any of you ever heard a more wonderful adventure than this of the hunchback, my jester?" asked the Sultan of his courtiers in Arabian story.  And wholly irrespective of its virtues or demerits, this little book deserves a biographer.

    There was of course no parcels' post in those days.  Despatched to London through the agency of the family grocer, the manuscript was duly acknowledged and, wonderful to relate, very soon afterwards accepted by one of the foremost publishing houses.

    I must here once and for all make it quite clear that I do not in the very least reflect upon anyone else but myself throughout the history of this transaction.  The important, I may say the only object I had in view was to get my book well put before the public, which it was, my payment being in kind, instead of money—that is to say, I received twenty-five copies of new one, two, and three volume novels.  For a young writer the bargain cannot be called a bad one.  My work was well printed, well bound, well advertised, and presented to the world in excellent company.  The curious part of the business is this: before me lies the original edition in two handsome volumes dated 1857, beside it, the last popular issue dated 1891.  Between those two dates, a period of just upon thirty-five years, the book had contrived to keep its head above water, that is to say, had been steadily reprinted from time to time, yet from its first appearance to the present day, when it is still selling, not a farthing of profit has accrued to the author!

    However, all is not gold that glitters, and a writer whose first story has long survived a generation may complacently view the "boom" of a "Dodo," a "Trilby," or of the latest Kailyarder.  What would you have?  We may as well own to our little vanities!

    An author's step first and successfully made, there is no doubt whatever that his chances both of recognition and money were infinitely better in those days than now. [p.86]  Probably to one literary aspirant of forty years ago there are five hundred, perhaps ten thousand to-day.  Publishers were also a mere handful compared to their present numbers.  They brought out fewer works and exercised more literary discrimination.  Again, public taste had not been vitiated by the imitators of bad French models.  Novel readers felt the influence of the great triad—Dickens, Thackeray, Currer Bell.  Keeping up this high standard came George Eliot and her worthy compeer, creator of the immortal Mrs. Proudie.

    Again, the good old system of selling a book just as you sell a house had its advantages.  There was no suspense, no delusive waiting for royalties or half profits.  An accredited author, despite the absence of newspaper syndicates, American copyright, and other advantages, had only himself to blame if he failed to amass a little fortune in those days.

    The next few years were chiefly spent in Wurtemberg, the Free City of Frankfort, Vienna, and Paris.  There, too, as in Suffolk, conditions of life being very unlike those of the present day.


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CHAPTER XII.

OLD GERMANY


LIFE IN A WURTEMBERG SCHLOSS—AN ENGLISH ABBESS—THE GENESIS OF A NOVEL—FRANKFORT AS A FREE CITY


HARDLY more pretentious was the life of a Wurtemberg Schloss, my first foreign experience, than that of the Suffolk farm-house left behind.  Yet with what an exhilarating sense of novelty came those South German days, their atmosphere as completely vanished as the Suffolk of my youth!  The Procrustean bed, called German unity, had not amalgamated a dozen charming little kingdoms, lopping off every vestige of spontaneousness and originality.  Instead of the actual dead level, the Prussianising of Europe from Potsdam to Stuttgart, a traveller formerly passed from one picturesque state to another.  Wherever he went he found engaging naïveté of manners, costumes, speech.  All this belongs to the past.  Despite its literary, artistic, and musical attractions, Germany has become totally uninspiring, depressing indeed, to the freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon mind.

    Railways in these days were not so common as now, and the post-waggon or stage-coach conveyed us from Stuttgart to our destination, my fellow-guests being two English ladies, resident in the capital.  The German post-boy was a striking feature of rural life, and well worthy of the poetic immortality conferred upon him. [p.88]  My first acquaintance of this kind was a wiry little old man in bright orange-coloured coat with very short tails, sky-blue trousers, and black, almost brimless, hat.  Around his neck was his horn, ornamented with green tassels, and this horn he blew upon every occasion: the martial blasts echoed back from the vine-clad hills, the intervening plain, a brilliant chessboard of flax, Indian corn, tobacco, and beetroot.  It recalled an artist's palette on which lie patches of green, purple, yellow, brown, and blue.  An old-fashioned open carriage, with a moustached coachman in livery, awaited us at the last post-house, and an hour's drive through alleys of fruit trees—such was the aspect of the high road—brought us to the Schloss, a gaunt building with low roof and turrets at each corner, its enormously thick walls showing engraved armorials.  A mediæval moat or fosse now formed a belt of orchards, here and there little stone stairs leading from the first floor of the Schloss to the pleasure gardens below.

    Nobleness of character and tragic circumstance take firmer hold of the imagination than scenes, however far removed from commonplace.  To this sojourn in an old Wurtemburg castle belong memories as touching as they are strange.

    The owner of the Schloss, Baron B—, was a widower, his two children being under the charge of an English girl, whilst the household generally, and indeed the business of the estate, were managed by an elderly relation, a most competent and estimable person whom I will call Fräulein Theresa.  Whether the Baron at this time held any official post or no I forget, but the recent loss of a beautiful and fondly loved young wife was alone enough to account for his frequent and prolonged absences from home, perhaps partly accounted for some rare and winning qualities.

    In some respects this country gentleman of South Germany was one of the most amiable characters I ever knew.  Having been bereft himself, he seemed anxious to solace all others equally stricken.

    It happened that the young English governess of his little boy and girl was an orphan, one of several sisters, all earning daily bread as teachers in Germany.  To these hardworking, exemplary girls the Baron had proved more than a kind friend and protector.  Far too chivalrous to affect the air of a patron, he treated them as honoured guests rather than protégées.  In holiday seasons the Schloss was their second home, his carriage, his table, his servants being placed at their disposal.  Had they been court ladies from Windsor their welcome could not have been warmer, more gracious.

    The young teacher of his children, I will call her Erminia, without being exactly handsome or pretty had a face of singular sweetness and charm.  At this time she seemed, as indeed she undoubtedly was, perfectly happy in her surroundings, with no cravings for the unknown, no wish to plunge into the vortex of passion or romance.  As I gaze upon her portrait now it is difficult to believe in the sequel, to conjure up another vision, the quietly joyous, affectionate, practical girl transformed into a stern lady abbess, the whilom young governess swaying little children with grave smile or gentle admonition, now mother superior, austerely ruling a household of cloistered women, her frown making offenders tremble, from her sentences, however severe, being no appeal.

    Two or three years after this visit I heard that Erminia had gone over to the Romish faith and entered a convent, intending to take the veil.  And only the other day—after an interval of thirty years—I learned that she had attained the pinnacle of conventual ambition, namely, the position of mother superior and lady abbess in a large South American convent.

    Strange to add, it was no love affair that had brought about Erminia's perversion from the Protestant faith and withdrawal from a wholesome, rational existence into the prison walls of mediæval superstition.  It must be mentioned that she had a brother of her own, her elders were only step-sisters, and to this brother, of whom she had seen but little, she was entirely devoted.  From childhood upwards the pair had agreed to make a home together in the New World.  When at last realisation of these dreams appeared at hand, circumstances decided the brother upon a quite different course.  He went his own way, married a wife, and Erminia committed a kind of suicide which nineteenth century progress has neither abolished nor succeeded in rendering generally preposterous.

    Village life hereabouts recalled a page of Voss's matchless idyll, "Luise."  Much was certainly needed in the way of tidiness and sanitation, but the cordial relations of chatelaine and dependants—Fräulein Theresa represented the Baron—the amazing fruitfulness of the land, the equally amazing frugality of the people, made up for many shortcomings.  And it must ever be borne in mind that the most crushing of all taxes, enforced military service, had not yet crushed the spirit of the people.

    Stuttgart itself was still in many respects a century behind the age.  The town sewerage ran into the Neckar, watering the beautiful Royal Park, and every drop of water for domestic purposes had to be fetched from the nearest fountain.  I think I see now my friend's old woman-servant bravely mounting to the fourth storey with a great tub of water balanced on her head.

    Some odd customs prevailed.  At the close of every season the Queen's left-off dresses were sold by her ladies' maids and were much in request.  It was a sight to see one piece after another of well-worn finery—for her Majesty was economical—tried on, walked to the glass in, haggled over.  And diverting to the Queen must have been the glimpse at park, garden, or theatre, of some familiar robe or bonnet.  No one seemed to look at the matter from a humorous point of view.  The bargaining was conducted gravely.  Faded brocade and threadbare velvet were complacently paraded.

    From the little capital of Wurtemberg to the Free City on the Maine was a change indeed.  The glittering Zeil, the equipages of Jewish bankers, the suburban villas, far outshone in splendour anything to be seen at Stuttgart. Here, too, the stamp of originality was much stronger.  On every side, and at every moment, a stranger recalled the Frankfort of Goethe's youth, the historic Frankfort to-day as completely vanished as if swallowed up by an earthquake.

    I do not know how things may be now, but at this time an English clergyman was stationed there by some society at home for the purpose of converting the Jews.  How many Jews were converted yearly, or if at all, I never learned; certain it is that the representative of the said society was himself the best possible argument, having relinquished the Talmud for the New Testament and the roll of the law for the Thirty-nine Articles.  This agent of conversion had an English wife, and at the request of a common acquaintance, I was received into their house as a boarder.  On reaching the pretty surburban villa, a curious reception awaited me.  The initial greetings over, my host sat down and, adjusting his spectacles, deliberately studied the new-comer.  He was a man of medium height, of unmistakable Jewish origin, and evidently alert dialectic mind.  As apparently, the garb of an English divine was worn proudly, significant of the inner struggle and self-conquest of which he felt the right to be proud.  Apparent, too, was that incongruousness and look of pathetic complacency I have seen in French priests converted to Protestantism and officiating as pastors.  The tonsure and priestly aspect sort as ill with their new garb and office as Jewish physiognomy with surplice and pulpit, but such contradictions, even whimsicality, only strike observers.  Fervency of conviction renders blind or callous to such matters.

    The perusal over, having perhaps satisfied himself as to my listening capacities and interest in psychological problems generally, he asked abruptly—

    "Have you heard of the great scandal that has happened in the English church and community here, the history of Doctor J—?"  On my reply in the negative he told me the following story.

    A short time before there had appeared in Frankfort an elderly English clergyman, of noble presence and most winning manners, claiming suffrages for a self-imposed mission.  This was no less than a crusade against Judaism in the city of Jerusalem itself, a winning over of souls to Christianity amid the awful scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary.  No one could doubt in the validity of his plea or in the sincerity of the pleader.  Dr. J—, moreover, brought with him the very best credentials.  His ecclesiastical status was high, and had it been otherwise, had wavering doubts arisen here and there, his first appearance in the pulpit would have quelled them for ever.  With an oratory that could only be described as electric, he took the congregation by storm.  Women wept, men were shaken by emotion, and gold pieces rattled into the collector's plate like hailstones!

    For some weeks the business of enlisting sympathy, in other words, of raising a fund, went on.  Dr. J— became the idol of Frankfort society.  He accepted every invitation, received the adulation alike of the devout and the worldly, repaid hospitality after regal fashion, with the costliest toy for bêbé, floral offering of rare exotics for Madame, choice little souvenir for Monsieur.  The soberer of his worshippers regretted just a touch of worldliness and parade in this gifted and godly man.  But had not St. Paul bade his followers be all things to all men?

    And did not princely ways beseem one of Nature's noblest?  Women, one and all, from the titled dame to the washerwoman, lost their heads about this irresistible sexagenarian.  Alike physiognomy, presence, voice, were pronounced ineffable, fascinating beyond the power of words.

    Quite suddenly the bubble burst.  As a thunder blast in fine weather fell the blow.  One morning all Frankfort was a-titter with the odious story.

    Dr. J— had quitted the Free City over head and ears in debt, fleeing from dishonour, perhaps a debtor's prison.  Needless to add that the little fortune collected for the conversion of Jerusalem had been squandered upon himself and his uncalled-for generosities.  Such was the genesis of "Dr. Jacob," [p.94] and the story with its picturesque surroundings might well have proved the genesis of a novelist as well; who could have helped putting it upon paper?  And who, having known Frankfort as a Free City, would care to revisit it now?  Not even Dannecker's "Ariadne" nor Del Piombo's superb portrait could tempt me thither again.

    In the days I write of the Zeil and the Zoological Gardens were spectacular with colour and costume; the Frankfurter officers in their dark green and red uniforms, the Bürgermaster's equipage with its armorial bearings, gorgeous trappings and coachmen in cocked hats and blue, gold-braided coats, the municipal police, so affable to strangers, the civic insignia on public offices—all these belong to a past, the Prussian helmet here as everywhere symbolising military rule, the maximum of encroachment upon individuality and the claims of human development.


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CHAPTER XIII.

OLD VIENNA


THE PRIVATE PHYSICIAN OF PRINCE METTERNICH—A PUPIL OF JENNY LIND—CONTRASTED SPLENDOUR AND BARBARISM—POLITICAL STAGNATION—THE EXODUS—FAREWELL.


SIX months of the year 1862 were divided between Vienna and Frankfort, my second sojourn in the latter place being under a German roof for the purpose of perfecting myself in the language.  Of old Vienna and Viennese society in the sixties, some reminiscences may be acceptable.

    The arrangements for this stay were highly advantageous and at the same time peculiar.  Through the medium of German friends, I secured rooms and attendance under the roof of an eminent physician, formerly Leibarzt, or body physician, to Prince Metternich, the famous diplomat.  There was no promise of hospitality or companionship on the part of Dr. von J—'s wife and daughter, only an understanding of protection, advice as to German masters, and so on.  But when this charming family found that their English tenant was an unobtrusive, studious girl, bent upon making the most of her opportunities, nothing could exceed their attention and kindness.  A cover was constantly laid for me at the elegant little three o'clock dinner and simple Abendbrod, or supper.  I was invited to join them in visits to suburban friends, whilst the doctor and his daughter took pains to show me all the splendid historic and artistic marvels of the capital.

    Dr. von J— was a tall, aristocratic-looking man of seventy-two, who might well have been a prince and a diplomat himself.  He belonged to the old school of politicians, entertained a supreme aversion to English statesmanship and theories of government, often twitting me about Kossuth and Mazzini, but frankly confessed his liking for the English individually.  His wife, a benignant old lady, remained at home knitting stockings and reading Goethe, whilst the Imperial Councillor dined off gold and silver at royal and ducal palaces.  Their only daughter, Augusta, had attained the age of thirty without entering upon the marriage state.  She had a plain, beautiful face [p.96]—that is to say, whilst wanting symmetry of feature and bloom of complexion, she possessed that rare adorable loveliness, the beauty of soul and music.  Instead of endowing her with laughing eyes, dimpled cheeks, and a mouth made for lover's kisses, Nature had bestowed a voice of marvellous power and sweetness and a character to match.  This treasure of a voice was trained by Jenny Lind herself, but the daughter of an Imperial Councillor and princely Leibarzt could not of course become a prima donna.  So Augusta von J— sang for love and not for money or fame, taking part in concerts given for the poor, or performing the solos at churches where any especial collection was to be made for charitable purposes.  Never off the stage or on it have I heard a voice to be compared to hers; especially in the Ave Maria of May, the Catholic month of Mary, was her singing indescribably moving, wholly phenomenal in its pathos and rich vocal quality.  Dear Augusta!  How came it to pass that we who once loved each other so fondly, should so soon and so completely have faded out of each other's life?  The portrait of her passionately musical face is all that reminds me now of this cherished friendship.

    One's first impression of Vienna at this time—just a year before the fiendish Haynau's Polish Terror—was of contrasted splendour and barbarism.  On arriving at my destination, the woman servant told off to wait upon me almost prostrated herself as she kissed my hand in token of subservience.  This slavish [p.97] act, I need hardly say, was not repeated.  Nor would I ever address serving folk with the contemptuous thee and thou then in vogue.

    But other contrasts were far more shocking.

    In the poorest Suffolk farm-house familiar to me, alike ploughmen, who used to be boarded and lodged, as I have before mentioned, and dairymaids, had ever their bedchambers, the latter being lodged close to master and mistress.  The accommodation was humble but decent; a good bed, washstand, pegs for clothes, and cupboard.  Will it be believed that at the time I write of, i.e., only a generation ago, domestic servants in rich Viennese households slept like cats and dogs where they could?  For some time after my installation in the von J—'s handsome and spacious flat, I was puzzled by certain noises outside my door late at night and very early in the morning.  I soon unearthed the mystery.  When the family had retired to rest, the Vorsaal, or entrance-hall, was strewed with mattresses and rugs, and here slept the three or four maids composing the household.

    At dawn, as quietly as might be, the bedding was cleared away, the Vorsaal swept and scoured, elegant lamps, hatstands, and other pieces of furniture replaced, not a vestige remaining of the bivouac.  We English, I admit, are a very boastful race.  There is no denying that fact.  I must aver, however, that the English nation may well be proud of two inventions—that of the bedchamber and of another and smaller apartment, which shall here be nameless.

    That arch-despot and arch-voluptuary Louis XIV. was as utterly without a sense of decency as a cannibal king.  The women of his harem were no better off when lying-in than itinerant tinkers' wives.  In the very height of her ascendancy Louise de la Vallière was brought to bed in a landing or passage of general use.  "Pray be quick and bring the child into the world," she groaned to her accoucheur; "lots of people will be passing presently." [p.98]

    But neither had Viennese ladies anything to be called a bedchamber.  Fräulein Augusta's room was as completely transformed, night and morning, as the entrance-hall; by dint of shut-up washstand, sofa-bed, and other ingenious devices turned into a boudoir.  One might suppose, from the care taken to disguise the fact, that sleep, the business of the toilette, and other bodily exigencies, were brands of infamy, so many marks of Cain to be hidden, if possible ignored.

    The von J—s were good, kind, charming people, but autocratic to the core, and saw no more harm in servants sleeping on the floor than in rinsing the mouth publicly at dessert; a small tumbler was always placed in the finger-glasses for this purpose.

    How can one fix the criterion of good manners?  A Viennese girl just returned from England had been equally shocked by an insular habit, that of ladies entering a drawing-room without lifting their veils.

    "If I kept my veil down when paying a visit here," she said, "I should expect to have it torn from my face."

    Yet, I daresay, this acquaintance felt no scruple whatever about her housemaid sleeping on the mat in the corridor!

    Whilst the Rotten Row and Hyde Park of Vienna showed a parade far outshining that of London, the ramparts, then in course of demolition, were scenes of poverty and toil, hardly to be matched in any European capital.  As the afternoon wore on the Graben would be deserted for the Prater, culminating point of brilliance and gaiety.  Now the Emperor drove past in a showy carriage drawn by six white horses, the postilions having orange-coloured livery.  Now appeared a gallant and popular figure, doomed to unutterably tragic end.  I allude to the Archduke Maximilian, Prince Max, as he was then called, victim of that simulacrum of the greatest criminal who ever lived, the third Napoleon.  The Lichtenstein equipage, with its footmen in scarlet and flowing sashes, was conspicuous; equally so were the Esterhazy trappings and liveries; Hungarian nobles, with servants plumed and booted, their ladies wearing black lace headgear, braided cloaks of military pattern, and mittens; Polish lancers, elegant Viennese in the latest Parisian toilettes,—all these made up a daily pageant.

    But the other side of the picture?  From sunset to sunrise myriads of Sclavonic peasants were at work on the ramparts, agèd men and women, boys, girls, little children, manipulating pickaxe and barrow under the broiling sun, earning a few kreutzers by dint of twelve hours' labour.  Already in May the heat is tropical here, and the rich and well-to-do retire to the country.  These poor people remained at their post, many dying of sunstroke.  That demolition of the ramparts and turning them into pleasure-grounds always recalls to my mind the building of the Pyramids.  The poor Slavonians were not slaves, it is true, otherwise the comparison held good.  Their look of patient, dogged wretchedness and resignation haunt me still.

    At this time Austrian finances were in a very ominous state.  Paper money did duty for coinage.  Halfpenny banknotes were issued, and I long preserved one of these curiosities.  Yet luxury and pleasure were the order of the day.  Even the peasants kept holiday at fair-time, flocking to the Würstl Prater, indulging in a mug of beer and kreutzerworth of cheese, the latter being advertised by hawkers, finding another kreutzer for Punch and Judy or the mountebank.  Curiously enough, the old Imperial Councillor, cultivated as he was, and aristocratic as he was, enjoyed nothing so much as these popular amusements.  He became a boy on entering the Prater, his eyes would twinkle merrily at sight of a puppet theatre, with an epicurean smile he would drop one lump of sugar after another into his iced coffee.

    My kind friends wished me not only to see but to realise the life of the capital, and some of these experiences deserve mention.

    The court and society dined at three o'clock, but the work-a-day world at midday.  Restaurants were crowded then, and each had an upper and lower dining-room: the first splendidly furnished, in charge of smart waiters and offering a dinner of seven or eight courses; the second was conducted on a very different scale, the motley attendants had dingy napkins swung over the shoulder, folks were at liberty to smoke, spit on the floor, order a single dish, and proffer a halfpenny banknote by way of tip.

    The daughter of an Imperial Councillor could not, of course, dine at a city restaurant; my own case was different.  A neatly dressed, demure young Englishwoman, so the von J—s said, could go anywhere.  And with satisfaction it is to be noted that although I dined alone at one popular restaurant after another, never in a single instance was I treated with anything but politeness and consideration.  The same may be said of the people generally.  Nowhere and under no circumstances could a young foreign girl enjoy greater freedom and safety.  I remember upon one occasion having somewhat rashly accompanied a countrywoman to the opera.  We returned home at midnight on foot, parting company on the way.  Neither of us had the least occasion to regret the adventure.  Vienna was certainly well, in some respects far too well, policed.

    At this period politics formed no prominent interest of life, yet I could not help contrasting the conversation of men like Dr. von J— and his associates with the after-tea talk of Suffolk farmers.  These highly cultured Austrian gentlemen avoided political discussion just as Germans do now, because speech no more than the press was free.

    I was especially struck by this fact when paying a visit with the von J— family to their friend Prince E—y in his summer Schloss, just outside Vienna.  It is a fairylike place, veritable palace of art, treasure-house of statuary, pictures, and exotics.  On every side are heard rippling fountains and rustling rose-leaves, in so far as possible we are made to feel out of doors.  As we wandered amid these enchanted scenes the Prince and Imperial Councillor chatted in animated, argumentative strain.  Not an allusion to politics escaped their lips.  Yet the political situation at that time was full of interest.  Another anomaly struck an English stranger.  In these polished, highly cultivated social circles it was ever the hostess or her daughters who served their guests, proffering coffee, handing round "Butterbrod" or apple-cakes, whilst the men of the party complacently kept their seats.

    Despite these little drawbacks how charming was this home-life in the Schottenhof!  Sometimes we took tea with friends amid the vineyards and cornfields of Döbling, sometimes we kept holiday on the Kahlenberg, dining in sight of that wonderful panorama the blue, far-off Carpathians, the dim spires of Presburg, the blood-stained plain of Asperg, the broad, bright Danube, with its wooded islets and ruin-crested banks afar; under our feet, St. Stefans and the suburbs and pleasure gardens of Vienna.  The hot winds of early summer put an end to my stay.  Before May was out the great exodus from the city began.  Rich people fled to the Tyrol; humbler folks, carrying furniture and bedding with them, established themselves in outlying villages.  Only the commercial world and the poor remained behind.

    My kind hosts had arranged for me to visit friends and relations at Gmunden and in the neighbourhood of Salzburg.  By their advice I booked a place by steamer to Linz, and at seven o'clock one brilliant June morning took tearful leave of Augusta von J— on the quay.  I never again saw that dearly loved friend or revisited Vienna.


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CHAPTER XIV.

MIGHT HAVE BEENS


DAVID SWAN—SHADOWS OF DEATH—LOVE—WEALTH—THE DROMIAS IN CONFERENCE—MY MISS BROWNE


FROM some points of view I have ever regarded Nathaniel Hawthorne as the greatest story-teller who ever lived.  One of his subtlest tales, "David Swan, a Fantasy," must occur to everyone when reviewing the past.  It is an illustration of the oft-repeated "might have been," the daily touch and go of unseen destiny, the pitch and toss of invisible circumstances, chances, forces, call these what we will, the innumerable accidents that, unknown to ourselves, determine the bent of our career.

    "We are but partially acquainted," wrote the wizard of romance, "even with the events which actually influence our course through life and our final destiny.  There are innumerable other events, if such they may be called, which come close upon us, yet pass away without actual results, or even betraying their near approach, by the reflection of any light or shadow across our minds.  Could we know all the vicissitudes of our fortunes, life would be too full of hope and fear, exultation or disappointment, to afford us a single hour of true serenity."  David Swan, a youth of twenty, on his road to Boston lies down and falls sound asleep.  When he awoke he knew not that Wealth, Love, and Death had each in turn claimed him for his own.  A rich elderly couple all but made up their minds to arouse the comely lad and adopt him; a wealthy country lass felt in love with the sleeper, and had he only waked up, most likely an acquaintance would have ended in wedlock; next came a couple of highwaymen, who opened his bundle, ready to use their knives if its owner so much as stirred.

    Not to all have befallen the romantic sleep of David Swan, but hardly less strange the fortunes or misfortunes we are aware of having just missed.  Three occurrences that followed my stay in Vienna recall those passing visitants in Hawthorne's tale, Wealth, Love, Death, although they did not come in the same order, nor invisibly.  Youth is proverbially fearless, English girlhood eminently self-protective and independent.  Thus it comes about that the quiet, timorous chronicler of these pages, meekest of elderly little ladies, who would now not for worlds take a two-mile walk on a country road unaccompanied, as a girl confronted daring adventure with the happiest unconcern, defiant of danger, no matter what shape it wore.  And certainly the worst ills and crowning checks of existence are consoled by the reflection—I have lived my life.  Life, the great teacher, in me found an alert pupil, has no more to teach!

    The Austrian Tyrol was not at that time, as in the present day, overrun with tourists, Cook had not turned the world into a vast raree-show, picturesque Europe into one enormous Hampstead Heath on Whit-Monday.  Instead, therefore, of traversing the Salzkammergut with crowds of English and American excursionists, it happened that I was the solitary fare of Post-wagen, or stage-coach, and its ill-favoured driver.

    By four o'clock in the morning I was bidden to take my seat, and I well remember two unpropitious circumstances of the start.  The hotel recommended by my friend was on the outskirts of the town, so that it was necessary to be up betimes.  Unfortunately I had forgotten to reserve my thick walking shoes, and in my search for the "Boots" discovered the kind of accommodation provided for these obliging men-of-all-work.  The poor fellow here had only the floor for a bed, sleeping on some old coats in an open landing-place amid his boots and blacking brushes.

    The starry twilight of the summer morning was disturbed by another unpleasant impression.  In a lonely suburban street I came upon two lads cruelly ill-treating a poor little calf.  Time pressed, I could only pause for a momentary remonstrance, then hurried on.  On reaching the post-house, however, I found that punctuality was not then a feature of His Imperial Majesty's mails.  For an hour at least I waited on a bench outside the inn, fortunately obtaining a cup of coffee.  When at last we did set off, I discovered that I was to be the only passenger.  The fact hardly seemed worth a second thought, but as the day wore on, circumstances lent it an eerie aspect.  Our way led through scenes of unimaginable beauty, wildness, and grandeur; soon the cattle bell of little lawny valleys was heard no more, the far-off hamlets catching the earliest sunbeam vanished, instead came mountain gorges, forests of gigantic pine, the glimpse of chamois on inaccessible peaks, the flash of eagle's wings across the fitfully bright heavens, the roar of torrent and cascade.

    To heighten the sublimity of these scenes, sublimity I have never seen excelled in my various travels, European, African, Asiatic, there came on one of those terrific storms so common in Alpine regions, thunder and lightning, followed by a very deluge of rain.  Whether so much as an evil thought crossed the mind of my ill-visaged conductor I know not.  Certain it is that, for some reason or other, from time to time he did pull up, bend down, and eye me with a strangely sinister look.  Certain it is also that, although at this time I did not know what fear was, the thought struck me, were I here robbed, maltreated, and thrown into the nearest mountain torrent, who would be ever the wiser?

    But the awful, unforgettable journey came to a safe end.  Whether or no, like David Swan, it had nearly been my last, remains mythical.

    A few days later I was at Munich, on my way to Erminia and her sisters.  Having some hours to spare, I naturally utilised them after an English girl's fashion in seeing all that I could.  What was my consternation on finding myself in the cathedral face to face with a Salzburg acquaintance of the other sex, a Hungarian patriot, not to be dismissed with a cold inclination of the head or mere how d'ye do and good-bye.

    The nation of Kossuth, as well as that of Kosciusko, must ever appeal to an enthusiastic mind.  Exile shared with a victim of despotism can but wear an enticing aspect in the eyes of a romantic girl.  And foreign love-making has charms of its own.

    As we recall certain scenes from the dissolving views of life, we may well here and there ask ourselves, Are we not deceived? surely yonder tableau belongs to another.  Yet every detail of that strange interview is fresh in my memory as if it had happened but yesterday—the stroll round the cathedral, the groups of English tourists encountered there, the last half-hour in the railway restaurant.  I could to-day put my hand on the very table at which we sat thirty and odd years ago, and as there is ever a vein of comedy running through the sober texture of life, I smile as I did in secret then, at certain incongruities; the bare wine-stained table, the tall glass mug of beer, the black bread and cold sausage off which I supped whilst listening to outpourings fervid as any ever poured into a maiden's ear.  Perhaps no one noticed us, for the restaurant was crowded, but the fact of publicity did not at all affect the desperate lover.  My train for Stuttgart was nearly due, time pressed, and there was so much to say!  Prudence, however, got the better of impulse.  Like David Swan, I continued my journey fancy-free; instead of accepting Hungarian nationality and a home in the new world, I pursued a literary calling at home.

    A few days later came the third "might have been," no mere Will-o'-the-Wisp, but a reality tangible to the grasp.

    The two Dromios, I should say Dromias, sat in an hotel at Heidelberg in gravest conference.

    "My darling Dromia," said the first—she was fond of endearing epithets—"my own Dromia, do not accept.  Keep your freedom.  Return to Suffolk.  Go your own way.  Let that delightful" (I am not sure that she did not add another expletive beginning with the same letter) —"let that delightful Miss Browne go!"  Excellent advice! advice which coincided with my own notions, and which yet, strange to say, the first Dromia had not acted up to in similar case herself.  The Miss Browne in question, I forget her real name, was one of those "sweet little women of fifty," to quote George Macdonald, who by the thousand travel with maid and courier, and who, in spite of wealth, freedom, and a certain amount of culture, occasionally find existence just a trifle dull.  There was no mistake, no veneer about my Miss Browne.  She was exactly what she appeared to be, nothing more nor less than an amiable, well-bred, mildly interesting lady possessed of a handsome fortune.

    The high spirits and immense capacity for enjoyment of the two Dromias had taken her fancy, and as the brilliant number one was already adopted, she professed herself ready to be content with the more commonplace number two; in other words, I had only to make myself agreeable, and the best of everything material—horses, carriages, good dinners, foreign travel—were mine for the rest of my days.

    But the alluring bait was refused.  With David Swan I trudged on, depending upon my own resources.  Miss Browne, whose pleasant, refined face I see still, continued her journey to Baden-Baden, and doubtless soon found somebody to adopt.

    The reference to Amelia Blandford Edwards requires explanation.  Adoption in her case was a matter of affection, by no means of personal interest.  Having lost both her parents within a week of each other, she accepted the shelter of a friendly roof, retaining as much of independence as was possible under the circumstances.

    From Heidelburg I journeyed to Frankfort, this time taking up my residence with my excellent friend Fräulein Fink, and devoting myself to the study of German.  As I have described this admirable woman and her school in "Doctor Jacob," I will pass over the subject here.


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CHAPTER XV.

SEMI-BOHEMIAN PARIS


MLLE. EUGÉNIE AND HER THURSDAYS—A WOULD-BE "INGENUE" IN WHITE MUSLIN—THE SENTIMENTAL TRIO—PARIS UNDER THE EMPIRE—PARISIAN LIFE À LA BALZAC


DURING the following year I spent some months in what I feel bound to call semi-Bohemian Paris.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, those experiences were not to result in a second Trilby. [p.108]  I add fortunately, because there is nothing more fatal to a young author than the kind of success by Americans called a "boom."

    My abode in Paris was under the roof of a certain Mlle. Eugénie (the surname is not needed), a certificated professor of the French language and literature, with her sister occupying a flat in the Rue de la Chaussée d'Autin, at that time, I believe, called the Chaussée d'Autin.  Another young Englishwoman accompanied me.  These were their only inmates.

    Mlle. Eugénie was a slightly deformed, ill-dressed, ill-kempt little personage, as the French say, "of a certain age"; of a certain age also, although somewhat younger, was her sister Mlle. Josephine, who, being well proportioned and not absolutely ugly, seemed to regard herself as a fairy, a veritable syren, by comparison.  To fresh-coloured English girls of twenty and odd years she appeared quite elderly, but very possibly she had not passed the Rubicon of forty.  Anyhow, she was petted by poor little Eugénie as if she belonged to a superior order of beings, and on the great occasion of the week, the Thursday's At Home, would wear white, not, I fear, like Madame Roland, to symbolise the immaculate purity of her soul.  That school-girlish frock of white muslin, unadorned, except for blue or pink sash, only made her look twice as old and twice as withered; on others, however, the travesty produced quite a contrary effect, and her entry into the little salon would evoke a perfect buzz of admiration from a circle of admirers.

    Nothing is more difficult than to say where semi-Bohemia ends and Bohemia pure and simple begins.  There is no doubt whatever that Mlle. Eugénie and her world were what my worthy friend Polly Cornford calls "a little respectable," and certainly a little respectability is better than none at all.

    These wonderful Thursdays were conducted after genteel and absolutely correct fashion.  Conversation never went beyond the borders of strict propriety—i.e., propriety according to certain standards.  Whist, dominoes, readings, recitals, and music offered a lively and instructive programme.  Tea, lemonade, sugared water, and biscuits sufficed to stimulate gaiety and that untranslatable mood called entrain.  At eleven o'clock the little gathering broke up.  But—but—by the light of after experience, also from certain hints dropped by outsiders later, I must believe that Mademoiselle Josephine's coquetries and the sentimental adulation of her elderly admirers meant much more than met the eye.

    There were three distinguished men of somewhat shabby appearance who invariably joined us on Thursday evenings, whom I will call M. l'Avocat, M. le Poste, and M. le Peintre.  The first was a tall, attenuated, unprosperous-looking, but quite gentlemanly personage of perhaps forty-five.  He called himself a barrister, and evidently had something to do with the bar, for with great urbanity he met us in the Salle des Pas Perdus, wearing advocate's cap and gown, conducted us over the Palais de Justice, and patiently waited whilst we witnessed a trial.  To him, I think, the really clever conversation of Mlle. Eugénie, the atmosphere of sociability, maybe also the game of dominoes with her English pupils, proved no less attractive than the middle-aged nymph in white muslin.  Frenchmen, as we all know, cannot exist without a daily interchange of ideas; chat, raillery, discussion, are as necessary to them as oxygen itself.  And to poor professional men, a weekly salon, a Thursday, an evening agreeably provided for, is a boon indeed.

    M. le Potèe was a typical Frenchman outwardly, but wanting the usual Gallic light-heartedness.  He was a middle-aged man of medium height, rather good-looking than not, and only needed a new frock-coat and red ribbon to look like the most eminent Academician going.  His poetry, which he read aloud to us, was really very good, and to this day I reproach myself for never having purchased a copy.  His admiration seemed pretty equally divided between the sisters.  Whilst Eugénie acted the part of critic, a critic of no mean capacity, Josephine's feminine wiles chased away despondency and doubtless inspired still more impassioned love-strains.

    But the Odysseus of this Calypso was M. le Peintre, a rubicund, beaming, loving little man, whom no disappointments could depress and no checks could sour.  He had exhibited in the Salon—it must be remembered that the standard of admission was considerably lower than at present—and he now and then got orders for a portrait or lessons; in fact, he just contrived to live.  There could be no doubt concerning the sincerity of his devotion to Josephine; equally palpable was the fact that he no more dreamed of matrimony than of reaching the moon on a bicycle.  There was something pathetic in this perennial romance, despite its semi-Bohemian atmosphere.  One wondered if adhesion to primeval legend, traditionary worship of the prototype Eve, could farther go.  It was the story of Titania and Bottom reversed.  Where other folks saw make-believe youthfulness and artificial graces, a complexion of whitey-brown paper and features sharpened by years, he revelled in visions of angelic loveliness and feminine perfection.

    M. le Peintre sometimes came to midday breakfast.  It was a sight then to see him watch his enchantress swallow her digestive pill.  In those days French folks had a habit, now happily abandoned, of thus inaugurating a repast.

    Little lame Eugénie, before serving the soup, would shuffle up to her sister and place the pill-box by her plate; Josephine being a young folicsome thing could not, of course, be expected to look after her digestion herself.  Then the syren would take out a globule with her long, thin fingers, drop it into a spoonful of soup, lackadaisically meet the eyes of her adorer, and, as if thereby strengthened in her resolve, gulp down the pill.  Had she swallowed Cleopatra's pearl—or an elephant—he could not have testified more admiration.  There was always the same exclamation:—

    "It is gone!  Mon Dieu, it is really gone!"  And always the same ecstatic hand-clapping, Josephine complacently going on with her meal.

    When Paris became unbearably hot, Josephine went away for a course of sea-bathing or mineral waters.  Her health demanded it, Eugénie said, the little lame, hardworking professor remaining behind.

    On the morrow of her departure M. le Peintre came for news and stayed to breakfast.  Eugénie, who was the soul of hospitality, brought out a bottle of Bordeaux with which to drink her sister's health.  As the forlorn lover held up his glass and in a voice trembling with emotion got out the words "À la chère absents" ("To the dear absent one"), a tear was hastily wiped away.

    That tear of undoubted genuineness has puzzled me all my life.  Was he weeping because he had no means to follow his lode-star?  Did he dread lest, like some meteor, she should be swept from his ken for ever, attracted by the force of gravitation into some unreachable sphere?  Or being, as he evidently was, a thoroughly kind-hearted, naturally affectionate, honest soul, did he feel regret—but I will not venture upon other hypotheses.  Sufficient to say that she went and he stayed behind.

    Josephine, by the way, was said to be a singing mistress, but we never heard of her pupils, and her vocal performances were exceedingly unprofessional.  The Thursdays flagged after this departure, although Eugénie was still at home to her friends.

    Here may be mentioned a striking contrast between Paris under the Empire and Paris of the last twenty-six years.  Conversation, at the time of which I write, was restricted, as is still the case in Germany and Russia.  No one ventured to discuss politics or criticise the Government.  Instead, good talkers argued about books, pictures, and general topics, the long, animated, well-expressed sentences proving the best possible French lesson to English listeners.

    Here I would observe that an intimate acquaintance with Paris and Parisian life under the Empire immensely aids us in understanding after events.  Those safety-valves of freedom and stability, a Habeas Corpus Act, liberty of speech and of the press, had been ruthlessly removed by the tinsel Cæsar then holding dissolute state at the Tuileries.  One of the first measures of the new-made Emperor was the suppression of municipal liberties in the capital. [p.112]  Every vestige of civic independence and representative administration disappeared under the new regime, the municipal council and central mairie or mayoralty being replaced by two prefectures of the Seine and of police, the Emperor himself naming a "commission municipals," composed of thirty-six members.

    Is it astonishing that when this state of siege came to abrupt end, popular excesses should be the result?  Herein lay the germ of the Commune.  At this time Emperor, Empress, and their unfortunate offspring were living in a fool's paradise.  Every morning the little prince on his pony would dash out of the palace gates accompanied by a glittering cavalcade, Spahis and Turcos superbly mounted, their barbaric arms and trappings making a wondrous show.  The Imperial family never enjoyed any more popularity than that of their Orleanist predecessor.  But a show is ever a show, and in this respect the Parisian remains youthful to the last.  At sight of the pretty little fellow and his dazzling followers, folks would pause for a moment, raise their hats, wave their handkerchiefs, and smile encouragingly.  But I dare aver that throughout the length and breadth of France not a tear was shed over his tragic end.  The Napoleonic legend had cost French fathers and mothers too dear.  Louis Napoleon's police, as we all know, meddled with academic and professional chairs no less than with newspaper offices and printing presses.  But Philarète Chasles could lecture delightfully upon English literature at the College de France, and our learned little Eugénie escorted us thither and everywhere else in search of improvement.  One day she took us to see a friend lodging in a "Pension Bourgeoise," or middle-class boarding house, near the Jardin des Plantes.  This was a curious experience.  The house stood in a by-street cast into deep shadow by high walls and chestnut trees.  At the back stretched a long narrow garden, overgrown with grass, flowers, and vegetables.  Under the trees were ranged hencoops and garden chairs.  We could have fancied ourselves in some sleepy provincial town.

    A shabby old man cleaning salad outside the kitchen door proved to be Monsieur le Propriétaire, the stout lady in dressing-gown and curl papers, busied with frying-pans, was Madame.  She tidied herself for dinner, and in company of fourteen boarders we sat down to table.  Every one of those boarders, young, old, and middle-aged, of both sexes, presented a study of character, the whole thing as like a chapter of Le Cousin Pons or Le Père Goriot as it is possible to conceive.

    A somewhat similar establishment at Rouen in which I stayed with my companion on quitting Paris was so much Balzac to the life also.  And not more changed is Paris of the Third Empire than Rouen of a generation and more ago.  Just as I should now search vainly for the straggling old house, the chestnut trees, the vegetable garden, and the chicken coops near the Jardin des Plantes, so do I fruitlessly look for that homely boarding-house, with its straggling orchard and garden, in the very heart of the Norman capital.  The comedy of human life goes on still; how has the mise en seine, the decoration, changed!


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CHAPTER XVI.

A GIRL FARMER


"IL FAUT BIEN CHOISIR SES PARENTS"—SUFFOLK WAGS AND WAYS—A HOMERIC PARALLEL—SWEDE TURNIPS AND SWEDENBORG


THE next two or three years were mainly spent in Suffolk, by the death of my father, the management of a small occupation having devolved upon me.  Here I would say a word or two concerning the aphorism of a witty French writer quoted above.  "Il faut bier choisir ses parents" we must exercise very great discrimination in the choice of our parents.

    Happy the man or woman who with myself can say—here the gods chose for me as I would fain have chosen for myself!  Such topics are too sacred for unknown friends of the circulating library, whilst the most sympathetic reader will be satisfied with a couple of sentences.

    On the maternal side I am proud to claim French origin, my grandmother being the daughter of a well-to-do Huguenot refugee.  Perhaps this fact accounts for my passionate attachment to France.  Of my mother, the little Barbara Betham to whom Mary Lamb penned as charming a letter as was ever addressed to a child, I shall perhaps say something later.  The story of the De Bethams of Betham would aptly illustrate the vicissitudes of an ancient and by no means commonplace family.  Concerning my father I will only say that he was generally acknowledged to be the best farmer in that part of the world and that he was a born humourist.  If in any of my works I have displayed a particle of the saving grace of humour, that good gift is a paternal inheritance.  The younger son of a large family, the elder branches of which had been landowners and yeomen for generations, my universally esteemed father did not enjoy those intellectual advantages he so highly prized in others and at immense personal sacrifices placed within reach of his children.  One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.  Let me add that his daughter's literary success brightened the close of a laborious and much tried life.  The wide world and all its libraries holds no volume so precious to me as the copy of my first romance on which fell paternal tears of pride and joy!  At this time we had removed from the fine old manor-house, my childhood's home, into a pretty cottage nearer Ipswich, the small farm alluded to being a mile and a quarter off, and the farm-house being occupied by my "head-man," or foreman, and his wife.

    This worthy pair were both excellent farmers, although neither one nor the other could read or write.  Had they only possessed a little capital they would have done as well as thrifty peasant owners in France.  But the emancipation of the farm labourer was still very far off; the very suggestion of the rural franchise maddened Tory landlords.  From the pulpit folks even heard o' Sundays warm apologies of slavery backed up with citations from Scripture.  It is not the last hair that breaks the camel's back (again to quote my good friend Polly Cornford) but the hand that lays it on.  That upholding of slavery in Suffolk pulpits during the War of Secession, for once and for all, alienated me from the Church of England.  Had dogma and priestly ordinance seemed to me necessities or even luxuries of existence, the Mortara case [p.116]—to say nothing of earlier iniquities, the Inquisition, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes—would as irrevocably have cut me off from St. Peter, Mariolatry, and image worship.  Nor did Nonconformist Chapel or Friends' Meeting-house attract.  I remained unattached.  To return now to practical matters, the affairs of the only condition concerning which we can speak with any certainty.  "An die Nächste muss man denken" ("We must bend our minds to the thing at hand ") wrote Goethe, surely the best maxim for human midgets, creatures of a day!  Torquemada and his creatures thought otherwise, with what result history shows.

    To return to the girl farmer and her experiences.  A near neighbour, by name Mrs. Ann Payn, kept me in countenance, whilst the largest farm of an adjoining parish was leased to another widow.  But although our names figured on tumbril and waggon, we did not go to market.  Samples of corn in little brown paper bags—many and many of these have I fashioned with needle and packthread—were exhibited by relation, neighbour, or head-man.  In the same way we purchased pigs and sheep and sold our fat stock.  Butter, eggs, and poultry we sold ourselves to market women who called once a week.  I well remember a withered little old market woman, Mrs. Frost, once saying to me huffishly, "Well, miss, since I cannot have the butter, I must recline the eggs."  I had wanted my supply of butter for a friend, but these good souls stuck to tradition and their privileges.  If you did not give all the produce of your dairy and poultry yard, they declined a portion.

    Suffolk wags and ways were often diverting enough.

    There was an inquisitive, rather muddle-headed old clergyman in the neighbourhood, who used to hang about farm-yards asking absurd questions or questions à propos of nothing.

    One day he was watching a stockman feeding my younger brother's pigs.

    "What fine pigs, what uncommonly fine pigs, to be sure!" he said, as he looked on admiringly.  "How old may these pigs be?" he asked.

    "Well, sir," replied the man, who was a bit of a wag, "I should not like to say exactly, but to the best of my knowledge yonder hogs must be just upon fifty year old!"

    "Fifty years old?  Really, now?  Dear me, who would have thought it?  Fifty years, did you say?  On my word, what an age for a pig!"

    Country folks, with no pretentious to waggishness or wit, had often a whimsical way of putting things.

    I was settling up with the wife of my head-man one day, when I noticed an old man sitting in the "baccus."

    "So you have a visitor, Mrs. Sadler," I said; "some relation, I suppose?"

    "Well, yes, miss, to be sure," was the reply, "he is a little related to me"; then she added by way of an expletive, "he's only my father."

    The worthy woman had evidently an idea that relationship to be worth mentioning must go much farther back, like the genealogical tables of Numbers date from Babel or the Flood.

    The following anecdote will illustrate the innate self-respect and true gentlemanliness often underlying these uncouth exteriors.

    My younger brother noticing one day that the breeching [p.118] of a cart-horse attached behind the waggon had slipped, ran after the driver to call his attention to the fact.

    "Good God, sir!" exclaimed the poor fellow, beside himself with mortification, "I passed two women just now!"

    He was very deaf, and, imperfectly catching the words, thought that the caution applied to his own nether garments, and that a brace button had given way.

    The Suffolk ploughman adored his horses, would steal corn for them, if his master allowed stingy measure, would spend hours in brushing and braiding their tails, would talk to each, calling him by name as if to a bosom friend.

    It happened that the husband of my old nurse, Betty the poetess, lost his place through the death or removal, I forget which, of his employer.  Anyhow, there was an auction of furniture, farm implements, and livestock.  The plough horses had to go.  There was one supreme favourite, between whom and his master existed the warmest affection.  That sorrowful morning the man was up betimes, for the last time grooming the sturdy, gentle, intelligent creature.  Then with a heavy heart he started.  Had any miraculous intervention happened then, had some angel in human shape suddenly came that way and, learning or divining the story, pulled out his purse with the words, "Here, good man, is gold.  Yonder beast is your own,"  I feel sure that he would never have borne the overjoy.  Either his wits or his heart would have given way under such unimaginable good fortune.  Nothing of the kind happened, and I have seen moisture in the eyes of rough, prosy farmers as they recounted the sequel.  When the sale was over and John had to say good-bye to the loved companion of so many years, he put his arms round the animal's neck and kissed it, big tears rolling down the eyes of both.  The horse wept, well understanding that the parting was final.

    And in the face of such facts as these we are asked to regard vivisectors as benefactors of humanity!

    A near neighbour and fellow-farmer would often drop in to supper; ostensibly his visits were for the purpose of affording friendly advice, the discussion of stock and crops, and so on; in reality, my worthy acquaintance had quite other motives.  We have all our shyly avowed aspiration or romance, some spiritual or intellectual secret not to be proclaimed on the housetops.

    Good Mr. B—accompanied his wife and children to church on Sundays, and was on the best possible terms with our rector, but the slovenly service, the cut-and-dry sermon, the terrible discrepancy between preacher and holy office, had rendered him as lukewarm a Churchman as the rest, whilst labouring folk took refuge in their Bethels and meeting-houses.  This large, well-to-do farmer did not care to break with orthodoxy; instead, he sought spiritual guidance and uplifting in Swedenborg and the New Jerusalem.

    An odd volume of this prolific writer had fallen in his way, I believe one of the "Arcana Cœlestia" (or Heavenly Mysteries).  This work, Moore's Almanack, and the Ipswich Journal, published weekly, made up his literary stock-in-trade.  Most ingeniously when calling upon me he would lead up to his one subject, very often by the mention of Swede turnips.  Somehow Swede turnips always seemed a topic of the day.

    "Talking of Swede turnips," he said again and again, "reminds me of a question I wanted to ask you.  Swedenborg says ――" then we were fairly launched on a long Swedenborgian discussion, Mr. B— knowing much more about the subject than myself.  But books and bookish people were not plentiful as blackberries in our village.  The mere fact of having published a book accorded authority.  My neighbour placed explicit confidence on my opinion, he trusted me in the matter of Swedenborg as completely as I did his own judgment in the matter of Swede turnips.

    Among the "might have beens" of these early years must be mentioned a poetic career.  From my earliest years I had been an indefatigable rhymester, and an exhilarating accident well-nigh turned the scale, poetry instead of romance kicking the beam.  An incident that came under my notice suggested the poem entitled "The Golden Bee."  With the audacity of youth I despatched it to the great Dickens, then editing his Household Words.  After some time came a cheque for £5 and a number of the magazine containing my contribution.

    Five pounds for the artless rhymes of a little country girl—was not this half the price of "Paradise Lost"?  But overwhelming as seemed the payment, the approbation of Charles Dickens was guerdon far more prized.  And "The Golden Bee" has not falsified the master's judgment.  It is now a stock piece at Penny Readings, and, like "The White House by the Sea," has long survived a generation! [p.121]  The death of my only unmarried sister and partner in the farm severed the last link that bound me to Suffolk.  No other spot in England ever possessed or ever will possess such attractions for me, but the climate of my native place was rude, the intellectual resources within reach were nil, I naturally turned my eyes elsewhere, determined, in the words of an excellent but somewhat pedantic old friend, a local stationer, "on permanent residence in the metropolis."


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CHAPTER XVII.

THE WORLD OF LETTERS, ART, AND SCIENCE


OLD KENSINGTON—REV. W. E. CHANNING—PROFESSOR SYLVESTER—CHARLES BRADLAUGH


WHAT a change from the Suffolk village!  Instead of farming folks and farming ways, pastoral scenes and a tide of tranquil, monotonous existence, the sudden plunge into the intensest life of London, the life of Letters, Art, and Science!  Instead of colloquies upon barley sowing and artificial manuring, wheat threshing and pig feeding, I now enjoyed the historic conversaziones at George Eliot's, the hardly less historic breakfasts of the late Lord Houghton, Madame Bodichon's cosmopolitan gatherings, and how many more rare, delightful, and most fruitful experiences!  The social and intellectual centres here named have long since been broken up, the leading spirits of each no more dignify, embellish, and inspire the world; most readers will therefore be grateful for reminiscences of a brilliant society, now passed away, of men and women so gifted and so influential in wholly different fields.  And here I would add that I propose only to speak of the past in its personal sense, omitting all mention of the living.

    My home was made in a part of Kensington now utterly metamorphosed, but at that time wearing a quaint, old-world, suburban aspect.  From my uppermost window I looked upon the vast, beautiful old garden of Abingdon House, then the abode of Dhuleep Singh.  The stately figure of the Hindoo prince could be seen, as in native dress he sauntered with his attendants under the trees.

    Quiet little streets, so-called, are of course ever noisy with street cries, but the neighbourhood of Abingdon House possessed enormous attractions for a country girl.  The little Brompton lanes still existed, recalling, however faintly, Suffolk drifts and field paths.  Here and there stood lonely old granges or walled-in mansions, imparting a picturesque, provincial look.  Spring-tide and early summer brought a glory of leafage and blossom.  Those ancient gardens with their venerable apple or pear trees made me think of Ipswich and the fine old Quaker residences familiar to me in childhood.

    When not long since revisiting my whilom London quarters I found myself a stranger amid entirely new surroundings.  The handsome workhouse stands amid brand-new, fashionable quarters, every vestige of old Kensington has here disappeared.

    Perhaps on the other side of the High Street may still stand an old red-brick house with an endearing memory.  Here on Sunday mornings the Rev. W. E. Channing used to hold a simple but impressive service.  I suppose not more than fifty earnest men and women would be gathered in the big old-fashioned drawing-room, attracted thither by the enthusiasm, I am tempted to say inspiration, of the preacher.  There was little in those impassioned 'addresses that could be retained, even by the most retentive memory.  We hearkened as to the improvisations of some great musician, wholly carried away for the moment, lifted out of littleness and earthly dross; no sooner did the voice cease, the accents die on the ear, than the world and our old selves came back again!  Only an impression remained—an impression, however, of great preciousness.  Mr. Channing's theme was ever of universal brotherhood and of the Golden Age to come, the terrestrial anticipation of the heavenly Utopia.  As he enlarged upon the theory, his face would wear a look I have never seen but in one other, that of a second but quite different dreamer, whose portrait will follow later on.  This glow, I should rather say, flash, revealing a soul unspeakably ardent in the search after spiritual truth, and a nature of transcendent depth and purity, once seen could never be forgotten.  I have never read a line of Mr. Channing's writings, nor wish to do.  He convinced me, and doubtless many who heard him, that we may yet encounter angelic spirits, heavenly ministrants in human form, men whose fleshly garment and mortal hap seem accidental, mere extraneous and lamentable circumstance.

    Of very different calibre was another acquaintance of this period, [p.124-1] the great mathematician Sylvester.

    Rubicund, burly, of commonplace exterior, Professor Sylvester was as full of whimsicalities and contradictions as it is possible for any human being to be. Of his astounding, his unrivalled mathematical capacities and achievements he took small account. To perfect his "upper C," for he greatly prided himself upon his vocal accomplishments, lightly and elegantly to jump over a stile, and to translate an ode of Horace in accordance with his own laws of Syzygy, [p.124-2] these were the ambitions of the greatest expert in modern algebra. "Now for my upper C," he would say at the house of his old friend Madame Bodichon, that lady delighting to humour him. So one of the party sat down to the piano, and again and again the Professor repeated his upper C.

    During the summer we used to meet at Madame Bodichon's country house in Sussex.  There happened the stile incident.  We were crossing some fields when his hostess, then in brilliant health and spirits, very dexterously took a stile or five-barred gate, I forget which.  "Dear me!" said the disconcerted Professor, who had just before managed the business after slowest and clumsiest fashion—"dear me, you must really teach me, Madame Bodichon, how to get over a stile, you really must!"

    And the lesson was good-naturedly given; but the first living mathematician in Europe, who could easily solve algebraical problems, the very contemplation of which would make ordinary brains reel, very nearly dashed out his own in attempting to clear a stile.  His two lady companions rushed to the rescue, or without doubt he would have fallen head foremost, doing himself deadly harm.

    It was the Professor's habit, no contemptible one, to carry a little notebook about with him, and therein jot down any remark that appeared suggestive or original.  Some of these jottings, pencilled when I was by, are alluded to in his "Laws of Verse." [p.125]  When translating Horace with Boileau the Professor could say, "Je cherche et je sue" ("I seek and I sweat "), but he made his friends seek and sweat too.

    I can see him now standing on the hearth-rug of my tiny drawing-room, reciting his latest version of the famous ode to Mæcenas.  An excellent version it is, but few readers would guess the cost to its author in time and labour.  In the original translation his first line had run thus:


"Tyrrhenian progeny of Kings,"


finally altered as follows:


"Birth of Tyrrhenian regal line!"


    In that happy amendment I claim some share.  Again and again the Professor recited his ode on the hearth-rug, and again and again we argued about that word "progeny."  It sounded in my ears so very unpoetical, so very unmusical.  At last he gave way, and, certainly "regal line" is a vast improvement.  Whimsicalities apart, Sylvester was a great and estimable man, and, let us not forget the fact, in one sense, victim of nineteenth-century intolerance.  He was a Jew, and, in spite of his brilliant achievements at Cambridge, could neither hope for the much-coveted Smith's Prize, a Fellowship or Professorship in his University.  These good things, forsooth! were reserved for adherents of the Thirty-nine Articles and members of the Established Church.  The greatest mathematical genius of his generation was reduced to the drudgery of teaching, and had to content himself with Transatlantic honours.  Sylvester, it is said, deeply felt this injustice, as well he might.  "Unhappily," he wrote in those early years to a young Nonconformist mathematician of great promise, "there are very few positions in this country offering a suitable nest for the fostering of scientific progress of an abstract kind.  All such berths are appropriated by the Universities, which are positive evils and impediments to all born out of the pale, or at least to all who do not flock within the pale of the Established Church; their existence precludes the State encouragement which would otherwise be bestowed indiscriminately on all."

    When aged seventy-two he was indeed named Savilian Professor to the University of Oxford and Fellow of New College.

    Another striking figure of this period, and with Professor Sylvester also a victim of nineteenth-century intolerance, was Charles Bradlaugh.

    What an irony runs through the career of that epoch- making man!  So much we may surely say of one who, single-handed against society, the Church, and the law, obtained for English law-makers liberty of conscience!  The immense moral victory was perhaps Bradlaugh's most coveted reward; such a character could not set great store by popularity or worldly fortune.  And perhaps he inwardly chuckled at a reaction, surely the strangest witnessed in our own or any time!—but yesterday a scapegoat, a bugbear, a reprobate, on the morrow not only a man and a brother, but a positive exemplar and shining light.  How deep-seated was universal prejudice against Bradlaugh the following story will show.  The very last people in the world to be repelled by anyone's religious or anti-religious opinions were surely George Eliot and George Henry Lewes.  Yet I well remember that when describing an evening at the Hall of Science, the latter observed laughingly,

    "I verily believe, Polly," thus he usually called his companion, "that our friend has a sneaking fondness for Mr. Bradlaugh!"

    The speech, goodnaturedness itself, evidently implied tacit cause for astonishment, the notion that such sympathy was hardly credible, hardly admissible, in a well-regulated mind.

    Truth to tell, despite my respect for Nonconformity in any shape, [p.127] the first impression of Charles Bradlaugh was anything but favourable.  No one can entertain profounder reverence for the founder of Christianity than myself, and on the occasion in question a discussion took place between Mr. Bradlaugh and a Dissenting minister upon the origin and author of the Christian religion.  The two disputants were unequally matched, the sceptic being in the prime of bodily and mental faculties, whilst the believer was an old white-haired man, full of conviction and having the Scriptures at his fingers' end, no doubt, but unable to combat the other's bitter sarcasms and unanswerable logic.  At last a painful scene occurred.  The worsted adversary put his hand to his head and staggered as one suddenly stricken with paralysis.

    "I—I—cannot answer you," he stammered, evidently abashed, horror-stricken at finding himself so poor an upholder of the faith that was in him.

    At that time Bradlaugh's hand seemed against every man and every man's hand against Bradlaugh, a position in itself calling for pity if not for commendation.  It was the hero of later days one felt glad to have seen, the pale, buffeted, hustled, but unconquerable figure, ex-errand boy, trooper, coal retailer, and lawyer's clerk arraigning that awful body the House of Commons, arraigning traditional England, in his own person embodiment of all that has made England's greatness, the passion for spiritual as well as political freedom!


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CHAPTER XVIII.

MORE LONDON SOUVENIRS


DR. KARL MARX AND THE INTERNATIONAL—JOHN STUART MILL—LOUIS BLANC—"THE CAMELS"—FLOWERS IN FINSBURY—A WITTICISM


AT the time I write of (1867-70-1) the International Working Man's Association held its sittings in High Holborn under the presidency of Dr. Karl Marx.  As the author of "Das Kapitel" may now be pronounced an historic personage, these recollections do not call for apology.

    Strange it was to quit the world of fashion and pleasure for the purlieus of penury, toil, and clubs of political exiles!

    At eight o'clock on a summer evening the Kensington High Street showed one unbroken stream and counter-stream of glittering equipages and gay toilettes, all West-End London being bound to theatres, dinners, and entertainments manifold.

    As one journeyed eastward it was not so.  Lurid November were more in harmony with the surroundings here!  Instead of growing more animated, the great high road of Holborn, main artery of industrial London, became quieter and less peopled.

    We stopped at a small shop, of which shutters, front and side door were all shut, the latter being opened by a young foreign mechanic in working dress.  The council assembled immediately the workshop closed, so that members had no time to change their clothes.  Following our conductor, we climbed a dark, narrow staircase, and were ushered into a small, dingy, but well-lighted room, the council chamber of the redoubtable International Working Man's Association. [p.130]  Round the table sat perhaps a score of working men, most of them foreigners, German, French, Spanish, Italian, with two or three Englishmen.  Intellectually the types were good, and, much as one might differ from the rest, all showed the same quiet determination and fixity of purpose.  The average physique was poor.  All looked more or less worn out with the day's labour, whilst some were terribly attenuated and sallow.

    My attention was naturally concentrated on the figure of the President, a figure no more attractive than that of Charles Bradlaugh, but fully as rememberable.  The portly, commanding frame, the powerful head with its shock of raven black hair, the imperturbable features, and slow, measured speech, once seen and heard could never be forgotten.  Yet, in spite of the colossal intellect and iron purpose here embodied, neither in Karl Marx's physiognomy nor in Charles Bradlaugh's did I read a certain inexorableness characteristic of a quite different personage to be portrayed later.  I should say that the predominating mental trait of the German social reformer was that Teutonic, speculative dreaminess so often allied in Germany with reasoning power of the highest order.

    The proceedings were not at all lively.  One by one several members stood up, and after reading a report laid propositions before the council.  Occasionally the street bell tinkled, when the secretary would go down and admit a tardy member.  Citizen after citizen—thus each speaker was called—said what he had to say, then reseated himself.  Soon after ten o'clock the meeting broke up, the gloomy little council chamber was left to darkness and solitude.

    The International Working Man's Association may not have set to work in the right spirit, its theories of social reorganisation may be radically wrong.  Yet let us ungrudgingly grant so much.  When later, France was being egged on to war, devastation, and the verge of bankruptcy and dismemberment, the International, and the International alone, protested against such delirium.  "Are we mad," said its members, "that this pseudo-Napoleon, this charlatan and enemy of free thought and free speech, should do with millions as he will, for the sake of a hateful and fatal dynasty?  In God's name, let us bestir ourselves whilst it is yet time, and avoid the calamity."  None took heed, and the end was—what?  France forfeited her historic frontiers, was orphaned of her best and bravest, for a time lost rank among nations because she had once more entrusted her fortunes to a make-believe Bonaparte! [p.131]

    The Woman's Suffrage question, with many another of abstract justice, is utterly wanting in attractiveness, at least to myself.  We listen to speakers on the subject resignedly as to a report of the Society for the Protection of Children or the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  I have, moreover, from the very beginning of my literary career wholly abstained from taking any part whatever in social, philanthropic, or political agitations.  "An die Nächste muss man denken," wrote the "wise-browed Goethe," a motto I have persistently adopted.  We must bend our minds to the matter in hand, and a conscientious writer, whether novelist or otherwise, has enough to do to attend to subject-matter and sentences.  I am fond of quoting Mr. John Morley.  His apothegms remain in the memory whether you will or no.  And none are truer than one of which I here give the substance rather than the exact words, for I quote from memory: "No easy matter is it to manipulate that mighty engine, the English language."  This has ever, been my own opinion.  Instead, therefore, of stumping the country on behalf of the divided skirt, and other praiseworthy objects, I have stuck to the immediate business of an author, namely, literary workmanship, the art of writing, the doing one's best possible with native gifts.

    But a meeting at which John Stuart Mill was to speak would surely magnetise anyone and under any conceivable circumstances.  This especial gathering, moreover, was, I believe, the first great public meeting got up by advocates of female suffrage, and as such has historic interest.

    What was said for the most part escapes my memory; unforgettable, on the contrary, remains the impression of John Stuart Mill as a personality.  His countenance in its look of final conviction, of a thinker whose mind upon weighty subjects was irrevocably made up, from whose ethic verdicts there was no appeal, had something awful, even sublime, in its rigidity and marble-like implacableness.  You felt as you gazed that chance and destiny, inclination and human weakness, exercised no sway whatever over this man, that here were the immovable purpose, iron will, and unflinching self-oblivion of which, for good or for evil, the world's umpires and leaders are made.  Had Stuart Mill lived in mediæval or revolutionary times, who can say?  Born in Spain he might have discerned duty with the eyes of a Loyola, in France a century ago with those of a Terrorist.  By way of relief to his sober, almost solemn utterances, came the wit and raillery of the late Lord Houghton.

    "Was ever such inconsistency?" he said.  "The French Revolution did not recognise the political rights of women, but made no scruple whatever about cutting off their heads as political offenders!"

    The history of the French Revolution was not as familiar to me then as now, or I might have observed afterwards that whilst the great Danton satirised women-statesmen in the person of his political rival and bitter enemy Madame Roland, long before, Marat had written upon the intellectual and political equality of the sexes.  Marat's odious reputation' must not blind us to the fact that he was no horseleech living over a stable, as Carlyle would have us to believe, but, on the contrary, a highly accomplished physician, who had amassed a competency by the exercise of his profession.

    The French Revolution recalls another interesting and unique figure belonging to this period.  Louis Blanc I met both in London and at Brighton, and charmingly he talked, his shabby dressing-gown folded over his knees, his tiny form enlarged and ennobled by a head of magnificent proportions and startlingly brilliant black eyes.

    He spoke English with Academic fastidiousness, and loved to recount an early experience of exile in England.  Louis Blanc, be it remembered, was a victim of Napoleonic conscription.

    In attempting to climb a London omnibus he once missed his footing, and in saving himself presented, I daresay, a whimsical figure enough.  Some outside passengers laughed aloud, whereupon Louis Blanc turned upon them severely—

    "Is it the custom in England, gentlemen, for folks to laugh when a man breaks his leg?"

    The rebuke was well received, the merrymakers apologised and vied with each other in offering their aid and other acts of politeness.  He used this anecdote as an illustration of the kindliness underlying the rough exterior of an average John Bull.

    The popularity of Louis Blanc in Paris was enormous.  When in 1878, having returned from exile, he gave a lecture on Rousseau at the Cirque D'Hiver, the stream of people, forming what in France is called "une queue," was a quarter of a mile long.  I turned away hopelessly.  As well try to get into the Grand Opera on a free day!  All the workaday world of Paris had turned out to hear the author of "L'Organisation de Travail " and projector of national workshops.  About his History of the French Revolution M. Cherbuliez has just told us a pleasant story. [p.134]  Asked what had first suggested the writing of such a work he replied, "'Les considerations sur la Revolution' de Mme. de Staël!"  What an argument in favour of the extension of University degrees to women and women's rights generally!

    Many other engaging recollections crowd on my mind.  I well remember one Sunday afternoon's walk with friends to "The Camels," at Fulham, the home of Joseph Bonomi, the famous Egyptologist.  We started early, taking one little lane after another, on either side having privet hedges in bloom, market gardens, or isolated manor-houses.  It was next best to a walk amid native meadows and cornfields.  "The Camels" was no piece of antiquity, instead a new, well-built, imposing villa, built by its owner for family use, and having an emblematic bas-relief on the façade, a group of camels, life-size and carved in red stone.  Jenny Lind, then Madame Goldschmidt, lived next door.  At the back of the house stretched a large garden, and here Mr. and Mrs. Bonomi received their friends, an unintermittent stream, not of mere callers but persons on a footing of real intimacy, who poured in, some to sit down to the enormous and substantially spread tea-table, others to join the equally solid supper later on.

    There was something particularly cordial and unpretending about this hospitality.  It was no matter of a cup of coffee and mere "So glad to have seen you," or conventional chat; instead intercourse in the proper sense of the word, an assemblage of sympathetic friends and acquaintances with ample time and opportunity for discussion.  All too was so easy and homelike, with abundance of culture and learning, but not a vestige of parade artificiality.

    Some mortals seem to enjoy two lives, their span of existence being doubled.  Thus it was with Joseph Bonomi, a man whose achievements already belonged to the historian and the encyclopædia, yet in quite another sense living over again, beginning the pleasant life of home and family ties.  At this time "The Camels" resounded with the voices of happy children, a large young family of our host swelling the numbers at tea.

    Another recollection of unconventional kind carries me into quite another scene.  It has always seemed to me that the choicest pleasures of London lie outside the daily routine, the calendar of fashion and guide books.

    On Saturday afternoons of early summer how good and fruitful were the botanical lectures delivered in the rotunda of the London Institution, Finsbury Square!  The gathering of students, old and young, all attracted thither by love of science, all belonging to the middle or humbler classes, afforded in itself a charming study.  Everyone was so attentive, so anxious not to miss a single word!  The vast heap of wild flowers lying on the lecturer's table doubtless to many recalled childish rambles in country lanes, whilst to other minds the piled-up blossoms would bring visions of rustic joy perhaps as yet untasted.  Here were "lady smocks all silver white," marsh marigolds recalling Rossetti's fine verse, [p.135] shepherd's purse, most modest of wayside graces, cowslips, gorse, and branches of pink and white may, with others in abundance.  The demonstration over, students were permitted to carry away these treasures, the condition being that they were students indeed.

    Strange it was that a country girl should first have been attracted to the study of botany in the heart of London!  Thus, however, it came about, and after a long lapse of years I recall the Rotunda of the London Institution with positive affection.  Later on I attended some equally attractive botanical lectures by Professor Thiselton Dyer at the South Kensington Museum; also the private course of an accomplished lady professor, Mrs. Whelpdale.  The study of flowers, plants, and the entire vegetable world has ever seemed to me the most fascinating in the world.

    A smattering of scientific knowledge, often so much more useful than painfully acquired accomplishments, is ever attainable in London, we may now add, everywhere.  This reminds me of a witticism too good for the world willingly to let die.  In company of Hampstead friends I had attended a lecture by the late Professor Lancaster on the human body, its constituent parts and formation.  As we emerged from the lecture hall a lady acquaintance, who had evidently been intensely bored by the proceedings, said to her husband, "After all, what is the use of knowing about the human body?"

    "Well, my love," good naturedly replied her partner, "there is no premium put upon ignorance that I know of."


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XIX.

GEORGE ELIOT AND MADAME BODICHON


"THE OVERTURE TO 'FIDELIO,' MY DEAR!" "MARIAN" AND "BARBARA"—REMBRANDT AND BORDONE—THE PARTING OF THE WAYS—"OH, BARBARA, BARBARA, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"—A DINNER PARTY


I FIRST saw George Eliot in the early summer of 1868.  During the preceding winter I had made with her intimate friend and my own, Madame Bodichon, a deeply interesting tour through Spain, followed by a somewhat venturesome and perilous journey to Algiers by way of Oran.  At that time drivers of the diligence carried firearms, and every inch of the road was beset by dangers of one kind or another, Arab cut-throats and plunderers who if caught were summarily shot down, malaria, and, last but not least, earthquake.  The final stages of this memorable expedition took us through a region desolated by shock after shock, towns and villages abandoned and in ruins, and the entire population camped out.

    Madame Bodichon, who at that time always wintered at Algiers, did not return to London till May.  One of her very first visits was naturally paid to the Priory.

    Of this eminent, I am tempted to say illustrious, woman, née Barbara Leigh Smith, I shall speak at greater length hereafter.  I will only mention now that Madame Bodichon's library contained a copy of "Adam Bede," in which the author had written a short time after its appearance: "To her who first recognised me in this work."  The pair called each other "Barbara" and "Marian," and were sisters as far as exceptional natures like that of George Eliot can be said to have any relations.  Despite George Henry Lewes's lover-like petting, despite her numerous adorers, intellectually speaking, of the same sex, despite the affection of such a woman as Barbara Bodichon and the little court of devoted admirers admitted to her intimacy, she ever seemed to me alone, sadly, almost sublimely alone.

    The popularity of George Eliot's works may fluctuate from time to time, their sadness and in some their learnedness may alienate many readers.  Her life-story will always prove a stumbling-block to the puritanical.  But the fact of intellectual supremacy remains.  "Middlemarch" is an unanswerable argument against the assentors of unisexual intellectuality.  Many stories exhilarate more.  For my own part I would not give that immortal chapter in which Jane Eyre puts on a clean muslin dress and prepares to meet her lover for the whole of George Eliot's great prose epic.  Such opinions, of course, do not in the least affect the merits of the case.  I should like to set, say, ten or a score of ordinary upholders of male superiority the following task: Given a single reading and a certain time (the books of course being withheld, as grammars and handbooks from students under examination), write down an exact detailed and concise account of the plot and interweaving of counter-plot in "Middlemarch."  Many windbags fresh from Oxford or Cambridge, whippersnappers who, having "gone up " and "gone down" a certain number of times, feel in consequence able lordlily to criticise everything under the sun, would scratch their empty heads over the job and confess themselves, in slang speech, hopelessly "floored."  Perhaps "Middlemarch" would be none the less interesting for a simpler plot.  As it stands, the work is stupendous, Shakespearian, a canvas to be set beside the half-dozen great imaginative creations of the world, whether in poetry or prose.

    The first thing Madame Bodichon did on her return from Algiers was to call at the Priory, taking me with her.  Being a privileged person, she used to call there at very unconventional hours, upon this occasion immediately after dinner.

    "You stay outside," she said, "and if I obtain permission to introduce you I will call out."

    So I waited in the road just behind the cloister-like gate, but only for a minute or two.

    "You may come in," shouted Madame Bodichon from the hall door.  Accordingly, in I went, receiving cordial welcome.

    George Eliot was at this time about fifty, but looked years older.  She wore, as she always did, a plain black silk dress, to-night having a white shawl about her shoulders and light gloves in her band, being indeed dressed for the opera.  Some people have talked and written of the ugliness of this great woman; this sort of criticism recalls a famous scene in "Middlemarch."  "Mr. Casaubon has a wart on his nose," said pert little Celia to her sister.  I dare say he has," was Dorothea's dignified rebuke, "when certain people look at him."  And thus George Eliot in some eyes was ugly because, forsooth, she lacked dimpled cheeks, round eyes, and pretty mouth!  If hers was ugliness, would we had more of it in the world!  When in speaking, her large, usually solemn features lighted up, a positive light would flash from them, a luminosity irradiate, not her own person only, but her surroundings.  A sovereign nature, an august intellect, had transported us into its own atmosphere.

    "I am very glad to see you, associated as you are so pleasantly with Barbara's letters from Spain," she said; then her friend took possession of her, and George Henry Lewes chatted with me on Spanish literature and the last new Spanish novel or play.  This wonderful and most genial little man seemed to know everything, to be an encyclopædia before, and not behind, his time, like Charles Lamb.  As we talked the sound of carriage wheels was heard outside.  Lewes started up.

    "The overture to 'Fidelio,' my dear—we shall miss the overture!  Our friends must excuse us," he cried.

    They had seats at the opera, so we accompanied them to the door and saw them drive off, Lewes delighted as a schoolboy bound to the pantomime, George Eliot smiling gravely.  "Fare thee well, dear," she said, waving her hand to Madame Bodichon, whom the minute before she had tenderly kissed.

    A greater contrast than that presented by the friends could hardly be imagined; the author of "Middlemarch," with her large sallow features lighted up by intermittent flashes of thought or feeling, her angular, somewhat stooping figure, stiffly habited in black, the whole forming a sombre Rembrandt-like picture; the foundress of Girton College, whose portrait, some one has said, is in every picture-gallery of Europe, her magnificent complexion, golden hair, and lovely expression recalling the Bordone of the Louvre and the Titian of our own National Gallery.  Madame Bodichon's blue eyes beamed with "the wild joy of living," [p.140] and her great animal spirits were generally infectious.  George Eliot, her "Marian," whilst evidently revelling in such a personality, never quite caught the glow, never, like Lewes, became playsome and effervescent.  But the pair were friends of long standing, no social complications, no verdicts of the world, clouding their intimacy.  Madame Bodichon was far too large-souled and large-hearted to sit in judgment upon a fellow-being whose defiance of precedents concerned herself only.  The following story throws light on the early relations of these two women, each so exceptionally gifted, each so influential in a wholly different sphere.  The acquaintance of Mary Ann Evans and Barbara Leigh Smith had ripened into friendship long before the first was known to fame, and before she had taken the perilous leap—in other words, had challenged society by a precedent.  On the brink of that decision, when love and womanly pride were battling for mastery, when the great novelist to be trembled before the only shadow clouding a radiant future, the lovers and Barbara Leigh Smith spent a day together in the country.  As she stood thus at the parting of the ways, Mary Ann Evans unbosomed herself to her friend, even asked counsel.  Should she take the perilous leap or not, forego this dream of passionate love, take refuge in the consolations of renouncement and ordinary self-praise?

    "What earthly right had I to advise her in such a case?" Madame Bodichon said, when, years after, recounting the story.  "I replied that her own heart must decide, and that no matter what her decision or its consequences should be, I would stand by her so long as I lived."

    There can now be no reason for withholding an incident which, indeed, I was never bidden to keep secret.

    We all know the share that George Henry Lewes had in George Eliot's literary career.  What if at this juncture his influence had been wholly withdrawn?  In all probability the world would have lost "Daniel Deronda" and "Romola," and perhaps gained a second "Adam Bede" or "Mill on the Floss."  Or perhaps we should have had no novelist at all, instead a great woman-philosopher, Kant or Spencer of the other sex.  That mighty intellect and commanding spirit would have silenced boyish supporters of male supremacy anyhow.  Maybe the conviction that Madame Bodichon had proved the silent, the unconscious umpire of their destinies rendered her so dear to George Eliot and George Henry Lewes.  Their affection and joy in that bright, exhilarating presence was delightful to witness.  Madame Bodichon's attitude in this matter affords the key to her character.  For her the individual was everything, conventionalities, public suffrages, the homage of the world, of no account. It was respect for humanity in the concrete that made her life so salutary and stimulating.

    At this time she spent some months every year at her London house, 5, Blandford Square, and was privileged to call at the Priory whenever she pleased, indeed to invite herself to the two o'clock luncheon.  Upon one occasion she rang the bell twenty minutes or a quarter of an hour too soon, whereupon out rushed her hostess, pale, trembling, dishevelled, a veritable Sibyl, disturbed in the fine frenzy of inspiration!

    "Oh, Barbara, Barbara!" she cried, extremely agitated, "what have you done?"

    The ever welcome guest had disturbed her friend in a scene of "Romola"!

    "I felt ready to cry like a naughty child," added the narrator, "but from the opposite door out rushed Mr. Lewes, who, in the kindest manner, soothed us both and put everything right."

    The metaphysician worked as hard as the novelist, but despite his metempirics, a philosophical term of his own invention, in spite of poor health, Lewes remained frolicsome to the last.

    One evening as they were expected to dinner, no one being there but the hostess and myself, the drawing-room door was flung wide with the announcement—"Captain and Mrs. Harrison."

    "Good Heavens," whispered Madame Bodichon aghast, "some self-invited relations from the Antipodes, and George Eliot and George Lewes coming!"

    A well-known laugh in the doorway reassured her.  It was one of Lewes' little jokes.

    The dinner prefaced so playfully was rather a solemn affair.  Instead of light, digestive chat anent books, the drama or literary matters in general, one of the three, for I played the part of listener, mooted no less of a topic than the destruction of the globe, the when and how our familiar world would come to an end.

    I think I hear George Eliot's many-toned fervid voice as she put forward one hypothesis after another:

    "And yet, dear Barbara, it might happen thus," and so on.

    I believe when we rose from the table the casting vote had been in favour of combustion by the tail of a comet.  Somehow even Madame Bodichon's usually high spirits flagged, and no wonder.  There are moments when all of us need a little relaxation, a hum-drum human laugh.  This wonderful pair seldom enjoyed either.  They longed to ride a hobby-horse, but found the pastime, I should say, accomplishment, unattainable.

    I well remember a lament of George Henry Lewes on this subject.

    "A bramble bush reminds me of a friend more fortunate than myself," he said.  "This learned fellow had a hobby, and his was brambles.  One day he came to me with a radiant face.  'I have at last found my bramble,' he cried, alluding to an especial kind that had hitherto eluded his search.  How I envied that man!"

    In all probability a hobby-horse would have prolonged the lives of both metaphysician and novelist.  Their intellects had no repose.  With Madame Bodichon, who was also consumed by abnormal mental activity of quite different kind, they were worn out at a period when many men and women may be considered still in their prime.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XX.

GEORGE ELIOT AND MADAME BODICHON—continued


SUNDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE PRIORY—GRACE AND AMELIA—BROWNING —"SINGING BIRDS"—TURGENEFF—WILLIAM ALLINGHAM—THE ISLE OF WIGHT—BEETHOVEN—TALKS OF "POLLY"—SHANKLIN—A SERIOUS TEA"—A CHRISTMAS DINNER—"I ALWAYS DO THAT SORT OF THING"


AFTER this introduction I occasionally attended the historic Sunday afternoons at the Priory; at one time, when George Henry Lewes made tea, as he styled it, "the whole duty of man," these were small gatherings of pre-eminent intellects, as years wore on, large re-unions, with quite a conventional, one might say a fashionable, even frivolous element.  Handsome equipages, powdered footmen, and elegantly dressed ladies now animated those sober precincts, greatly to the delight of Grace and Amelia.  The middle-aged domestics, sisters, I believe, and long in the service of their employers, now became wildly ambitious.  They hoped and firmly believed that some fine day the Queen herself would call upon their mistress, but the hope and the dream were never realised.  And who can tell?  Perhaps such disappointment and bitter illusion had something to do with what afterwards happened; Grace and Amelia became captious, moody, tyrannical, finally took their departure.

    A young author's preconceptions of great men or women are apt to prove illusory also.  Browning had ever seemed to me a poet immensely inferior to his glorious wife. [p.144]  I was nevertheless hardly prepared for the personality here before my eyes.  It was difficult to believe that the hero of the "Sonnets from the Portuguese" and the elderly flirt and chatterer of nonsense could be one and the same person.  I have certainly heard Browning tell a good story (from a newspaper) at Lord Houghton's famous breakfast-table.  As a rule he was magnetised by pretty dresses, high sounding titles and flippant feminine tongues; by George Henry Lewes's "singing birds," Lady Flora this, Lady Emilia that, who could sit down to the piano and warble in drawing-room fashion some new French song.

    For it had come to this: instead of the grave discussions or brilliant talk of former days, instead of listening to George Eliot's suggestive utterances and most musical, many-toned voice, folks were silenced by the rattle of a pianoforte accompaniment and the trills of a lady amateur!

    A knot of thinkers, [p.145] foremost men of our day, still frequented this now eagerly sought salon, and few illustrious foreigners but succeeded in obtaining an introduction.  One afternoon Turgeneff's colossal figure appeared, by his side the equally colossal figure of that first-rate Russian scholar and estimable man the late W. S. Ralston.  What chiefly struck me about Turgeneff, for I had no conversation with him, was his unpretendingness and air of vague, quiet, dreamy sadness.  The man resembled his books.  Great Turgeneff undoubtedly is, but one and all of his stories are characterised by the same vague, undefinable sadness, the monotone of the steppes.  We are impressed as we read; the impression fades.  We re-read, again to find that alike plot, situation, and characters elude mental grip.  It would be interesting to learn whether his own countrymen pronounce the same literary judgment.

    An ever welcome and gracious personality was the Irish poet William Allingham.  With neither epic nor tragedy has the author of "Laurence Blomfield in Ireland" enriched the world.  But he has accomplished what should satisfy the sincerest and the most ambitious; several of his songs and poems have long since become common property, being included in every anthology and poetry book for schools.  Lives the child who has not by heart—


"Red Cap, Blue Jacket, and White Owl's Feather"?


    "William Allingham is no echo," said George Eliot of him; he was more than a pleasant, easy talker, as she called another acquaintance.  The Irish poet, a close friend of Madame Bodichon's also, had flashes of wit and gaiety, the charm of perpetual youth, but was yet capable of deep seriousness.  And in the very best sense of the word he was no respecter of persons, with George Eliot being as natural, as entirely and transparently himself, as with any other friend or comrade.

    In the early winter of that terrible year 1870 Madame Bodichon took a furnished house near Ryde and invited me to join her.  George Eliot and George Henry Lewes coming for Christmas, as the former wrote to her friend, "to weep together over the sorrows of France."

    In some respects the pleasant plan failed.  Not for years had weather so severe visited the traditionally mild little island.  Instead of finding roses and violets in Ventnor gardens, sunshine and balminess everywhere, skating, snow, and a bitter north wind were the order of the day.  Our abode, too, a recently built commodious High Church rectory, in spite of tremendous fires in every room and passage, could not be made snug and warm as a second "Priory."  Poor Lewes sometimes looked blue with cold, and although the pair delighted in the society of their friend, and in the absolute quiet and such glimpses of natural scenery as could be obtained, the arctic visitation and awful calamities of France kept down high spirits.

    I well remember their arrival. As the hostess entered the drawing-room with her friends, George Eliot bent almost ecstatically over an exquisite flower on the centre table, what flower it was I have forgotten. The lovely bloom, the delicious fragrance brought out that radiance in her face I have before alluded to, a luminosity (no other word seems applicable) as transforming as it was evanescent. [p.147]  "Why, oh, why," she cried in her peculiar sighing voice, a voice that was often indeed a sigh, "not pray to such lovely things as these?" and she hung over the flower in an attitude of positive adoration.  It was this intensity, alike of feeling, conviction, and aspiration, that characterised her as I suppose it characterises most sovereign natures.

    The pair had brought a little work with them, and the Vicar's handsome study was assigned to Lewes as a study.  But on the second morning he joined George Eliot in hers, a smaller, less cheerless breakfast-room.  The work, I think, consisted only of proof correcting, whilst for holiday reading they had brought surely the strangest book in the world, namely, Wolff's "Prolegomena."  The volume possessed certainly one attraction.  It did not at all bear on the painful events of the day.  After dinner George Henry Lewes would tell us the most wonderful stories or his companion would sit down to the piano.

    "What shall it be, dear little boy?" she would ask as she turned over the contents of the music waggon; and the dear little boy—I loved 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 C Major, ever one of my favourites.

    She played correctly, conscientiously, but not with the entrain and charm of far inferior musicians.  It is not geniuses, it is the merely talented people who can be universally brilliant, shine in everything, dazzle by parade of mere accomplishments.  And listening to George Eliot's pianoforte playing, one could but feel here as ever the deep-seated melancholy that had not, as some suppose, her own life for its cause, but the life of all humanity.  On her shoulders seemed to rest the material and spiritual burdens of the universe.

    The stay lasted a week, during which I saw much more of the metaphysician than of the novelist, although of course we all met at meals and spent the evening together.  Madame Bodichon, ever enthusiastic to the verge of infatuation, was naturally athirst for the society of her adored Marian.  Maugre their devotion to each other, such opportunities of intercourse were rare.  The foundress of Girton, the prime mover in bringing about the Married Women's Property Bill, the charming water-colour amateur, lived from the first of January to the thirty-first of December in a perpetual whirl of business, study, and pleasure.  No wonder that such feverish energy, mental activities so many-sided, and an existence absolutely devoid of repose, rendered her, alas! an aged, broken-down woman at fifty!

    Madame Bodichon would therefore carry off George Eliot in one direction, Lewes and I taking a long, brisk walk in another.

    He loved a country ramble even in winter, and generally talked the whole time of "Polly."  It delighted him to discover in me a whole-hearted admirer of "Felix Holt," a work less generally admired than their great brethren, but to my thinking as fine in its way as "Middlemarch."

    How Lewes laughed when I quoted that denunciation of his own sex by Mrs. Tramson's maid, "The creatures who stand straddling and gossiping in he rain!"

    George Eliot never talked of her own books; had she done so, I was at that time too bashful to ask her the following question: "Is it your experience, is it your conviction, that throughout life the lower nature subdues, leads in chains, the higher?  Your Romola, meek slave of the despicable Tito, your Maggie Tulliver, ever swayed by that incarnation of masculine selfishness, her brother Tom, your Lydgate fawning as a beaten hound on the heartless, brainless, essentially vulgar Rosamund, and the rest, for the parallel holds good throughout all your works,—can it be that such is your summing-up of human lot and character?"  If so, no wonder that alike the author and her books were steeped in sadness, not the hard, revolting pessimism of an Ibsen, a Flaubert, rather the tearful, pious sympathy of a Saint Francis d'Assisi or a Santa Theresa.

    One afternoon we all visited Shanklin, an excursion I never recall without a twinge of conscience.  After enjoying the magnificent Chine together, we separated, George Eliot and her companion continuing their stroll, my hostess and self calling upon a lady novelist, author of some pretty stories published under a pseudonym, then living in the village.  We had arranged to meet at the station, and thither, after half an hour's chat, the authoress in question accompanied us.  We sat down on the platform, catching a glimpse of our illustrious Incognitos at the farther end.  How I longed to whisper in my fellow-novelist's ear, "Yonder stooping veiled figure in black is the author of 'Adam Bede.'"  It seems positively unchristian-like to withhold a piece of information so full of surprise, so thrilling.  But the condition of silence had been imposed.  Regretfully, self-reproachfully, morosely, I held my peace.  That lady is ignorant to this day of the tantalising "might have been."

    Tell George Henry Lewes a good story, and he became your fast friend for life.

    At this time another authoress lived in the Isle of Wight, a lady whose clerical stories for girls have enjoyed and perhaps still enjoy enormous popularity.  She kept a celebrated school for young ladies near Ventnor, and through common friends expressed a wish to make my acquaintance.  As, however, it was the period of examinations, she wrote saying that she much regretted that "she could only do herself the pleasure of inviting Miss B— E— to a serious tea!"

    "I thank thee, friend, for that story," Lewes exclaimed, laughing heartily, and he was greatly interested in the tea itself, which did prove somewhat serious.

    We always all breakfasted together, and on Christmas morning there was the usual round of good wishes.  "A merry Christmas to you, Ann, and a marry New Year!" was Lewes's greeting to his hostess's staid, middle-aged parlour-maid.  In spite of dyspepsia and other drawbacks to existence, he remained captivatingly genial and prank-some.  When we sat down to our Christmas dinner, and Ann with extraordinary flourish deposited a huge covered dish on the table, he rubbed his hands, smiling at the mistress of the house.

    "You will, I am sure, Barbara," he said, "excuse the liberty taken by an old friend.  I have ventured to add a little delicacy to your bill of fare.  Ann, remove the cover!"

    We all started back with a scream.  Something like a snake lay there, rebounding as it uncoiled.  It was indeed the Vicar's scourge which Lewes had unhooked from its nail in the study, and which, doubtless, often served the purpose of self-flagellation.

    George Eliot would not have relished the notion of "a chiel among them takin' notes," nor can my late friend Professor Sylvester's habit of the perpetual note-book be commended.  Still, I regret now that I did not journalise that historic week at Swanmore Parsonage.  One well-remembered conversation arouses reflection.

    The topic was literary excellence and literary fame, or perhaps I should rather say, recognition, and the criterion of both.

    "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 now? could the money test be accepted as a criterion when she spoke?  I played the part of listener, but have often dwelt on the words since.

    The money test!  But compare the sum paid for a consummate work of art, perhaps the most perfect romance (I here use the word romance as implying something quite distinct from the novel) ever written, to wit, "The Scarlet Letter," with the price say of a "Trilby"!

    No, George Eliot's criterion fails here!  Her next utterance will commend itself to all real lovers of literature.

    "Then," she said in her slow, deliberate, conscientious way, and speaking from another point of view, that of literary excellence rather than of public acknowledgment—"then there is the test of sincerity."

    A canon, the unassailableness of which none can deny!  And if sincerity were the self-imposed test of every author, young, old, and middle-aged, immense would be the economy of pens, ink, and printer's copy—and the gain to literature.  Of course the only, the final test of literature is duration, a foregone conclusion and point too evident to call for remark.

    The last glimpse I caught of George Eliot and her metaphysician was a year or two later.  The "money test" in her case may fairly be accepted, and the pair had just purchased a country house and a pretty victoria in which they drove to 5, Blandford Square.  I believe this was their first drive.  Madame Bodichon ran down the front steps, embracing her friend affectionately as she sat, whilst Lewes said laughingly, "Of course, we remember, Barbara, that you never acknowledged us when we had no carriage."

    But I am here anticipating.  Let me add another memorial or two of this most historic visit, seven days during which George Eliot was literally at home, in some degree threw off the grand didactic air natural to her, part of herself, in truth, her very self.

    I happened at this time to have a whitlow on the thumb of my right hand, which for some days after lancing had to be carefully bandaged.  On Christmas morning, when breakfast salutations were unusually cordial, George Eliot fancied that she had hurt my invalid thumb.

    "I always do that sort of thing!" she cried, with a look of positive pain; and it was with no little difficulty that I could convince her to the contrary.  The notion of having inflicted pain seemed intolerable.  One can understand the sadness underlying a nature so sensitive.

 "I always do that sort of thing!"  The accentuation, impossible to describe it, reminds me of Rosamund's directly opposed speech, the callousness of her "What can I do?" when Lydgate was distracted with anxiety.


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