Isabella Fyvie Mayo (3)

Home Up A Retired Life The Secret Drawer By Still Waters Doing and Dreaming The Dead Sin Family Fortunes At Any Cost Rab Bethune's Double Short Stories, etc. Poems Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER V.

IN LITERARY LIFE.


I HAVE given my memories of the dawn of the "woman's work" epoch before those of my literary life because, though for a time they ran parallel, yet those of the latter are continued almost into the present.

    My eyes had, so to speak, opened upon two rather interesting journalistic enterprises.  One was the Lancet, whose offices were only a door or two from my home; the other was the Family Herald, which had its habitation just round the corner in the Strand.

    When I was born, the Lancet had been established about twenty years.  Its projector was Dr. Wakley.  I remember him as a fine, distinguished-looking old gentleman.  He interested himself in politics, and a story went about (vouched for by those who had been present) that he had once addressed the electors on the hustings at Covent Garden, with the promise that if his candidate's policy was carried out, "You shall have your pot of beer for twopence."  "Hooray!" shouted the mob.  Fired by their applause, he went a step further.  "You shall have it," said he, "for a penny."  "Hooray!" yelled the delighted crowd, one waggish voice roaring: "We'll have it for nothing!"

    The Family Herald was a wonderful enterprise for its period.  It was founded in 1843, and still holds its own.  Its weekly essay was often written by famous pens, among them that of Douglas Jerrold.  I do not know much about its stories, though there was one called (I think) "The Popular Parson," which greatly interested an uncle of mine, not generally a reader of fiction.  In it occurred the phrase that "curates are the wood of which Bishops are made"—used, I believe, as an explanation of the favour with which a certain type of women regard those young men.

    Mr. Biggs, the proprietor, and I think the first editor, of the Family Herald, made himself a monument in his will.  He left a fortune which was thought large then, though it would be modest now.  He had no children.  To his wife he bequeathed what would bring her £300 a year.  The rest of his property he distributed thus: he caused everybody in his employment, down to his solitary domestic servant, to receive a sum equal to all the wages they had ever had from him.  This maidservant had stayed in his service for fifteen years, and even at the moderate wage of those days this secured her a substantial legacy.  As she presently married the head printer, an equally old employee they must have had a very nice nest-egg.  More than this, Mr. Biggs left handsome legacies to all his literary contributors, at a rate proportionate to their service.  It was stated that a young University man who had contributed a few sets of verses to the Family Herald received a legacy of £100.

    Publishers do not seem to do these things nowadays.  I notice that one who lately left many bequests outside his own family divided his fortune chiefly among hospitals, orphanages, the crippled, and the blind, with no thought of the writers who must surely have helped him to make itay, though he did not altogether forget the booksellers and the printers!

    When, among other memories, I told the story of Mr. Biggs' bequests in the Book Monthly in 1906, every journal which noticed my paper—upwards of thirty—quoted this incident.  The pressmen seemed to think that the example deserved wide publicity.  But, so far, I do not think it has been followed!

    It was my school essays which led me first to turn my own thoughts to literature.  One of them fell into the hands of a lad, a student of King's College, London, a very remote connection by marriage only.  Seven years my senior, he had always taken much "notice" of me, favouring me when I could scarcely toddle.  But I was ten and he was seventeen when our real "conversing" friendship began.  He greatly approved of one of my essays (I was then about twelve), and made the suggestion: "Why should you not some day work for the publishers?"  I sprang at the idea, for was he not the one to win my first affection—not born of blood, nor of use and wont, but of sheer choice?  Circumstances parted us when I was seventeen and he was twenty-three.  He knew I was trying to carry out his counsel, but he never knew that I pursued it to the end, and that I owe all that has been best and sweetest in my life to the seed he sowed.  I was never able to thank him.  I did not even know where he was!  After his death, I dedicated my "By Still Waters" to him as "my first friend."  He had a sad, thwarted, short life.  Let me write his forgotten name—Anthony Appleton.

    Naturally, when I began to think of literature, I turned to our dear old friend the Youth's Magazine, in which Jean Ingelow was already writing.  It indicates the many accidents which guide "fame" that most of her afterwards popular tales and poems came out there during the years 1851 to 1857.  Her beautiful "Divided" (then called "Division") appeared in 1857, and so did her "House in the Dell," "A Mother Showing the Portrait of Her Child," and "A Cottage in a Chine."  But far from attracting any attention, they could not save the little magazine from disaster.  Yet when her poems came out in a volume in 1861, Gerald Massey's review in the Athenæum at once secured their wide recognition.  We had appreciated them long before, looking eagerly for the monthly arrival of the magazine wholly for their sake.  We did not then know her name—only her "writing name" of "Orris."  Great was my delight, and high rose my hopes, when, in 1857, she herself became editor of the little periodical.

    I promptly sent her "a story."  I was scarcely thirteen years old.  My story was an impossible production, stilted and artificial.  I cannot imagine how she took any notice of it, or of the naïve letter which accompanied it.  On January 3, 1857, she wrote:


15
A, HOLLAND STREET,          
K
ENSINGTON.


D
EAR MISS FYVIE,
        "I have just received your note and the little tale called 'Janet Campbell.'  You asked to have it noticed on the cover of the magazine, but as I could only mention it there, I prefer to write to you privately.

    "At your early age, my dear, it is better that you should be cultivating your own mind than that you should attempt to interest and amuse others.  You are not able at present to write from your own observation, but must draw your characters and scenes from books.  This is not good for you, and if you ever wish to write really well, you must wait till you have made your own observations on human nature.  I think your tale very much better than most girls of your age would have written, but I do not consider it worthy of a place in the magazine (which I only began this month to edit), but I feel interested in your account of yourself.  If you like to write to me, and tell me what is your condition in life, whether you are at school, and what you are doing to improve yourself, I should be happy to answer your letter, and if I can give you any advice, shall be glad to do so.

    "I would not advise you to write any more till you are sixteen, and in the meantime I would take particular notice how books and papers which interest you are written.  Say to yourself when you read of children: 'Do the children that I know talk in this way, or act in this way?'  If they do, then consider the book well written.  If they do not, then notice in what the difference consists.  You should do the same in reference to grown-up people, though the most useful studies for you are girls of your own age, because you can understand their motives best.

    "You are at present not mistress of your own language.  In your nice little note to me you say: 'It is
MORE the wish of learning your opinion concerning it rather than the hope of its being inserted,' etc.  You must not use more than one of these words; the other is superfluous.  Again, in the tale you say: 'I do not dare do what is wrong,'  'You must be made reveal your secret.'  'I do not dare to do what is wrong,' 'You must be made to reveal your secret,' would be more correct; or, better still, 'I dare not do what is wrong.'

    "And now I have not time to write more.  I give you my address and name, and if you like you can write to me.
                                                                                      "I am,
                                                                                            Yours sincerely,
                                                                                                          J
EAN INGELOW.


    Of course, I wrote promptly. What I wrote I cannot recall or imagine.  It brought forth another reply on February 3, 1857:


"15
A, HOLLAND STREET,               
"K
ENSINGTON, W.

DEAR MISS FYVIE,

    "I am sorry that my many avocations have hitherto prevented my answering your letter, which interested me much, and made me feel sure that, with God's blessing on the efforts that I hope you will make to improve yourself, you may become a good writer and a well-informed woman.  But there are others who write to me beside yourself, and who want advice and assistance.  I have therefore determined to write a series of papers for them and for you, which are to contain some hints on composition, and which I hope may be useful and amusing to you.  The first is to appear on the 1st of March, so your request to be answered in the magazine will be complied with after all.

    "I shall always be glad to hear from you, and give you any advice that I can, and I am,


Always very sincerely yours,

"ORRIS."


    The "Hints on Composition" ran through several numbers of the magazine.  I found them most suggestive and instructive. They appeared without any signature, and I do not think that they have been reprinted.

    I was modest enough not to intrude too quickly on this kind lady.  I had sense, too, to see the force of her argument as to the limits of my field of observation.  Consequently, I dropped "story" writing, but I still pottered over my "poetry."

    When the Youth's Magazine eventually found itself in the hands of the Sunday-School Union, I again made an attempt to enter its pagesnot quite unsuccessfully.  By this time pocket-money had failed me, and we had ceased to "take" the magazines.  I delivered my productions by hand, thereby, I believe, exciting some not unkindly interest in the men in the shop, then in the Old Bailey.  On the first of every month I walked there again to look at the contents-tables of the magazine displayed in the window.  At last, to my intense delight, a "piece" of mine was announced, and then another and another.  The magazine cost fourpence, and I did not—I could not—invest that sum for the joy of seeing myself in print.  I bought one issue, I remember, but not again.  Why need I? asked my scanty purse.  I had my copy in manuscript.

    They were very crude productions—cruder in thought than in technique—but I was so proud of them that I wrote a brief note concerning possible payment, and where it should be sent.  That note got no answer, and no more "pieces" appeared.

    I was just seventeen when I made a collection of my "poems" (!), and determined to present them for the notice of a publisher.  I selected "Partridge's," because a member of that firm—or, at least, a gentleman of that name—had recently brought out a volume of poems of his own, and had also published a book giving counsel as to the ways and means of coming before the public.  I went to an address in Paternoster Row with my precious packet and an explanatory letter.  I was told that Mr. Partridge had left that place—I think he had had little connection with the firm of that name.  The present occupant of the premises was also a publisher—a Mr. Gordon.  The young man who told me this nevertheless encouraged me to leave my manuscript for his principal's inspection.

    A few weeks afterwards, with that mingling of hope and fear which is the very worst kind of trepidation, I presented myself to learn the fate of my "poems."  The same young man received me, this time with a smile of welcome which for a moment made my heart beat high.  "You are the young lady who left the poems," he said.  "Well, Mr. Gordon told me he is to see you whenever you call.  He's my uncle," he added confidentially.  "He's nearly as deaf as a stone, and you'll have to speak through a trumpet."  With which encouraging information he led me to the publisher's sanctum.  And as I write this I well-nigh feel again the breathless terror with which I advanced into the inner room.

    Again I marvel why a busy old man could dream of wasting half an hour on me—a raw, frightened girl, dressed not only shabbily, but almost grotesquely, for, as money had come to an end with us by then, my garments and head-gear were a home-made réchauffé of ancient finery.

    Mr. Gordon spoke plainly about my verses.  Being a Scotsman, he readily inferred I wanted to make something by them, and he told me they were not worth printing, and would certainly not bring me a shilling.  Still, he asserted, "there was something in them."  He recommended me to turn my attention to periodical literature, as, under editors, I would receive good discipline and training.  "To begin with," said he, "take some of your shortest verses, and send them to Dr. Macaulay, who is the editor of the Leisure Hour.  Tell him that Charles Gordon told you to do this."

    When our interview ended, the nephew received me at his uncle's door and walked beside me through the front premises.  He said to me: "You are one of the right sort.  We shall hear more of you, and I am glad to have met you."

    When the day of success did really come, I sought out these kind people to renew my thanks.  I found the office utterly changed.  All I could learn was that old Mr. Gordon was dead.

    I know all the good that incident did me.  I have worked it into my story of "Crooked Places."  It was the only expression of gratitude that was in my power.

    It must have been more for the sake of Mr. Gordon's introduction than for that of my verses that Dr. Macaulay accepted them.  They are tame and inartistic to the lowest degree.  He sent me half a guinea as honorarium.  It was the first money I had ever earned, and it made my night sleepless for joy.  It is a great thing to be able to say that on one's first sleepless night one lay awake for joy.

    Months went by before I earned any more; but the "stuff" of my work began to improve simply by growing more sincere and personal.  I sent poems round to many magazines, and now received the civility of their being sometimes "returned with thanks," instead of falling ignominiously into the waste-paper basket.  I always took these contributions myself, dropping them into letter-boxes or handing them over counters.  Only very light weight went for a penny in those days, and I had no pennies to spare.  The kindlier editors (Charles Dickens was among these) who returned my MS. actually did so at their own cost.  My pilgrimages must have worn out a good deal of shoe-leather, but I had to have exercise in any case, and those City walks, with all the insight I gained into quaint and picturesque corners, all the places which "told me stories," all the atmosphere which developed them, bore rich fruit for me in after days.

    I had so little money that I could not follow up many endeavours I made by buying the periodicals to which I had sent.  There were no free libraries where such could be investigated without cost.  Two incidents lately have made it clear to me that even in those days of dearth and dreariness I had more success (of a kind) than I knew.

    In one case, an aged lady, whom I met only two or three years ago, told me that when she was a young woman she had first seen my name, "Isabella Fyvie," announced in some journal as having won some prize by verses.  The name had struck her fancy.  She had wondered if it was a real or a pen-name, and when it began to appear often, she always recalled the first time of seeing it.  I have no recollection of sending anything for a competition, but the editor may have put it into one of his own initiative.  Certainly I never received a prize, nor knew I was supposed to have earned one.

    Again, a literary acquaintance lately sent me a cutting from a paper, whose writer declared that my first printed verses appeared in a periodical (which he named) at an earlier date than any I had mentioned in my Book Monthly "Memory."  Not only did he give these verses in full, but also a closing verse (which the editor had added) and a quotation from a letter with which I had accompanied them.  The verses seemed to strike chord of memory—nothing more.  The letter I could not recall.  This lapse of memory must be due to my many failures and the dead silence in which I wrapped them.  It is one of the ironies of life that now, when it does not matter a whit, I should learn these trifling facts, which at the time would have been such a comfort and joy.

    My birthday in 1861 proved a memorable date.  A few weeks earlier I had sent two or three of my "poems" to the St. James's Magazine, then new, and under the editorship of Mrs. S. C. Hall.  Most of the magazine's contents were, of course, pre-arranged, and on Mrs. S. C. Hall's nephew, Mr. Sanford Rochat, devolved the task of looking through the "voluntary" contributions, and calling his aunt's attention to anything that seemed worthy of her notice.  He must have been very conscientious in his search, since he thought it necessary to call the editor's attention to those "poems" of mine.  As they were, they were altogether below publication-mark, though one or two of them, much remodelled, eventually saw the light in respectable magazines.  But with my wonderful good-fortune, something about my verses or my accompanying letter appealed to Mrs. S. C. Hall, and she invited me to visit her on the morning of December 10—i.e., my birthday.

    The Halls were then living in the Boltons, Brompton, and their house, full of dainty china, carved furniture, and pictures by admirable artists, was in itself a revelation to me, in whose home pretty Puritan plainness and daintiness were fast passing into the meagreness of sheer poverty.  Mrs. Hall, too, was a person whose like I had never met before, and, I may say, whose like I have never met since.  She was no longer young—she was over sixty—but she was full of fun and hopefulness, and of a warmth of kindliness that breathed in every word and look.  She gave me plenty of encouragement; introduced me to her husband, Samuel Carter Hall, editor of the Art Journal, a strikingly handsome man, but with an unfortunate egotism of manner which, to those who did not get beneath it, sometimes obscured his genuine goodness of heart, for he never spared himself where he thought he could serve others.  They told me to come again soon, and to tell them all I did—whether ending in failure or success.  Little could I dream it then, but on that birthday I was born into a friendship that never fainted or failed (though it was often tried) down to the time of my friends' deaths in 1879 and 1889.

    Mrs. S. C. Hall, whose Irish stories had a great vogue in their day, was very like her own books.  She hated anything gloomy.  I remember her hearty laugh at some verses of mine called "A Dismal Tale."  "Now, who would want to read that?" she asked.  "Certainly, I don't."  She read other verses through carefully in my presence, criticizing line by line, metaphor by metaphor.  I remember her dwelling with pleasure on one line concerning "Silent beauty stretching far away."  The first verses of mine of which she approved heartily and without reservation were called "Diverging Paths," and were inspired by a picture in the Royal Academy painted by an artist named Barwell.

    Mrs. S. C. Hall gave me an introduction to John Cassell, founder of the great firm that still bears his name; so I went to Belle Sauvage Yard, which at that time still retained traces of the ancient hostelry.  I found this excellent man, of tall and powerful physique and very simple manners, seated in a bare little office.  He spoke kindly and encouragingly, though I think he scarcely knew what to say to me, I was so very shy and "vague."

    Mrs. Hall's most valuable advice to me was given about the end of 1862.  It was to cease writing altogether for three years, unless with no aim or hope whatever beyond my own pleasure and improvement.  She said afterwards that she had often given that advice, but that I was the first who heeded it.  I did heed it, and obeyed very honestly, never making any exception to the rule without telling her and securing her permission.  I think the only exceptions were in favour of my writing "enigmas," a quaint little commission offered to me about this time by Mr. William Stevens, then collaborating with Dr. Macaulay on the Sunday at Home and the Leisure Hour, of which he afterwards became sole editor, and who from that time till his death in 1908 was my unfailingly faithful and wise friend, with whom I have rejoiced to take much counsel.  These "enigmas" were no strain on inspiration!  They were meant to occupy children on Sunday afternoons, and to make them acquainted with Scripture history.  The first part of them consisted of questions (in rhyme) concerning individuals, the first letters of whose names, if rightly guessed, would give the answer—generally some short Scripture precept or phrase.  The correct answer was given in later issues of the Sunday at Home.  This was all very well, and I was to be paid for this homely labour, but I could not resist adding on my own initiative a few verses to the answers, and this innovation was much approved.  I recollect one which Mrs. Hall liked very much, and her liking is indicative of her persistent clinging to the bright side of things, for the letters of the "enigma" spelled out "A Merry Heart."

    About a quarter of a century afterwards I made the acquaintance of a student from Ceylon (now Dr. William Margenout there), whose knowledge of Scripture history and character exceeded that of any young man I have ever encountered.  On my paying him some compliment on this, he replied that it was due to his father having on Sunday afternoons drilled his children in the "enigmas" of the Sunday at Home.  He was astonished to find that in me he met their writer, for they had appeared without name or even initial.

    But before I received Mrs. Hall's wise injunction, to which I was granted sense to listen, I had made many other adventures among editors.  I sent some verses to a little periodical called Saturday Night, under the editorship of one "Margaret Blount."  I did so because, among the oddly significant "waste paper" to which I have before alluded, there had come sheaves of odd numbers of the "popular" periodicals of the day—not only the Family Herald, but the London Journal and Reynolds's Miscellany.  Such papers were held in profound family contempt, and very reluctant consent was yielded to my looking through them.   Among the serials I found some by "Margaret Blount," which had a flavour as different from their surroundings as had Jean Ingelow's from the platitudes of the Youth's Magazine.  Not that "Margaret Blount" could be for one moment paralleled with Jean Ingelow.  Margaret Blount had consciously dropped to the level of her public but could not prevent her own higher and truer self from peeping out.  Amid impossible characters and improbable scenes she would let fall incisive sentences which told of deep feeling and keen insight.  It occurred to me that where she was editor she would be wholly herself, and so I despatched my verses to her in great hope.  On March 29, 1862, I received the following remarkable letter:


"12, YORK STREET,                 
"C
OVENT GARDEN.


    "Among the many contributions forwarded to me for Saturday Night, I have seen none which impressed me so favourably as yours.  They have done more—they have touched me, and so deeply that I would not answer you with the rest, but waited till I could find time to write to you at length.

    "I must tell you at starting that Saturday Night is simply a collection of my own stories and poems, and that I cannot afford to make it anything else just yet, or to purchase anything from any other author.  The cost and the risk are heavy, and fall entirely on me.  The profit may be nothing.

    "If I succeed in the undertaking, I hope to turn it into a magazine, and pay other people for writing for it; but that cannot be yet, and so I must return these little poems, wishing most earnestly that I could take them.

    "They remind me so much of my younger, better, and nobler self that they make me sad and there is so much 'thought' as well as melody in them that it seems to me they must 'take.'  Why not send them to Temple Bar, or Cornhill, or St. James's?  They publish such trash that I should say they must want poetry.  At least, you might venture, and I believe you would succeed.

    "I feel a great interest in you.  I should like to see you.  But if you don't desire an interview (you may not), I can only say one word of encouragement, and bid you 'never despair.'  You may find it uphill work at first, but success is in you, and will come out.  I have been waiting for mine—so long—and it has not come yet, but it shall!  I have lived in a garret, and suffered and hoped, and borne much, and now, though young in years, I am old—so old in heart—and having lost faith and hope in, and love for, everything except green fields and blue skies, I find that I am in proper training for making my mark.

    "And here is the beginning for you.  Send 'Thrown Away,' 'A Question,' and 'The Lamp ' to some of these places, and I believe and hope you will be pleased with the result.

    "I wish most heartily that I could buy them myself, and give you more than words to help you on; but take the will for the deed, and my best wishes for your success, and believe always in the appreciation and admiration of
                                                             "Yours very faithfully,
                                                                           "M
ARGARET BLOUNT."


    I replied to this letter, saying how delighted I should be to call.  I received this in return:


OFFICE, SATURDAY NIGHT.          
"April 5, 1862.


    "No, I have not forgotten you, but these first numbers of the paper take every moment of my time.  In a week or two—earlier, if possibleI shall ask you to call at my own little office in Farringdon Street for a long, pleasant chat.  Meantime, believe me,
                                                                       Yours ever,
                                                                                 "M
ARGARET BLOUNT."


    I never heard from her again.  In a few weeks Saturday Night changed hands.  I perambulated Farringdon Street vainly in search for aught that might be her "own little office."  I never again saw her name in any of the papers where it had once appeared.

    Who was she?  Was "Margaret Blount" her real name, or only a pen-name?  And when she disappeared, what had happened?  I have a lurking suspicion that she may have changed her line of work and her pen-name, and possibly found fame under another.  Long afterwards I caused inquiries to be made concerning her at some of those offices where she had once been known.  I could learn nothing.  The ignorance was so profound that I conjectured it must be artificial and prearranged.  I wanted only to tell her how much good her hearty sympathy had done me, and how mistaken she was to think she had "lost faith in everything," when she had been so very ready to have faith in me.

    "A Question" and "The Lamp," polished and remodelled, found their way into good magazines in due time.  "Thrown Away," I fear, had a history like its title.

    Margaret Blount's derogatory remark about the St. James's Magazine prevented me from mentioning this incident to Mrs. S. C. Hall, as I knew if I did she would certainly ask to see the letters, and this phrase would have pained her.  It was unjust, too, as her own notice of my verses had shown.

    A little later in that year, 1862, I wrote again to Jean Ingelow.  I wanted to ask her about the probable fate of the manuscripts I had sent to her successors on the Youth's Magazine, and as the necessity for a career of some sort was now staring me in the face, I was glad to avail myself of her former promise of counsel.  She replied on June 4, 1862:


"DEAR MISS FYVIE,

    "Your letter was received by me when I was on the eve of a journey.  I intended to answer it while away from home, but it was mislaid, and hence has arisen a delay.

    "I perfectly remember writing to you in 1857, during which year I undertook to edit the Youth's Magazine; but not approving altogether of the way in which the publisher managed it, I declined to continue my work.  Since then I have not seen or written for this magazine, though I suppose it is still in existence.

    "If the articles you mention as having been sent some time ago to the magazine were in verse, that is the reason, doubtless, why you received no remuneration for them.  Very few editors pay for verse.

    "I think, indeed, that your verses [I had evidently enclosed some] show that you have made great progress, and that they are very pleasing in themselves; but though I should naturally feel sympathy with a young author, it is not easy to offer advice.  I am quite ignorant of your attainments, the time you may have at your command, and even of your position in life.

    "It is easy to advise a child, but to give the slightest hint that is likely to be serviceable to a young woman is quite a different matter.

    "To a young lady who is accustomed to refined society, has books at command, and plenty of time, I might say look at literature for an occupation, and choose some one of its many paths to explore, and then to write upon.  If you do not succeed, you will at least have enriched your own mind.

    "To one who has not much time at command, and rather hopes to improve her position, or may at some future time expect to use her talents as a means of maintenance, I think a prudent person could hardly advise exclusive attention to literature, partly because its profits are always precarious, partly because writing gives neither a position nor a home, while teaching gives both.

    "Those, therefore, I would say, who have money and a home may safely indulge in the luxuries of knowledge, study poetry, investigate curious points in history, and follow the bent of their own genius; but those who wish to make money and a home should try to possess good outlines of subjects rather than rich colouring or delicate detail, should attend to the structure of language itself, and not exclusively to the literature it contains.

    "However, knowing nothing of you but your talent for writing, and that generosity of mind which makes it a pleasure to you to acknowledge the slightest benefit, I can say nothing in the way of advice which can really be worth acceptance therefore, with the assurance of my interest,
                                                                 "I am,
                                                                        Yours sincerely,
                                                                                  "J
EAN INGELOW."


    This letter proves how jealously I had withheld my personal affairs from my correspondence.  But at home the state of finances was ever getting more acute, and in the autumn of 1862 for, I believe, the first and last time, I broke this good rule.  I did so in writing to Tom Hood, junior, who by that time had become the editor of Saturday Night.  To him, perhaps, feeling assured of the sympathy of his father's son, I confided that I wanted to earn money, and not for my own sake only.  I think I did this partly to excuse my temerity in trying to force my work into print, for by this time I was well aware of all its shortcomings.  Tom Hood's response lies before me, blotted by the tears with which I read it.  It bears date November 22, 1862:


"24, QUEEN STREET,           
"B
ROMPTON.


"M
Y DEAR MADAM,
        "I have made it a rule—and I fear I have not made friends by it—to state my candid opinion on all literary compositions submitted to me.  Literary men, not calculating how their judgement weighs, are too easy and prone to say a kind word about mediocrity, which will never benefit its author, though the word of careless praise may have led that author to adopt a literary career.  It is so much easier to praise than to blame, or even to criticize.  I have seen so many instances of this harm done by injudicious flattery that I have determined at any cost to set my humble face against it.  I know the sufferer may not like it at the time, but it is the honest, the true, the just course.  The patient cries under the surgeon's knife, but a time comes when he is grateful.  But what does he think of the surgeon who, fearful of paining, has allowed the disease to become incurable?  Let me entreat you to renounce at once a literary career as a means of livelihood.  Your writings are crude—as you say yourself, those of a girl of nineteen, "sadly deficient in finish, and perhaps in sense."  These are your own words, but harder ones than I should award your verses.

        "The literary profession is one to be adopted only on due consideration, and in thorough belief of fitness for it.  It is a sacred and most responsible profession, and only by toil and study can one hope to succeed in it.

        "Your verses—I am almost afraid to confess it, because I fear it will encourage you to adopt a line of conduct that you will never cease to regret—your verses have great natural merit; some of the images are very good, but the workman's skill and experience are wanting.  They will come with time if you are not compelled to write for a living.  As a study and a home pursuit you may make writing a means of pleasure and improvement now, and hereafter, perhaps, of fame and profit.  But if you persist in prematurely draining your poetical instincts in the hopes of making a living (which you will not make), I warn you that nothing but disappointment awaits you.

        "Is there no more hopeful way of making money to be found?  I am sure this one will not serve you.  Even I (desirous as your mentioned hope to help those dear to you makes me to help you) cannot insert your verses in Saturday Night.  I am responsible to the public, to the proprietor, and to my father's memory, for my care of that paper, and it is my one hope to reflect only credit on all.  However much I am touched by your story, I must exclude what I do not think up to the standard of excellence.  Let me recommend you to read our best authors, to write little, to study much, to polish, finish, and refine your work.  With that you may in time, I think, do justice to your poetic instincts and credit to yourself.

        "If ever there is anything in which I can at all assist you, I shall be glad to do so.  In the meantime, believe that I inflict no intentional pain on your feelings, and that the writing of this letter pains me as much as its reading can pain you.  I feel I am dashing hopes and aspirations which well-meaning but misguided friends have encouraged unwittingly.  I shall be, I know, looked on by you as a cruel and severe critic.  I shall be quite indemnified for the hardness of your present judgment if hereafter, when you discover the truth of what I have told you, you say: 'He was right, and meant kindly.'

        "Once more, write carefully; correct and polish copiously; read much.  And in ten years' time, should we both live, I should not be astonished to see your poems making a mark—if you do not hurry into print before that.
                                                                        "Believe me,
                                                                                   "Yours truly,
                                                                                            "T
HOMAS HOOD."


    Certainly I never misjudged my kind critic. There was no bitterness in the tears with which I bedewed his letter.  When I showed it to Mrs. S. C. Hall, she exclaimed: "Why, editors don't write long letters like that to everybody!"  It was then that she enjoined on me my three years' "silence."

    When this letter was printed in an article on "Editors: Old Style," and was seen by my friend Charles Peters, of the Girl's Own, he wrote to me: "And that sermon came from Tom Hood, junior!  Oh, the humour of it!"  Alas!

    At the end of those three years, so full of varied practical work and experience, my literary path seemed wider, and I turned my attention to fiction rather than to occasional verses, though some of those for which I ultimately won most commendation were produced about that time.

    I compiled an almanac, with a secular proverb for every day of the week, and a Scriptural one for Sundays, and sold it to Partridge's—the real Partridge's this time.  My "enigmas" brought me in about £12 per annum.  A few verses and short stories found their way from time to time into periodicals of the Cassell firm.  Also, I got an opening into a little magazine called Kind Words, edited by a Mr. Benjamin Clarke, a cheerful gentleman who combined literary work with a clerkship in Somerset House.  He paid modestly, but he never grudged praise, and he invited me to spend evenings with his pretty wife in their home in Holloway.  I have almost forgotten the stories I wrote for him.  Their names in my old account-book mean little to me.  For him I wrote a serial called "The Secret Drawer," which afterwards attained book form.  The Sunday-School Union also brought out a little book, called "Alice Middleton."  Altogether, 1867 was, in its whole course, really the dawn of my literary career, even apart from the great event which crowned its close.

    In the earlier part of that year I had sent two sets of verse (both of which had been refused by the editors in Cassell's firm) to the Argosy, which had not then become the property of Mrs. Henry Wood, but had its office in some publishing house on Ludgate Hill, on the south side.  Some time passing without any tidings of these verses, I wrote concerning them, enclosing a stamped envelope for their return (I could now afford to do this!).

    In the course of the next day I received a copy of the Sunday Magazine, containing the verses "The Last of the Family."  A month or two afterwards came a Good Words, with my verses "Beside the Stile."  I then sent another set of verses, called "In the Choir," and these also promptly appeared in Good Words.

    Long afterwards I learned that the Argosy during some interregnum, had been for a while in the hands of Mr. Alexander Strahan and an editor on his staff, and that, from the contributions sent to it, they had transferred those which they deemed more suitable for their other magazines.

    On August 29, 1867 (as recorded in my diary) I received an unexpected call from Mr. Alexander Strahan.  The interview was rather silent and awkward on both sides, and I could hardly understand why it had taken place.

    Two days after, on the 31st, the mystery was explained.  Mr. Strahan came again.  This time he brought a handsome cheque for the three sets of verse he had already printed.  Further, he had a momentous proposal to make.  Would I undertake to write a series of papers, to be called "The Occupations of a Retired Life," to run for a year in the Sunday Magazine?

    He had jotted down, in his quaint handwriting, on a tiny scrap of paper (which I still possess), a few of the subjects with which he wished me to deal—the sick, the lonely, the outcast, and so forth.  I was to take the standpoint of an old City merchant.  "Apart from that, I leave you to do your best with the matter," said he.

    Now came the crucial point.  This offer was made to me on a Saturday, the last day of August, and the first part of the proposed work was required to appear in the Sunday Magazine for October.  There could be little more than a fortnight allowed to lay the foundation of a year's work, and Mr. Strahan told me that the title was already advertised in his new programme, under the pen-name of "Edward Garrett."  The magazine year began in October, and was issued about September 26; and illustrations had also to be provided in the short interval. The commission had been originally given in good time to some gentleman (Mr. Strahan did not name him), who had failed to fulfil expectations. Hence this sudden appeal to me.

    I hesitated only for a moment.  I saw that the opportunity of my life was possibly before me.  "I will make the attempt," I said.  "I shall send you the first chapter by Wednesday, so that if you do not like it, I may have time to try again."  I did not twice think about the pen-name.  It never occurred to me that I could do anything which should make it stick to me!  So far as I gave it any thought, it was as a very convenient screen in the event of failure.

    The introduction, which gave the past history of "Edward Garrett," was sent in on the evening of Tuesday, September 3.  It had occurred to me to take the subjects suggested by Mr. Strahan, work them into a story rather than "papers," and so produce a novel.  It was a bold idea.  My diary of September 6, by which time the manuscript of the whole October part had been in the publisher's hands for some hours, records "Strahan satisfied."

    On September 9 I received my first visit from Dr. Alexander Japp, whose firm friendship I continued to enjoy until his recent death.  He was then reading and sub-editing for Strahan, and came to make sundry suggestions in connection with my work—especially that I was to keep my paragraphs short.  It seemed to me that he had more to say, but withheld it.  I learned long afterwards that it was he who, encouraged by what he had seen of some of my verses and short tales, had suggested me as one who might be able to fill the gap left by the defaulting contributor.  Mr. Strahan himself was, it seems, very nervous about the matter, which is not surprising.  This nervousness seems to have been by no means allayed by my opening chapters, though he had resolved to make the best of the matter, time being so short.  Doubtless Dr. Japp, then quite a young man, would fain, when he called upon me, have urged me to put forward my very best foot, that his recommendation might be justified.  However, very considerately and wisely, he did not do so, for it could only have shaken my nerve, already but too highly strung.

    During our preliminary arrangements Mr. Strahan had not touched on remuneration.  I marvelled what I was to expect, but did not dwell on the matter, being too full of the work and the great opportunity.  On September 27, when I took some proofs to Mr. Strahan's office, he promised me £100 for the whole story.  I believe he thought I would be very delighted, and was surprised that I did not show signs of it.  I was really weighing the matter from another point of view.  I had already a tolerably secure income of £100 from all sources, and if, through absorption in this story, I was to close any of these, I felt I might end in a loss.  I fear I thanked him very simply and coolly.

    But after the October magazine was issued Mr. Strahan's fears were laid to rest.  The provincial press—so important in increasing the number of subscribers—accorded my work a singularly warm welcome, and the publisher gave signs that he was more than "satisfied."

    On December 2 Mr. Strahan brought Dr. Thomas Guthrie, then editor-in-chief of the Sunday Magazine, to see me.  I remember Mr. Strahan's smile at my astonishment over the warmth of Dr. Guthrie's praise of my story.  Dr. Guthrie took an interest in my whole environment, and at once made one feel him to be a real friend—a feeling that he never afterwards disappointed.  When he was gone, I ran out and bought a photograph of him, and posted it to him for his autograph to be added to it.  He promptly replied, with a kind letter added.  It was good even to meet such a man, and it was more than good afterwards to know him intimately.

    Even he had his own battles to fight over the Sunday Magazine, and perhaps especially over some of my work therein.  Some Scottish people of those days (1868) had very narrow views as to "Sunday" reading.  Once, when I was visiting with Dr. Guthrie, we met a lady, who said, pointedly and sourly, that she did not approve of fiction on "the Sabbath."  "Then, of course, madam, you never read the parables," retorted Dr. Guthrie.

    About that time I had it in my power to make a slight return to Jean Ingelow for the trouble she had bestowed on me.  She had been a celebrated woman for some time, and I told Mr. Strahan of some short stories of hers, which he at once desired to reprint.  But she had kept no copies, either in print or in manuscript.  I persuaded my mother to make a sacrifice of seven of her treasured volumes of the Youth's Magazine.  From them were reprinted most, if not all, of the "Studies for Stories" and "Stories told to a Child."  Mr. Strahan, unlike his general lavishness, did not give me copies of these reprints, but in the end I succeeded in buying volumes of the old magazines from some book-collector.

    Early in December I had an offer from Cassell's firm for the next serial that I might write.  Terms were to be considered at a liberal rate.  After a day's deliberation, I decided to decline this offer.  I had received warnings on all hands that I had better not trust wholly to Mr. Strahan, whose financial position was said to be none of the soundest.  But I felt that he had given me so grand an opportunity that I must hold myself open for any engagement he might offer.

    On Christmas Eve, while I was out, Mr. Strahan called at our house, and left for me a cheque as "one-third payment" for "The Occupations of a Retired Life," which raised his payment for it to £300.  Within a day or two afterwards he told me that his firm would be prepared to take as much work of any kind as I was likely to do.

    From that time till Mr. Strahan left the firm (I think in 1873) I worked only for his magazines.  Many former editors and experienced literary friends continued to shake their heads, and warn me that I was running serious risk in not enlarging my borders.  But in vain: I persisted.  I have since seen that such arrangements, if too rigid, are not wise.  They tend to set a writer into a groove.  Further, they put the writer at great practical disadvantage when they come to an end.

    My own position was sometimes difficult. Mr. Strahan himself was generally interested and appreciative, though too easily swayed in his judgments by any passing opinion, and too ready to act on mere impulse, though it might be often generous impulse.  But he never wished to make definite or written agreements, and his verbal ones were not always to be relied on.  For example, he once said to me that for a certain piece of work I should receive a certain sum, and then gave me but half of it.  I was very quick in those days, and at once saw that, if his ill-defined agreement gave him advantage in one way, in this instance it gave it to me in another, and I said: "Oh, then this time you don't mean to buy copyright!"  He looked at me for a moment, and with some reluctance said: "Very well."  Only thus was I saved from an awkward loss.

    Again, Mr. Strahan once or twice showed an awkward facility in postponing for a whole year engagements already made.  He did this, I verily believe, because he had made large advances to certain writers, and wanted them to work out the debt.  We were all very sorry when, quite suddenly, he parted from Dr. Japp to make a place for a connection of his own who had been in not too successful business in Glasgow, where his health had failed.  It was scarcely likely that this gentleman could straightway be in as much sympathy with the literary staff as was the literary man who had helped so largely to draw it together.  Nor was it fortunate for Mr. Strahan to be surrounded by relatives who found themselves at that time ready to uphold all he did, wise or otherwise.  Absolutely dependent on him themselves, some of them were too much inclined to regard Mr. Strahan's literary staff as also mere dependants, who had no right to see any side of aught save that which he presented.

    But concerning one who was generally so kind, and in social life so ready to be reasonable and genial, I cannot attempt to go into the mesh of bewilderment and contradiction in which his connection with his partners terminated.  The magazines remained with them.  Some of his contributors, even some of his office staff, followed him out into the wilderness, and I would have done so also but for the express mandate of Dr. Guthrie, who, in his turn, would have done so, too, but for the warnings of Dr. Norman MacLeod, who had been Alexander Strahan's first and best literary friend, who had rendered him incalculable service, and who loved him so deeply that it was thought by some that the final severance—which on facts of the case, better known to him than to anyone, Dr. MacLeod decided to be necessary and inevitable—contributed greatly to his breakdown in health.  He died not long afterwards.

    I have always regretted that in a brochure which Alexander Strahan brought out in memory of his former editor, wherein he gave much of their affectionate correspondence, and dwelt strongly on their mutual attachment, he yet never hinted that before the end a heavy shadow had fallen between!  That silence seems to cast the shadow over the whole.

    Dr. Guthrie, too, had been much attached to his young publisher, and was so distressed over the matter that, being at the time in very weak health, his sons had to do their utmost to keep reference to this business from their father's ear.

    Dr. Guthrie was an editor who knew how to deal with those "kittle-cattle," contributors.  If ever he pulled the reins, he did it so gently that it was felt as a caress rather than a check.  When he could commend, he did it freely and graciously.  Every contributor to his magazine could feel that the editor cared for the significance of every line printed therein.  There are editors of a different stamp, who are concerned chiefly about a manuscript's adaptability to "illustration," especially illustration of the most banal sort—two lovers, etc.—the clichés of which are bought from or sold to Germany.  Such editors are to be found in the employ of those firms—often limited liability companies—who, as one of their unhappy editors once said to me, "take literature by the yard."

    After Dr. Guthrie's death, the Sunday Magazine passed wholly under the editorship of his colleague, Dr. W. G. Blaikie, a very different type of man.  It was under his editorship that I wrote my "By Still Waters," and the story did not please him.  Its divergence from the older theological standards was pronounced.  Unfortunately, at that very time Messrs. Moody and Sankey were ruling in the land.  Possibly it may have been consciousness of antagonism to much of their dogma which had brought me out so clearly on the other side.  But my editor was in the thick of the movement.  Indeed, I believe the two revivalists were actually his guests at the very time when he deleted certain passages from my story.  I wrote to him, telling him that I knew and felt he was within his editorial rights in doing so, but that I must, in honesty, inform him that I should re-insert these passages when the story passed into book-form.  After that he felt it best that my connection with the magazine should be severed.  We parted friends—though I own I could not help saying that I knew the future was on my side.  He did not long remain editor, but I fear the magazine suffered considerably and permanently from his sincere and conscientious but narrowing influence.  Before his death he himself was one of the proposers for a reconsideration of the statements of the Westminster Confession!  I am pleased to remember that, in his later days, we had opportunity to exchange friendly visits, and gladly availed ourselves thereof.  This must have been easier on my side than on his, for my words had come true, while he had shifted his position.

    I was invited back to the Sunday Magazine, and have written three more serials for it"The House by the Works," "At any Cost," and "Life's Long Battle," afterwards published in book-form as "Rab Bethune's Double."

    I have had "trouble" with two editors, and I am exceedingly sorry to say that in each of these cases there was "a woman at the bottom of it."  In the one case the editor was a divine of the rather gushing sort, and a noted philanthropist, though that did not prevent him, under normal conditions, from occasionally making appointments with busy people to cross London to meet him—and then failing to be there!  Under especially gratifying circumstances, he asked for a serial from me.  I accepted the offer and began the work.  He spoke in praise of its earlier chapters.  He engaged an artist to illustrate it, and actually showed my husband some of the pictures.  We, according to our custom then, at once negotiated this story with my American publisher, who was to bring it out about Christmas-time.  We implicitly trusted that all was right.

    The story was to begin its appearance in October.  But in August, when it was, happily, approaching completion, and we were enjoying a delightful holiday on the Surrey hills, suddenly my feelings concerning it changed to distaste and terror, and I announced to my husband and a friend who was with us: "If I acted as I feel, I should give all this up at once!"

    They exclaimed in surprise and consternation, though my husband at once advised me to do whatever I thought right and best.  But I could not feel it right to act at the dictate of what seemed a mere mood, so I went on with my work, though the uneasy consciousness remained.

    On October 1, on my way to dine with the Halls, I saw the new issue of the magazine in a shop-window in Holborn and lo! instead of my story, another was in its place.  The confirmation of my presentiment gave me such a shock that, instead of paying my visit, I went home.

    The only explanation that could be given was that a certain lady author, also of religious and philanthropic fame, had walked into the editor's office, in July or August, and had offered him a story, probably on advantageous terms, on condition that, if he took it, he must issue it at once, as she had already made negotiations for it in America.  It had not occurred to her to ask whether he had other arrangements, and whether other people also might not have American treaties on hand.  Perhaps such a thing was not laid upon her, but one would imagine that any woman making such a demand would have added the proviso, "if nobody else is inconvenienced."  Possibly she did so, in which case but the more blame rests on the miserable editor.  He yielded to her demand, and then had not the common courtesy or justice to consult me as to the change, or even to inform me of it.  If he had done so before we had made the American arrangements, I should have been quite ready to yield my place.

    The editor seemed less conscious of having done wrong than astonished that we should blame him.  He even gently insinuated that he hoped I was not hurt at appearing in the later half of the magazine, instead of the opening numbers.  Matters of precedence have certainly never troubled me, and, had not common justice and loyalty been in question, could not have come into this case, as the interloper was my senior both in age and in literary reputation.

    The publishers of the magazine saw the matter in its true light.  Being but plain business men, they could understand that agreements are agreements, and that there are rights which must be respected.  They immediately apologized, paid me in full, and assumed all responsibilities for the American publication.  But it is impossible to make a wrong as if it had never been.  Their justice could not prevent this from being the last worry of my husband's life.  It is so mixed up with my agony beside his deathbed, and the awful blank after his departure, that I would not bear to mention it now, save that it is an experience showing of what "philanthropic religionists" are capable.  It has made me very wary in any business dealings with blatant "professors" of that sort.  If I had obeyed my curious intuition, how much we should have been spared!  Yet I have never regretted not having yielded my will blindly, only I ought at once to have made searching inquiries, which might have drawn all to light before it was too late.

    Dr. Japp acted as my friend and ambassador throughout these miserable interlocutions, and so earned my lifelong gratitude.  I was invited to write again in the same magazine, and I consented, but with the proviso that I should neither negotiate with this untrustworthy editor nor in any way encounter him.  My wish was readily granted.

    My other trouble with an editor arose many years afterwards, and was with a man of great sensibility, with whom I had worked for a long time, not only without a jar, but with much friendliness and happiness.  Suddenly circumstances wellnigh forced him into partnership with a well-known literary woman whom I had never seen, and knew only by her productions and the tone of interviews with her which were at that time constantly appearing.  I was not attracted.  I at once told my friendly editor that, in the whole position, I thought I had better discontinue writing for him.  He would not hear of this, saying that, though he feared he himself should have trouble with his partner, he would take care that it should never reach me.

    Presently the trouble began, and I was the first person it did reach!  My articles of that time, some of which happened to embody beautiful and then unpublished work by a great American poet, were never properly placed nor properly announced.  My proofs were never sent in time, and though I sent them back by return of post, my corrections were disregarded, and my papers appeared full of blunders and misspellings which I could prove had not disfigured my manuscript, and many of which, dealing with proper names, were of the worst and most ignorant "compositor" order.  I insisted on redress.

    My poor editor declared that he could not help what was going on.  "She" was regardless of his protests.  At last I got a promise that errata should be inserted, which is at best but a poor consolation, since it always seems to indicate carelessness on the part of the author.  This appeared in the monthly issues.  Lo! when I got the bound volume for the year, these errata were not inserted therein.  I again appealed to the editor.  He answered with evasions, but finally wrote, pettishly, that the publishers' interests had to be consulted as well as mine—the relevance of which remark I could not see.  Then the publishers themselves were addressed, and they discovered the curious fact that the errata had been put in all the bound volumes save that particular one which had been sent to me!

    It was a pitiful instance of the discord created by selfish and cruel carelessness.  I felt aggrieved that I had been drawn into an imbroglio from which my foresight could have saved me had I not trusted to the promises made.  I was sorry for the editor, for I am sure he meant well, but in thinking to control his partner he undertook what was beyond his power.

    It seems a pity that all women writers are not as ready to welcome and help a new-comer as were Mrs. S. C. Hall, Jean Ingelow, and poor "Margaret Blount," who thought that she "had lost faith in everything."  I know a very sad instance to the contrary.  The "heroine" of the story told it to me herself, so there is no mistake about it; nor could she recognize the shame of what she had done, even when my husband and I pointed it out.  She belonged to a well-known clerical family, though her own father was not in orders.  She was a bright, attractive woman, making a sufficing income by writing chiefly for periodicals.  Suddenly she was seized with fear of the rivalry of a newer writer who appeared on the scene.  She happened to know something of this other girl, who lived in a cathedral city where she visited.  She told me that she had no doubt Miss X―― would talk of the cathedral city as if she belonged to the cathedral.  "So," she went on, "I just hired a cab and drove round to all my editors who have taken any of her work, and I brought her name into the conversation, and let them know that her father was a drunken―[here followed his humble calling, which I will not indicate], that the family live in the poorest way, and that none of my friends—the canons' families—would dream of taking any notice of them."

    The same young lady once said to me, when I was recovering from dangerous illness, that she thought I had "been through so much that I must, as a writer, be quite used up."  She said that to me in 1875.  In 1910 I am still writing, not wholly without acceptance.  But the cruelty of it!

    Many years after, one of the editors to whom she had gone on her mischief-making errand spoke to me of this visit of hers.  "That woman came to me to try to lower Miss X―― in our eyes by telling us of her obscure origin.  I don't know what effect she produced elsewhere, but I decided to have nothing more to do with herself," said he.

    Yet even that poor gentleman had a wife who spoke and acted in precisely the same way!  I do not suppose he ever knew how far she went in this direction of snobbish cruelty.  But once I heard her provoke him to retort: "I don't care for nobility; I care for ability."

    I had another instance of the bad spirit women can show towards each other, but there my editor himself was undoubtedly to blame, and acknowledged it fully and freely.  Friends of mine lent me a big Canadian book, dealing with the opening up of the Lake Huron district.  It was so exceedingly ill-arranged as not to be easily "understandable," save by those who knew something of Canada and its early history.  But it contained many most interesting anecdotes, and was not published in this country.

    I thought the book would make basis for an article, and I wrote one, in which I made handsome acknowledgment of the research labours of the Canadian writer.  Somehow, at the last moment, before publication, the editor, to adapt lengths, shortened my paper by a few lines, and unfortunately cut out the very paragraph containing this acknowledgment.  The article bore my personal signature.  The magazine found its way to Canada.  Then arrived, from the author, not a statement of the wrong done and a letter of inquiry, which would have been more than justifiable, but a letter accusing me in harshest terms of literary theft, and informing the publishers how grossly they had been deceived—they, an honourable firm, whom the writer would not for a moment imagine guilty of complicity in such iniquity.

    As soon as I saw that letter, I asserted that, as "literary theft" had never entered into my head, I was quite certain that my original manuscript had contained a paragraph of full acknowledgment, and I claimed that it should be produced, for it had not been returned to me.  The manuscript was found, the paragraph was there, and the editor, looking over his proofs and his revised proofs, found that the excision had been made by himself, unwitting of the significance of what he did!  Letters of explanation were sent out to Canada at once, with the editor's own apologies.  But the Colonial literary amateur never had the innate sense of justice nor the external sense of good-breeding to apologize in her turn to the well-known old woman writer whom she had been so ready to suspect and accuse, even while she studiously curried favour with the firm, who happened to be the really guilty party.  Very grudging explanations appeared in the Colonial papers, where she had already aired her supposed grievance against me.  But I had journalistic friends in Canada who took care that the whole story was soon fully made known.

    There happened once another curious little episode with some highly respected Canadians which is not without literary interest, and which I had perhaps best tell in their own words, as written from

GUELPH,    
"January 29, 1873.


To Drs Guthrie and Blaikie, Edinburgh.


    "G
ENTLEMEN,
            "I trust you will excuse the liberty I take in addressing you respecting a sentence that occurs in a story inserted in the Christmas issue of the Sunday Magazine, the heading of which is 'One New Year's Night,' the writer whereof, alluding to the ballad, 'There is nae luck about the house,' etc., attributes its authorship to an old maid, in the sentence referred to, which reads thus: '"Strange, isn't it," said Helen, "that this sweetest song of a wife's love and joy should have been written by an old maid."'  In the copy of poems composed by William Julius Mickle, and published by the Rev. John Mickle, A.B. (sic) in the year 1806, this ballad appears, and, while the descendants of Mr. Mickle are satisfactorily assured that it was his composition, they are unwilling that the fame attaching to its authorship should be averted from the poet to whom they believe the honour of its production rightfully belongs, unless, indeed, there be just reasons therefor; but of such reasons they are quite unaware.

            "Extremely desirous to know upon what grounds the assertion is made that attributes the creation of this popular ballad to the person signified (the poetess Jean Adams), and feeling confident that you will kindly allow the subject to engage your consideration, most respectfully I subscribe myself,

Yours obediently,
                    "J
OHN MICKLE."


    This Canadian and the family behind him acted as gentlefolk should.  Feeling justly aggrieved, they sought, without bitterness and bluster, to know why and wherefore.  My editors passed on the letter to me, and I at once replied.  I could say only that I had, perhaps too thoughtlessly, accepted the conclusion arrived at in a book (then recently published by A. Strahan), "The Songstresses of Scotland," written by acquaintances of mine, "Sarah Tytler" and Miss Jeanie Watson.  I believe I copied the page which I had too rashly accepted as quite authoritative.  I added that I had really formed no personal opinion on the matter, but that, on thinking it out, I myself thought nothing too good to come from the pen of the author of "Cumnor Hall," with its inimitable opening verse, which had haunted me from childhood:


"The dews of summer night did fall,
     The moon, sweet regent of the sky,
 Silvered the walls of Cumnor Hall,
     And many an oak that grew thereby."


    In return I got the following letter, which on a matter of so much literary interest is well worth copying in full.  This time another member of the family writes, the investigation being evidently corporate, and it being perhaps thought best that a woman should reply to a woman.


"ROCKWOOD,              
"April 4, 1873.

    "MADAM,
            "Please accept my acknowledgment of your kindness in answering my inquiries, and thus giving me an opportunity of learning how unfairly those whom I had been taught by an honoured parent to regard with reverence and esteem have been misrepresented.

            "Surely the authoresses of 'Them Songstresses of Scotland' might have been satisfied with attempting to prove the song, 'There is nae luck about the house,' was written by Jean Adams, without maligning the character of Mr. Mickle, and imputing to him such unworthy conduct.  Mr. Mickle was not the man to take down the words of a song he may have heard sung, alter them, and claim the song as his own.  He was a man of the strictest integrity and honour, as the record of his life will show.
            "With respect to Mrs. Mickle, of whom it is said, concerning a Scotch song to which she alluded, 'if it ever had an existence,' as there are none now living who can bear witness to the truthfulness of her character, all that can be said is that her son ever held her memory in the highest esteem and respect, and that he had the greatest possible detestation and abhorrence of falsehood and every kind of dissimulation.

            "That Mrs. Mickle may have been mistaken, of course, is possible, seeing that the most unaccountable mistakes are constantly being made.  So also, of course, may Mrs. Fullarton have been mistaken (when a child, perhaps), and also her fellow-pupils not named.

            "About the song itself, however, Mrs. Mickle cannot have been mistaken, as there are several copies of it among Mr. Mickle's papers.

            "It is to be regretted that these statements concerning Jean Adams had not been made during the lifetime of Mr. C. J. Mickle, and in such a way that they would have come under his observation.  As, although his father died when he was but five years old, his mother lived for many years afterwards, and there can be no doubt that he most certainly believed the song to have been written by his father.  We are told that no copy of the song is found in Mickle's works, printed while he lived.  No collection of his works was published during his life.  Many pieces were published separately, and several without his name attached.

            "It is difficult to imagine what of the scenery and incidents of the song are peculiar to the west rather than to any coast.  Mr. Mickle certainly was not brought up on any seacoast, but his attention was early directed to subjects relating to a seafaring life, from his study of 'The Lusiad,' which study he began while very young.  Also, when attending school in Edinburgh, no doubt many a fine Saturday afternoon would find him at its ports (Leith or Newhaven), where he would be likely to observe the sailors' wives watching for their husbands on the quay, and probably would hear the name Colin applied to a sailor, for, of course, those to whom the name was given on the west coast were not supposed always to remain there, especially when they became sailors.

            "I hope you will believe that I would not have troubled you with these remarks if it had not appeared to me that my father's honour, and that of his father and mother, were involved in the matter.  I hope, too, that, whatever you may think concerning the authorship of the song, that you will believe the explanation suggested in the extract from 'The Songstresses of Scotland' to be altogether out of the question.

            "A mistake has certainly been made, but by whom it is not so easy certainly to say.  I trust I may be allowed to express a hope that the public judgment will not be guided by any capable of raising an evil report, for which there cannot have been the slightest foundation.

            "I feel sure you will forgive my intruding on your attention, seeing I have so good reason.  Besides, we all know that 'Edward Garrett' is everybody's friend.

"Yours truly,
                                        "S
ARAH PASMORE.


            "P.S.—I send to you a copy of the poetical works of W. J. Mickle, that you may see from his life, an account of which it contains, that he was not, by those amongst whom he lived, understood to be the kind of person which has been suggested.  'Cumnor Hall' is left out of this collection, however.  I do not know why."


    The family evidently felt strongly on this subject.  One of the gentlemen presently came to this country, and at once sought out the publishers of "The Songstresses."  I remember Dr. Japp telling me that he interviewed him.  Dr. J app pleaded what was really the case—that the authors of that book had been but too zealously anxious to get what they imagined to be her "rights" for a very unfortunate woman, and that probably the general conviction that Mickle wrote the famous song would never be disturbed.

    "But," said the Canadian, "how would you like it to be insinuated that your grandmother was a liar?"

    Dr. Japp was silenced.

    Strange mistakes concerning authorship, especially of verses, may, it is well known, easily happen.  We know Helen Jackson's exquisite poem, "The Blind Spinner."  I have a printed copy of that poem, cut from some paper, and it carries the signature "F. Brooks."  It appears that a Mr. Brooks, a well-known and highly cultured man, had admired the poem, and copied it, and after his death his family, finding it among his papers, and in his handwriting, inferred it was his own production, and issued it accordingly.  In that case the error was easily put right, but it is not difficult to imagine how such a mistake may persist till it becomes history!

    There was one very interesting and pathetic figure familiar to me during the whole time of my working for Good Words and the Sunday Magazine.  This was Mr. John Nicol, a young Highland lad who came from Tain to Mr. Strahan's office, and eventually rose high in the service of the firm.  When I visited Tain, I saw his widowed mother, a sweet-faced, white-capped woman to whom her boy owed everything.  She had brought him up rigidly, even severely.  But he was the very apple of her eye.  She had scrubbed schoolrooms to pay for his schooling, and in the terrible northern winter, when he had no shoe-gear fit to face the snow and ice, she had been known to carry him to school on her back!

    John Nicol himself was a dark, handsome youth, with all the Celtic glamour about him.  He revisited his mother faithfully, and after his marriage he brought her to his London home.  It seemed a pretty, idyllic history, but in the end I am not quite sure that the transplanting was a perfect success.  The white-mutched old dame was not quite a harmony in his London villa.  However, as years passed on his wife died, and then his mother.  There came a time of terrible loneliness, of overwork, of overstrained nerves.  Dr. Donald Macleod, Dr. Norman Macleod's brother, who succeeded him in the editorship of Good Words, saw that a breakdown was imminent, and insisted that Mr. Nicol should accompany him to a Highland watering-place.  Alas! a few days afterwards the body of my old friend was taken from a western loch.  He left behind him one son, who was not forgotten by his father's old co-workers.

    I remember I once wrote to Mr. Nicol about some verses under a certain signature, which interested me greatly because they were so forceful and original, yet withal had about them something strangely weird and bizarre.  He replied that they were the work of a man with a singular history.  His mind had been unbalanced, and he had been put in an asylum.  There, at some of the assemblies, he fell in love with a lady-patient!  Both were pronounced cured, and left the asylum at about the same time.  They had private means which amounted between them to £70 or £80 per annum.  They got married, and had already had a son.  What the future would bring remained to be seen, and after Mr. Nicol's death I could never learn the end of this strange drama.

    Later years brought me in contact with two other notable, editors—Mrs. Henry Wood and Dr. William Alexander.

    It was a pleasure to work for Mrs. Wood, for if one's shortcomings were carefully noted, so were one's excellences.  Mrs. Wood's writings always give one the consciousness of a kindly, shrewd personality behind them.  But Mrs. Henry Wood herself was far more than that.  Small in stature, and generally somewhat suffering, she possessed a rare combination of pleasant charm and simple dignity.  She had had her time of storm and stress, but it had left no scars on her, save keener sympathy for others, and ready comprehension of difficult and trying circumstances.  There was an atmosphere of almost sacred peace about her home in St. John's Wood, full of dainty prettiness, but absolutely unmoved by the wild waves of "greenery yellowy" affectation which were then passing over society, even as Mrs. Wood herself was uninfluenced by vagaries of restless philanthropy which would fain have attracted her.  Her dainty appearance and quiet, reserved manner gave the lie to many preconceived notions about "literary women."  But her son, my friend Charles Wood, has done such justice to his mother's memory that nothing remains for me to add.

    It was for Dr. William Alexander that I first wrote reviews and strictly journalistic articles.  When, in 1878, I came, widowed, to live in Aberdeen, I was naturally drawn to the only one of its citizens who had had opportunity to give my husband kindly welcome during a visit we had paid some years before.  I had not accompanied my husband when he called on William Alexander, but he had sent friendly messages to me (known to him only by my work), and also a copy of his famous book, "Johnnie Gibb of Gushetneuk."

    William Alexander belonged by birth to that peasant class to whom Scotland owes nearly all she has.  Born in the parish of Chapel of Garioch, and spending all his earlier years in sight of Bennachie, his most poignant memories were fastened among the homely population on the banks of Don, Gadie, and Deveron.  As a boy he had done agricultural work, and to the end of his life he declared, "I would have been a farmer had it been possible."  It was made impossible by an accident which cost him a limb.  During the long illness which followed he read much, and began to write.  Presently an essay of his won a prize—and, what was more, offer of journalistic work.  His first wage as a local journalist was seven shillings a week—and he lived thereon!

    It was not until early middle life that his great literary power became manifest.  Then he produced "Johnnie Gibb."  He had written an earlier story, "Peter Grundy," which ran through some local paper, but, like Jean Ingelow, he had kept neither manuscript nor print, and the story has never been recovered.

    "Johnnie Gibb of Gushetneuk" records the vanishing dialect of the north-east of Aberdeenshire, and the local ferment of the "Disruption," which had its origin in that neighbourhood.  But these are only the tools and the canvas for vivid touches of natural colour and human characterization.  The very excellences of such a work hampered its wide popularity.  English people stumbled over the dialect.  Those who persevered soon recognized a master's hand, though possibly even they could enjoy his skill better in his next book, "Life among our ain Folk," which, while equally true in local colour, embraced more universal interests.

    William Alexander wrote only of what he knew—by heart as well as by head—and it was given him to know best an austere landscape, peopled by a race externally so reticent and "canny" that the very boys beside its many "burnies," if asked, "What fish are you catching?" will reply, "I dinna ken yet."  But William Alexander knew these people below the surface.  He could recognize a moral hero in the blue homespun of "Johnnie Gibb," and see the silent pathos of "Francie Herriegerie's Shargar laddie."  And his "ain folk" thank him in their own characteristic way, lovingly pointing out the scenes of his stories to the few strangers who stray into their region, while one of them has named an eminence in New Guinea Mount Alexander.  When I was in Canada, that I knew William Alexander made me at once the friend of all Scottish Canadians.

    He had had real people in view when he wrote the subtle characterization of "Johnnie Gibb."  I have heard that when Sir George Reid, the famous artist who illustrated the book, went to the district—the neighbourhood of Huntly—to search for suitable models, he found it hard to secure one worthy of the sterling hero Johnnie.  At last he found the type he wanted, in a dim photograph of a certain small farmer, then lately dead.  On showing the portrait to William Alexander, the author confessed that this very man had been the original of his creation.

    Sir William Geddes, the distinguished Greek scholar, late Principal of Aberdeen University, used to say that Sir George's head of the treacherous "Mrs. Birse" was, in all its deepest physiognomic significance, the sister of Giotto's head of Judas Iscariot.

    I wish I had recorded the many anecdotes I have heard Dr. Alexander relate, each picked by his own keen eye out of the rush of common life around him, and each illustrative of some old-world way, or of some pathetic human characteristic.

    Such was the man who sat in a provincial newspaper office, which in his occupancy became a relieving office, a confessional, and a debating room.  He had a memory for faces and facts so wonderful that I often said it would qualify him for the post of recording angel.  But he was ever long-suffering with the outcast and the disinherited, reserving the purging fires of his indignation for the Pharisee and the "man of the earth."  After his death it was aptly said of him that he had been ever "a bearer of the burdens of the downtrodden."  The outburst of his fellow-citizens' grief was something wonderful.  One said what many thought: "While he sat in his editorial chair the city had a guardian angel."

    I saw him last in his office.  I was leaving town for a possibly prolonged absence, and I had looked in to say good-bye.  We spoke only for about five minutes, and his last remark—apropos 'Of I know not what—was: "It is better to be Esau than Jacob.  I'd rather be Esau!"

    It is a pity that the monument of such a man, setting forth his semblance as he lived, though raised by public subscription, has been relegated to the dismal graveyard where he was buried.  It should stand rather where citizens pass and schoolboys linger.

    I have had other editors with whom my relations have been most cordial, but they are still with us.  I cannot, however, pass on without a reference to my old friend the Rev. Charles Bullock, now greatly withdrawn into the retirement inevitable to failing health and advanced years.  We have often differed on points of theological expression, but this has never once ruffled our intercourse.  It was a pleasure to thrash out matters with him, because we were always in hearty agreement on the practical matters which I hold to be the best expression of vital Christianity—the brotherhood of all races of men, the cause of international peace, and the recognition of the rights of animals.



[Next Page]

 


 

 [Home] [Up] [A Retired Life] [The Secret Drawer] [By Still Waters] [Doing and Dreaming] [The Dead Sin] [Family Fortunes] [At Any Cost] [Rab Bethune's Double] [Short Stories, etc.] [Poems] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk