Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Love's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne online

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There remains only by way of preface to sum up
the changes that fell out between 1849 and 1861 .

At the latter date two deaths and two mar-
riages had taken place ; old Lord Cheyne, much
bewept by earnest and virtuous men of all class-
es, had died, laborious to the last in the great
cause of human improvement, and his son, a
good deal sobered by the lapse of time and
friction of accident, had married, in May, 1859,
within a year of his accession as aforesaid, his
cousin Mrs. Stanford's daughter; she was mar-
ried on her eighteenth birthday, and there was

36



Prologue

no great ado made about it. John Cheyne had
died a year before his brother, having lived
long enough to see his daughter well married, in
1857, to Mr. Ernest Radworth, whose fame as a
man of science had gone on increasing ever since
he came into his property in 1853, at the age of
twenty-one. His researches in osteology were of
especial value and interest ; he was in all ways a
man of great provincial mark.

There is not much else to say; unless it may
be worth adding that Francis Cheyne was at
college by this time, with an eye to the bar in
years to come; his father's property had been
much cut into by the share assigned to his sister,
and there was just a fair competence left him
to start upon. When not at Oxford, he lived
usually at Lidcombe or at Blocksham, seldom
by himself at home ; but had for some little time
past shown a distinct preference of his cousin's
house to his brother-in-law's, Lord Cheyne and
he being always on the pleasantest terms. With
this cousin, eighteen years older than himself,
he got on now much better than with his old
companion Reginald Harewood, whose Oxford
career had just ended in the passing over his
hapless head of the untimely plough, and whose
friends, all but Lady Midhurst, had pretty well
washed their hands of him.
* 37



A Year's Letters

i

LADY MIDHURST TO MRS. RADWORTH

Ashton Hildred, Jan. I2lh, '61.

MY DEAR NIECE:

I WRITE to beg a favour of you, and you are
decidedly the one woman alive I could ask it
of. There is no question of me in the matter,
I assure you; I know how little you owe to a
foolish old aunt, and would on no account tax
your forbearance so far as to assume the very
least air of dictation. You will hardly re-
member what good friends we used to be when
you were a very small member of society indeed.
If I ever tried then to coax you into making it
up with your brother after some baby dispute, I
recollect I always broke down in a lamentable
way. The one chance at that time was to put
the thing before you on rational grounds. I am
trying to act on that experience now.

39



Love's Cross-currents

This is rather a stupid grand sort of beginning,
when all I really have to say is that I want to see
the whole family on comfortable terms again
especially to make you and Amicia friends. For
you know it is hopeless to persuade an old wom-
an who is not quite in her dotage that there
has not been a certain coldness say coolness
of late in the relations between you and those
Lidcombe people. Since my poor brother's
death, no doubt, the place has not had those
attractions for Mr. Radworth which it had when
there was always some scientific or philanthrop-
ic gathering there ; indeed, I suppose your house
has supplanted Lidcombe as the rally ing-point
of provincial science for miles. By all I hear you
are becoming quite eminent in that line, and it
must be delicious for you personally to see how
thoroughly your husband begins to be appreci-
ated. I quite envy you the society you must
see, and the pleasure you must take in seeing
and sharing Mr. Radworth's enjoyment of it. (I
trust his sight is improving steadily.) But for
all this you should not quite cast off less fort-
unate people who have not the same tastes and
pursuits. You and Cheyne were once so com-
fortable and intimate that I am certain he must
frequently regret this change; and Amicia, as
you know, sets far more store by you than any
other friend she could have about her. Do be

40



A Year's Letters

prevailed upon to take pity on the poor child:
her husband is a delightful one, and most eager
to amuse and gratify, but I know she wants a
companion. At her age, my dear, I could not
have lived without one; and at yours, if you
were not such a philosopher, you ought to
be as unable as I was. Men have their uses and
their merits, I allow, but you cannot live on
them. My friend, by-the-by, was not a good in-
stance to cite, for she played me a fearful trick
once ; Lady Wells her name was ; I had to give
her up in the long run; but she was charming
at one time, wonderfully bright in her ways, at
once quick and soft, as it were just my idea of
Madame de Le"ry, in "Un Caprice." She was
idolized by all sorts of people, authors particu-
larly, for she used to hunt them down with a
splendid skill, and make great play with them
when caught ; but the things the woman used to
say ! and then the people about her went off and
set them all down in their books. The men act-
ually took her stories as samples of what went
on daily in a certain circle, and wrote them
down, altering the names, as if they had been
gospel. She told me some before they got into
print ; there was nobody she would not mix up
in them, and we had to break with her at last in
a peaceable way. If you ever see an old novel
called (I think) "Vingt-et-Un," or some such



Love's Cross-currents

name I know there are cards in it you will
find a picture there of your aunt, painted by
the author (a Mr. Caddell) after a design by
Lady Wells. I am the Lady Manhurst of that
nice book. I cheat at cards ; I break the heart
of a rising poet (that is, I never would let Sir
Thomas invite Mr. Caddell) ; and I make two
brothers fight a duel, and one is killed through
my direct agency. I run away with a Lord
Avery; I am not certain that my husband dies
a natural death ; I rather think, indeed, that I
poison him in the last chapter but one. Finally,
I become a Catholic ; and Lord Avery recognizes
me in the conventual garb, the day after my
noviciate is out, and immediately takes leave
of his senses. I hope I died penitent; but I
really forget about that. You see what sort of
things one could make people believe in those
days; I suppose there is no fear of a liaison
dangereuse of that sort between you and poor
little Amicia. She has not much of the Lady
Wells type in her.

I have a graver reason, as you probably
imagine by this time, for wishing you to see a
little of Amicia just now. It is rather difficult to
write about, but I am sure you will see things
better for yourself than I could make you if I
were to scribble for ever in this cautious round-
about way ; and I can trust so thoroughly in your

4*



A Year's Letters

good feeling and good sense and acuteness, that
I know you will do what is right and useful and
honourable. It is a great thing to know of any-
body who has a head that can be relied upon.
Good hearts and good feelings are easy to pick
up, but a good clear sensible head is a godsend.
Nothing else could ever get us through this little
family business in reasonable quiet.

I fear you must have heard some absurd
running rumours about your brother's last stay
at Lidcombe. People who always see what
never exists are beginning to talk of his de-
votion to poor dear Amicia. Now I of course
know, and you of course know, that there never
could be anything serious on foot in such a
quarter. The boy is hardly of age, and might
be at school as far as that goes. Besides,
Cheyne and Amicia are devoted to each other,
as we all see. My only fear would be for poor
Frank himself. If he did get any folly of a
certain kind into his head it might cause in-
finite personal trouble, and give serious pain
to more people than one. I have seen more
than once how much real harm can come out of
such things. I wonder if you ever heard your
poor father speak of Mrs. Askew, Walter Askew's
wife, who was a great beauty, in our time ? Both
my brothers used to rave about her; she had
features of that pure long type you get in

43



Love's Cross-currents

pictures, and eyes that were certainly ntieux
fendus than any I ever saw, dim deep grey, half
lighted under the heaviest eyelids, with a sleepy
sparkle in them: faulty in her carriage, very;
you had to look at her sitting to understand
the effect she used to make. Her husband was
very fond of her, and a cleverish sort of man,
but too light and lazy to do all he should have
done. Well, a Mr. Chetwood, the son of a very
old friend of mine (they used to live here), be-
came infatuated about her. Spent days and
days in pursuit of her; made himself a perfect
jest. Everywhere she went there was this
wretched man hanging on at her heels. They
were not much to hang on to, by-the-bye, for
she had horrid feet. To this day I believe he
never got anything by it; if the woman ever
cared for anybody in her life it was your father;
but Mr. Askew had to take notice of it at last ;
the other got into a passion and insulted him
(I am afraid they were both over-excited it
was after one of my husband's huge dinners,
and they came up in a most dreadful state of
rage, and trying to behave well, with their faces
actually trembling all over and the most fearful
eyes), and there was a duel and the husband
was killed, and Chetwood had to fly the coun-
try, people made it out such a bad case, and he
was ruined died abroad within the year; he
44



A Year's Letters

had spent all his money before the last business.
The woman arterwards married Dean Bain-
bridge, the famous Waterworth preacher, you
know, who used to be such a friend of my friend
Captain Harewood's for the last year or two of
his life; he had buried his third wife by that
time; Mrs. A. was the second. He was a de-
testable man, and had a voice exactly like a cat
with a bad cold in the head.

Now if anything of this sort were to happen to
Francis (not that I am afraid of my two nephews
cutting each other's throats but so much may
happen short of that), it is just the kind of thing
he might never get well over. He and Amy are
about the same age, I think, or he may be a year
older. In a case like this, of amicable intimacy
between two persons, one married, there is neces-
sarily a certain floating amount of ridicule im-
plied, even where there is nothing more ; and the
whole of this ridicule must fall in the long run
upon the elder person of the two. I am not sure,
of course, that there is any ground for fear just
now, but to avoid the least chance of scandal,
still more of ridicule, it is always worth while
being at any pains. Nobody knows how well
worth while it is till they are turned of thirty.
Now you must see, supposing there is anything
in this unfortunate report, that I cannot pos-
sibly be of the least use. Imagine me writing
45



Love's Cross-currents

to that poor child to say she must not see so
much of her cousin, or to Frank imploring him
to spare the domestic peace of Lidcombe! It
would be too absurd for me to seem as if I saw
or heard anything of the matter. A screeching,
cackling grandmother, running round the yard
with all her frowsy old feathers ruffled at the
sight of such a miserable red rag as that, would
be a thing to laugh at for a year ; and I have no
intention of helping people to a laugh at my
white hairs (they are quite white now).

Or would you have me write to Cheyne ? La
bonne farce! as Redgie Harewood says, since he
has been in Paris. Conceive the delicate im-
pressive way one would have to begin the letter
in, so as not to arouse the dormant serpents in
a husband's heart. Think of the soft suggestive
lago style one would have to adopt, so as to inti-
mate the awfullest possibilities without any hard
flat assertion. Poor good Edmund too, of all
people! Imagine the bewildered way in which
he would begin the part of Othello, without in
the least knowing how without so much as an
Ethiopian dye to help him out ! You must allow
that in writing to you I have done all I could ;
more, I do believe and hope, than there was any
need of my doing ; but I look to your goodness
and affection for your brother to excuse me. I
want merely to suggest that you should keep a
46



A Year's Letters

quiet friendly watch over Frank, so as to save
him any distress or difficulty in the future. A
sister rather older and wiser than himself ought
really to be about the best help and mainstay a
boy of his age can have. If I had had but five
years or so more to back me, I might have saved
your father some scrapes at that time of life.

I have one more petition to my dear niece : be
as patient with my garrulous exigeance as you
can. If you see Reginald Harewood this winter,
as I dare say you will he is pretty sure to be at
Lidcombe before the month is out may I beg
your bienveillance towards the poor boy? He
is "sat upon" (as he says) just now to such an
extent that it is a real charity in any one to show
him a little kindness. I know his brilliant col-
lege career is not a prepossessing episode in his
history ; but so many boys do so much worse
and come off so much better ! That insuffer-
able Captain Harewood behaves as if every one
else's son had made the most successful studies,
and at the end of three years saved up a small
but decent income out of his annual allowance.
If my father had only had to pay two hundred
for the college debts of yours! I cannot con-
ceive what parents will be in the next genera-
tion : I am sure we were good-natured enough in
ours, and you see what our successors are.

If Mr. Radworth has spare time enough, in
47



Love's Cross-currents

the intervals of his invaluable labours, to be re-
minded of an old woman's unprofitable exist-
ence, will you remember me to him in the kind-
est way ? and, if you have toiled through my
letter, accept the love and apologies of your
affectionate aunt.



II

MRS. RADWORTH TO FRANCIS CHEYNE

Blocksham, Jan. i6th.

MY DEAR FRANK:

IF you had taken my advice you would have
arranged either to stay up at Oxford during the
vacation, or at least to be back by the beginning
of next term. Of course, we should like of all
things to have you here as long as you chose to
stay, and it would be nicer for you, I should
think, than going back to fog and splashed snow
in London; but our half engagement to Lid-
combe upsets everything. Ernest is perfectly
restless just now ; between his dislike of moving
and his wish to see the old Lidcombe museum
again, he does nothing but papillonner about
the house in a beetle-headed way, instead of
sticking to his cobwebs, as a domestic spider
should. Are you also bent upon Lidcombe?
For, if you go, we go. Make up your mind to
that. If you don't, I can easily persuade
Ernest that his museum has fallen to dust and
tatters under the existing dynasty, which,
49



Love's Cross-currents

indeed, is not so unlikely to be true. Amicia
writes very engagingly to me, just the sort of
letter one would have expected, limp, amiable,
rather a smirking style; flaccid condescension;
evidently feels herself agreeable and gracious.
I am rather curious to see how things get on
there. You seem to have impressed people
somehow with an idea that during your last
visit the household harmony suffered some blow
or other which it has not got over yet. Is there
any truth in the notion ? But of course, if there
were, I should have known of it before now, if
I were ever to know it at all.

I have had a preposterous letter from Aunt
Midhurst ; the woman is really getting past her
work: her satire is vicious, stupid, pointless to
a degree. Somebody has been operating on her
fangs, I suppose, and extracting the venom. It
is curious to remember what one always heard
about her wit and insight and power of reading
character; she has fallen into a sort of hashed
style, between a French portiere and a Dickens
nurse. It makes one quite sorry to read the sort
of stuff she has come to writing, and think that
she was once great as a talker and letter-writer
like looking at her grey fierce old face (museau
de louve, as she called it once to me) and remem-
bering that she was thought a beauty. Still you
know some people to this day talk about the

5



A Year's Letters

softness and beauty of her face and looks, and
I suppose she is different to them. To me she
always looked like a cat, or some bad sort of bird,
with those greyish-green eyes and their purple
pupils.

I need hardly tell you that since you were here
last the place has been most dismal. Ernest has
taken to insects now; il me manquait cela. He
has a room full of the most dreadful specimens.
In the evenings he reads me extracts from his
MS. treatise on the subject, which is to be pub-
lished in the " County Philosophical and Scien-
tific Transactions." C'est rejouissant ! After
all, I think you are right not to come here more
than you can help. The charity your com-
ing would be to me you must know; but
no doubt it would have to be too dearly paid
for.

Lady Midhurst tells me that your ex-ally in
old days, and my ex-enemy, Reginald Harewood,
is to be at Lidcombe by the end of this month.
Have you seen him since the disgraceful finale of
his Oxford studies? I remember having met
him a month or two since when I called on her
in London, and he did not seem to me much im-
proved. One is rather sorry for him, but it is
really too much to be expected to put up with
that kind of young man because of his disad-
vantages. I hope you do not mean to renew



Love's Cross-currents

that absurd sort of intimacy which he had
drawn you into at one time.

I am rather anxious to see Lidcombe in its
present state, so I think we shall have to go ; but
seriously, if people are foolish enough to talk
about your relations there, I would not go, in
your place. I am not going to write you homi-
lies after the fashion of Lady M., or appeal to
your good feeling on the absurd subject ; I never
did go in for advice. Do as you like, but I
don't think you ought to go.

Ernest no doubt would send you all sorts of
messages, but I am not going to break in upon
the room sacred to beetles and bones; so you
must be content with my love and good wishes
for the year.



Ill

LADY MIDHURST TO LADY CHEYNE

Ashton Hildred. Jan. 24th

MY DEAR CHILD:

You are nervous about your husband's part
in the business ; cela se voit; but I hardly see why
you are to come crying to an old woman like me
about the matter. Tears on paper are merely
blots, please remember ; you cannot write them
out gracefully. Try to compress your style a
little ; be as sententious as you can terse com-
plaints are really effective. I never cried over a
letter but once, and then it was over one of my
husband's! Poor good Sir Thomas was natu-
rally given to the curt hard style, and yet one
could see he was almost out of his mind with
distress. I suppose you know we lived apart in
a quiet way for the last ten years of his life. It
was odd he should take it to heart in the way he
did; for I know he was quite seriously in love
with a most horrid little French actress that had
been (I believe she was Irish myself, but she
called herself Mile, des Greves such a name!
s 53



Love's Cross-currents

I'm almost certain her real one was Ellen Greaves
a dreadful wretch of a woman, with a com-
plexion like bad fruit, absolutely a greenish
brown when you saw her in some lights) ; and
the poor man used to whimper about H61ene
to his friends in a perfectly abject way. Cap-
tain H. told me so ; he was of my friends at that
epoch; he was courting your mother, and in
consequence hers also. Indeed, I believe he
was in love with me at the time, though I am
ten years older ; however, I imagine it looks the
other way now. When I saw him last he was
greyer than Ernest Radworth. That wife of
his (E. R.'s, I mean) is enough to turn any
man's hair grey; I assure you, my dear child,
she makes my three hairs stand on end. Her
style is something too awful, like the most de-
testable sort of young man. She will be the
ruin of poor dear Redgie if we don't pick him up
somehow and keep him out of her way. He was
quite the nicest boy I ever knew, and used to
make me laugh by the hour ; there was a splendid
natural silliness in him, and quantities of verve
and fun what Mrs. Radworth, I suppose, calls
pluck or go. Still, when one thinks she is break-
ing Ernest's heart and bringing Captain Hare-
wood's first grey hairs to the grave with vexa-
tion, I declare I could forgive her a good deal if
she were only a lady. But she isn't in the least,

54



A Year's Letters

and I am ashamed to remember she is my niece ;
her manners are exactly what Mile. Greaves's
must have been, allowing for the difference of
times. I am quite certain she will be the death
of poor Redgie. He was always the most un-
fortunate boy on this earth; I dare say you re-
member how he was brought up always wor-
ried and punished and sermonized, ever since
he was a perfect baby ; enough to drive any boy
mad, and get him into an infinity of the most
awful scrapes when he grew up : but I did think
he might have kept out of this one. Clara
Radworth must be at least six years older than
he is. I believe she has taken to painting al-
ready. If there was only a little bit of scandal
in the matter! but that is past praying for. It
is a regular quiet amicable innocent alliance;
the very worst thing for such a boy in the world.
I have gone on writing about your poor
brother and all those dreadful people, and quite
forgotten all I meant to say to you : but really I
want you to exert your influence over Redgie.
Get him to come and stay with you at once,
before the Radworths arrive ; I wish to Heaven
he could come here to be talked round. I know
I could manage him. Didn't I manage him
when he was fourteen, and ran away from home
over here, and you brought him in ? You were
delicious at eleven, my dear, and fell in love with

55



Love's Cross-currents

him on the spot, like your (and his) old grand-
mother. Didn't I send him back at once,
though I saw what a state he was in, poor dear
boy, and in spite of you and his mother? I
could cry to this day when I think what a
beautiful boy he was to look at, and how hard it
was to pack him off in that way, knowing as we
all did that he would be three-quarters mur-
dered when he got home (and I declare Captain
Harewood ought to have been put in the pillory
for the way he used to whip that boy every day
in the week I firmly believe it was all out of
spite to his mother and me) ; and you all thought
me and your father desperately cruel people,
you know, as bad as Redgie's father; but I was
nearly as soft at heart as either of you, and after
he went away in the gig I cried for five minutes
by myself. Never cry in public (that is, of
course, not irrepressibly) as your mother did
then, and if you ever have children don't put
your arms round their necks and make scenes;
it never did any good, and people always get
angry, for it makes them look fools, and they
give you an absurd reputation in the boiled-
milk line. Your father was quite put out with
her after that demonstrative scene with Redgie,
and it only made matters worse for the boy at
parting, without saving him a single cut of the
rod when he got home, poor fellow! I never
56



A Year's Letters

was sorrier for anybody myself; he was such a
pretty boy; you ought to remember: for after
all he is your half-brother, and might have been
a whole one if Captain H. had not been such
a ruffian. Your poor mother never was the
best of managers, but she had a great deal to
bear.

Here I have got off again on the subject of my
stupid old affection for Redgie, and made you
think me the most unbearable of grandmothers.
I must .try and show you that there are some
sparks of sense left in the ashes of my old wom-
an's twaddle. But do you know you have
made it really difficult for me to advise you?
You write asking what to do, and I have only
to think what I want you to avoid ; for of course
you will do the reverse of what I tell you. And
in effect it seems to me to matter very little what
you do just now. However, read over this next
paragraph; construe it carefully by contraries;
and see what you think of that in the way of
advice.

Invite Frank to Lidcombe, as soon as the Rad-
worths come ; get up your plan of conduct after
some French novel Balzac is a good model if
you can live up to him; encourage Mrs. Rad-
worth, don't snub her in any way, let her begin


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