Anna Maria Diana Wilhelmina Pickering Stirling.

William De Morgan and his wife online

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bitten with the fascination of writing, he was already hard at
work on another story. ... 'I was half-way through Alice- for-
Short,' he wrote later, ' while Joe still lay in a drawer awaiting
his Heinemann ! ' In June, 1905, however, we find him re-
marking : ' I don't want to begin a third novel before I have got
some idea what will become of it. I am getting on with my
second rapidly ! ' In the interim, a visitor to Florence inserted
in a diary : —

' I went to call on the De Morgans ; both are working from dawn to
dark — he writing, she painting glorious pictures. The novels don't get
published, and the pictures don't get exhibited ; but both author and
artist seem supremely happy ! '

Meanwhile Mrs. Dowson had unearthed a copy of Joseph
Vance from its temporary tomb, and had sent it to Mr. Lawrence,
of the firm of Messrs. Lawrence & Bullen. But as the subse-
quent silence lengthened, De Morgan wrote resignedly : ' It may
be they are delaying a positive negative on the chance of its
changing to a hesitating positive ! It seems to me that it is
quite possible that a publisher may often hesitate from courtesy
to say, " Do take your beastly MS. away and don't bother me to
read it," when all the while he would command the author's
esteem and sympathy by a Johnsonian expression of opinion.
Or in this case he may be hesitating to say he will think about it
if it is cut down to 25,000 words. I believe it is 250,000 1 '


The date for the annual migration to London arrived while
the fate of Joe still hung in the balance. De Morgan, as usual,
travelled by sea, and throughout the voyage he sat on deck
playing chess, at which he was an adept, with a fellow-passenger,
a Chinaman, whom he had discovered to be as insatiable a de-
votee of the game as himself. The Chinaman could not speak
a word of English, and De Morgan could not speak a word of
Chinese, so at the close of each game the two antagonists rose,
bowed solemnly to each other, and then in silence resumed their

In England the usual fate of absentees awaited De Morgan
and his wife — an immediate necessity for procuring servants and
a difficulty in securing even the most inefficient. Art and Litera-
ture alike had to be cast aside before the pressing need of the
moment. ' I have been longing to ask you to talk about things,'
De Morgan wrote to Mrs. Dowson, ' but our Household has
bolted, or drinks ; and this blessed day I have been making the
beds and answering the bell, and emptying the slops — Lord have
mercy upon us miserable sinners ! ' On July 4, 1905, Evelyn
wrote tragically to Mrs. Holiday : —

' We have been back a weary month, nothing but drunken cooks
tumbling about like ninepins, no studies, no work, no peace, stodgy-
British incapacity at every turn, soaked in beer.

' We have reached a sort of demi-semi haven in the shape of a very
stout lady who eats till her eyes start out of her head, and rolls sleepily
about the house, yet it is bliss compared to the beery ones of the past
few weeks ; but the standard is lowered and we are very humble indeed
now, and grateful for such very small mercies.

' We must have a good long talk soon. Have you read that story of
the doctor who tells how he all but died, got nearly quite free of his body,
and went out into the street ? '

But even the ' demi-semi haven ' soon surpassed the example
of her predecessors ; and drastic measures became necessary to
ensure domestic peace. Evelyn having observed that the de-
linquent always got tipsy if she went out for a holiday but
remained sober so long as she stayed indoors, attempted a cure
by keeping her in the house till she showed signs of permanent
amendment. During the time of probation her conduct was so
satisfactory that at last permission could no longer be withheld
for her to go out, though a solemn promise was first demanded
from her that she would not touch any drink. Vows of total
abstinence having been thus extracted, the stout lady departed ;
but alas ! at the time appointed for her return, she did not re-
appear, and Evelyn having sat up waiting anxiously till a late
hour, at length beheld her approaching in the condition antici-
pated. The culprit tottered into the hall, and subsiding into the
nearest chair, rolled a beery eye on Evelyn and murmured
dramatically, ' It'sh not drink — it'sh worry ! '


The following day Evelyn had a visit from Lady Burne- Jones,
to whom she related the episode ; and Lady Burne- Jones, in
order that she might remember to hand it on to her family in its
pristine funniness, made a note of it on her visiting-card. On
her way home, however, she went on to the Army and Navy
Stores, and in the hubbub of a crowded department failed to
make the attendant hear her name and address. She therefore
handed her visiting-card to him, and was surprised to see him
suddenly turn crimson and dive abruptly behind the counter, till,
glancing at the card she had laid before him, she saw —

Lady Burne-Jones
It'sh not drink — it'sh worry.

In the midst of these prosaic afflictions, on July 5, 1905, De
Morgan, to his astonishment, received the following letter : —

W. Lawrence to William De Morgan.

' Dear Sir, —

' I have very nearly finished Joe Vance. The book is too long,
and yet I wish it were twice the length.

' If I had plenty of money I would publish it without hesitation, so
pray do not let it ever be said that the book passed through my hands
and I refused it.

' It must be published by one of the great firms who can afford to
advertise it properly for its understanding. After the Marie Corellis and
Hall Caines it is like a breath of pure sea air. Whether the public are so
soaked with bad English and melodramatic twaddle that they will refuse
Joe, I cannot say, but if they don't fall in love with the Doctor and Lossie
and forgive Joe for all his faults they must be either fools or knaves, or
both. I should very much like to have a talk with you about the whole
matter. . . .'

That same day De Morgan replied in some amazement : ' I
cannot tell you how pleased I am at the receipt of your letter — ■
only — am I awake or dreaming ? — that seems to me the first
point to settle. . . . However, awake or asleep, thank you
cordially for your appreciation, and thank you still more for your
more than appreciation- — if, as misgiving tells me, that is how to
describe it. . . . However, if I don't wake up and find a letter
saying " please send for your slow and unnatural MS.," I shall
try to keep asleep till after I have seen you, for the pleasure of
the visit ! '

The following day Lawrence wrote : —

' I finished Joe last night and then began to read him again. I don't
want to raise your spirits too much so I may tell you that, in the main, I
have been uniformly unsuccessful in the novels I have liked well. Your


book appeals to me more than any I have ever read in MS. — ergo it will
be most unsuccessful.

' My opinion is of no value whatever — save in its honesty.'

' I shall not allow myself to be depressed by the circumstance
you mention,' replied De Morgan, who seemed to regard his
present venture much in the same light as his former scientific
experiments ; ' chiefly I am curious to see what Joe will do if
he is put in the water to swim for himself ! I shall be greatly
delighted if he reversed your experience — anyhow shall hope we
may talk out a way of putting it to the test.'

The upshot of the interview which followed was that Mr.
Lawrence carried off the manuscript and, as he afterwards
described, staggered with his heavy load into Mr. Heinemann's
office, where he deposited it in front of the publisher — a solid
block of thin type-written sheets which stood about a foot and
a half in height. Thereupon the following terse conversation
took place.

Mr. Lawrence (firmly). ' Here is what seems to me a most
remarkable book. You have got to read it ! '

Mr. Heinemann (aghast). ' That I'll be d if I do ! '

Nevertheless the manuscript was read and recognized as a
masterpiece ; and ere long Mr. Heinemann himself was on his
way across the Atlantic with early proofs. The publication of
Joe in England and America was decided upon ; and when the
date once more came round for De Morgan's return to Florence,
he wrote to his first critic, Lady Burne- Jones, full of amusement
at the novelty of the situation in which he found himself.

William De Morgan to Lady Burne-Jones.

' 26 Oct., 1905.
' Dear Georgie, —

' We are off on Wednesday — which is the same as Tuesday, all but.
Sunday afternoon we have to stay at home to show pictures to some
friends while they talk to one another on current topics.

' We shall be horribly sorry to miss seeing you if it must be so. But
we shall try to prevent it by seizing whatever chance offers. ... It must
be that way, for you may fancy how pushed we are at the last.

' Matters are complicated by the fact that our Household is to marry
a. sculptor on the morning we depart ! ! Consider the fiancees of the
field that cook not, neither do they lay the cloth.

' Yes, Joe is being set up in America and his author is ditto ditto in
London — seeing what a good opinion his Publisher's autumn announce-
ments have of him ! — He means to be immortal as long as he can — then
will come the book. . . .

' So Mrs. Beatty 1 is gone — one more Chelsea memory — we are getting
fewer — but it's all right, I'm confident.
' We shall try to occur — always

' Yours affectly,

' Wm. De Morgan.'

1 One of the former painters and decorators at the Chelsea factory.

" The Little Sea-Maid "
Evelyn De Morgan fecit

" She had sold her tongue to a witch that she might become an Earth-maiden, all for love of an
Earth-Prince ; and when evening came she would steal away from the Prince's castle to cool her
aching feet in the sea. But alas ! she was dumb. And when she danced a pain as of cutting knives
was in her feet." — Hang Christian Andrrsen.

[The little Sea-maid is seen seated upon a rock upon which is growing velvety-green sea-weed ;
beside her is a piece of lovely crimson drapery. In the distance the Prince's Castle shows in purple
relief against a clear lemon-and-rose tinted sky, while a rising moon is shedding a silver light on the
blue water.]




Mr. Lawrence had previously urged De Morgan to condense
the book, and De Morgan, in consequence, removed about
20,000 to 30,000 words — an excision which, although imperative
in view of the exigencies of modern publication, is otherwise tc
be regretted, since the public thereby lost certain delightful
scenes and conversations — especially the love-affairs of Vi,
Lossie's sister, which were erased bodily. To the author's mind,
these omissions left the story with gaps noticeable where the
narrative in the original had at first run smoothly and leisurely
to a conclusion which was inevitable : ' I never cut anything
out,' De Morgan complained, ' but that I do not afterwards feel
it has left an hiatus which has destroyed the sequence.' Mean-
while he went to immense pains to ensure that all his facts were
correct, and referred to experts on every subject respecting which
he felt that his knowledge might be at fault. ' I am especially
anxious about improbabilities,' he wrote ; ' Authors do make
such frightful blunders ! There ought to be a profession of
Literary men's blunders censors who could be paid by them at
so much a blunder detected.' None the less, at the last moment
he was saved from inaccuracy on a subject of which he admitted
ignorance. It is said that the proofs were actually in the
press when Mrs. Mackail hurried round to point out to him a slip
of the pen which she had overlooked when reading the MS.
You have said that the butcher left the dripping at the door ! ' she
exclaimed breathlessly, ' and you see butchers don't leave drip-
ping at doors ! ' De Morgan thankfully and hurriedly removed
the dripping from ' standing in the place where it ought not ! '

Throughout this period, however, he was obsessed by the idea
that when his book was actually published his brief satisfaction
would be at an end ; in the interval, one of the events to which
he looked forward with almost childish pleasure was the thought
of sending out a copy of his first novel to his sister, who was then
in Egypt. Threatened with phthisis, Mary De Morgan had been
ordered to live abroad, and had subsequently undertaken a
strange task which interested her greatly— the charge of a
Reformatory for children in Cairo.

' You may fancy [wrote De Morgan to Mrs. Henry Holiday, on
December 4, from Florence] my disgust at not having Joseph by
Xmas day to send out to my sister Mary, in Egypt — (Divinity was always
my line !) But don't do more about him till you receive your presentation
copy from the author, who is very much interested that you should read
him (Joe) to see if you sympathize with a strong impression the Waldstein
sonata produced upon him. No doubt Joe was wrong, as he was quite
ignorant of music. But his author would like to know how it strikes a

' He is afraid an immortality founded on his publisher's too flattering
opinion may be cut off in its prime by the appearance of the vol. itself.
Meanwhile he is enjoying it, and strutting about like any peacock !



' I wish we could be in London to see the Show. 1 Few men can show
such a forty years' work (I can speak to the forty and more, personally) —
as H. H.

' It was a curious pleasantry of Fate to name him Holiday — but I
interpret it as an insinuation on Fate's part that a successful day's work
is the best of Holidays, and the best of Holidays's is a very successful day's
work indeed ! — I agree with F.

' . . . I admire Miss Brickdale's work immensely, with a faint sense of
a Shakespearian clown somewhere. It is a pleasure to think that such
good work is so successful. Evelyn is busy to a degree — ioo centigrade,

' Love to the other angle of your triangle and yourself, from both of


Nearly two months later, De Morgan, feverishly correcting
the proofs of Joseph Vance, snatched time to write his congratu-
lations to Mr. Mackail on seeing the announcement in the Spec-
tator that the latter had been appointed Professor of Poetry in
the University of Oxford. ' Mary, as you know,' he adds, ' is
in Egypt. Accounts of her read well and are, I hope, authentic.
Probably she will be back before I can send Joseph out to her —
as he takes so long in publishing. Why, here have I actually
completed two more stories and the proofs of Joe only half cor-
rected ! I discovered frightful blunders in him — but there !
what does it matter ? As far as I can make out, modern Fiction
consists almost entirely of solecisms ! ' In the following letter
from his wife, however, there is no mention of the event which
was impending : — ■

Evelyn Be Morgan to Professor Mackail.

' 22nd Feb., 1906.
' Dear Jack, —

' I must add a line to send my own individual congrats. We were
so delighted when we read the news in the Spectator yesterday — a belated
Spectator that reaches us after the fact, so to speak, but is nevertheless
Dur only newspaper from England. This sounds very Italian and unpatrio-
tic, but we are both getting very cosmopolitan I fear, and have a general
tendency to look upon a two days' old English paper as perfect for wrapping-
ap purposes but otherwise tedious and bulky, and we go in for Italian
papers because they are slight and flimsy as to news, and one need not
read them ; and then we discover a real piece of good news like this and
•ealize that we are savages in the backwoods, or we should have known
ill about it.

' When are you coming out to Florence again ? I am sure Angela *
nust be wanting another necklace. Only give us time, that is all we ask,
ind we will provide you with any abomination in the way of weather you
lave a fancy for, " From Greenland's icy Mountains," etc.

' Love to Margaret,
' Yours ever,

' Evelyn De Morgan.'

1 Mr. Henry Holiday was having an exhibition of his pictures.
* The recipient's daughter.


It was while the publication of Joseph Vance still tarried, and
while the first advertisements of his advent were appearing, that
one morning De Morgan was electrified to discover his fictitious
hero had taken an unexpectedly concrete form.

(Louis) Joseph Vance to William De Morgan.

' Good Ground, Long Island, N.Y., U.S.A.,

' June 18th, 1906.
* Dear M». De Morgan, —

' I am sure you will appreciate how uncommon are apt to be the
sensations of one who wakes up to find himself famous ; especially when
that one has been striving ever so earnestly to make himself famous by
writing, rather than by being written about.

' My London publisher Mr. Grant Richards, in a letter of recent date,
enclosed me a clipping from an English publication, to the effect that :

' " Joseph Vance " is the title of a novel by Mr. William De Morgan,
which Mr. Heinemann is publishing. It is said to be a " complete human
document" '

' Naturally I want to know about it. Wouldn't you ? It is a curious
fact, and one that may interest you, that, from the beginning of the
history of the Vance family in America, there has always been a Joseph
Vance, the son of Wilson Vance. My grandfather was a Joseph, my father
a Wilson, my son a Wilson, and his son will be a Joseph if !

' Furthermore, aside from this worthless representative, who writes
stories of mystery and adventure for a living, there are to my knowledge
two other Joseph Vances extant on this side of the water. One, Lee
Joseph, flourisheth like a green bay-tree, editing a trade journal in the
city of New York (my winter home) ; and the other, plain Joseph, is (I
believe) a prosperous farmer in north western Ohio (whence comes my
father's family).

' So you see there are more than one who will be uncommonly inter-
ested in your Joseph Vance.

' And right here and now (in our American idiom) I want to say that
in view of the fact that you've made so free with our name, I think you
should try to balance matters by sending me a copy of the book — for
the success of which I beg you to accept my best wishes.

' I'd like to know how it feels to be a " human document " — especially
a " complete " one.

' Believe me,

' I am, faithfully yours,
' (Louis) Joseph Vance.'

De Morgan's first surprised answer to the materialization of
his hero has not survived ; but shortly afterwards we find him
addressing the latter as follows : —

' I can't tell you how funny it seems to me to be writing to
a real live " Joseph Vance " after 200,000 words of writing about
a fictitious one !

' Very many thanks for your letter ! I really believe the
" human document " is on the point of publication, or the
Spectator wouldn't say so. I hope it's all true ! but sometimes
I really doubt it. A party who, after a lifetime spent on Pottery,
suddenly takes to pottering, may well think he is dreaming when
he sees his book announced just under the most widely circulated


book of the moment. For Heinemann's advt. shows my book
just under The Jungle. And even inventing mills and sieves
and bicycles 1 doesn't warrant a belief that the inventor can
write fiction.

' I am writing to Heinemann to send you a copy as soon as
he is qualified to do so. I hope to receive one myself now at
any moment.

' But how strange that the name should chance on two title-
pages simultaneously in such a totally undesigned manner !
The complete disconnexion of one with the other is almost de-
monstrable. Not quite though — because if I saw a work of yours
before 1901, the name may easily have remained in my memory
without my knowing why. The first chapter, written as a ran-
dom experiment to see what I could do with fiction, was written
thenabout, and forgotten by me — shoved among some business
papers — but found by my wife a year later (circa). She insisted
on my following on, and the 20 pages became 600 ! Now the
only thing I know of against my having picked your name from
a book of yours, is that after using it, I had a powerful misgiving
that in my youth — my early Victorian youth — I had seen a small
book called Joseph Vance, Carman. So much so that I asked
a friend to hunt for it, at Stationers' Hall, etc. But nothing was
found. If it were to turn up, I should fancy it would be the
source of my J. V.

' I hope you will not be displeased with either Joe Vance or
Christopher his father. The latter certainly comes on the stage
the worse for liquor, and gets into a fight. But he changes a
good deal in the course of the story.

' I suppose the book was called " a complete human docu-
ment " because the Appendix had not been cut out. I hope
you will get as far and not think Appendicitis necessary.

' I am very curious to see your work also. ... I hope
every one who reads your book will read mine in consequence and
vice versa. This will promote healthy circulation. What the
Italians call " felicissimi augure " for both of us ! '

Mr. Vance had meanwhile introduced himself to De Morgan
more fully as an Author, forty years younger than the author
of Joseph Vance ; ' I peddle words for a living,' he explained in
an amusing letter, ' and write tales of battle, murder and sudden
death, complicated with mystery, and salted with a modicum
of " heart interest," to please the public. ... I even compose

1 De Morgan had invented a new duplex gearing for a bicycle, which
was actuated pneumatically, with two independent gears, for wheels and
chain. On either side of the handle bar was a rubber bag ; the squeezing
of one made the wheel cease to be free, of the other changed the gear.
' I kept the patent ahve as long as I could afford it,' he wrote, ' but after
I had spent some £300 on it, I allowed it to lapse.'


the rattle-te-bang brand of romance that brings me my bread
on the type- writer " thinking into the keys," and there you have
the full measure of my depravity. But I beg your charity.
I'm a youngster — so there's hope for me ! ' And he adds : —

' Coincidences multiply ; that the publication of my book should
tread so close upon the heels of yours in England seems not half so strange
to me as the fact that, when I dropped into Putnam's book-shop, on
Twenty-third Street (New York) a few days since, the very first thing
that met my eyes was a thick red volume, labelled as to its back " Joseph
Vance — De Morgan — Henry Holt," nestling cheek by jowl with a tliin
green book similarly stamped " The Private War — Louis Joseph Vance —
Appletons /" I didn't buy the human document because I was counting
upon your promise to send me a copy. Altogether I find that my biographer
puts me to the blush, with the wisdom of his years and the variety of
his achievement. Books, bicycles and Pottery and Sieves and Mills !
Goodness ! I'm humbled who am only a Lit'ry Feller and have never
been anything else save a husband and father. The more honour is mine,
that your book should bear my name !

' Thank you for your kind and cordial letter. I'm wishing you all
sorts of good reviews and heavy sales for /. V '., and I am grateful to
Mrs. De Morgan for having searched until she found the talent you'd
buried in the napkin. . . .

' Do you know (and this is judging mostly from my own experience)
I've a notion that most of the good books are due to good wives ? '

At length the novel Joseph Vance put in a belated appear-
ance, and one of the first copies was dispatched to Mrs. Maisie
Dowson with the following inscription : —

To a lady who was very instrumental in bringing about the
Publication of ' Joseph Vance.'

M istress Maisie, Mistress Maisie,
Ami dreaming, drunk or crazy,
I f it's true that Joseph Vance is
S afely launched — and circumstances
I ndicate that such the case is —
E ndless credit's Mistress Maisie's !
D ifficulties of this distich
O nly make the writer's fist itch
With its consciousness of platitude
S triving to relate his gratitude ;
O verstatement's none so aisy —
N ever doubt it, Mistress Maisie !

' Verses are not much to swear by,' he added apologetically ;
' but I can tell you acrostics are not easy literature.'

At this interesting moment in De Morgan's career, when his
fate as an author hung in the balance, Mrs. Ady (Julia Cart-
wright) relates as follows : ' In the summer of 1906, I had the

Online LibraryAnna Maria Diana Wilhelmina Pickering StirlingWilliam De Morgan and his wife → online text (page 25 of 44)