Copyright
Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

. (page 1 of 32)
Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 1 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


V-^lf^*^



>



UNIVFRSt; .;.^ORNIA



THE LIFE AND LETTERS
OF ALFRED AINGER



«



i




I



ALFRED A I N O E R .

f-ROM A POI^TRAIT HY MR HUGH RIVIF.RE



THE LIFE AND LETTERS



OF



ALFRED AINGER



EDITH SICHEL



LONDON
ARCHIBALD CONSTABLE AND COMPANY

LIMITED
1906






Edinburgh : T. and A, Constable, Printers to His Majesty



TO

MARGARET ROSCOW

THE NIECE AND COMPANION
OF ALFRED AINGER



February 1906.



PREFACE

The only reason for writing any preface to this little volume
is that it provides me with a means of giving thanks to those
who have helped me by criticisms and suggestions, and by
their memories of Canon Ainger. I therefore take this
occasion of expressing my great gratitude to Mr. Birrell, to
Dr. AVard (Master of Peterhouse), to Mr. Gosse, to Mr.
Horace Smith, to Mr. R. C. Browne, to Mr. Birdwood, to
Canon Beeching, and to Mr. E. V. Lucas, for the valuable
assistance they have given me.

I have also to convey my thanks to those who have enabled
me to print so many letters from Canon Ainger, as well as
some written to him ; and in this connection I should like
to acknowledge the courtesy of Mr. A. C. Swinburne in allow-
ing me to publish a letter written by himself.

My thanks are no less due to Messrs. Murray, and to the
Editor of the Quarterly^ for consenting that I should embody
in this book some parts of an article, ' Canon Ainger,' which
I wrote for that periodical in January 1905 ; and to Messrs.
Macmillan for giving me permission to make use of extracts
from Canon Ainger''s published works. Also to Miss Johnston,
who has allowed me to reproduce the photographs privately
taken by her — the two of Alfred Ainger in his youth, as well
as the one of his father.

February 11, 1906.



CONTENTS



CHAP.

I. EARLY YEARS,

II. CAMBRIDGE,

III. THE LION,

IV. BEGIKNINGS OF LIFE,

V. ALREWAS AND SHEFFIELD,
VI. AT THE TEMPLE : 1866-1873,
VII. LONDON AND ITS FRIENDSHIPS : 1873-1876,
VIII. AT HAMPSTEAD : 1876-1880, .
IX. DU MAURIER,
X. LETTERS : 1880-1892,
XI. LECTURER AND CRITIC,
XII. AINGEr's HUMOUR,

XIII. ALFRED AINGER AND CHARLES LAMB,

XIV. CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT CHARLES LAMB,
XV. LETTERS I 1892-1896,

XVI. LIFE AND LETTERS : 1897-1903,
XVII. THE PREACHER,
XVIII. LATER WRITINGS, .
XIX, THE END,
INDEX,



PAGE
1

32

51

62

73

87

103

117

133

149

185

206

216

237

257

282

310

326

340

351



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



ALFRED AINGER, ....
From, a portrait hy Hugh Riviere.

MK. AINGER (ALFRED AIXGER's FATHEr),
From a photograph.

MRS. AIXGER (aLFRED AIXGEr's MOTHEr),
From a miniature.



Frontispiece



AT PAGE

4



ALFRED ATNGER AT SEVENTEEN, .

From a photograph hy Miss Johnston.



25



ALFRED AINGER IN YOUTH,

From a photograph hy Miss Johnston.

ADELINE ROSCOW (ALFRED AINGEr''s SISTEr),
From a photograph.



32



90



ALFRED AINGER AT FIFTY, ,

From a photograph hy Messrs. Elliot and Fry.



185



CHAPTER I

EARLY YEARS

Alfred Aixger was born on February 9, 1837. On his
father"'s side he came of French Huguenot stock, as, indeed,
we might have expected, when we recall the gifts that made
him unique — his Gallic power of being serious without being
solemn — his union of grace and quickness with an almost
Puritan sobriety. He himself found pleasure in his descent.
' As you say,' he wrote to a connection ^ in 1898, ' there is not
much inducement just now to wish to provide ourselves with a
French origin ; but I confess the idea of having some Celtic
blood in me is not displeasing. I wish indeed you may trace us
up a little closer to the events of 1685. There can, I think, be no
doubt whatever as to our Huguenot origin. The coincidences
(of craft and calling) are too marked to be merely coincidences.'

His forebears had been silk-weavers, and he was delighted
when, one day in Spitalfields, two French weavers, who recog-
nised him, came up and claimed relationship with him on the
strength of their name being Anger. From the fact of this
traditional craft he drew scientific conclusions of his own.

' It is very interesting,' he says to the same correspondent,
William Ainger, ' to trace the Huguenot trade of silk occupy-
ing the family so long. It is perhaps this inherited associa-
tion with silk gowns that has brought about, by a subtle
association, my now long connection with the Bar.'

And he writes elsewhere to Mr. Ainger: —

' I discovered a curious fact in connection with our name when

^ Mr. William Ainger. He and Alfred Ainger had a great-great-grandfather
in common.

A



2 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

I was (for the first time in my life) in Ireland this autumn. In
the Huguenot quarter of Dublin is a street called "Aungier
Street," and it certainly looks as if some namesakes of ours, if not
relatives, must have given the street its name. Were you aware
of the fact ? I presume we hail from the city of Angers — of
which later spellings are perhaps attempts to represent the pro-
nunciation of the French. ... I am very sensible indeed of the
services you have rendered and are still rendering to those of our
name. I hope your children thrive, and will hand it down still
further. ... I thank you sincerely . . . for the charming por-
traits of your two boys — who seem, among other things, to partake
of the esprit gaulois, to which our Huguenot descent should entitle
them, as they appear to have a fine sense of fun.'

There is little to be known about Alfred Ainger''s forebears
and relations, and it seems part of his remote and fay-like
personality that it should be so. But his own saying that
' one must never talk of one's relations, or one might at any
moment become a bore,' has doubtless something to do with
our ignorance. The uncle and aunt who are 'characters'" —
the old-world grandmother of biography — are here lacking,
though the names of his predecessors, Samuel and Nathaniel
Ainger, suggest strong wills and snuff-boxes and fixed ideas
about the French Revolution. The only traditional presence
we can find is that of the nurse common to all distinguished
persons, the devoted soul who cliarms her nursling's infancy
by her stories. Such an one, ' Lem,' cheered Alfred's early days,
and, settling in her age in Staffordshire was faithfully visited
by him till her death. And when, only a few years after-
wards, he himself lay djdng, he constantly murmured her name,
wandering, as it seemed, among the tender pieties of childhood.

His father, Alfred Ainger, was a very remarkable man, the
son of Samuel Ainger, an architect settled in London, who had
but one other child, a daugliter, Margaret, afterwards Mrs.
Nicol. Alfred Ainger, the elder, pursued his parent's pro-
fession and was well-known in his day, especially for the
building of University College Hospital and the pahn-house
at Kew, which caused a stir in its time. Perhaps it was he
who endowed his son with that love of form which always
characterised him, in his life and talk as well as in his writings.



EARLY YEARS 8

Another bequest that the elder made the younger was wit.
Mr. Ainger had a racy tongue — there was plenty of salt in his
conversation. Many of his sayings, as old friends record, yjassed
into household proverbs, though the deplorable lack of setting
down experiences has made it impossible to rescue even one of
them from out the gulf of oblivion. ' I can see his funny
twinkle when he said them — it is a pleasure to think of him
always,' says one, who was often in his house ; and his sallies
told the more because of his quiet, dreamy manner and easy-
going ways. People were often misled by them and imagined
him to be 'soff — a fact which would at once have been refuted
by any one who had business dealings with him. Generous
and sensitive and shy, he did not reveal himself easily, except
in intimacy, over a keen game of chess (he was a fine player),
or in talking about his favourite pursuits. He loved books
and art — belonging to the Fine Arts Society and boasting
several of its medals — but, before all else, he loved science.
Mathematics on the one hand, the microscope on the other,
absorbed his mind and his leisure, while his friendship with
Faraday was an important fact in his life. His scientific out-
look told, doubtless, upon his thought. An attentive student
of the Bible, as his marginal notes testify, and nominally a
Unitarian, he practically maintained a free attitude to all
religious bodies and attended neither church nor chapel.
' Why have we been told so much, and yet so little ? ' he used
to exclaim regretfully; and thus he remained — in the realm
outside conviction of any kind.

Those that knew him did not forget him, and his calm but
astute personality stamped itself upon the memory of the
young friends whom Alfred brought home. ' His father,'
writes one of these, ' I can only recall as a quiet figure, receiv-
ing his son's companions kindly, but with a certain nervous
aloofness — a diffidence akin to Colonel Newcome's in like
circumstances. I, the least effervescent of that youthful band,
was, perhaps, alone in my consciousness of an observant eye
noting our "tricks and manners." In my remembrance I
think of him as of Milton's father, keenly interested in his son,
guiding without interference, and always ready to withdraw



4 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

into his own elder thoughts, as the other old gentleman did
to " his rest and devotion," and like him, I think, " without
the least trouble" imaginable — none certainly that his son
could spare him.'

The face that his portrait shows us has something of the
actor, a good deal of the thinker, still more of the artist about
it. It is massive, with full lips, shrewd eyes and a broad brow,
framed by thick hair growing high as if it had visible vitality,
and, whatever else it may be, it is essentially the face of a
humorist. Yet, in spite of this fact, it bears not the slightest
resemblance to the frail fantastic countenance of his son, and
is as solid and as literal, if we may say so, as the other is
ethereal and elusive. While still young he came to London,
and in 1828 he married Miss Jagger of Liverpool. The
Jaggers were a musical family, the mother possessing a remark-
able voice, while the four daughters were gifted musicians,
and two of them taught their art with considerable success.
They were all skilful verse-writers, too, and used to amuse
their leisure moments by writing poems to one another.

Mr. Ainger and his wife settled first in Doughty Street,
then in John Street, Southampton Row. At 10 Doughty
Street his four children were born — a much-loved boy who
died at five years old ; then two girls, Adeline in 1830, and
Marianne in 1835; lastly Alfred, in 1837. When he was
only two his mother died, and the sensitive spirit that
most needed her never knew what her love would have
meant. ' If any excuse will be allowed to a man at the great
day of judgment, will it not be to him who can say, " Lord, I
never knew my Mother".?"' — so he wrote in his notebook
twenty-four years later. All the more did his elder sister,
Adeline, seven years his senior, take her place and inspire in
his childish heart a feeling which swayed him more than any
other, and which, from his infancy onwards, took on it the
tinge of romance. In these first days he was the pride and
pleasure of his father, who delighted in this responsive little
boy. He took especial pleasure in his movements, and used
to flick him with his liandkerchief to make him dance, an
accomplishment which the baby excelled in, tripping and




Mk. Aingek.

(fATHEK t)K ALKRED AINGliN.)



EARLY YEARS 5

turning like a fairy with quick, windlike motions. The child
in this was father to the man, for the gift never left him,
although in his clerical days he had not the same scope for
it. It was the counterpart of his other attainment, his
whistling — shrill, silvery and birdlike — which also began in
early days, as if the fairies had bestowed an elfin pipe upon
him at his christening. Little letters signed 'Your aff'ection-
ate Scaramouch' ; round-hand records of how high he swung
and how he got on with his Latin ; ' Villain,"' the playful
nickname by which ' Scaramouch ■" retaliated upon his father
— all these signs, small in themselves, show the ease and good-
fellowship between them, and their jokes together made the
merriment of the household. But Mr. Ainger married again,
and this fact, coupled with the speedy advent of a second
family, doubtless made some difference in his subsequent
intercourse with the first. Alfred's childhood continued,
however, to be a happy one, as outwardly eventless and in-
wardly eventful as childhood is wont to be. One real episode
was a trip that he took at seven years old with his stepmother
and elder sister to Coblentz, to visit his Aunt Nicol there.
It was his first peep into foreign lands and it may have left
with him that love of the Rhine which he always kept, and
some sweet echo of German music to haunt him in after years.
One of his cousins can remember how he sketched ; how eagerly
he listened to the story of Ulysses with which she beguiled his
walks with her; and how she tried to teach him German, all
in vain, the only words he mastered being Dii hist ein Schxoein^
which he picked up for himself and used as repartee to those
who vexed him. But he soon returned to England and
normal life, and a letter that he wrote this same year to his
crony, ' Jocky,' shows the pursuits that filled his days.

* My dear Jockv, — I should like you to come and see me very
much, for I have got a very nice studio to take all my friends in
when we want to have a little private conversation.

' I have got a statue and some very fine oil-paintings in it, and
a reading-desk and a pair of globes. I heard the other day it was
your birthday, it is only a few weeks since mine. I was 7 on the
ninth of February.



6 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

' I have just finished writing a book, which I have called Rambles
in Wales, it has 14 pages in it you shall read it when you
come here. I have got a delightful book called the Rejected
Addresses. I have read it through a great many times. I think
you would like it too. — Your friend, Alfred Ainger.'

The ' I have read it through a great many times. I think
you would like it too*" — the settling, bee-like, inside the book
he loved till he had got all its honey — the quickness and
sobriety of judgment, above all the need of a companion with
whom to share his enjoyment — these traits of his at seven
years old remained as characteristic at sixty-seven. Indeed
his tastes, man or child, at any period of his life, are summed
up in this little note — talk and space and tranquil privacy,
diversified by the pangs and joys of authorship and the
pleasure of holiday rambles in Wales or elsewhere.

His choice too of Rejected Addresses was significant of
what came after. Parody is a sympathetic rather than a
creative gift, and, if it count at all, must mean strong literary
sympathies, and actual identification with the authors parodied.
From the first Alfred showed signs of his parodying wit and
of the strong literary affinities which, as the years went on,
became like personal partialities. He used to say that he
owed his love of literature to Elegant Exti'acts, which he
constantly studied as a child, and that the other book which
then fascinated him was a cookery-book to which — so he liked
to say — he ascribed his knowledge of food. His fancy played
round all that he read and lent a second life to his reading.
But Lamb's Tales soon led him to Shakespeare, and a new
world opened before him.

Books, however, were not his only resource. From the first
his literary sympathies found another outlet — in his youth
the main one — that of acting. When he was still quite small
he loved to act a part, and to mystify, even in the commonest
domestic incidents of life. The only story of his childhood
still extant is characteristic enough. His stepmother had
sent him upstairs to see what the baby of the moment was
about. He returned with a grave but unconcerned air : ' The
baby,' he said, ' is sucking needles, sitting with its legs hang-



EARLY YEARS



ing over the window-sill.'' As he grew older, the actor in
him grew more conscious — more polished is perhaps the better
word — and he and his sisters were always acting. Their
Christmas plays became the events of the neighbourhood.
Adeline, the elder sister, was a musician and had besides a
pretty gift for versifying, while Marianne, the younger, was
more like him in wit, although her tongue was more caustic
than his. Presently Alfred became playwright as well as actor,
and the programme of his Alidas, a drama written in his early
teens and famous in his own circle, is, as it were, an epitome
of youth and festivity. As such, it is worth reproducing
here, unchastened by any excision.

NEVER ACTED

THEATRE ROYAL, CARLTON HILL

This Evening

Tuesday, April 27th, 1852

Will be produced (First Time) an entirely New and
Original Grand Comico-Classical, Romantic, Pathetic,
Moral, and Musical Burlesque, composed expressly for
the Carlton Hill Company by Alfred Ainger, Jun.,
with entirely New Scenery, Dresses, Decorations, and
Appointments, entitled

MIDAS

Dramatis Personue



Midas (King of Phrygia) .

Sile?ius (a Satyr, a little overcome)

Apollo

Mercury .

Genius of Burlesque

Attendant .

Court Executioner

Anaxyra (a blooming Princess)



Mr. A. Ainger, Jun,

Mr. Charles Dickens, Jun.

Miss Stone.

Miss M. Ainger.

Signor Pasquinado.

Mr. W. Elderton.

Mr. John Ketch.

Miss Julia Smalls.



Dresses by Miss M. Ainger. Scenery by Miss Ainger.
Sole Lessee and Manager, Mr. A. Ainger, Jun.

Previous to the performance, a Brilliant Overture will be

performed by Mrs. and Miss Ainger.

Vivat Regina.



8 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

The play did not only boast a programme, but pen-and-ink
illustrations behind the scenes by Miss Stone, the artist of the
group — illustrations full of Hessian boots and pompous ' pro-
perties' and obscure jokes which must once have set a troop
of young people laughing. The manuscript, carefully tran-
scribed in a feminine hand, is much what might be expected
from any brilliant boy of fifteen — full of squib-like allusions
and extravagant brilliance, some of it rather elaborate, as
youthful wit is wont to be. Alfred's acting must have been
much more remarkable than his writing, and his power of
transforming himself was, from the beginning, unique. His
powers in this way were striking enough to disturb friends as
well as amuse them. In Hampstead, where the Aingers often
took summer lodgings, there was a certain old gentleman of
strict views and regular habits, whose large family of boys
and girls often claimed Alfred as master of their revels. His
acting had, however, so subversive an effect upon the sobriety
of the house, that its head, perhaps himself affected, found
the results unendurable. ' I won't have that damned tragedian
in the place!' he cried, and his objurgation is the highest
testimonial he could have offered to the innocent actor of
fifteen.

The Aingers had other friends in Hampstead, chief among
them the Johnstons, whose town house in Bayswater Terrace
Mr. Ainger had built for them. Then, and for nearly forty
years afterwards, they made a country home of the Manor
House at North End, whose hospitable walls and garden have,
under their reign, listened to so many notable guests. The
Hampstead of those days was a little rural town, with its own
local life and its own Assembly Rooms, where it held its choice
Conversazioni. The Miss Johnstons were about the same age
as the young Aingers, and the two families set up one of those
close relationships, full of daily meetings and neighbourly
runnings in and out, so much more possible then than now.
Neighbours still existed as a race, not a name, before district
railways and other machines abolished them and their reality,
nor was it yet the fashion to pack the day so full with distant
engagements. Distraction is a great leveller of character, and




Mrs. Ainc.ek.

(ALFRED AIN(;ER'.S MOTHER.)
From a tniniattire.



EARLY YEARS 9

sixty and odd years ago tliere was more originality than now.
Directly we strive for a quality, as nowadays we strive for
originality, we may assume that it is dead or dying ; and the
social circles of the forties and fifties showed more unconscious
independence of mind, stronger prejudices, and more concen-
trated warmth than are at present common. The Johnstons
can still remember delightful escapades and excursions with
the Aingers : an expedition to Kew by carriage with postilions
riding before ; quips and quizzings, exquisitely funny to youth
and impossible to preserve; or innocent impromptu escapades
— rhymed letters to unknown recipients, and valentines, models
of epigram, in which Adeline especially excelled. Of course
all were alike the accomplices of the inspiring Alfred, but she
had a vein of her own and would sometimes start forth on
independent jokes.

More serious matters also occupied the brother and his
sisters. There were books as well as play, and constant keen
literary discussions over the new works of Kingsley and of
Tennyson. And there was a great deal of music. This was
Mrs. Ainger's chief bond with her step-children, and she her-
self was no inconsiderable musician, so that Alfred''s love of
music was early fed on the right food and his gift, expressed
in singing, found due training from the outset.

When he was twelve years old, there came a great change in
his life. His health was always delicate, necessitating constant
care, and till now he had been sent daily to University College
School, which was close to his second home in John Street.
There is not much to record of him there beyond the fact
that, at eleven, he gained the first prize for French. But
some time in 1849 his parents moved to St. John's Wood;
and that same year they sent him away to a boarding-school
at Carlton Hill, an event that bore unlooked-for results
affecting his whole course.

It here becomes necessary to sum up in as few words as
possible the religious conditions under which he had been
brought up, because his attitude in this respect was always
the keynote of his career. These conditions were unusual.
His father, as we have seen, was nominally a Unitarian, and



10 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

so, at first, was his stepmother, though not much more devout
than her husband in the profession of her creed. In later
days, under the influence of Mr. Bellew, the well-known flowery
preacher, Mrs. Ainger transferred her affections to the Church
of England and had all her family baptized according to its
rites ; but, in childish days, the little boy was taken to Uni-
tarian services and was brought up amid a Unitarian society.
The atmosphere of his home was not religious, and both he
and his sister Adeline had sensitive and spiritual natures,
yearning for faith and discipline, for warmth and light, and
finding the climate of home uncongenial to their instincts.
The school at Carlton Hill to which Alfred now went was
kept by a man remarkable both for his scholarship and char-
acter, and he and his three daughters, soon Alfred's greatest
friends, were keen admirers of Frederick Denison Maurice,
whom they regularly went to hear at Lincoln's Inn Chapel.
Hither they took Alfred every Sunday ; and it was here, under
the religious spell of that great personality — the double spell
of the preacher and of the beautiful ritual now his, as it were,
for the first time — that the boy at last found what he had
wanted. The religion which was to last him his life, to com-
fort and restrain and uphold him, thus came to him not as
to others. It came as a great emotion, making all things new,
and Maurice remained its representative. The remembrance
of his sermons did not fade with time. 'There is,'
he wrote long after, ' one among them, on the raising of
Lazarus, simpler, I think, than his wont, and presenting fewer
of his peculiar difficulties of thought and style. It is sixteen
years since that balmy summer afternoon when I heard him
deliver it in the solemn, quiet chapel of Lincoln's Inn ; and
even as I write I see the " prophets blazoned on the panes" of
the ancient windows, and look up to that living prophet-face
which no one who ever saw it could forget, and hear once

more

' " The trembling fervency of prayer
With which he led our souls the prayerful way."'

That same prophet inspired him till the last days of his life.



Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 1 of 32)