Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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'Callander House,
'Clifton, July 23, 1887, 3 p.m.

'Dear Friend, — It is just three o'clock and my heart is very
full of you all. It is the greatest grief and disappointment to me
that I am not with you, and I have only given it up because
there was risk of its interfering with work here for which I am
responsible. You will not judge me severely, nor would our dear
one departed.

' The sorrow is a great one to me, and will never cease to be a
part of my life, so I pray to God. I cannot tell you what a loss
to my life, and to my spirit, will be the taking away from me of
this almost daily interest, and my dear girls loved her as much as
I did, and I know she was truly attached to them. But no true
and real joy of this kind ever dies. It only takes new forms (like


force, so the men of science tell us), and I am sure that the
pleasure and profit of her friendship will be a spring of strength
to me all my days. No love, thank God, is ever allowed to perish,
or to become fruitless.

' I know what this will be to you and yours, and it is of you I
am thinking as I write. I hope you will let me come over to
Crockham, to the Cottage, when I am back in London and you
are again staying there. — No more. Your ever faithful friend,

'Alfred Ainger.'

But this is to forestall time. In the days of which we are
speaking he still had ten years in which to enjoy Miss Gillies's
company. To new friends, such as she was, he turned for dis-
traction, but for help and for counsel he still went to the
old ones. The following letters to Miss Thompson show the
anxieties that troubled liim, more especially in 1877, when
his eldest nephew, Tom, was setting off for New Zealand, to
make his first start in life there.

' 2 Upper Terrace,
' Thursday Evening, Oct. 19, 1876.

' Dearest Mary, — I almost fear you won't see me to-morrow.
I have been so ill all day, with swelled face (it is not parlous pain-
ful) and a racking headache which ?**. . . . Nothing can exceed the
thoughtfulness and attention of my housekeeper to-day in invent-
ing and serving up things that she thought my poor jaw could
dispose of, and that would tempt me. I am inclined to say, slightly
altering Shenstone's lines —

'^ Whoe'er has travelled life's dull round
Where'er his doubtful path he urges.
May sigh to think he still has found
His kindest cook — in Mrs. Burgess " ;

but this is a lie, for I know you '11 all ransack your brains to-morrow
to think what will do me good. God bless you. Oh, dear Mary,
I have had so little bodily pain that I have been feeling, like Dr.
Arnold, quite thankful to God to-day for giving me some,
that I may know what it is and take soberer views of life and

' My kitten has grown into quite a young lady during my


long absence — in fact she may now be considered as being " out "
— and she lurks about the house in a way that I fear will be the
worst possible example for Addie. All this afternoon she has
been frisking about the hall outside my den, in a way that
reminded me, tell the girls, of those light-hearted rats who used
to take dancing-lessons over our heads at Elderton.'

'April 12, 1877.

' Dearest Mary, — Thanks for your letter, which I read while
I breakfasted in bed this morning. Tom came home last evening.
It is such a lovely day, after the deluge of yesterday, I quite
agree about the desirability of Tom starting from London, and
shall tell him so. He seems in very good spirits — but oh !
my dearest, I don't like the parting at all — though it is for the
best, I feel assured. It is at these times that one is forced to see
that one must trust God, and that one is helpless to "help
ourselves." I have tried to do the best for him, as for them
all — and can only humbly hope I haven't made any great

' 2 Upper Terrace,
'Hampstead, Friday JS^ight, Deo. 19.

*My dearest Mary, — My friend, Mr. Bain of the Haymarket,
is sending you (I hope), at my request, a copy of Shakespeare
which I want you to accept in the name of all three of us — I mean
the girls and myself — as a mere memorial, or pepper-corn acknow-
ledgement, of all we owe to you for your loving ministrations —
during the last two years, I was going to say, but I mean really
during all our lives !

' You will not, dear Friend, regard it as more than this ; for
we do not wish, even if we could, to wipe off obligations, as we
would pay our grocer ; but we are quite content that the account
should remain open, to be added to as often as possible. Only I
would not dismiss with a jest the subject of our long term of
loving obligation. I have had many true and loyal friends in
my life, thank God — but none, I think, whose friendship has been
so loyal, and so unselfish as yours. Our hearts will supply what is
wanting in the way of words. I would only say, may you find in
us only a tithe of what you have been able to supply to us.

'We hope you will like the copy both in its interior and
exterior. It was originally intended for your birthday, but the


gii'ls' extended absence from home interfered with the original
plan. It is the only edition of Shakespeare I know that avoids
the two extremes of bigness and smallness. It is really a handy
size for having in one's easy-chair. As an edition with notes,
etc., it is nearly as good as any that is yet published.

* We were truly sorry to hear of Robert's illness. Let him
"make an effort" and be all right by Christmas Day, when we
hope to be very merry and witty. — Ever, dearest Friend, your
loving Alfred Aingek.'

*Hampstead, Nov. 25.

' Dearest Marv. ... I am sure your district must want help.
So I am sending you my Christmas offering, a little larger, and
a little earlier, than usual. I have meant to do this in some
or other direction — for I have been making some odds and ends of
money by writing and lecturing lately, and my conscience began
to smite me ! So please don't thank me, or say anything about
it. As to boots, bless you, ma'am, I 've three or four pair at your
service, and only wait for instructions from you where to forward
them. Have you any Depot in the East End, where they could
ffo direct } '


' Upper Terrace,
' Hampstead, Wednesday.

'Dearest Marv, — ... I have been rather depressed by
dyspepsia this vacation, and when that is the case I shrink from
writing, because it shows itself in my letters, and I can't bear to
depress other people. . . . Don't allude, in writing to the girls,
to my having workmen in the house. I am preparing a little
surprise for them.'

In 1878, Miss Thompson's ministrations were in urgent
request, for Ainger fell seriously ill with a kind of brain
fever and prostration of body and mind. Legends long
remained in the family of the ladies who wrote verses, of the
flowers that were sent, of the callers who ' streamed in "* on this

When he was really ill he was a model patient, but there
was no telling at what moment his vitality might reawake,
and the doctors must have been bewildered when, after they


had been injecting morphia, he suddenly roused himself to


'These doctors' ways are so newfangled,
Their latest twist about is thus.
We used to lie in the arms of Morphy ;
Now Morphy lies in the arms of us.'

An atmosphere of improvisation surrounded his sick bed,
and fresh poems, from the pens of old comrades, cheered his
convalescence —

' The Faithful J.
In his friendly way
Of keeping au/ait,
A friend of A.
In the Danelagh,
Has written to say
He was fairly progressing yesterday.

How gladly would I
Were Hampstead nigli.
In hansom fly,
To bell apply.
Catch Doctor's eye,
For entrance try,
Sit bedside by.
Smooth patient's pillow ; he knows for why.'

Thus wrote his great friend, Adolphus Ward, who was now
Head of Owens College, Manchester. His, too, are the un-
academic hexameters that follow —

* Truly I thank Miss Thompson, benevolent amanuensis.
Friend in the hour of need, and envy of me who am useless.
Truly I thank her for writing the words that came from your pillow,
Genuine, far from spurious, words, and cheerful and kindly.
But when strength has returned, the gift of a merciful Heaven,
Alfred himself shall sit at his desk, the deftly constructed.
And from his pen shall flow for a while not sermons or lectures,
(Though their time shall come before long, and the choir of the

Duly chant harmonious response to the voice of the Reader),
But the short letters of friendship, the cheer and joy of the distant,
Witty with Alfred's wit, and tender with Alfred's affection.'

Soon after his recovery Ainger went to Scotland, to the
house of the Walter Evanses, some friends he had recently


made. The Avriter and the reader of his biography must be-
come aware of one thing, that his Hfe was a chronicle of
friendships ; that friendships were its events, the agencies
which, in many instances, determined his fate. No life was
more personal than his — none, perhaps, so full of human ties.
' I met some charming people to-night, we have sworn an
eternal friendship,'' his customary remark when he came home
from a party, was very nearly true. For in unofficial relations,
he hardly understood the word acquaintance ; he either knew
well, or he did not know at all. ^\Tien he liked people, he
impressed them with a strange sense of intimacy — though
seldom one of familiarity — and there were few among his
companions who would not have felt sure, like Dickens"'s
Mr. Tremlow, that they were ' his oldest friends.'

Mr. and Mrs. Evans, in their turn, made a great change in
his existence. Chance brought them together. He had
planned a visit to the Atkinsons, who now lived in Derby-
shire, but found that they were staying with their neighbours,
the Walter Evanses, who owned Darley Abbey, a stately
place not far from Derby. Its hospitable owners suggested
that Ainger should also be their guest there. He accepted
their proposal ; he came, he saw, he was conquered. Mrs.
Evans was partly Russian, a good talker, and a reader well-
versed in many tongues, while her husband, a descendant of
the lady who once asked Coleridge to be her children's tutor,
had great scientific knowledge and a good deal of taste for
poetry and pictures. Ainger himself has left a full account of
the family antecedents : —

'Yes/ he writes to Mr. Dykes Campbell, 'you are quite right in
divining that Coleridge's Mrs. Walter Evans is an ancestor of my
friend, Walter Evans, whose guest at the present moment I am.
She was his grandmother, and was by birth a Strult. Her father
was the founder of the family of Strutt, since so eminent in cotton
spinning, and the head of whom now is Lord Belper. Curiously
enough, another of her grandsons, Mr. T. W. Evans, late member
for South Derbyshire, was liere this week, and told me a good
deal about the lady in question — much that I will tell you also,
when we meet — for it is long to write. The family knew that
Coleridge had been acquainted with their grandmother; and Miss


Gisborne, a sister-in-law of T. W. Evans, tells me she believes
there was some proposal that Coleridge should be tutor to Mrs.
Walter Evans' children,

' But since I had this conversation with Mr. T. W. Evans, I
have come upon a curious passage in one of Lamb's letters (see
Fitzgerald's edition for the passage is omitted in Hazlitt's). It is
in a letter to Wordsworth, that in which he relates the well-known
story of the Man in the Office, who, hearing Lamb speak of an
Epithalamium of Spenser's, at once concluded it was William
Spencer, the fashionable poet, of that day. Lamb goes on to say
of the man in the office, that he is a " brother of that Miss Evans
whom Coleridge narrowly escaped marrying." Don't you think
that this is Lamb's mistake here for Mrs. Evans ? ^ I should be glad
to have any other extracts from the lettei's to Thelwall in which
her name occurs. I hear that she was a very remarkable woman,
and that a good many of her letters are in existence.'

But what drew him especially to these new acquaintances
was the fact that they were just emerging from a heavy sorrow,
the loss of their only boy, and were trying to take interest in
life again after a period of seclusion. He had a feeling that
they were just the people to draw out his nieces, and wrote
home that he had discovered exactly the right friends for
them. He persuaded his unwilling wards to go when they
were asked, with the result that the Evanses then and there
adopted them as their own, with a warmth which was readily
returned. These new daughters came at a right moment;
they helped to fill an empty place, and their friends soon grew
dependent on their presence. From this time onwards, the
two girls spent several months of every year at Darley Abbey
and every summer at the Evanses' house in Scotland, where
their uncle also regularly joined them for his holiday.

This arrangement was bound to affect him considerably,
though the loss of home companionship was amply compensated
by the interests he gained, and by the lightening of his
responsibilities naturally brought about by the advent of these
kind new guardians. Their home in the Highlands became

^ It is now known that this was not so, the girl whom Coleridge cared for
in his youth being Miss Mary Evans, a young woman of comparatively
humble parentage.


his house of convalescence on more occasions than one. But
never did it serve its purpose better than this year after
his illness, or leave more festive impressions, of his good com-
pany. There was one especial rainy day, memorable to all
who were present, when he acted Heads and Tails from first
to last by heart, keeping his audience unmindful of anything
but the fun within-doors,

Christmas time always found him re-united to his family.
He had the real Dickens sentiment for Christmas — for
its festive doings and its fond memories. We have spoken
of the letters that for thirty years he wrote every Christmas
Eve to Mrs. Smith at Sheffield, regularly posting them with his
own hand to make sure of her receiving them at a particular
hour. And there can be no fitter ending to a chapter on this
period than extracts from one or two out of the bundle that
he sent her.

'2 Upper Terrace,
'Hampstead, Christmas Eve.

' Mv DEAR Friend, — This year Christmas Eve falls on a Monday,
and is therefore (for us poor clergy) a narrow isthmus between
two Sundays, and what with the fatigue of yesterday and the
anticipations of to-morrow, I fear I have not much mental energy,
or vivacity, to bestow upon my old Sheffield friends. But never
mind ! the heart is in the right place, though the intellect may
be overclouded ; and I am quite sure that the former is that
department of my organisation that those I love best to call
fiiends will be most concerned about.

* You have heard of the gentleman of whom one of his acquaint-
ances said with scorn that he had " muddled away " a fine fortune
in paying tradesmen's bills. . . . You need not expect me at
this frivolous season to "muddle away" my letter with telling
you news. They must wait for a more matter-of-fact time. My
object has hitherto been to provide you with a few Cracker
mottoes for your Christmas dinner. Stories for the soup; facetiae
for the fish; anecdotes for the "ang-trees" ; jokes for the joint;
tit-bits for the turkey ; extra plums for the pudding ; and co-
nundrums for the cheese. . . .

' But it is ill jesting with an aching heart, and after all,
sentiment will have its way, do what we will. And I don't want


you to think that my remembrances of my old Sheffield days and
Sheffield friends are all of this flippant cast. How I should like
to be with you all again for an indefinite period ; and walk on the
breezy downs all morning, and "lose my voice with hollering of"
anthems and glees all evening ; or go a-fishing with William on
the Derbyshire streams, and take just 07ie glass of gin and pepper-
mint at Fox House on our way back. Ah, me ! ah, me ! the
days that are no more. It is no use. Drive out serious thoughts
— they will come back. William will quote you Horace to this
effect if you give him a chance.

' God bless you all, my dear children, and give you the best
kind of happiness for the new year, and all years to come. — Your
affectionate friend, Alfred Ainger.'

*2 Upper Terrace, Hampstead.

' My pen seems hardly dry, my dear friend, since I laid it
down, a whole year ago, after sending my Christmas greetings for
the year 1883. And now, it has come round again; and Time
has gone at such a pace in the interval that I feel as if I had
been imposed upon somehow. I am afraid the fact is that as we
get all of us a Utile older, this phenomenon is generally observable.
The ''rapid of Time," as Lord Tennyson calls it, "hurries toward
the fall." Well, let us make the most of the vanishing years, and
above all things, let us see that we do not lose any old and valued
friendships in the course of them. . . .

' I am writing under trying circumstances. The Waits are
singing a Christmas carol under my windows, and not even my
seraphic temper (which at this season of the year is peculiarly
angelic) can quite hold out against this — my nieces are expecting
a hamper, or a parcel, or something, and as just before Christmas,
the pressure on the Parcels Delivery people is something per-
fectly awful, the probability is that the parcel will arrive about
half-past one in the morning, and unless I like to be roused out
of my beauty-sleep, and open the front door in the face of a
cutting east wind, and produce fivepence and sign a paper in my
nightshirt, I shall be obliged to sit up and ruin my constitution
by losing my natural night's rest. How, then, can you expect
me to write you a nice, cheerful, jocular Christmas letter .-'

' I wonder how the dinner will go off, and who will be with
you — a happy family party in any case, and I hope as you see
them all gathered round you, you will be thankful that you are
more united than the C family.


' . . . Should any one present be guilty of any inelegancies
of speech or grammatical confusions, you would do well to cite
the sad but well-authenticated instance of the Oxford under-
graduate, who, having accidentally exchanged hats with another
gentleman at a party, wrote to him next morning the following
letter : —

'"Mr. Smith presents his compliments to Mr. Jones, and he
has a hat which isn't mine ; so if you have a hat which isn't his, no
doubt they are the ones." The relation of this terrible example
will doubtless induce Jim to set about the study of English
Composition with great zeal and diligence. I shall be glad to
hear that my godson is working hard and is prepared to confer
distinction alike upon his college, and his family and friends, at
Pembroke next October.

' Dear friend, . . . When once this season is over, I am again
as grave as a judge, and as solemn as the Reader of the Temple.
I wish William had been at the Temple last Sunday week, when
I preached my sermon on Dr. Johnson, for I think he would
have sympathised with my view. Perhaps I shall publish the
sermon, and if so, a copy shall be addressed to Brocco Bank.
You perhaps saw a short abstract of it in the Tiv^es. . . .'

The promise was not fulfilled, for the sermon was never



It was in the seventies that Alfred Ainger and George du
Maurier first met, but they did not become intimate until
the early eighties, when the chances of the hour brought
them more frequently together. From that time onwards,
for fifteen years, they always met once, and generally twice a
day. Hampstead knew their figures, as every afternoon they
walked round the pond on the Heath, deep in conversation.
Edward FitzGerald himself never had a closer friendship than
had these two men for one another. Their mental climates
suited ; they were akin, yet had strong differences. Perhaps,
in the quickness of their mutual attraction. Frenchman re-
cognised Frenchman. But Ainger was the French Huguenot
and du Maurier was the French sceptic. Both had mercurial
perceptions, and exercised them on much the same objects.
Both were wits and humorists, but Ainger was more of a
wit than a humorist, and du Maurier was more of a humorist
than a wit. Both were men of fancy rather than imagination,
men of sentiment rather than of passion. Both, too, were
fantastics ; both loved what was beautiful and graceful rather
than what was grand ; but du Maurier was more of the
pure artist, while to Ainger the moral side of beauty most
appealed. Ainger was irregular and formal ; du Maurier was
regular and a native of Bohemia, a country in which his
friend had never set foot. Both men w-ere gifted with an
exquisite kindness, but Ainger's charity gained in warmth
and depth from the presence of his religious faith. Du
Maurier was the keener and clearer thinker of the two ;
he had the wider outlook and the fewer prejudices. Ainger's
beliefs lent a new significance to his views and to his know-



ledge of his fellow-men. These good comrades were aware
of their religious differences ; but they knew that in this
respect neither would affect the other, and they never dis-
cussed the matter. Nor did this division divide them, or at
any time impair their relations.

They had from the first the power to exhilarate one another.
Du Maurier would sit down at the piano and sing French
ditties in his enchanting manner — An clair de la lune, or
Malbrouck s'en va-t-en guerre, or the English Little BUlee
— and Ainger would stand listening, till filled with fun
and music, he would burst forth into some song or into
one of his favourite entertainments. He had his own odd
ways of showing ' sympathy with everything that breathes."'
He would lie down in du Maurier"'s studio and suddenly turn
into a donkey, with a donkey's countenance, rolling over and
over and rubbing his back in great ease ; or he would become
a fly preening his wings ; or a parrot drawing a cork with a
hissing sound that no one else could produce; or a dog in
all its moods, an impersonation that he liked giving in the
company of the dog, who seldom failed to respond and
acknowledge, as it were, a kind of kinship. Dogs, indeed,
played a great part in his life. They instinctively followed
him about, and his own terrier was his inseparable companion.
From these Hampstead days onwards, he always had one such
of his own. ' I, of course, keep my most important news till
the end,' he once wrote ; ' I Ve got a DOG in the house on
trial, but I believe he's the coming hound. An affectionate
beast — an Irish terrier — shortish hair, yellow, very well-bred,
I'm told.' His dog was a sight familiar to all his neighbours ;
so, too, was du Maurier's; and Hampstead seldom saw the
two friends without their two faithful canine counterparts.

The bonds between them were many. Ainger was a fine
appreciator of drawing, and du Maurier's pictures delighted
him. His 'extravagances' often consisted in one of the
Punch drawings, of which several hung in his sitting-room.
' I shall indeed be proud and happy to have two " undoubted
du Maurier" on my walls, "And lo ! two puddings smoked
upon the board " (Pope),' he writes in one of his first letters


to hill). Another and a closer bond was Punch itself — Punch in
its palmy days ; and Ainger now became du Maurier's invisible
and indefatigable partner in producing fun for its pages. It
was work which was cut out for him, for he was a born editor
— of other people"'s jokes — a chef^ too, in the realm of wit,
dishing up old materials with new sauces that made them
unrecognisable. This faculty was really more marked in him
than that for original bons mots^ and the very salt of these,
in his case, often consisted in the delicate skill of his adapta-
tions. Punch was to him a delight from cover to cover. At
his breakfast on Wednesdays, as he sat with the paper in
his hands, he would suddenly be seen to shake with inward
laughter, and when his nieces, anxious to share his mirth,
would ask the cause, he would do his best to tell them, but,
instantly repossessed by merriment, would relapse into his
chuckles of enjoyment.

His interest in his favourite periodical was untiring : —

* We are very glad/ he writes to du Maurier in 1882, *to hear
of your good weather and happy doings in your northern abode.

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 12 of 32)