Copyright
Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

. (page 25 of 32)
Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 25 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that devolved on him increased, the leisure that he had was
more unburdened ; and the hours that he spent in his library,
the library of a loving reader rather than a collector, could
now be times of pure enjoyment, unhampered by thoughts
utilitarian. It was to the sermons which, in virtue of his
office, he preached on Sunday mornings, that he now devoted
his best literary powers, and more and more did they become
the main object of his life. When he reappeared in the
Temple pulpit as the Temple's Master, he felt considerable
nervousness, as he tells us in the note that follows. The
letters that succeed it take up as usual the thread of his daily
impressions.

To Mr. Horace Smith.

'November 13, 1894.

' I greatly hope to meet you to-morrow at the Banquet — and if
so, I want to save my credit by first thanking you for your most
kind letter of last week. I know you to be a man of your word
— and not given (any more than / am, I hope) to rave and gush
— so I was the more grateful for your words about the sermon,
which was indeed a difficult one, both to write and to deliver. I
am greatly relieved that it is over, and that my kind friends are
good enough to think I did not wholly fail. To-morrow's ordeal,
by the way, will be nearly as bad, and I trust you are coming to
support me under the trial. I hope the congregations are going
to keep up. Last Sunday it was as crowded as the previous one,
if not more so. , . .

To Mr. Mowbray Donne.

' The AthenjEum,
' Pall Mall, S. W., Sunday afternoon, Dec. 23, 1894.

*Mv DEAR Mowbray, — All good wishes of the season to you
and yours ! I had an idea till I met your wife the other day.



272 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

that you had already resigned. I thought you expired with the
current year, and I was waiting to congratulate you on coming
out of the shafts until that date should have arrived. But now,
O Superannuated Man, I beg, though late, to offer my best
felicitations — only don't be unhappy at having nothing to do, and
take to dr-nk-ng, like dear Charles Lamb.

' Mind you come up to luncheon on Boxing Day — when you
will find "cold beef, and a tankard." A p7-opos of the festive
season, I have just heard an unpublished story of Dr. Johnson.
A lady asked him within what limits of time it was right to eat
mince-pies. ''Good Heavens! Madam, did any one ever hear
of such gross ignorance ! They come in with " O Sapientia " and
go out with the "Purification." . . . I made a good reply once
about mince-pies. Some one said he ate one every day for luck •
and I replied " Tantum Religio potuit suadere malorum ! " '



To Mrs. Smith.

' Christmas Eve, 1894.

'My dear Friend, — With the increase of care and responsibility
that lies upon me, owing to my elevation to the highly honourable
office to which I have been lately promoted — together with the
natural melancholy of even appearing to my valued friends and
acquaintances to be a bloated Pluralist — I am sure you will not
expect from me the childlike levity and frivolity with which I
have been hitherto accustomed to address my friends at Brocco
Bank on this anniversary. So that you will kindly be content
this time with a few seasonable reflections. . . .

' Let us inquire (for it can never be amiss to cultivate, even in
the holiday season, that quickness and readiness of perception
which are so necessary a part of education for practical life) —
what is the difference between a gardener, a billiard-marker, and
a gentleman, and a cathedral verger — Now don't speak all at
once, especially when eating vulcanised greengages, or the
soothing banana — but serenely and thoughtfully consider the
following : —

'The gardener attends to his Peas; the Billiard-marker to his
Cues ; the gentleman to his Peas and Cites ; and the verger to his
Pews and Keys.

Chorus : Oh ! there 's no longer any doubt about the matter !
He's out of his mind ! And his recent Promotion has been too
much for his poor brain.'



LETTERS 278

To Mr. Horace Smith.

'Master's House, Temple, E.C.
' Wordsworth (up to date).

'Concluding stanza to his beautiful poem called The
Daffodils.

' " But when of late I went again

To glad me with the vernal show ;
Beecham and Co. possessed the plain,
Board after board, in hideous row —
And now my gorge with horror fills
And rises at those Liver-Pills."

' By the way, my gorge rises for another reason ! I have got a
dear dog, who is to me "as a daughter "—(that is, he would be,
were he a B-tch) and I have just been obliged to send him into
the country for change of air and exercise, because your two
Hon. Societies won't let me take him for a run in the Temple
gardens ! They say (Lawyer-like) that it would be " creating a
precedent." Ha! Ha! They don't use the gardens themselves,
and won't let me and my dog ! I deeply regret to say that the
following was lately picked up in King's Bench Walk : —

* " There are worse dogs than Canon A-ng-r's,
— The dogs who lie and snarl in mangers."

' The unhappy author has as yet escaped detection !

' Meanwhile I hope the one Reasonable B-nch-r, and his
delightful family, are well and thriving. Mind you come to the
tiext Grand Day, or I shall denounce you from the Pulpit.

' Goodbye, sweetheart, goodbye.

' I go to Bristol on Monday for two or three days on Cathedral

Business.

'Your own unhappy " Master,"
Whom unmerciful disaster,
In the matter of his poor dog Tray,
Follows fast and follows faster.'

'A. AiNGER.'

In 1895, Canon Ainger was made Honorary Chaplain to the
Queen and, in the following year, one of her Chaplains in
Ordinary. He had an innocent love for his honours. He
delighted in insignia — in his robes, in the pomp and circum-
stance of office. And none enjoyed more than he the dignity
of going, as he once did, to preach in state before the Queen



274 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

at Windsor. New interests were transforming his daily life,
and besides his clerical business he had other public engage-
ments which brought him fresh duties and pleasures. One
function of his London life that he liked was serving on
certain committees, especially those of the London Library
and of the Literary Fund, at which he met men of mark and
fellow-spirits. He came to regard them almost as men's
parties — his favourite form of entertainment — and was at his
best when he attended them, enlivening their routine with
sudden sallies and doing hard work as well. Authors and
their affairs always interested him, as these notes to Mr. Gosse
suffice to show.

To Mr. Gosse.

* Master's House,
'Temple, Saturday, May 11, 1896.

'My DEAR Gosse, — ... I am quite with you "in essence" on
the greedy author question, but you must have known you would
bring them — may I say — on their hind legs. But the idea of the
Authors' Society ^ that they are bound (by their Charter) to rise
and protect the British novelist from slander, is too funny ; and
the Tailors of Tooley Street are now quite out of it ! '

' Richmond House,
' Clifton Hill, Bristol.

' Goose (Edmund), — T/ie letters of Thomas Lovell Beddoes. Now
Hrst edited. Pott Svo., 5s. net, also 25 copies large paper, 12*. 6d.
net.

'(To my friend Edmund Gosse — on the latest Betise of J. L.)

' I wonder if you 've seen, dear Gosse,
This last faux-pas of John's —
Take comfort — 'tis your gain, uot loss —
His geese were always swans !



A. A.



'Sept. 10, 1895.'



' At this time, a certain reaction against the constant attacks of the Society
of Authors upon the whole race of publishers, was marked by a speech in which
Mr. Gosse warned novelists against pushing their claims for money too far.
The Society of Authors was very angry, and there was a correspondence about
the matter in T/ie Times and elsewhere.



LETTERS 275

To Mil. GossE.

' Richmond House,
'Clifton Hill, Bristol, Monday, \_Suinmer 1895].

' My dear Gosse, — ... I have been thinking of late about
something that passed at a recent Committee of the Literary
Fund. It was generally admitted that the right cases for our
Bounty do not, and will not, apply in person. Would it be possible
so far to modify our rules, that intimate and trustworthy friends
might apply in llieir names ; and that the grants might be thus
volunteered on our part, and not given as the result of a direct
appeal .''

' " Perpend," and let me know. — Yours always sincerely,

'Alfred Ainger.

' I hope I succeeded in disabusing our good Lord de Tabley of
any idea that he was otherwise to me than a persotia gratissima.
It was quite a charming meeting on that lovely day in those
Whitehall Gardens.'

'Lord de Tabley, the poet,' writes Mr. Gosse, 'had a great
wish to know Ainger. I, as their common friend, urged De
Tabley to speak to the Canon, and he did so, when they met next
at the Athenaeum, in April 1895. Unfortunately Lord de Tabley
was excessively nervous and shy, and Ainger did not quite under-
stand who it was who was addressing him. The poet Avas hurt,
and wrote to me, " I got on but little with Ainger, and he snubbed
me considerably." The result of reproaching Ainger for this cruel
conduct was an indignant denial of the charge. The only thing
to do was to ask them to meet one another at lunch in Whitehall,
and this was successfully brought about on the 14th of June. It
is of this little party that Ainger speaks in this letter. Besides
Ainger, de Tabley, and the host, Mr. Austin Dobson, Sir
Courtenay Ilbert, and Mr. Horatio Brown of Venice were of the
company. As the weather was exquisitely fine, the table was
spread in the garden, under a great hawthorn tree. Ainger,
from the fact of his having to wipe off a supposed stain upon his
manners, was particularly bewitching. He outdid himself in
anecdote, in repartee, in the graceful give and take of animated
conversation ; and the little alfresco entertainment, prolonged over
cofFee and cigarettes, lasted far into the afternoon. Lord de
Tabley, in going, made a little appealing apology. "The fault,"
he said " was solely mine ; I have lost all habit of society and am



276 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

as an owl in the haunts of man." They parted the best of friends,
promising one another many talks in the future, but de Tabley
was already rapidly failing in health, and they never met again.
He died in November of the same year.'

The correspondence begins again with some letters of that
summer to Mr. Groome and Mr. du Maurier.

' Richmond House,
' Clifton Hill, Bristol, Aiigud 9, 1895.

'Dear Mr. Groome, — Some weeks ago I received from your
Publishers a copy of your delightful book, Tivo Suffolk Friends,
and though it only bore the inscription " with the Publisher's
compliments," I feel sure that it was sent at your suggestion, and
I therefore wish to return you my hearty thanks. It is one of
the to© few reprints from magazines that amply deserve the
compliment, and I find myself constantly turning to it again, and
laughing afresh over the Suffolk anecdotes, or — weeping afresh, I
had almost said — over "The Only Darter," which is an absolutely
perfect thing. How thankful one should be for such a piece of
tender, human experience, after the wretched hysterical and
prurient stuff of the " Yellow Book " people. . . . With many
thanks and kind regards, yours very sincerely,

'Alfred Ainger.

' And it made my heart leap to find the book dedicated to my
dear old friend, Mowbray Donne.'

' Richmond House,
'Clifton Hill, Bristol, [Summer 1895].

' Mv DEAREST KicKY, — I was delighted to get your letter, and
to hear you were being so well done by in the watering-place of
my youth ; don't write to say by and by that you are being
" bored and lodged " — which I fear you will, unless the weather
improves, and the Jews and Jewesses leave their promised land.
We are very wet and unsettled here, and the effect in this
western country upon the spirits is indescribable. I read in the
Times evevy day that "another depression is approaching" — but
I can assure the Clerk of the Weather that it is here already, and
all day long.

'I have just read dear Guthrie's " Country of Cockaigne," in
to-day's Punch, and it is simply exquisite — as perfect as anything



LETTERS 277

he ever did — and made me cry in the loneliness of my own study
here ; not with an uneasy conscience, either ; for I have sub-
scribed for many years to this admirable Society. I cannot but
think this Paper will go to many hearts and fetch in subscriptions
and donations. I should like him to know how I love him for
it!

' You are very good this week — though your satire on the
Schoolmaster is not quite just. A Public School ought not to have
to teach spelling, or to undertake such a thing. The boy's
ignorance was either the fault of the Parents, Governess, and
preparatory school — or the boy was one of those creatures (there
are some such) who can't be taught to spell.

' Don't forget the '' knot in the handkerchief." How is Arthur
Davies .'' —

'' Well fed and nursed, at last it burst,
>Vlthiu that silent sea."

'Give my dear love to you all. I am jokeless here, and have
to make them all myself. I am touched by your choosing
" Clifton Gardens " as your address. It is another link between
us.

' I do hope Miss Baird ^ will be up to the mark — let me hear.
Your own Canon, Alfred Ainger.'

' Richmond House,
' Clifton Hill, Bristol, Saturday, Sept. 7, 1895.

' Dearest Kicky, — Thanks for your last note. I hope you are
getting stouter, stronger, wiser and better, for your sojourn
among the men of Kent. I see that Trilhy is to be brought out
to-night at Manchester. Do, Do send me a line to tell me of its
reception and prospects, and how Miss Baird acquitted herself.
I have read the story again since I have been here — with increased
delight at three-fourths of it, and increased regrets for some
other things. But Trilby herself is the charm of the book and a
KT»}/ia €S aei.

* No stories, no jokes — no nothing.

' Frenchman entering a rather crowded rathvai) cnrriage : " Ah !
viille pardons ! I 'ope I do not cock-roach ! "

' ' Arry in the corner. — " Hignorant hass ! He means hen-croach."

' I know you like Puns (calembours, in French).

' I begin to see daylight, for this is September 7th, and at the

* In the performance of Trilby as a play.



278 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

end of the month I am a free man ! It is very hot herCj and last
night we had a lively thundei'-storm. When do you return to
Oxford Square ? Write me if but a line about Trilby — and tell
me if the little ex-linen-draper took the role of Little Billee. —
Best love to you all, your own Canon Residentiary, A. A.'

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.G., Wednesday Evening, Dec. 4, 1895.

' Mv DEAR Kicky, — I really did enjoy myself last evening. Of
course the Play is a ridiculous Parody on the Novel, but to me
who had previously read the story, it of course suggested and
reminded me at every turn of the dear Characters and the dear
Pictures.

' The acting, too, was better than I expected. Miss Baird has
not indeed a spark of genius, or even of talent (I think), but she
looks it to perfection, and being a lady, under does, instead of over
doing, the Bohemianism. Tree is as clever as possible, but it is
of course melodrama of the most Transpontine order. Lionel
Brough would be very good, if only his Scotch dialect were a little
better. I thought the comic clergyman veri/ good, and cannot but
think he toned himself down last night, out of respect to my august
presence. How well Henry Kemble would have played the part !
I fancy this man bases his style rather on Kemble. I laughed
heartily at the incident of the Laird and the Pantomime nose,
which is not in the book. Altogether I enjoyed myself very much,
and should not mind seeing it over again. — Love to you all, your
own Canon.'

' The Glade,
' Branch Hill, Hampstead, Wednesday, March 14, 1896.

' My dear Kicky, — I was an idiot yesterday : I had entirely
forgotten that you wouldn't be at home ; and when I found that
your young people were out, I resolved not to stay — though your
admirable cook informed me that during the few minutes I was
in the house, she had " put down another chop " for the unde-
serving visitor ! I had to be in town that morning, consulting a
new Doctor (Felix Semon — jiiif agreable .') so that I did not quite
come into town for nothing. I think I shall hardly be able to
repeat my visit till Tuesday next — when I hope for long arrears of
talk.

' I was at Toynbee Hall on Monday. Dining and " reading a



LETTERS 279

Paper," and heard from all quarters enthtisiastic commendation of
your Lecture. You may be quite satisfied of that, and of the

delight it gave. I don't fancy you will have a letter from

/ never do — and indeed I think that the " vote of thanks " to the
Lecturer at the end is supposed to cancel all the rest. I think
this is a mistake. But they are so possessed with the idea at
Toynbee that it is the duty of the " Better-ofF" to do these things
("and 1 don't denige it^ Betsy/') that thanks are hardly due!
But I think this is an error of judgment and of policy.

*The edge of Tenniel's cartoon is rather taken off by the fact
that the "Star of Tournament" was sprawled in the dust by his
own Party last night — his " second appearance " on these Boards.
— Ever your true and trusty Alfred Ainger.

' I am sending Frank a suggestion for next Big Cut — sequel to
this week's — Rosebery on the ground, prodded by Labouchere
and the Irish. Quotation : " So like a shattered colinnn lay the
King."

' Title : " Sorry we spoke." '

This is the last letter that we have from Ainger to du
Maurier, though they met many times after it was written.
Through tlieir fifteen years of close companionship, their inter-
course had never suffered a break. They met constantly at
one another's houses, whether in London or in Hampstead, and
this year they were together at Whitby.

' My dear Ainger ' — (du Maurier had written to his friend, who
was there, but without him, for the first time in 1891) — 'It is
delightful to get a letter from you at Whitby — the place we all
like the best in the world. I am only sorry you have so little
time there.

^'It's all right when you know it,
But you've got to know it fust."

' But I gather that your nieces and Mr. Evans will remain
longer, so tell them to drive to Robin Hood's Bay, and Runswick
and Staithes (unless they prefer going there by train) ; tell them
especially to manage Staithes, circa 4, 5, 6 p.m., a little before
high tide, to see some 40 (or 50) cobles disembark to herring-fish,
with all the town, women and children, pushing the boats off —
the loveliest sight I ever saw ! Tell them to walk to Cock Mill ;
there are '3 or 4 ways — one by the old town, one by Bagdale,



280 LIFE OF ALFRED AINGER

one through the meadows over the wooden railway bridge, from
the top of St. Hilda's Terrace. Tell them to walk from Cock
Mill to Rig Mill, and take tea at the latter place (and have a
fly ready to take them back). Tell them to walk along the cliffs
westward from the Spa, through fields and over stiles till they
reach Sylvia Robson's cottage (of course they know their Sylvias
Lovers by heart) — and tell them, oh ! tell them, to stand on the
bridge at sundown and see the shops lighting up along the
staithes, and the fisher-boats (if the tide suits) go sailing out into
the west. Also they must not forget that Saturday is market day,
and that the market place in the old town is good to see on
Saturdays.

' Don't forget as you go past the top of St. Hilda's Terrace to
look at No. l,the humble but singularly charming little house
where your friends have dwelt, and would fain dwell again (and
two of them end their days there, somewhere towards the middle
of the twentieth centmy).'

Ainger always saw the place through du Maurier's eyes.
He and his nieces and Mr. Evans, who had lost his wife
in 1891, joined the du Mauriers there in 1896. Ainger
liked nothing better than to go on exploring excursions to
Yorkshire villages; and he only made one condition — that
they should end in what was always to him the ideal treat,
tea at some wayside inn. ' Do let us have a " Cow and Tooth-
brush " (or a " Cat and Snuffers ") expedition to-day,' was his
constant refrain. Of the contests of wit and drollery en routes
of their races to reach the inn first and earn the quixotic
privilege of ' treating ' the whole party to tea, many legends
still survive ; and once they were all delighted by seeing
'Trilby Drops' advertised for sale in a little village sweet-
shop. ' Such is fame,' said du Maurier, but when his daughter
went in to ask about the ' drops,' the girl behind the counter
had no idea what ' Trilby ' meant.

Du Manner's health was failing, though he hardly knew to
what extent. 'It is only in going uphill that one realises
how fast one is going downhill,' he once said, half in fun, half
ruefully, as he toiled up a steep Whitby hill ; and when the
news came of Millais' death, and he was asked to be pall-bearer,
he refused on the score of his weakness. By that time, too,



LETTERS 281

his eyesight had ahnost gone. It was happy for him that,
just as this tragedy approached, there dawned for him also
his unexpected success as a writer. ' I think the best years of
a man's life are after forty. A man at forty has ceased to
haunt the moon,' so he once said, and his luck justified the
saying. But his modesty, like the modesty of Ainger, was
one of his chief distinctions. ' This boom rather distresses me
when I reflect that Thackeray never had a boom,'' he remarked
after Trilby appeared. The boom did not distress Ainger —
indeed, for him, the prestige of his ' dear artist' illumined the
last years of their friendship. For last years they were. The
end was fast approaching. Early in October, George du
Maurier fell ill, and on Wednesday evening, the 8th, he died
— that evening of Punch, round the mahogany tree, which he
had made peculiarly his own.

He had once said half playfully that he should like his
* little Canon ' to read the funeral service over him, because he
would do it so beautifully. And Ainger fulfilled his wish.
His own strong conviction of an after-life strengthened him to
do this for more than one close friend. And if this was a
faith that du Maurier had not shared, he knew how to
reverence it in his companion.

Ainger was not the man to write elegies. He had no taste
for oratory, especially the oratory of sorrow. The paper on
du Maurier which he wrote in the Hampstead Annual is
marked by a delicate restraint. But it has its own kind of
eloquence.

*As a friend,' he writes, 'as also in the realm of humorous
art, his loss is irreparable. Substituting the name of Hamp-
stead for that of Cambridge, one may recall the touching lines
of Cowley on the death of his friend, INIr. William Hervey : —

' Ye fields of Hampstead, our dear Hampstead, say,
Have ye not seen us walking every day ?
Was there a tree about which did not know
The love betwixt us two ?

* Henceforth, ye gentle trees, for ever fade,
Or your sad branches thicker join.
And into darksome shades combine,
Dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid.'



CHAPTER XVI
LIFE AND LETTERS

1897-1903

In 1897, Alfred Ainger turned sixty, but his friends found few
changes either in his outer or his inner man. He had little of
any age about him, and the sketch given of him at thirty,
when he stood on the threshold of his career, hardly needs any
alteration. A recent description of him in a letter from
Mr. Beck, the present Master of Trinity Hall and Vice-
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, would have por-
trayed him as truly at any moment since he came to London.
' He was so snow-white in locks,' runs the passage, ' and so
petit, craned forward, and ethereal, like a gnome or a spirit
peering with an elf-like enquiry out of the infinite for a brief
and amused moment, that I doubt if even Mr. Riviere could
catch him ' — an allusion to the picture which that artist was
then making of him. Perhaps he looked at his best in the
velvet coats he wore at home — a best coat for company, or, for
solitude, what he called his ' organ-grinder.' He was never
rich, nor would it have suited him to be so, except for
purposes of giving. For though he was alive to comfort and
liked dignity of surroundings, his habits remained of the
simplest. That he felt he could no longer ' ride on the top
of an omnibus' was his one regret when he was made Master,
and though far from callous to good food or good wine, he



Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 25 of 32)