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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
AT LOS ANGELES




GEORGE MEREDITH



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V



GEORGE MEREDITH

HIS LIFE AND FRIENDS IN RELATION
TO HIS WORK



BY

S. M. ELLIS



^



WITH FORTY-ONE ILLUSTRATIONS






• ". ■: ^ ' ' • • ' ' ' ■ ^ :



LONDON

GRANT RICHARDS LTD.

ST MARTIN'S STREET

MDCCCCXX

50437



First Edition . . January igig
Second Edition . . May 1920



• • •:.".






» • • •



PRINTED IN GKBAT BRITAIN BV THE RIVERSIDE PRESS LIMITED
ROINBUKGH



^ — .a,



I



PREFACE






.^ i



' ^.



I WISH to thank the Duchess of RutJand, the
y ^ artist, and Colonel J, G. Adami, A.D.M.S,, the owner,
of the fine pencil portrait of Meredith, which by
their permission is reproduced in this work : the
original drawing, I understand, is to find a place in
■^1. the Art Gallery at Montreal. To the late Mr F. J.
Williamson, the sculptor, I was greatly indebted
for the contemporary photographs of Esher and
Copsham as in Meredith's time.

For the loan of other illustrations, or help in many

T ways, I thank Mr A. St John Adcock, Mrs Banks,

.^ Mr F. B. Barwell, Mr Reginald Blunt, Mr G. Buck-

^ ston Browne, Miss Hilda Chester, Mrs Clarke, Mr

Herbert Cook (of Copseham), Mrs Arthur Croome,

N Mr A. T. Everitt, Mr J. J. Freeman, Mr H. M.

\ Hyndman, the Rev. l)r F. J. Foakes Jackson, Mrs

Frederick Jones (of Kingston Lodge), Mr J. Brooke

Little, Mr L. J. Maxse, Mr A. Gordon Pollock, Miss

Ella Pycroft, Mr Lionel Robinson, Mrs Ross, Miss

de St Croix, Mr C. K. Shorter, the Lord Sterndale,

Miss Tupper, the Rev. W. B. Vaillant, Mrs Woolf,

Mr A. N. Bonaparte Wyse, and Mr and Mrs Ralph

Wood (who so admirably preserve the amenities of

Flint Cottage, Box Hill).

Mr G. A. Rossetti courteously gives mc permission
to quote from his father's book on D. G. Rossetti ;
Mr W^ilfrid Scawen Blunt from My Diaries ; Mi-

7



t



^



8 PREFACE

J. A. Ilanunerton from George Meredith in Anecdote
and Criticism ; and Mr Thomas Hardy, O.M.,
kindly allows me to use his poem, George Meredith,

S. M. Ellis.

Kew Gardens,
March, lt)20.



CONTENTS

CHAI'TER PAGE

I. GEORGE Meredith's birthplace : Portsmouth .

THE MEREDITH FAMILY . . . .13

II. CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH . . . .36

III. ADOLESCENCE IN LONDON. FIRST MARRIAGE.

EARLY LITERARY WORK. WEYBRIDGE. " POEMS,

1851 ' . . . . . ,54

IV. " THE SHAVING OF SHAGPAT." HALLIFORD AND

SEAFORD DAYS. " THE HOUSE OX THE BEACH."
"farina." DOMESTIC TRAGEDY AND "MODERN
LOVE " . . . . . .76

V. " THE ORDEAL OF RICHARD FEVEREL." ESHER AND

COPSHAM DAYS . . . . .94

VI. " EVAN HARRINGTON." ARTHUR MEREDITH AND HIS
FATHER : THEIR TOUR ABROAD. " MODERN LOVE."
MEREDITH AT CHELSEA : HIS RELATIONS WITH
ROSSETTI AND SWINBURNE . . .131

VII. ARTHUR MEREDITH AND HIS FATHER. MEREDITH

AS A TALKER. MEREDITH 's SECOND MARRIAGE . 158

VIII. " SANDRA BELLONI." " RHODA FLEMING."

" VITTORIA." MEREDITH AT KINGSTON LODGE
AND IN ITALY . . . . .176

IX. MEREDITH AS A JOURNALIST AND PUBLISHER'S

READER. THE PINNOCK CASE . . .106

9



10 CONTENTS

CHAFTKR PAGE

X. BOX TIII,L. " THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY RICH-
MOND." MEREDITH AND GERMANY AND RUSSIA . 22]

XI. ■ BEAUCHAMP'S CAREER." THE SHORT NOVELS.

SOME LATER LITERARY FRIENDSHIPS . . 280

XII. " THE EGOIST." " THE TRAGIC COMEDIANS " . 255

XTIT. " DIANA OF THE CROSSWAYS." DEATH OF MRS

MEREDITH. THE LATER POEMS . . . 272,

XIV. '' ONE OF OUR CONQUERORS." " LORD ORMONT AND

HIS AMIXTA." " THE AMAZING MARRIAGE " . 286

XV. THE LAST YEARS. DEATH .... 307

INDEX ...... 321



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



George Mereditli. Pencil Portrait by the Duchess of

Rutland, 1899 ..... Frontispiece

St Thomas's Church, Portsmouth .

General Sir S. B. ElHs, K.C.B., R.M.L.I. .

King James's Gate, Broad Street, Portsmouth, in 1828

No. 73 High Street, Portsmouth, the birthplace o
George Meredith, in 1828



No. 73 High Street, Portsmouth, the birthplace of
George Meredith, in 1909

High Street, Portsmouth, in 1 828 .

The Limes, Weybridge

Thomas Love Peacock

Vine Cottage, Halliford Green

Marine Terrace, Seaford, in I860 .

Arthur Meredith and Edith Nicolls, as children .

Maurice FitzGerald. Portrait by Samuel Laurence

Faireholme, Esher, in 1859 . . %

George Meredith in 1 860. Portrait by D, G. Rossetti

Copsham Cottage, near Esher

W. C. Bonaparte Wyse

William Hardman

The Mound, Copsham

Catherine Matilda Meredith (Mrs S. B. Ellis)

Lady Duff Gordon. Portrait by H. W. Phillips

Janet Duff (Jordon (Mrs Ross). Portrait by G. F. Watts
R.A. ....

No. 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea

Dr and Mrs Augustus Jessopp

George Meredith and his son Arthur

II



FACING PAGE

22
28
32



S5

36

40

60

76

78

86

94

98

104

110

112

114

116

130

134

140

142
150
158

l6o



12



TJST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



Arthur Meredith

Emilia Macirone (Lady Hornby) .

The Black Pool, Copsham Woods .

Kinjrston Lodge, Norbiton

The Old House, Micklehain

George Meredith, about 1 8fi2

Colonel Sir A. B. Ellis, K.C.B.

Two Caricatures of Geoi'ge Meredith from

P'lint Cottage, Box Hill

Frederick Maxse, II. N.

The Chalet, Box Hill

Interior of the Chalet

Leslie Stephen

George Meredith, about 1888

George Meredith at Aldeburgh, 1<)()6

George Meredith on Box Hill, 1909



Punch



FACING PAGE

174
180
182
184-
188
204
216
220
222
238
256
264
266
284
310
318



CHAPTER I

GEORGE Meredith's birthplace : Portsmouth.

THE MEREDITH FAMILY

DURING his lifetime an impenetrable veil of
reticence, and, in consequence, of mystery
also, hid the facts of George Meredith's
origin and family history and his own early days
from public knowledge. The world has a pardon-
able weakness for desiring to learn the personal
details of a great man's life, and gratification is
generally supplied freely, in full measure and un-
asked, by the subject himself : but in this case there
was no information forthcoming either from Mere-
dith or his friends. He had arrived in London a
friendless youth, and the friends he began to make
then, and all those through the subsequent years,
were told nothing definite about his parentage or
whence he came. In later days the contemporary!^^
books of reference, such as Me7i of the Time and
Who's Who, merely stated he was born in Hamp-
shire, and made no allusion to his family. Various
authors who produced appreciations of Meredith
during his lifetime shied as they neared the danger
zone of his origin, and slid warily over their thin
ice with a few words of polite nebulosity. Mr
Edward Clodd has related ^ that when he was filling
in a census paper for Meredith, and the place of
birth had to be mentioned, lie was told to put
" near Pctersfield " : as a matter of fact, JMeredith

' The Fortnightly Review, July, 1909.
13



14 GEORGE MEREDITH

was born some twenty miles distant from that town.
In tlie obituary notice of Meredith in The Daily
Telegraph the novelist was stated to have been born
at VVincliester. It is needless to labour the point
that it was not until some time after his death that
it became publicly known that Portsmouth was his
birthplace.

The reasons for all this mysterious reticence are
A'ery difficult to fathom. That it was entirely owing
to a desire to hide the fact that his father and grand-
father were naval outfitters or tailors I decline to
believe.^ No man of a sane mind — to say nothing
of one of vast intellect — could attach shame to the
knowledge that his immediate ancestors had followed
an honest trade. Both his father and grandfather
were uncommon men, quite unlike the provincial
tradesmen of their time ; and the fact that Meredith
recounted many incidents of their lives, and used
actual names, in his family history of Evan Harring-
ton, refutes the theory that he was literally ashamed
of the tailor's shop, which he proclaimed, and eventu-
ally immortalised, to all the world. No ; although
disliking his origin, the cause of his reticence must
be attributed to some deeper source — an abnormally
acute sensitiveness of mind which strove to put
aside and forget the memories of old, unhappy things.
For his own personal experiences in early days were
unhappy. " In youth I looked out under a hail
of blows," he said metaphorically. His unhappi-
ness, as I shall hope to demonstrate presently, was
mainly caused by his own temperament and un-
congenial surroimdings : the boyhood of a genius

' On the other side it can be advanced that Mr Wilfrid Scavven Blunt
states, on the authority of Mr Wilfrid Meynell, that the fact of Meredith's
"tailoring parentage was the secret trouble of his life."



MEREDITH'S ORIGIN 15

is not often appreciated by his family. The point
I am trying to establish now is that Meredith, having
carved his own career and made his fame, unaided
and alone, regarded his early life only with bitter-
ness and pain ; and, perhaps by some twist of mi-
kindly thought, he was unwilling that any portion of
his abilities should be attributed to the influence, or
training, of those who, as he imagined, treated him
unsympathetically in youth. He used to say :
" When I was young, had there been given me a little
sunshine of encouragement, what an impetus to
better work would have been mine." The fact
may be granted at once that he owed very little
to immediate heredity and so-called education for
the upspringing of his literary gift. His genius was
innate, and able to hew its own way to consumma-
tion. He was certainly the most amazing product
that ever came out of a provincial shop, but this was
merely a freak of Fate. His birthplace, though of
great interest for biographical reasons, is immaterial
in tracing the intellectual development and ex-
pression of his mind and rare personality.

Whatever the causes that prompted Meredith's
reticence on the subject of his origin, he was sing-u-
'arly ill-advised in preserving that silence to the
end ; for the sake of his mother's reputation he
should, presumably, have refuted the absurd
rumours — if they ever reached his ears — that were
current about his paternity. For, baulked of any
authentic information, public curiosity was titillated,
and speculation rife as to the causes or necessities
for this strange and mysterious reserve. Conse-
quently, legends arose— a varied assortment, whose
only point of agreement consisted in assigning to
Meredith high-born but illicit paternity. He was



16 GEORGP: MEREDITH

a son of George IV., or, more probably, of the sailor
prince, the Duke of Clarence (William IV.), or at
any rate of some aristocratic and amorous admiral
ashore. He was a son of Bulwer Lytton, and here
the evidence was conclusive : Bulwer Lytton's son,
Robert, subsequently the first Earl of Lytton, had
adopted the literary pseudonym of " Owen Mere-
dith," and so it followed, as the night the day, that
George Meredith must be his brother. ^lost general
of all was the suggestion that he was of '' noble
Welsh descent " ; perhaps he was, very remotely,
but there is no evidence. ^ For three generations,
at least, his immediate ancestors were Hampshire
people ; and it was mainly to dispel the ridiculous
rumours mentioned above that I was constrained,
originally, to make known the real facts of Mere-
dith's parentage ; to point out, for the first time,
how much of his family history had been adapted
to the story of Evan Harrifigton ; and to relate the
history of his own early days in Portsmouth.

In addition to Meredith, Portsmouth was the
birthplace of Charles Dickens (in 1812) and of Walter
Besant ( in 1836), and it is curious that their inter-
esting and historic native town does not appear
more frequently as the locale or background of their
noN'cls, though it is the case that each of these three
writers has dealt with the place in at least one of his
books. Besant, in By Celiacs Arbour, approaches
most nearly to what would be expected from a
literary son of Portsmouth. In the case of Dickens,
his impressions of Portsmouth were faint, of course,

> Possibly this rumour had its origin in a remark Meredith places
in a letter of the Countess de Saldar's in Evan Harrington, where,
alluding to the Great Mel., she says, had he been legitimiiized, he
would have been a nobleman.



PORTSMOUTH 17

for he was removed from the town in early child-
hood; but nevertheless he retained some recollec-
tions of its topography — or refreshed his memory
on the subject — because, in Nicholas Nickleby, Mr
Crummies and his theatrical company are con-
veniently lodged in St Thomas's Street and Lombard
Street, close by the old theatre. IMeredith, who re-
mained in his birthplace until he was about thirteen
or fourteen, in Evan Harrington depicted various
scenes at the paternal and grand-paternal shop in
Portsmouth, here thinly disguised as " Lymport " ;
but, apart from its biographical interest, the novel
is subjective rather than objective, and the situa-
tion of the tailor's shop, and the incidents that
happen there, could equally well be placed in any
other town without much loss of pictorial transcrip-
tion : the book is no picture of Portsmouth, the
real Portsmouth, with all its stirring naval interests.
' >" Although Portsmouth failed to inspire her two
most famous sons, the old seaport has no lack of
history and romance (of all periods), for its record
runs concurrently with that of civilisation in
England. The Romans perceived the advantages
of this great inlet of the sea, and established a settle-
ment on the northern side, at Portchester. When
the sea receded from here the inhabitants migrated
a little way south and founded Portsmouth, which
is mentioned as a landing-place in The Saxon
Chronicle, a.d. 501. By the time of Henry I. the
place was of importance. Both Robert of Normandy
and the Empress Matilda landed here on their
aggressive expeditions to claim the Crown. Ports-
mouth became a naval station in the reign of John ;
strong fortifications were added in succeeding reigns,
and completed in that of Henry VII. ; and during

B



18 GEORGE MEREDITH

the time of Henry VIII. the port became the princi-
pal station of the English Navy, a position it has
ever since retained. Tragedy and romance were
mingled here in Stuart days, when the Duke of
Buckingham was assassinated at a house in the High
Street, and Charles II. was married to Catherine of
Braganza in the chapel of the hospital of Domus Dei
(now the Garrison Church). In the eighteenth
century, and for the first part of the nineteenth,
Portsmouth attained its highest renown, during the
long American and Napoleonic Wars, when there
was ceaseless naval activity, and the presence of
great sailors (now historic names) an everyday
occurrence. Portsea (which includes the Dock-
yard), Gosport, and Landport, were of later origin
than Portsmouth proper, but all these neighbouring
townships assumed the distinctive " port " in their
nomenclature, and to-day form one great town,
popularly known as Portsmouth — though the actual
ancient place covers no more than one hundred and
ten acres, and up to the middle of the last century
kept severely aloof from its suburban offspring be-
hind armed fortifications, moats, and defensive gates.
How it came about that the ancestors of George
^leredith migrated from Wales to Portsmouth will
now never be known. Judging by the name, the
family certainly was of Celtic origin, and, character-
istic of that race both in Ireland and Wales, the
Merediths preserved a vague tradition of princely
progenitors quite in the style of The Mulligan.
George Meredith alludes to this amiable weakness
of his relatives in Evan Harrington, where he says
Melchiscdec was mysterious concerning his origin ;
and, when drinking, talked freely of a great Welsh
family, issuing from a line of princes. And again,



MELCHIZEDEK MEREDITH 19

when the Countess de Saldar asks : Were we
Glamorganshire Tudors, according to Papa ? Or
only Powys chieftains ? Alack ! These pleasing
speculations are as nebulous as an aerial Spanish —
or should it be Welsh ? — castle, for the Merediths of
Hampshire had no princely possessions and appan-
ages beyond great beauty and distinguished carriage,
and a glorious prodigality in money matters.

The first of the name, the novelist's great-
grandfather, John Meredith, is merely a name. He
apparently lived at Portsea in the middle of the
eighteenth century, for his son was baptized in the
parish church there, St Mary Kingston, in June,
1763. This son, Melchizedek, was as vivid and
picturesque a personality as any of his putative
progenital princelings in Wales. A fine figure of a
man, and there ain't many Marquises to match him,
as Mr Kilne, the publican, remarked of him in Evan
Harrington. It was an unkind fate that destined
Melchizedek Meredith to a shop. Tall, handsome,
and gallant — in both senses of the word — he was
cut out for what he considered higher things — county
society, hunting and so forth — which pleasures, in
time, he did partake of. But in early life he had
to attend to his business, and it was about 1784,
having attained his majority, that he started his
career as a tailor, and more particularly as a naval
outfitter, at No. 73 High Street, Portsmouth, the
house in which his famous grandson, George
Meredith, was to be born forty-four years later.

The High Street runs at right angles to the sea,
and at its sea end, by the Signalling Station and
Platform, the road curves round, passing the ancient
landing-place known as the Sallyport, to join Broad
Street, and so on to the Point. No. 73 is on the



20 GEORGE MEREDITH

riglit-hand side, just before this curve commences.
It is a very old house, for the present grafted stucco
front merely masks a far more ancient building
of red brick. At the back the original colouring is
still visible, and three picturesque dormer windows
break the line of mellow red tiles on the roof. In
the Merediths' time the ground floor of the house
was occupied by the shop, a door dividing the two
windows glazed with old-fashioned small panes of
glass. The tailoring workshop was at the back and
reached as far as White Hart Road, but no longer
exists. These, then, were the premises where
matured that famous naval outfitting establishment,
which was to become the premier one of its kind in
Portsmouth, and as such was mentioned by Captain
Marryat in Peter Simple : " We called at Meredith's,
the tailor, and he promised that, by the next morn-
ing, we should be fitted complete." ^ Without
doubt the customers and patrons of this establish-
ment included Nelson, Collingwood, Jervis, the
Hoods, the Troubridges, Rodney, and all the other
great sailors of that most resplendent epoch — in both
a fighting and sartorial sense — of the British Navy.
Melchizedek Meredith married about the same
time as he started in business and came of age. His
wife was some ten years older than he, and, though
her surname has not been definitely traced in the
family records, she is believed to have been Anne
Mitchell, daughter of a lawyer in Portsmouth. Her
strong personality and physical appearance, how-
ever, survive in portraits painted by both brush
and pen. She was a tall woman of ample figure,
with great stateliness of carriage, and, like her
husband, very handsome. They were a splendid

^ Vol, II., chap. vi.



PORTSMOUTH HIGH STREET 21

couple, and reared a fine family. All their seven
children — two sons and iive daughters — were born
at No. 73 High Street ; for thirty years the old house
witnessed all the joys and sorrows of their married
life — until inevitable Death knocked at the door
and severed the partnership. For sixty years
Merediths — to the third generation in the person
of the novelist— lived here.

The situation of the house was pleasant, for it
commanded a view of the sea and the Isle of Wight
across Battery Row and the Platform ; and to the
left was the open space of the Grand Parade, where
many stirring military and naval events took place
in those days. Here, we may conclude, the Mere-
diths witnessed from their parlour bow- window the
brilhant assembly of the Allied Sovereigns with
Wellington and Blucher in 1814, after the overthrow
of Napoleon ; and nine years earlier Nelson had left
the George Inn, a little lower down the High Street,
after his last night in England, and, passing along
Penny Street and by the cheering and weeping and
kneeling townspeople, had embarked from the beach
beyond Battery Row. For certain, Melchizedek
Meredith knew Nelson, for did he not shake hands
with his customers ? Nelson's Hardy came to
lodge with the tailor's widow and son, Augustus,
some years later, for on September 7th, 1827,
Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy wrote to his brother
Joseph : " Portsmouth. ... I can give you a bed.
I am at Meradith's (sic), the tailor, 73 High Street,
opposite the Parade Coffee House." ^

Not far down the High Street stands St Thomas's

> I am indebted to Mr Thomas Hardy. O.M., for drawing my
attention to this interesting reference in a letter quoted in the late
Mr A. M. Broadley's book, Nelson's Hardy.



22 GEORGE MEREDITH

Church, which has many associations with the
Merediths, for here they were christened, married,
and buried, for three generations. Here, too, Mel-
chizedek Meredith officiated as churchwarden in
1801 and 1803-1804, and, on retiring from office, he
and his fellow-warden, Lawrence Smith, presented
to their parish church two silver alms plates, which
are still in use and have the names of the donors
engraved upon them.

How Melchizedek Meredith came by his extra-
ordinary Biblical appellation is unknown (John, his
father, must have been a sacerdotal enthusiast),
but that he himself approved it and desired its per-
petuation is evidenced by the fact that he bestowed
the name on two of his unfortunate children, to the
utter rout of the spelling powers of the clerks at
St Thomas's Church, whose entries in the registers
varied from Mellchisidick to other original and
clerkly phonetic versions. The youthful Melchize-
deks, however, seem to have found the ponderous
burden of their second name more than they could
bear, for, by a curious coincidence, both died young :
Charles Melchizedek, the elder son, died as a small
boy in 1794, and Caroline Melchizedek only survived
to the age of twenty-four, dying three years after
her marriage, in 1809, with William Price Read
(who, it is believed, held a post in the Dockyard).
In the same year, 1809, her eldest sister, Anne
Elizabeth Meredith, was married to Thomas Burbey,
a prosperous banker and wholesale grocer, who lived
at No. 46 High Street, a large house on the opposite
side of the way : Mr Burbey was Mayor of Ports-
mouth in 1833.

As Kilne, the publican, observes, in Evan Harring-
ton, of the Great Mel.'s beautiful daughters, they




'*• G3 ! ma mtrg l> p

_ .,ir ,_ ,, ?



St. Thomas's Church, Portsmouth



MELCHIZEDEK I\rEREDITH 23

were a fine family, all of them, and married well.
And this remark may be particularly applied to the
three remaining daughters, Louisa, Harriet, and
Catherine. Possibly, as their nephew suggested in
Evan Harrington, the marriages had happened by
means of the balls that are given in country towns,
where the charms of tradesmen's daughters can be
seen and admired by others than tradesmen.

But it must also be borne in mind that the father
of the girls had an extensive social acquaintance.
Melchizedek Meredith's aspirations were not centred
in his shop. He was on friendly terms with many
of his distinguished naval patrons, and was a
welcome guest in some of the best houses of the
locality and further afield in Hampshire. In those
days the upper classes were very reluctant to admit
that a tradesman could also be a gentleman, so it is
very evident that Melchizedek had special qualities
which procured him admittance gladly to the high
and disdainful regions of county society. His
grandson proffered the genial suggestion that Mel-
chizedek's good looks and fine figure found favour
with certain great ladies of the neighbourhood.
Possibly it was so, for the portrait of his grandfather
in Evan Harrington is in other respects very accurate.
It is true there is no evidence that Melchizedek
Meredith ever essayed to stand as parliamentary
candidate for " Fallowfield "— Petersfield— or that
he was often taken to be a member of the Upper
House. Still, it is very likely that the story related
in the novel, of how he passed as a marquis during
a visit to Bath, is true. It may be a confirmatory,


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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 1 of 23)