S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

George Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work online

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tions for higher stratas of society.

As already related, Augustus Meredith emigrated
to South Africa in 1849, and for many years he
carried on his business as tailor in Cape Town, his
shop being situated in St George's Street, at the
corner of Hout Street. His sister's son, George
Elhs, R.N., the original of Crossjay Patterne in
The Egoist, was also in Cape Town at this period,
and he married there in 1851. Probably it was
owing to the advice of this nephew that Augustus
came to try his luck in that quarter of the globe,
then so remote.

After the death of George Meredith in 1909, some
correspondence was published in The Cape Times on
the subject of local reminiscences of the novelist's
father. A great many erroneous statements were
made, but some points of interest relative to Evan
Harrington transpired. Mr B. T. Lawton, of Ron-
debosch, who had been a customer and friend of
Augustus Meredith, wrote that he well remembered
how, in 1860, when Evan Harrington was appearing
serially in Once a Week, he one day entered the shop
and found the tailor in very low spirits. As a rule
Augustus was very uncommunicative, but on this
occasion, with an obvious desire for sympathy, he
departed from his usual reserve and asked Mr


Lawton if he had seen the new story. " I am very-
sore about it," said Augustus ; "I am pained be-
yond expression, as I consider it aimed at myself,
and I am sorry to say the writer is my own son."
Mr Lawton added that Augustus Meredith was then
a handsome man of medium stature, well educated,
and exceedingly obhging in business. He told Mr
Lawton that in England he walked many miles every
day, and this led to Augustus, at the ripe age of the
mid-sixties, accompanying his Cape Town friend in
an ascent of Table Mountain. Several other corre-
spondents contributed their recollections, one stating
that Augustus Meredith lent him a copy of Farina,
and another relating how the Rev. Dr James Cannon
once said to the tailor : "I am much interested in
the career of your distinguished son," whereupon
the father turned hastily away and made no reply.

On the whole it appears that Augustus Meredith
did not like allusions to his son. He eventually
returned to England about 1863, and settled near
his old home in Portsmouth. He lived first at
Argyll Villas, Wish Street, Southsea, and later at
50 Elm Grove (then called 2 Oxford Villas), a house
which belonged to his second wife and where he
spent the remainder of his years. Occasionally
George Meredith came down for a fcAV hours to see
his father, merely a duty, for affection there was
none. There is only one allusion to Augustus in his
son's letters. In October, 1870, writing to his own
son Arthur, then a boy of seventeen, at school on the
Continent, George Meredith told him he had seen
Grandpapa Meredith on his way to Captain Maxse's.

Augustus Meredith died on 18th June, 1876, at
the age of seventy-nine, and was buried (in the same
vault as his second wife, Matilda Buckett, who died


in 1885, at the age of sixty-seven) at Highland Road
Cemetery, Southsea. George Meredith was present
at his father's funeral. He inherited a few personal
effects and family portraits : but these pictures were
never seen prominently in his house. To the last,
with that strange secretive sensitiveness which made
his early days a closed book of mystery, he put out
of sight and mind all memories and reminders of his
youth in Portsmouth. And yet, in strange contra-
diction, he had recorded his family history in Evan
Harrington. As I previously advanced, it could
not be actual shame of the shop that prompted
his reticence in convei-sation concerning his origin.
Probably Evafi Harrington was a sort of safety valve
whereby he gave vent to much long-repressed
emotion— old slights, old humiliations, bitter regrets
that he, so aristocratic in aspiration and personal
appearance, was basely born, as he hyperbolically
expressed it in the person of Evan. Undoubtedly
there are many passages in the book voicing the
personal bitterness of Meredith at the circumstances
of his birth and youth. There is also a passage in
chapter x. of The House on the Beach (written, as
we have seen, in 1861, soon after Evan Harrington)
which, I think, accurately expresses Meredith's
attitude, as a Son of the Shop, to Trade.

And now, at last, we are able to depart finally
from the shop and Portsmouth, and, following in
the track of the Harringtons, arrive at Petcrsfield
(" Fallowficld "), where it would seem the daughters
of Melchizcdek Meredith had gone to school.
Possibly Dubbins's Seminary for Young Ladies was
located in that anciont building, formerly " The
Castle " Inn, where stayed Charles II. and Pepys.
" The Green Dragon " Inn was probably intended


for " The Anchor," and " The Dolphin " was de-
scribed under its own name— the scene where " Mrs
Mel. makes a Bed." Beckley Court was, I think,
intended for Fair Oak Lodge, about fifteen miles,
as mentioned in the book, from Petersfield. The
place tallies with Beckley, and the river Rot her runs
through the grounds, as in Meredith's beautiful
description of the rising harvest moon. Fair Oak
Lodge was occupied by G. P. R. James, the novelist,
in 1837-1839.

It is well known that the characteristics of Sir
Franks and Lady Jocelyn and Rose were drawn
from the author's friends. Sir Alexander and Lady
Duff Gordon and their daughter Janet, of whom
Meredith saw so much at the time he was writing
Evan Harrington. Particularly successful w^as he
in delineating the rich personality of Lady Duff
Gordon. She (daughter of John Austin, Professor
of Jurisprudence, and through her mother a de-
scendant of the Taylors of Norwich) was a very
remarkable woman and of a distinguished type of
beauty. In advance of her time, she possessed
a singular masculinity of intellect, was a famous
traveller, and a writer of ability and charm, and
smoked cigars both indoors and out. She died in
1869 at the early age of forty-eight. It attaches
worthily to her name that she was one of the first
to perceive Meredith's powers in his early days as a
writer. He received many kindnesses from her,
and she was one of the few who understood with
sympathy and tact his shy, sensitive nature. He
was not ungrateful. " O what a gallant soul she is,
and how very much I love her!" he said in 1861 ;
and he paid a fine tribute to her in the after years
in the Introduction he wrote for Lady Duff Gordon's

Lucie, Lady Duik Gordon, 'ihe oru;inai, of Lady Jocelyn
IN "Evan Harkinuton," and of Lady Dunstane in

From the portrait by If. H'. Philti/>s


Letters j'rom Egypt. How well his estimate blends
with the picture of Lady Jocelyn and recalls her
sane, serene attitude to life : both possessed cceurs
d'or. It is a pleasant memorial of the old days at
Esher. The amusing Miss Current, in Evan Harring-
ton, was drawn from Miss Louisa Courtenay, an old
friend of Lady Duff Gordon, who often came to
Esher. And Pat, the Irish retriever pup, had his
original in Peter, the property of Miss Janet Duff
Gordon, at whose special request the dog was intro-
duced into the story. Peter, after being broken in,
was given to Arthur Meredith. Miss Duff Gordon
seems quite to have entered into the spirit of her
progressive immortalisation as Rose Jocelyn, for
she relates she would often interrupt Meredith's
reading of his latest instalment of " her " story
with the remark : " No, I should never have said
it like that." And as she expressed it to me :
" I ' corrected ' myself in Evan Harrington.'''' But
Meredith thought otherwise, for he held the model
to be the finer part.

Certainly the history of this novel is a curious
one, for here was the author drawing from the life
the characteristics of his friends with their willing
consent, though at the same time those friends were
quite unaware that other characters in the book
were drawn from the author's own relatives, long
since dead or lost sight of, and that the story was
the unveiling of part of his own inner sensitiveness.

Needless to say that, like that brave high young
soul Rose, Miss Duff Gordon was a fearless rider,
and relations of her adventures on horseback will
be found in Mrs Ross's book of reminiscences, The
Fourth Generation. When she married and left
Esher, owing to Mrs Ross's permanent residence


abroad she did not often meet her old friend again.
Forty-three years later she saw him, five years before
his death, for the last time. He was aged and deaf,
'' but the old fire and brilliancy were there, and we
talked for two or three hours about old times and
old friends, most of them, alas, dead. ' You have
something of Rose in you still, my dear,' he said,
smiling rather sadly as I got up to go ; ' those
were pleasant days.' " And Mrs Ross concludes :
" What an uphill fight he had, and how splendidly
he won it. I never think of him as the old man I
saw at Box Hill. He lives in my memory as the
lithe, active companion who so often strode along
by the side of my cob over Copsham Common,
brandishing his stick and talking so brilliantly."

I have already alluded to the love and devotion
Meredith showered upon his little son Arthur in the
years immediately following the separation from
the wife and mother and the death of that most
unhappy of women. This supreme affection of the
then lonely father for his lonely child is the most
pathetic episode in the life of Meredith ; baffled love
and sorrow and retributive tragedy are enshrined in
the story, which in its most appealing features only
covers a few years. It was, in a way, a repetition
of family history. Remembering his own lonely
—perchance loveless — boyhood (for his father,
Augustus Meredith, as I have related, though in-
dulgent and anxious to win his son's affections and
sympathies, never succeeded in reaching that remote
and sensitive heart), George Meredith made affecting
efforts to recover the mistakes of the past and win
the love of his own son— the only thing in the world
he then loved ; the handsome boy, ill-fated inheritor
of a double portion of warring temperament and



Janet Dui-f (Gordon (Mrs. Ros?).

JocEi-YN IN' "Evan Harrington,"

Ilchestkr, in "Harry

The original of Rose

AND, partly, of JaNRI


Fro»i the portrait by C. !■'. Watts, R.A.


talent, was of curious psychology ; he was rather
cold and unresponsive to his father ; his sympathies,
in turn, were never won, and eventually came long
estrangement between these two acutely sensitive
natures so much alike, each with a power of wound-
ing the other most pitiful. George Meredith had to
suffer the same regrets and pangs which had been
the portion of his father before him in relation to
his own personality. As he sorrowfully wrote from
experience in Richard Feverel, he was contending
with Fate for the boy.

In both the cases of George and Arthur Meredith
the boys were spoilt and brought up in an ill-advised
and uncertain manner ; both in the position of an
only child, they each lacked the society of other
children and were too much imbued witli that of
adults. How injudicious, at times, George Meredith
was in the treatment of his son is evidenced by a
story related to me by Sir Francis Burnand, who
was a spectator of the incident and said he never
could forget the unpleasant memory. It was in
1859, when Burnand was staying with Meredith and
Maurice FitzGerald at Esher, and on one occasion,
at dinner, Arthur Meredith— then a child of some
six years of age— wishing to emulate his elders,
asked for some wine. The request was refused.
The boy persisted, till, at last, Meredith, in a hue
irritation, cried : " If you will have it you shall,''
and compelled the boy to drink a tumbler full of
wine, with the result that Arthur was rendered al-
most unconscious, and then very ill, in which state he
remained for several days. Certainly an cflicacious,
if drastic, lesson in obedience and temperance.
But in the main. Meredith's life with his little son,
in the days when tiiey were all in all to each other.


makes a pleasant picture, with the Surrey lanes and
heaths and dear old woods of Copsham for a setting.

In the summer of 1861 Meredith went abroad
with Arthur, and arranged to meet W. C. Bonaparte
Wyse there. Father and son duly set forth, and
travelled via Ostend and the Rhine. They stayed,
as arranged, at Zurich, in July, and then went on
to Innsbruck, and to Meran in the Tyrol.

They had joined Bonaparte Wyse without mishap,
and he accompanied them across the Alps. Mere-
dith was much struck by the Rosanna, which re-
minded him somehow of his friend Maxse, to whom
his poem By the Rosanna was accordingly dedicated.
He was also greatly impressed by the Alps, which
seemed to him something more than earth.

Meredith and Arthur travelled to Venice, and Wyse
to Como to visit his mother. Meredith had now
greatly improved in health. He and his small boy
bathed in the Adriatic daily and walked the Lido.
He took pleasure in finding the exact spot where the
great bell of the asylum can be seen to swing in the
sunset as described in a poem of Shelley's. ^

From Milan, in August, Meredith proceeded to
Como, where he rejoined Bonaparte Wyse. He
was received very affably at the Villa Ciani, near
Este, by his friend's mother. Lady Wyse, the
daughter of Lucien Bonaparte (brother of the
Emperor Napoleon). Here, too, he met the Prin-
cess's daughter, Adeline Wyse, with her fiance,

^ " I looked, and saw between us and the sun
A building on an island. . . .
And on the top an open tower, where hung
A bell which in the radiance swayed and swung, —
We could just hear its hoarse and iron tongue :
The broad sun sank behind it, and it tolled . . . "

Julian and Maddalo.


General Stephane Tiirr, an officer of Garibaldi's
and the original promoter of the Panama Canal in
1878. Her sister, Marie Wyse, married Rattazzi,
the Piedmontese minister.

Meredith flattered the Princess with full-bodied
compliments, and half fell in love with Adeline Wyse,
who, however, married her general soon after. Life
at the Villa was very pleasant. All the party,
ladies and gentlemen, bathed together in the Lake
of Como, and at dinner they were convivial with
some Royal Tokay, presented to General Tiirr by
King Victor. Riding and driving and music whiled
away the time. Lady Wyse received a pension of
£2000, and the daughters of £1000, a year from their
cousin, the Emperor Napoleon III.

The Merediths returned home to Copsham in
September, stopping a few days in Paris. But
Arthur longed for home, despite dinners at Vefours
and Les Trois Freres, and so Meredith sacrificed his
own inclinations and cut short his time in Paris. His
letters at this date prove his entire devotion to his
little son : he acted as nurse and governess, as he
said, held the child in his arms when restless and
sleepless, doctored him when necessary, and eventu-
ally got him home safely with the juvenile mind
considerably improved.

Meredith himself was in much better health and
able to work as the result of the tour.

In the spring of 1862 he was busy with his forth-
coming new volume of poems, and at this date also
he commenced his comedy. The Sentimentalists.^

' The comedy, apparently, did not develop at this time, and the
project was put aside until about 1870, when scenes 6-8 were written.
In 1883. when Meredith's Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth was
published, the book contained a notice of "Forthcoming Publications "
which mentioned The Sentimentalists : a Comedy. Then after another
long interval, it seems Meredith rewrote, in 1 895-1900, the first five


Modern Love and Poems of the English Roadside,
dedicated to Captain Maxse, when published in the
spring of 1862, attracted very little attention and
shared the fate of the earlier volume of verse in
1851, despite the brilliant championship of Swin-
burne. Meredith was prepared for an adverse
verdict by experience. He said he expected a
severe drubbing from the reviewers. His anticipa-
tions of unfavourable reviews were soon realised.
An adverse notice of the poems appeared in The
Spectator for 24th May, 1862, wherein it was said :

" Mr George Meredith is a clever man, without
literary genius, taste, or judgment. The effect of
the book on us is that of clever, meretricious, turbid
pictures by a man of some vigour, jaunty manners,
quick observation, and some pictorial skill, who likes
writing about naked human passions, but does not
bring either original imaginative power or true
sentiment to the task. . . . Meddling causelessly,
and somewhat pruriently, with a deep and painful
subject on which he has no convictions to express,
he sometimes treats serious themes with a flippant
levity that is exceedingly vulgar and unpleasant."

By the Rosanna was classified with " spasmodic
ostentation of ' fast ' writing. Mr Meredith evidently
thinks mud picturesque, as indeed it may be, but all
picturesqueness is not poetry."

scenes. After the author's death the comedy was collated by Sir
J. M. Barrie. It was produced at the Duke of York's Theatre, on
2nd March, 1910, with Miss Fay Davis, Miss Mary Jerrold, and Mr
Dennis Eadie in the principal parts. Although the piece was admitted
to be all very exquisite and fragile — a dainty comedy in porcelain,
let us say — and the Georgian costumes picturesque, it was found to
be both artificial and ethereal, and lacking in the dramatic sense.


This rather fatuous disquisition aroused the ire
of Swinburne, who, devoting his attention primarily
to a defence of Modern Love, replied with a long
letter which appeared in the issue for 7th June. He
protested against " this sort of criticism as applied
to one of the leaders of English literature. . . .
Praise or blame should be thoughtful, serious, careful
when applied to a work of such subtle strength,
such depth of delicate power, such passionate and
various beauty, as the leading poem of Mr Meredith's
volume ; in some points, as it seems to me (and in
this opinion I know that I have weightier judgments
than my own to back me), a poem above the aim
and beyond the reach of any but its author. Mr
Meredith is one of the three or four poets now alive
whose work, perfect or imperfect, is always as noble
in design as it is often faultless in result. The present
critic falls foul of him for dealing with ' a deep and
painful subject on which he has no convictions to
express.' There are pulpits enough for all preachers
in prose ; the business of verse-writing is hardly to
express convictions ; and if some poetry, not with-
out merit of its kind, has at times dealt in dogmatic
morality, it is all the worse and all the weaker for
that. As to subject, it is too much to expect
that all schools of poetry are to be for ever sub-
ordinate to the one just now so much in request
with us, whose scope of sight is bounded by the
nursery walls ; that all Muses arc to bow dowi.
before lier who babbles, with lips yet warm from
their pristine pap, after the dangling delights of a
child's coral, and jingles with flaccid fingers one
knows not whether a jester's or a baby's bells." '

1 Swinburne's Faiistine had been published in the previous nunibi-r
of The Spectator, 31st May, 1862.


He might have quoted the words which Meredith
prefixed to Modern Love : " This is not meat for
little people or for fools."

In addition to the poem of Modern Love, the
volume contained twenty-two other pieces. Most
of those which may be classified as genre had origin-
ally appeared in Once a Week. Of the rest, the finest
was the Ode to the Spirit of Earth in Autumn, and it
is strange that the reviewer in The Spectator could
not unbend to admit its merits.

The notices of the book elsewhere were not re-
markable. Maxse wrote the review in The Morning
Post from proofs, without seeing the published

The poems were much admired by Robert Brown-
ing, who told Meredith he was astounded at their
originality and delighted by their naturalness and

In June, 1862, Meredith first spoke of taking a
house (which he called Sir T. More's) at Chelsea con-
jointly with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Swinburne.
In the same letter he alluded to the report that
Rossetti had buried his manuscript poems in his
wife's coffin.^

1 Frederick Maxse had married, in 1861, Cecilia, daughter of
Colonel Steel. Mrs Maxse died in 1918. The children of the marriage
were Lieut.-General Sir Ivor Maxse, Mr L. J. Maxse, of The National
Review, and two daughters, one of whom married Lord Edward Cecil
in 1894. Meredith and Oscar Wilde were among the guests at the

2 Rossetti's wife, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, died from the effects of
laudanum in February, 1862, and the poet-painter was overwhelmed
with grief. Mr Edmund Gosse, in his Life of A . C. Swinburne, relates :
'' Swinburne is said to have been present when Rossetti thrust the sole
manuscript of his poems into his wife's coffin, and it was to his marvel-
lous memory that Morris, Meredith, and Bume-Jones principally
trusted for the reconstruction of those lost lyrics."


It was in connection with his work as Reader for
Chapman and Hall, involving attendance for a whole
day each week at the office in Piccadilly, which
caused Meredith to enter into this arrangement to
take a room and some share of the housekeeping
expenses at Queen's (then called Tudor) House,
16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, during the memorable
occupation of the house by the Rossetti brothers and
Swinburne. It was manifestly inconvenient to get
back to Copsham Cottage late in the evening, par-
ticularly in the winter, and the Chelsea proposition
seemed a very suitable and pleasant solution of the
difficulty, for here was talented and apparently con-
genial society, and certainly the house was one of
the most delightful in London. It was, however,
an error of Meredith's to describe the place as Sir
Thomas More's house : this had stood farther west
on the site of what is now Beaufort Street, Chelsea.
And Mr Edmund Gosse, in his Life of A. C. Swin-
burne, was also incorrect in stating that part of the
house had been occupied by Queen Katherine Parr.

No. 16 Cheyne Walk was built in 1717, as recorded
in the Survey of Chelsea issued by the London
County Council, and its design and architectural
features are in conformation with the building style
of that date. It was erected upon part of the " Great
Garden " of the IManor House, which house in earlier
days had covered the ground east of Winchester
House up to what is now No. 18 Cheyne Walk —
two doors from Rossetti's house. In his time the
garden was much larger than it is now. It reached
back to Oakley Crescent, and extended east to
Manor Street. Meredith, in after years, used to
say that so hilarious were the post-prandial meetings
of Rossetti's guests in the garden that Mrs Carlyle


had to send round to beg them to make less noise,
as Carlyle was disturbed at his lucubrations. In
such case the garden festivities at No. 16 must have
been very obstreperous, as No. 5 Cheyne Row was
some considerable distance away, with Oakley Street

The name " Queen's House " arose from three
erroneous traditions which associated the house with
Queen Katherine Parr, Queen Catherine of Braganza,
and Queen Elizabeth, who had a mulberry-tree in
the garden dedicated to her name. " Queen's
House," without a distinguishing Christian name,
avoids invidiousness and no doubt placates the three
royal shades : but the place needs no adventitious
associations with virtuous queens to render it deeply
interesting. It suffices that it is a perfect example
of an early eighteenth- century house, and that here
the Rossettis, Meredith, and Swinburne lived to-
gether in a quaint attempt at joint housekeeping
and domestic intimacy which made no provision for
the eccentricities of genius and the clash of highly
strung nervous temperaments. And even in those
days, fifty-five years antecedent to " war work,"
servant difficulties were not unknown, for we find
Dante Rossetti (the managing director of the
quartet of two widowers and two bachelors) writing
in January, 1863 : "I have been a martyr to un-
satisfactory servants here, and have been asking all
my friends if they know any desirable ones. Our

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 10 of 23)