S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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household consists of four men, two of whom only,
myself and Mr Swinburne, are at all constant in-
mates." The younger brother, W. M. Rossetti, has
given some interesting details of the household and
of the not altogether sympathetic atmosphere which
soon settled over it :

Thk Back and Garden ok i6 Chkv.nk Walk, Ciiki.ska,

From a contemporary filwtog) af>h in //ic possession of Mr. Re^inalii Jiiiint



For the Cheyne Walk house . . . Rossetti was
to be the tenant, paying a rent (assuredly a very
moderate one) of £100 a year, besides— if I remember
right— a premium of £225 upon entry. As his sub-
tenants for defined portions of the building there
were to be three persons — Mr Swinburne, George
Meredith, and myself. Of course, each of us three
was to pay something to Dante ; though the latter
did not wish me, and in fact did not allow me, to
continue any such payment after affairs had got
into their regular course. We were all to dine
together, if present together in the house. Mr
Swinburne was generally present, Mr Meredith much
less constantly. I came on three fixed days of the
week, but not on any others unless some particular
occasion arose. Swinburne, and I think Meredith,
had their respective sitting-rooms in Avhich they
received their personal visitors.^ I had, and re-
quired, a bedroom only.

' Meredith's sitting-room was that to the right of the entrance hall.
It is panelled, like the rest of the house, and contains a remarkable
ornamented mantelpiece put in by D. G. Rossetti. This room was
used also as the common dining-room. The corresponding room to
the left of the hall was assigned to Swinburne as his study. Rossetti's
studio was the fine room at the back, and his bedroom was over it,
opening on to a balcony. The long drawing-room on the first floor
in front was not often used ; the bedroom over it was Swinburne's
presumably, and Meredith's an adjoining smaller room on this top
floor with a fine view of the river and the charm of sunrise.

There have been other notable occupants of i6 Cheyne Walk. Sir
Hall Caine lived here, in 1881-1882, with Rossetti during the last year
of the painter's life, and he fully describes the house and garden in
his Recollections of D. G. Rossetti and My Story. The Rev. H. R.
Haweis, Dr H. G. Plimmer, and Jacques Blumenthal, the composer,
were subsequent tenants, and the house is now (1920) occupied by
Lord Sterndale, the Master of the Rolls.

It is also of interest to remember that this is the house Thackeray
is said to have had in mind in his description of the residence of
Isabel Lady Castlewood in Henry Esmond: "They rowed up at
length to the pretty village of Chelsey, where the nobihty have


" Dante Rossetti was by this time familiar with
Mr Meredith, whom he had seen increasingly for
some three years past, and whose talents and work
he seriously, though not uncritically, admired. . . .
Mr Meredith and Rossetti entertained a solid mutual
regard, and got on together amicably, yet without
that thorough cordiality of give-and-take which oils
the hinges of daily intercourse. It would have been
difficult for two men of the literary order of mind
to be more decisively unlike. The reader of their
works— not to speak of the students of Rossetti's
paintings— will not fail to perceive this. Rossetti
was not at all a mere recluse, incapable of taking very
good care of himself in the current transactions of
life ; he had, on the contrary, a large share of
shrewdness and of business aptitude, and a quick
eye for ' the main chance ' in all contingencies where
he chose to exercise it. He understood character,
and (though often too indulgent to its shadier side)
he knew how to deal with it, and had indeed rather
a marked distaste for that inexpert class of persons
who waver on the edge of life without ever throwing
themselves boldly into it, and gripping at the facts.
But Mr Meredith was incomparably more a man of
the world and man of society, scrutinising all sorts
of things, and using them as his material in the
commerce of life and in the field of intellect. Even
in the matter of household routine, he found that
Rossetti's arrangements, though ample for comfort
of a more or less off-hand kind, were not conform-
able to his standard. Thus it pretty soon became

many handsome country houses ; and so came to my Lady Vis-
countess's house, a cheerful new house in the row facing the river,
with a handsome garden behind it, and a pleasant look-out both
towards Surrey and Kensington."


apparent that Mr Meredith's sub-tenancy was not
likely to stand much wear and tear, or to outlast the
temporary convenience which had prompted it. I
could not now define precisely how long it continued
— perhaps up to the earlier days of 1864. ^ It then
ceased, without, I think, any disposition on either
side that it should be renewed. Friendly inter-
course between the two men continued for some
years, and gradually wore out without any cause
or feeling of dissension."

One is constrained to admit the accuracy of the
above diagnosis of the characteristics of this curious
Chelsea " bachelor " coterie. Meredith was the
first to realise the impossibility of its continuance,
and he was the first to go. Many curious stories
have arisen since to account for his departure,
whereas mental irritability and the heat of what
the young lady in one of Sir Arthur Pinero's plays
termed the " Artistic Temperature " are all-sufficient
reasons for the break-up of the Cheyne Walk
arrangement. The most popular of these legends
attributes Meredith's flight to disgust at the habits
of Rossetti, more particularly at his late breakfast,
when the painter was alleged to have " devoured
like an ogre five poached eggs that had slowly bled
to death on five slabs of bacon." ^ Probably this
story had its origin in a humorous remark of

* Mr W. M. Rossetti later informed me : " My brother, Dante
Gabriel Rossetti, with his three sub-tenants, entered on the tenancy
of i6 Cheyne Walk in October, 1862. Meredith was there at times
up to some such date as April, 1863."

* Mr Wilfrid Scawen Blunt states in his Diary that Mr Wilfrid
Meynell thus related to him the true version, as he heard it from
Meredith, of Meredith's quarrel with Rossetti. "They were at
breakfast one morning, and had a dispute about a trifle, and Rossetti,
resenting something Meredith had said, told him that if he said it


Meredith's, whicli he never contemplated being re-
corded in the formality of print, and certainly he, as
a panegyrist of good feeding, would scarcely be
expected to take exception to the National Breakfast
in substantial ration. Therefore, when this legend
was repeated again he felt constrained to indite an
explanation and protest, which appeared in The
National Review, 1909, signed " George Meredith." ^

What Meredith actually said — or wrote — about
Rossetti is preserved in an unpublished letter to
Hardman of October, 1868, and in this he did
comment on Rossetti's habits of rising late, near
midday, and eating a quantity of thick ham and
gristle with four poached eggs ^ ; then working all
day ; at 10 p.m. going to Evans's for a supper of
underdone meat and stout. In result, he said,
Rossetti's nervous system was affected, and insomnia
added to the trouble.

It must regretfully be concluded that there was

again he would throw a cup of tea in his face. Meredith thereupon
repeated it, and Rossetti threw the tea, and Meredith left the house
at once and sent for his effects during the course of the day."

* Another legend of Meredith's departure from Cheyne Walk traces
it to his pride being hurt by the attempt of his friends there to relieve
his pedal necessities arising from lack of pecuniary means. Mr Ford
Madox Hueffer, in his Ancient Lights, states: "According to Madox
Brown, the end came one day when the benevolent poets substituted
for the cracked boots which he put outside his door to be cleaned a
new pair of exactly the same size and make. He put on the boots,
went out, and, having forwarded a cheque for the quarter's rent, never
returned." Madox Brown must have been mistaken. Meredith was
making quite a good income at this date, 1863. He received /200
a year from The Ipswich Journal, and no doubt quite another ;^200 as
Reader to Chapman and Hall, to say nothing of what he received from
his novels and poems. He was also contributing to The Morning Post
and other papers. Meredith was always scrupulously well dressed
when in London at this period, as will be seen later.

2 Sir Hall Caine relates that Rossetti " had an enormous breakfast
of six eggs or half-a-dozen kidneys."


not much affinity between Rossetti and Meredith.
Sir Hall Caine, who knew so much of Rossetti in
his last days, tells me that the painter said very
little about Meredith either in conversation or
correspondence, adding : "I am afraid we must
reconcile ourselves to the conclusion that there was
very little real sympathy between them, although
they bore an outer respect and admiration for each

Friction there evidently was at 16 Cheyne Walk,
and Mr Edmund Gosse, in his Life of A. C. Swin-
burne, suggests that it was incompatibility between
the poet and Meredith which caused the first rift
in the lute of harmony at Chelsea. He says :
" Meredith was not so much delighted with Swin-
burne as the poet was with him. Why should it be
concealed that the two men ultimately got upon
the nerves of each other ? " And again : " The
Pre-Raphaelites had not been well advised in sharing
their domestic bliss : there were too many plums in
their pudding. Swinburne and George Meredith
developed, in particular, a remarkable incompati-
bility of temper. They parted, rarely to meet again,
until 1898," when, on the occasion of Meredith's
seventieth birthday, Swinburne was persuaded by
Mr Gosse to sign the Address of Congratulation
presented to the novelist. Meredith was much
touched by this, and a short time afterwards he
asked Watts-Dunton to bring Swinburne over to
lunch at Box Hill. After that, presumably final,
meeting, friendly messages often passed between
them. I may add that Watts-Dunton told me that
the real cause of the coolness existing between the
two former friends up till the reconciliation of 1898
was caused by Swinburne's lack of appreciation of


Meredith's later novels. Not receiving any con-
gratulations on the publication of One of our Con-
querors and Lord Ormont and his Aminta and The
Amazing Marriage from Swinburne, the author in-
quired the reason why, and the poet frankly replied
that he could not read them, could not get through
them. This, from such an omnivorous novel reader
as Swinburne, was stinging comment on the torpi-
tude he found in these last novels, and Meredith
deeply resented it. Swinburne elsewhere com-
mented that these later books were " worrying in
their style," and he once made the remark that what
Meredith did was " to mar a curious tale in telling
it " [King Lear). After reading Beauchamp^ s Career
in 1876, Swinburne wrote to Morley :

" Full of power and beauty and fine truthfulness
as it is, what a noble book it might and should
have been, if he would but have forgone his lust
of epigram and habit of trying to tell a story by
means of riddles that hardly excite the curiosity
they are certain to baffle ! By dint of revulsion
from Trollope on this hand and Braddon on that,
he seems to have persuaded himself that limpidity
of style must mean shallowness, lucidity of narrative
must imply triviality, and simplicity of direct
interest or positive incident must involve ' sensa-
tionalism.' It is a constant irritation to see a man
of such rarely strong and subtle genius, such various
and splendid forces of mind, do so much to justify
the general neglect he provokes. But what noble
powers there are visible in almost all parts of his

With regard to the earlier incompatibility that
affected Meredith's relations with Swinburne, it


must in fairness be stated that there was no actual
quarrel when the former left Cheyne Walk. They
exchanged friendly letters in 1867-1868 ; Swinburne
paid a visit to Meredith, at Kingston, in 1867 ; and
Meredith stood by Swinburne when the storm
aroused by Poems and Ballads burst upon the poet
in 1866. Just before that volume was published
Meredith wrote sagely to the young author, warning
him to be careful, for the Lion of British Prudery
was already growling. He said he wished to see
Swinburne take his place as the leading poet, and
highly praised the Ode on Insurrection in Candia.

As early as 1861 Meredith had perceived the
powers and limitations of Swinburne when he said
his friend was not subtle, but would become famous.
In 1873 he termed him the finest poet and truest
artist of the new generation, apart from a certain
erotic obsession. As the years passed, his admiration
for the poet's work increased yet more, and it is not-
able that two of the last letters written by Meredith,
but a month before his own death, were both in
tribute to Swinburne. To Watts-Dunton he wrote
Swinburne was the greatest of lyrical poets ; and
to the editor of The Times his tribute likened the
name of Swinburne to a star shining in English

That was a fine epitaph upon the singer of the
silvern voice, and it cancels the petty misunder-
standings which arose from the too close contact
of two highly strung temperaments during a brief
period of swiftly passing mortal life. Truly ars
longa, vita brevis.



IN the summer of 1862 Meredith made several
pleasant excursions. In August he accom-
panied the Cotter Morisons on their yacht, the
Irene, for a run from the Isle of Wight, touching at
Weymouth and Torquay, to the Channel Islands.
He wrote in high spirits, on the 16th, from Ryde
Pier Hotel to William Hardman.

By 7th September he was staying with his friend,
Johnson, a bullion broker, at the George Inn, Marlow,
and later at Hoddesdon, whence he visited Hatfield
and Panshanger. He was compelled to extend his
absence from Copsham Cottage for several weeks
longer, owing to his housekeeper's niece developing
smallpox there. For the same reason he decided to
send his son Arthur, now nine years old, to boarding-
school. He came to this decision, to part with the
only person he loved, very reluctantly. His choice
of a school naturally fell upon that of his friend,
Augustus Jessopp.

Accordingly, after spending a few days with
Edward Chapman, at HoUyshaw, Camden Park,
Tunbridge Wells, at the end of September, Meredith
pronounced the dread word, and he and Arthur,
already breeched for school, set out for Norfolk,
where the boy became a pupil at King Edward the
VI. 's School, just inside the Erpingham Gate of the
Cathedral Close of Norwich. In the schoolroom,


Augustus Jessoti' and iiis Wii k

Fiflin a photograph about rS6o


formerly the chapel of St John, with its line fifteenth-
century archway and stone staircase, Nelson had
been a pupil just a hundred years before.

Meredith stayed a little while with the Jessopps
to see his son settled at school, and accompanied
the headmaster on a brief visit to St John's College,
Cambridge, whence he wrote to William Hardman.

On returning to Norwich much paternal heart-
beating was caused by an accident which befell
Arthur Meredith in the school gymnasium, and his
agitated parent related the incident to Hardman,
describing how the boy fell from the top of a ladder
seventeen feet to the crypt floor.

It is pleasant to picture Meredith entering simply
into the life of the school at Norwich in these few
days of recreation snatched from his journalistic
and " reader " work and the rather laborious toil
which attended the evolution of Sandra Belloni,
which he was now writing.

He was back at Copsham Cottage by 4th
November, when he penned that amusing letter in
rhyme to Mrs Jessopp concerning some deficiencies
in Arthur Meredith's school outfit. This was a
very clever and amusing parody of Mrs Brownnig's
poem, The Lady Geraldine's Courtship, wherein he
caught the veritable trick of her quaint phraseology.

Meredith hoped to get down to Norwich again at
the end of the term. But apparently he was pre-
vented, and great preparations were made at home
for the return of the son and heir together with
seasonable Christmas festivities. Of course Mere-
dith's arrangements with other friends liad lo be
cancelled if they did not coincide with the wishes
of his boy. For instance, it was proposed to go to
a theatre with Hardman, who inclined to the Strand


Theatre, with its Marie Wilton, puns, and burlesque :
but Arthur Meredith desired a pantomime, and it
was so.

After much epistolary exhortation against larks
in the train, Arthur arrived safely from Norwich,
and Meredith had no fault to find with the condition
of his recovered treasure ; he wrote to Jessopp, on
23rd December, expressing pleasure at the appear-
ance, physical and mental, of his " little man."

Meredith and his son spent Christmas Day at 27
Gordon Street, with the Hardmans, and on Boxing
Day Arthur's wishes were duly carried out by a
visit to the pantomime at Drury Lane. Edmund
Falconer commenced his management of the theatre
that night, and is reported to have spent £10,000 on
the venture. The opening night was very rowdy,
and Hardman relates of this outing with the
Merediths :

" We went to Drury Lane on Boxing Night, and
such a pandemonium I have rarely witnessed. The
first piece was acted in dumb show, not a word
could we hear. The fights in pit and gallery were
frequent. The shower of orange peel from the
gods into the pit was quite astounding. The
occupants of the latter place made feeble efforts to
throw it back again, but, of course, never got it any
further than the first tier of boxes. I was glad to
see the thing once, but you won't catch me there

Despite his work, January was devoted by Mere-
dith to giving his boy a good time. But the last
day of the holidays inevitably came, when, after a
final expedition to the Bank of England and Tower
of London, followed by a feast of oysters and cakes,

(iiiiKci. M i:ui:iii 1 II AM) Ills SON Auiinu
liom a filiologra^li al'Oiit 1SO2


Arthur was seen off from Slioreditcli station on his
return to Norwich. He was an unemotional child,
and seeing his father's grief at their separation
calmly remarked : " Never mind, papa : it is no
use minding it : I shall soon be back to you " —
certainly a reversing of the usual procedure between
parent and child at holiday terminations.

When the philosophic youth came back to Cops-
ham Cottage in April, 1863, for the next holidays, he
developed measles, when his father nursed him and
sat up most of the night to give the child barley
water. This illness served as a pretext for keeping
Arthur at home for four months.

Every allusion to Arthur at this period voices
pathetically Meredith's love and solicitude for his
son. During these long summer holidays of 1863
the boy had an alarming accident, which greatly
agitated Meredith. Arthur was out on the Common
alone, when a friend of Meredith's named Wyndowe,
from Esher, rode up. He foolishly put the boy on
the horse, to give him a ride ; but letting go the
reins, the horse bolted, the child fell and was dragged
by the stirrup for fifty yards over the grass and
furze — which probably saved his life. He was
much shaken, but no bones were broken, and he was
well again in a few days. But JMeredith's anxiety
continued long after the boy returned to school, and
the parental letters to Dr Jessopp make pathetic

To retrace a little in date, for a few days, in
January, Meredith, Hardman and James Virtue
were guests of the Cotter Morisons on board the
yacht Irene for a trip to Cherbourg and the Channel
Islands. The w^eathcr was very rough, and most
of the party were ill.


In July, 1863, Meredith (and Arthur) again visited
Seaford, despite the painful memories of his first wife
that place must have conjured up. Once more he was
with the modern Amphitryon, Maurice FitzGerald,
and enjoying the gastronomy of yore in Marine
Terrace. The party of friends comprised Frank
Burnand, Maurice and Gerald FitzGerald, Signor
Vignati, Hyndman, and S. Laurence, the painter.

Henry Mayers Hyndman, the future leader of
Socialism, was at this date a young man of twenty-
one, an undergraduate of Trinity College, and a
member of the Sussex County Eleven. He had
joined the party at Seaford as a friend of Maurice
FitzGerald, and in his Record of an Adventurous Life
he gives some interesting impressions of this sojourn
in " a sort of village of the dead " :

*' The villagers around us knew nothing and cared
less about the laughing, chaffing crew who, with the
sons of the chief local landowners, were making
merry in one of the few decent houses on the front,
or at the New Inn, already some centuries old.

" Though Seaford was the spot at which Meredith's
first wife had carried on the intrigue with Wallis,
the painter, which led to their separation, Meredith
shook ofi' the trouble this had occasioned him and
was almost as jolly as Burnand. . . . But Meredith
in particular was at his best in those days, and being
quite at home with the men around him, and with
no audience he felt it incumbent upon him to dazzle,
and waiting to appreciate his good things, he de-
livered himself without efiort or artifice of all the
really profound and poetic and humorous thoughts
on men and things that welled continually within
him in a manner that I recall with delight these


long years afterwards. It was on one of these
occasions, when we were all sitting together on
the beach, tossing stones lightly into the sea, and
Meredith was discoursing with even more than
ordinary vivacity and charm, that Burnand suddenly
came out with, ' Damn you, George ; why won't you
write as you talk ? ' Why Meredith, with such a
wonderful gift of clear, forcible language as he
possessed and was master of, should have deliber-
ately cultivated artificiality I never have been able
to comprehend. He had a perfectly marvellous
flow of what I may call literary high spirits through-
out his life, and his unaffected, natural talk, such as
this at Seaford, was altogether delightful. But his
writings showed even then to my eye, young and
inexperienced as I was, little trace of this unforced
outpouring of wisdom and wit ; while Meredith's
conversation was almost equally artificial, not to say
stilted, except with men and women he had known
well for years. . . . This show talk and show writing
of Meredith was quite as brilliant as the uncon-
sidered outpourings of the natural man, and he said
perhaps even cleverer things ; but his wit was much
more sardonic, and somehow you could hear the
clank of the machinery all the time."

When Meredith went to stay with him at Cam-
bridge during May Newmarket week of 1864,
Hyndman states that Meredith met various under-
graduates in his rooms in Rose Street. He talked
volubly to them in an artificial, showy way, entering
into discussion about their pursuits and sports of all
kinds without knowing much about these recreations.
At the same time, Mr Hyndman adds that Meredith
was then in very good physical condition, and threw


him in a wrestling bout : " In fact he was all wire and
whipcord without a spare ounce of flesh upon him."

There is confirmation of the statement that
Meredith was artificial in conversation, when with
strangers he sought to impress, in Mrs Ross's book.
Alluding to the fact that Kinglake and Meredith
did not care for each other much, she says : " Both
were shy in different ways, and both were at their
best when alone with one or two friends. My Poet,
in the early days when I saw so much of him, was a
delightful companion when he knew he was liked ;
before strangers his shyness took the form of assert-
ing himself rather loudly, and trying to be epigram-
matic and witty ; he gave one the impression that he
was not quite sure on what footing he stood."

Sir William Hardman also related an amusing
anecdote of Meredith's " show " talk in an incident
Avhich happened in 1863, when they both met at

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 11 of 23)