S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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dinner a remarkable woman, Mrs Atkinson, widow
of the celebrated Siberian traveller. She had been
a great traveller also, and had spent twenty years
in Russia and carried out a fourteen days' ride into
Tartary. She was the author of a book relating her
many adventurous experiences. To continue in
Hardman' s words :

" Mrs Atkinson is a bright-eyed, intelligent
woman, small in stature. She polished Meredith off
in fine style. He was in high spirits, talking fast
and loud. The Surrey hills, the Hindhead, and
Devil's Punchbowl, were the subjects of conversa-
tion, and G. M. asserted (I know not on what
authority) that the view from the Hindhead was
very like Africa. Mrs A. pricked up her ears, and
bending forward across the table asked in a clear but


low voice : ' And, pray, sir, may I ask what part of
Africa you have visited ? ' Alas ! poor Robin ! he
has never been further south than Venice. No one
could be more amused at his own discomfiture than
he was himself, and he gave a very vivid description
of his sensations when he saw Mrs A. preparing the
inevitable enquiry which he foresaw. As he had
talked about Africa without having been there, the
great Siberian traveller was disposed evidently to
hold him lightly, for later in the dinner the talk was
of certain cannibals who are to be imported as the
last Sensation Exhibition, and the question of
feeding them was mooted. ' Oh ! ' says Meredith,
' there will be no difficulty about that, we shall feed
them on the disagreeable people and those we don't
like.' ' Yes, indeed,' said Mrs Atkinson, ' and that
gentleman (meaning Meredith) would be one of the
first to go.' Conceive the chaff, the laughter. We
all of us liked the little woman immensely, and mean
to improve the acquaintance."

At a later period there is an interesting note on
Meredith's conversation by Henry Sidgwick, who
writes : " April ISth, 1886. Last night we dined
with Leslie Stephen and met George Meredith, whom
I liked, but was somewhat disappointed in his con-
versation. He was not affected or conceited and
talked fluently, but not exactly with ease, nor did
his phrases seem to me often to have anj^ peculiar
aptness ; once or twice there was an amusing stroke
of humorous fancy, as when he talked of an unhappy
singer's voice being ' like the soul of a lemon in
purgatory ' ; but these things did not come often." '

» Mr Wilfrid Scawen Blunt noted in 1804 that Meredith's conversa-
tion was " like one dictating to a secretary, a constant search for


And ill 1880 Henry Murray relates how Meredith
humorously talked against water-drinking, and cited
the horrible case of a fellow-student in Germany
who practised the fell habit and died suddenly in
great agony, leaving behind a solemn request that
the autopsy should be performed by his friend,
George Meredith. " When I made the first incision,
the glitter of the stalactites in the poor fellow's
gastric cavity positively blinded me — I had to wear
blue glasses for months after."

Comyns Carr suggested that Meredith cultivated
conversation on subjects often outside the province
of the novelist's art with the ulterior motive of
presenting the matter or problem in his novels :

" He loved to submit his creations to the instant
pressure of their time, and with this purpose it was
his business, no less than his pleasure, to equip him-
self intellectually with garnered stores of knowledge
in fields into which the ordinary writers of fiction
rarely enter. It was not, of course, to be supposed
that he could claim equal mastery in all, although
his intellect was so active and agile that his limita-
tions were not easily discerned. I remember one
day having introduced him to an old gentleman,
whose long life had been spent in a study of the
drawings of the old masters, to whom Meredith,
with inimitable fluency, was expounding the peculiar
virtues of the art of Canaletto. Meredith was elo-
quent, but the discourse somehow failed to impress
the aged student. When they had parted his sole
commentary to me was : ' Your friend — Mr Mere-
dith, I think you said — endeavoured to persuade me
that he understood Canaletto, but he did not.' . . .
It must be conceded by all who knew him well


that Meredith was not often caught tripping in the
discussion of any topic in which his intellect had been
actively engaged. Sometimes— and then, perhaps,
rather in a spirit of audacious adventure and for
exercise of his incomparable powers of expression —
he would make a bold sortie into realms of knowledge
that were only half-conquered. But this was, for
the most part, only when he had an audience waiting
on his words. When he had only a single com-
panion to listen, there was no man whose talk was
more penetrating or more sincere."

Of course as years went by and Meredith became
more and more famous, his conversation was directed
increasingly to secure an effect, and there was then
more excuse for his didactics in the knowledge that
his adulatory auditors, in many cases, intended his
remarks for subsequent publication. An even less
pleasing trait of Meredith in conversation was his
habit, particularly at table when guests were present,
of exercising his wit at the expense of his household.
It is a curious fact that sensitive and shy people,
quick to take offence at any personalities or slights
directed at them, are the most prone to wound
others by ill-timed humour and personal remarks
of a disconcerting nature. Thackeray was another
case in point. As a specimen of Meredith's lighter
and less offensive badinage, one may offer the story
told by Mr Ciodd of the parlour-maid who, on re-
moving the remains of a dish from tabic, asked :
" If you please, sir, does this puddin' want savin' ? "
To which Meredith solemnly replied : " Now, my
good girl, you, I believe, a churchgoer, ask me if this
puddin' wants savin'. Do you think that tlie
puddin' has a soul, that it stands in need of salva-


tion, as we are told we all do ? Take it away,
Elizabeth, and let me never hear you ask such a
funny question again."

Arthur having returned to school, Meredith, on
20th August, 1863, crossed to Paris, where by
arrangement he met Hardman, who has left a record
of their three days together in France :

" Paris, August 21st. Letter from George Mere-
dith announcing his approach. He left via New-
haven last night, and ought to have been in Paris
about 11.30. He stopped at Rouen to see the Joan
of Arc, and to call on an author who had submitted
certain work to the Chapmans. He arrived about
2.30. Joyful greetings. We dined by Robin's
request at Vefour's, a great mistake. Between
Vefour's and the Trois Freres there is such a differ-
ence as between the University Club and the
' London ' (corner of Chancery Lane). Meredith and
I strolled smoking along the Champs Elysees in the
evening — very pleasant, and not offensive like our
own beastly Haymarket. Robin brought me Once
a Week containing my article on America : An
Imaginary Tour, published August 15, and also put
Renan's Life of Jesus into his bag for me. We think
him not looking well— his son Arthur's accident has
naturally been a matter of great anxiety.

" Paris, August 22nd. Chartered two carriages,
and drove about, visiting the Louvre and other places.
Dined at Trois Freres, Robin and I going first to order
the dinner, and then returning to our hotel. We were
the merriest of parties. Charles, the waiter, was an
admirable type of the aristocracy of waiters. . . .

" Paris, August 2Srd (Sunday). We went to
Versailles by the Avenue de Passy, through Sevres,


and arrived safely at eleven o'clock. Could not get
Meredith past the more modern French pictures of
battles. . . . We had a delightful drive back through
St Cloud and the Bois de Boulogne. Expressions
of admiration at the beauty of the drive were ex-
hausted. Truly the Emperor is a wonderful OEdile."

On the evening of this day, Meredith left to join
his friend, Lionel Robinson — " Poco " — at Grenoble.
They visited the Grande Chartreuse, and walked
through Dauphinc, accomplishing some twelve to
thirteen hours pedestrianism every day. By Mont
Genevre they passed into Italy, and stayed at Turin.
They returned by Lago Maggiore and Piedmont to
Switzerland, and thence to Dijon, where the friends
parted. Robinson proceeded to Liege and Mere-
dith to Paris, where he spent four days, returning to
Copsham Cottage by 16th September.

The autumn passed, and though busy with Sandra
Belloni and other work, Meredith became lonely and
unhappy at this period. Momentous changes were
impending, but, for the moment, Arthur was still the
paramount thought of his father's life. Meredith
longed for the boy's return at Christmas, and wrote
to tell him how all the Copsham countryside was in
the grip of frost, how all his toys would be ready for
him, and how the father longed for liis son. And
when the child was home ^ Meredith told ^Irs Jcssopp
he marvelled how he could exist away from what lie
called his living heart, but he was resolved to make
the most of the six weeks they were to be togetlier.

Only six months later came the domestic change

' During these holidays D. G. Rossetti painted a full-length portrait
of Arthur Meredith, with a " Futurist " dog in the background. It
was not in any way a likeness of the boy.


which caused Arthur's supreme position in his
father's life to sufler inevitable displacement. In
the autumn of 1863 Meredith had made the ac-
quaintance of Mr Justin Theodore Vulliamy, a
member of an old Huguenot family/ who, in 1857,
had settled in Mickleham Vale (a few miles from
Esher) at The Old House — a delightful red-brick,
gabled house, built in 1636, with a background of
woods and hill. Mr VuUiamy's wife (an English-
woman, Elizabeth Bull) had recently died, and he
was living here with his three unmarried daughters.
By the youngest, Marie, Meredith was at once
attracted. She was twenty-four years of age, and
very musical. When Meredith paid another visit
to the Jessopps, in April, 1864, Miss Vulliamy was
also staying in Norwich, and it was in the East
Anglian city that he decided that he had at last found
the ideal woman for his helpmate ; and here he
made his courtship whilst " cathedralising " — as he
termed those pleasant strolls through the picturesque
Close and the meadows by the Wensum and the
Yare. Meredith and Miss Vulliamy travelled back
to London together.

Just after this, Frederick Sandys,^ the artist,
came to stay some weeks with Meredith at Copsham

1 The introduction took place through N. E. S. A. Hamilton, of
the Manuscript Department of the British Museum, author of The
Shakespearean Question, i860.

- Frederick Sandys, one of the most remarkable of the Pre-RaphaeUte
painters, was bom at Norwich in 1829, and educated at the Grammar
School there. He became intimate with D. G. Rossetti in 1857, and
hence arose his friendship with Meredith, which increased when they
were both working for Once a Week. Meredith said : " He is one of
the most remarkable of the ' brushes ' of our day, with the quaintest
stolid Briton way of looking at general things. . . . Sandys has a
romantic turn that lets me feed on him." Rossetti called him "the
greatest living draughtsman," and Millais said he was "worth two
Academicians rolled into one," Sandys's crayon portrait of Meredith's


Cottage in order to paint from the country round
the background of his picture Gentle Spring. Soon
after he began for ^Meredith a very successful portrait
of Marie Vulliamy.

A few weeks later Meredith definitely announced
his engagement in terms expressing how highly he
idealised his late-found happiness, and what bright
promise he built upon it for the future.

The marriage took place on 20th September, /
1864, in the ancient little church of Mickleham, ^
which stands so picturesquely at the foot of the
wooded downs. The ceremony was performed by
Dr Jessopp, and the witnesses who signed the
register were Lionel Robinson, Annie A. Smith, and
the bride's father and brother, Theodore. (Seventy-
one years previously Fanny Burney and D'Arblay ,<-'
were married in the same church.) The first part
of the honeymoon was spent at Southampton, and
after a fortnight the Merediths went on to Captain
Maxse's house, Ploverfield, Bursledon, a place which
Meredith found very pleasant and where he could
work well. One morning he awoke at 3 a.m. and
wrote a poem on the subject of Cleopatra for The
Cornhill Magazine, to be illustrated by Sandys. ^

second wife, 1864, was one of his finest works. His Gentle Spring,
the picture mentioned above, was exhibited in 1865. His Medea
was crowded out of the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1868, but
vehement protests, Swinburne joining heatedly in the fray, resulted
in the picture being hung on the hue in 1869. In his later years,
Sandys was a friend of Aubrey Beardsley and the younger generation
of rising artists of the nineties. He was ever a Bohemian, thriftless
and rather pugnacious. He died in 1904.

> Apparently Meredith's poem on Cleopatra was rejected and the
manuscript destroyed. Sandys's drawing of this subject did not
appear in The Cornhill Magazine until two years later, in September,
1866, and it was then accompanied by Swinburne's poem. P>()tli the
poet and Meredith thought it poor. See The Letters of A . C. Swinburne
(Mr Gosse's edition), vol. ii., p. 186.


The Merediths left Burlesdon towards the end of
October, and went first to Mieklcham, where they
spent Christmas of 1864 with Mr Vulliamy, at the
picturesque Old House. Writing from there on
December 18th to William Hardman, Meredith
gave a remarkable picture of Mickleham Downs
covered with snow, over which spread the black
plumes of the yew-trees. He also commented on
the changes a year had brought to both of them —
he married, and Hardman established at Norbiton
Hall, Kingston, and become a Surrey magnate and

And what a change from two years ago when
Meredith and Arthur spent that jolly Christmas
with the Hardmans in London before returning
to "dear old Copsham." But now Copsham days
were over, for there was not sufficient accommoda-
tion at the cottage for a wife, so Avhilst they were
looking out for a place of their own the Merediths
stayed at " The Cedars," Esher, a pleasant house
near the river Mole.

His marriage and the departure from Copsham
Cottage marks a distinct change in the life of Mere-
dith. The first phase was now closed. It had been
at times a lonely and perhaps a sad period, but it
had been illumined by much good friendship and
social pleasure, much Nature study and fine work.
The new era of domestic happiness now opened
auspiciously, together with a consciousness of
unabated literary power ; but the change in his
life inevitably involved one sad circumstance — the
estrangement of his son Arthur, now eleven years old.
Although the boy had never warmly responded to
the love which hitherto his father had whole-
heartedly laid at his feet, he naturally felt the differ-


ence when a large portion of that love was diverted to
another person. And from being the pivot on which
his father's existence turned and one whose slightest
wish had been gratified in his home, he now found
himself of secondary importance, and even less after
the advent of his step-brother in 1865. The juvenile
tragedy of an eldest child, who has been for some
years alone and supreme in his home and then is
superseded, is ever a bitter one ; and in the special
circumstances of Arthur Meredith, who had been his
father's sole relation and much noticed in the society
of his parent's adult friends, it is not surprising that
the boy was jealous and keenly resentful of his
altered life and lost autocracy. Unfortunately, as
lie grew older he did not learn to accept the change
with wise philosophy. Inheriting his father's acute
sensitiveness and pride, he gradually drifted away
from his home, and it was found best for him to be
abroad. After leaving Dr Jessopp's school he was
sent, in 1867, to a school at Hofwyl, near Berne, con-
ducted on the system of Pestalozzi, which had for
its basis graduated object teaching. His education
was completed at Stuttgart. His father did not
encourage the idea of the boy's return home. It
must have pained Meredith to recall how, only four
years previously, Arthur's holidays had been the
happiest weeks of the year, and so eagerly antici-

At intervals Meredith continued to write to his
son long letters containing good advice as to health
and morals. This was up to 1872, but the rift was
rapidly widening, and for the next nine years appar-
ently few, if any, letters passed between father and
son. The latter complained of a lack of considera-
tion shown towards him and that he was kept short


of money by his father. Meredith, however, seems
to have been fairly generous, until a legacy from a
grand-aunt made the boy more or less independent.
A post was obtained for him in the firm of De
Koninck at Havre. Later he was employed in a
linseed warehouse at Lille. His health failed, and
then, in June, 1881, Meredith broke the silence of
years and remorsefully wrote to say how affected
he was to hear from Lionel Robinson of Arthur's
illness. He olTered to allow his son some money,
and invited him to come to Box Hill, where they
could work together in the chalet.' He concluded
by alluding to their long estrangement, and the
pathetic impression he had acquired at their last
meeting years before, that his son had no love for

Truly was this a sad aftermath for the love and
devotion of earlier years. Perhaps Meredith per-
ceived there was a touch of retributive fate in this
repetition of family history, and at last was able
to realise the feehngs of his father before him in
relation to himself ; to understand something of that
baffled affection and cold response from a son, which
had been the portion of Augustus Meredith ; to
regret the pain with which he had pierced his own
father's heart.

Arthur Meredith did not come home ; he pre-
ferred to seek recovery in the mountain air of
Switzerland or Italy. Eventually he went to live
at Bergamo and Salo on Lake Garda. By the be-
ginning of 1889 he was in a precarious state, and
a voyage to Austraha was resolved upon. But he
never would accept any financial help from his father,

1 Arthur contributed some Travel Sketches to Macmillan's Magazine.


although Meredith also wrote to iirthur's step-sistej-,
Mrs Ciarke (Edith NicoUs), begging her to use her
influence to get him to accept a small sum as a help
towards his voyaging expenses.

Arthur had rather a trying experience on the
voyage out, when the other occupant of his cabin
proved to be an almost mad inebriate. At Sydney
he made a partial recovery ; but after his return to
England, in the spring of 1890, he failed again
rapidly, and died, on 3rd September, at Woking, in a
house temporarily taken by his sister. Mrs Clarke
was his best friend, and she tended him to the last
with the tenderest devotion. To her Meredith
wrote to express his gratitude. Many sad memories
must have arisen like wan ghosts in the father's
mind as he recalled the past and old days at
Halliford, Seaford, and Copsham.

Arthur Meredith was buried at Woking. Proud
and reserved, yet self-conscious to a degree, gifted
with personal beauty and some measure of talent,
such was the untimely end, at the age of thirty-
seven, of him who was Meredith's son and Peacock's
grandson. Fated without choice to cause both his
parents, whom he resembled so much, the most
acute sorrow, he never found happiness himself, a
victim of heredity.






MILIA IN ENGLAND (later to be renamed
Sandra Belloni) was published in three
-' volumes by Chapman and Hall in April, 1864.
It was the story which of all his creations caused
Meredith the greatest pangs in conception. He took
over three years to write it, and he was continuously
hacking it about and altering it, sometimes to his
satisfaction and sometimes not.

As early as May, 1861, he said he was well ad-
vanced with Emilia Belloni, but by November he
had left her untouched for months. Seven months
later, in June, 1862, he cast aside what he had done,
and rewrote the whole story. In August a dreadful
hitch in his work distressed him. Four months
later he was again displeased with his work and
cut to pieces four printed chapters of Emilia. In
March, 1863, he was overwhelmed with disgust at
Emilia, but thought she would do. He hoped he
had finished with the troublesome damsel in July,
but he had not by any means, and in November
was dejected about this novel. His friends Hard-
man and Maxse were reading it in proof and
giving some useful criticism.^ In the same month

' Hardman notes in November, 1863 : " Meredith ... is to sleep
here, in order to have a fight with me about my criticisms and
suggestions anent the second volume of Emilia, the proofs of which



he said Emilia grieved him. In January, 1864, all
he could tell Jessopp was that neither book nor
author were all right. Still, he realised the story had
its strong points, and he expressed the hope and con-
viction that he would do something better next time.
The reason for all this groaning and labour is
to be accounted for by the fact that this was the
author's first distinctively original work, the em-
bryo of what may be termed the Real Meredith.
Here he cast aside the influences of The Arabian
Nights and Dickens, and the arts of the story-teller,
and evolved a novel of striking interest in which
incident and drama were subordinate to play and
development of character mainly presented in the
form of conversations, and a delicate dissection of
the fine shades of thought and motive leading
to action. Unfortunatelv this method of narrative
(though it has classical precedent) often involves the
description of some great scene by the mouths of
other characters in the book instead of being directly
and vividly recounted as part of the story proper.
How far finer, for instance, might the dramatic
scene in Devonshire between Emilia, Lady Charlotte,
Wilfrid, and Georgiana Ford have been rendered if
told in straightforward narrative instead of by the
disjointed report of Georgiana. And Sandra Belloni
suflers, like its two immediate predecessors, by end-
ing inartistically with a letter. Meredith broke
himself of this annoying habit in his subsequent
books (excepting Lord Ormoni and his Aminta),
though he was seldom at his best with a finale, apart
from Viiioria and Beauchamp's Career.

have just passed through my hands. These criticisms mainly relate
to an absorbing tendency which possesses him for indecent double-
entendre. I am determined he shall not offend the public taste, if
I can help it."



Although he had not so much cause for complaint
against tlie reviewers of his latest book as on previous
occasions, he was annoyed by the notices that had
appeared by 18th May, 1864. It is strange that he
makes no allusion to the very full and sympathetic
notice, by Richard Garnett, in The Reader of 23rd
April, in the course of which it was said :

" Emilia in England is fully equal to the author's
former works in humour and power, and only less
remarkable in so far as it is less original. The plot
is a variation on the theme of Evan Harrington.
The comedy of that admirable novel turned on the
struggle of three sisters, upheaved into a higher than
their natural sphere, with the demon of Tailordom ;
their frantic efforts to entomb the monstrous corpse
of their plebeian origin beneath the highest available
heaps of acted and spoken lies ; the vigorous re-
sistance of that ghastly being to this method of
disposing of him, and his victorious assertion of his
right to walk the earth. ... In Emilia we have
three sisters again— the Misses Pole. . . . The situa-
tion is fundamentally the same, but so far varied
that the ladies have no chance of concealing their
mercantile origin, of which, indeed, to do them
justice, they are not ashamed. They simply wish
to get higher, and, by way of justifying their am-

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 12 of 23)