S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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bition to themselves, have set up a fanciful code of
feelings supposed to be proper to the highest circles
. . . and the gist of the present work is a sarcastic
but quiet exposure of the evil these ladies wrought
against their better nature."

In July there followed, in The Westminster Review,
Justin McCarthy's article. Novels with a Purpose,


wherein Emilia in England received high praise : " I
remember no character in modern literature that so
faithfully pictures the nature which is filled with
a genius for music " — so that Meredith's life-long
complaint of lack of appreciation had but exiguous
justification even in these early days.^

In the autumn of 1864 a translation of Emilia in
England by E. D. Forgues appeared in the Revue
des Deux Mondes.

As we have seen, Meredith told Mrs Ross Emilia
was a feminine musical genius whose story was
based upon the career of a person in real life.
Therefore, in dealing with the original of this book
it will suffice to say that the character and more
particularly the physical aspects of Emilia were
drawn to a certain extent from Miss Emilia Macirone
(Lady Hornby), whom Meredith had known well
when he lived at The Limes, Weybridge, and who,
some ten years later, acted as intermediary between
him and his dying wife. This painful task adum-
brates the good nature and faithfulness which
animates the Emilia of the story. Like her. Miss
Macirone— a name sounding much the same as
Belloni— was the daughter of an Italian by an
English wife. She had brilliant eyes, and a splendid
complexion of deep, rich colouring. " A superb
Italian head, with dark-banded soft hair, and dark
strong eyes under unabashed soft eyelids." She
was an accomplished musician, and sang exquisitely.
She was unconventional for her period, and during

' The book was immediately appreciated by Henry Sidgwick,
who wrote, in February, 1865 : " Beg, borrow, or steal Emilia in
England ; it had such an effect on me that I employed my spare cash
in buying up the man's other works." His biographers add that
he was able to obtain first editions of Richard Feverel, Evan Harrington,
and the others, second-hand, at something less than a shilling each.


her voyage to the Crimea, in 1855, used to sing almost
every evening to a large audience of the soldiers
and sailors on board. In England, when at Penn,
in Buckinghamshire, and also at a farm near Kensal
Green, she would go out at night in harvest time and
sing to the reapers and labourers assembled in a
barn. These incidents were utilised by Meredith in
the scene where his Emilia goes to sing in the booth
on the Common for the delectation of the members of
the rural Junction Club of Ipley and Hillford (Ripley
and Guildford), when the harmony of the evening
was rudely interrupted by the beer-brave members
of a rival club. The name of the younger Miss
Macirone (Mrs Valliant), Giulia, was given to the
minor character of Madame Marini in Sandra

Apparently no Meredithian commentator has
observed that Swinburne figures in Sandra Belloni
under the name of Tracy Runningbrook — a sort of
play upon the poet's cognomen. There is no mis-
taking the portrait drawn, for Tracy, like Swinburne,
had red hair, green eyes, peerage blood, and the
making of a famous poet. The date, 1861-1863,
when Meredith was writing this book coincided
with the time when he was most intimate with Swin-
burne, the days when they were at Copsham and
Chelsea together. Therefore his presentment of the
youthful poet has great interest, for no doubt the
conversation of Tracy is a literal transcription of
the vehement avalanche of words which character-
ised the original. Take the scene where Tracy
discusses with Emilia the libretto he will write for
her opera on the subject of their jointly beloved
Italy, and when he proposes to create a daughter
for Brennus. Undoubtedly here we recover an

Emilia Macironk (Lady Hornby). Tiik okiginai. oi'
Emilia Sandra Beli.oni and X'ittoria


authentic eclio of that flow of Swinbiirnean language
which Meredith hkened to a torrent of boilinc lava,
and a taste of that wealth of violent simile which
enabled the poet easily to rout a merely sanguinarily
garnished cabman who was dissatisfied with his fare.

Meredith also introduces the matter of Swin-
burne's spirited defence of Modem Love in the Press,
though he transposes the facts, for it is Tracy
Runningbrook's poem which is unjustly reviewed,
and the protest is penned by Purcell Barrett. This,
via Wilfrid, enabled Meredith to voice his contempt
for the recent attack he had endured in The Spectator.

The character drawing in Sandra Belloni varies
considerably in merit, as in most of the author's
books. Emilia herself is, of course, a superlative
study. All the Poles are good. Lady Charlotte is
very finely drawn, and her broad-minded philosophy
and serene savoir faire, lights and shades, are etched
with consummate art. Mr Pericles — that earlier
and more benevolent Svengali — is a delightfully
original creation. But Mrs Chump is a failure and
fatiguing ; Gambler, Merthyr Powys, and Georgiana
Ford are shadows, who never develop. Purcell
Barrett, too, is a disappointment. Up to a certain
point he is an interesting study with strong features
and then suddenly he fizzles out in a damp cloud
of feeble sentimentality. But perhaps his creator
intended him as a dire warning against admitting
sentiment into an imaginative and brooding mind.
One could almost think that Meredith had taken
the character and circumstances of his small son,
Arthur, and was tracing out their possible develop-
ment in the future.

There is much humorous observation in this book.
One would have liked more obiter dicta from the


unnamed landlady, thankful Cockney, of Barrett's,
who in her one brief appearance is profound on
the subjects of metropolitan advantages and wife-
beating. How amusing, too, is Emilia's definition
of poetry. But Emilia could be intensely poetical
in expression, as when she wore the gorgeous purple
Branciani dress and said she felt as if she looked
out of a rose. Naturally she was in tune with her
creator's favourite aspect of nature — the clouds
that attend a south-west wind.

Exquisite little scenic cameos gleam in this Surrey
novel, as when Emilia and Wilfrid were by the Weir.
Meredith's surroundings at Copsham are all inter-
twined with this book. It was by the pollard-willow
near his favourite haunt, the Black Pool in the
wood, that he ended the life of poor Purcell Barrett ;
and in his penultimate chapter, " Frost on the May
Night," gazing from his cottage window he sum-
moned his characters ^ for adieu and ranged them,
lit by moonhght, in that " fair woodland court,"
with moss and frosted fern for flooring, that bordered
The Mound.

Writers are sometimes aware when they have
achieved good work, and Meredith knew his last
scene in Sandra Belloni was good. He wrote to
Maxse, when reminding his friend of the songs of
nightingales they had heard in the past, to note
" Frost on the May Night " at the end of Emilia.
The memory of the scene and of Copsham Woods
remained with Meredith, and thirty years later he
recalled again that beautiful experience of the
long ago in his poem, Night of Frost in May.

1 They were very real to him. Hardman relates of Meredith's
creations in Sandra Belloni: "To him they are evidently living
beings, in fact, I know he has felt them as such for the past twelve

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So the influences of Copsham were lovely and

With the publication of Sandra Belloni coincided
the turn in the fortunes of Meredith, who now was
making quite a comfortable income by his pen. He
was writing Rhoda Fleming and Vittoria, and plan-
ning Harry Richmond ; he was writing for The
Ipswich Journal still, and for The Morning Post ;
he was expecting to make new arrangements with
Chapman and Hall that would secure him a salary
of £250 or £300 a year ; a pubhsher proposed to
give him four figures for a novel. And in fact, as
he put it, he had laid traps for money everywhere.
His prosperity continued to increase ; he joined the
Garrick Club, and entertained his friends frequently.

After staying at The Cedars, Esher, during the
early part of 1865, the Merediths took lodgings in
Kingston-on-Thames ; and in the spring they entered
upon a three years' lease of Kingston Lodge, Nor-
biton, a quaint and pleasant little house in pseudo-
Gothic style. It had a good garden, and here stood
— and still stands — a tower, covered with ivy, the
freak of some previous owner with a taste for de-
corative building. The great attraction of Kingston
Lodge to Meredith was that it stood opposite to
Norbiton Hall, where lived, since 1864, his valued
friends, the Hardmans. Apart from this he never
liked Kingston. However, he meant to stay for
the term of his lease, and when he moved to do so
finally and make a home where he would live for
the remainder of his lifc.^

Still, Kingston Lodge has interest for Mcredithians,
for here he finished Rhoda Fleming and wrote most

» He kept his word. He removed to Box Hill, anfl stayed there
till the end.


of Vittoria and a great part of Ilarrjj Richmond.
Here, too, was born, in July, 1865, his son, William
Maxse Meredith, whose first two names perpetuate
his father's friendships with Sir William Hardman
and Admiral Maxse.

Like her predecessor, Rhoda Fleming was a long
time in the making. The book was begun as far
back as the spring of 1861, when Meredith intended
to call it A Woman^s Battle. Some months later
he seems to have named it The Dyke Farm. Then
the work was laid aside for a long time while Emilia
was being wrestled with, and it was not until 1864
that Meredith's " Plain Story " was resumed. He
worked hard at it during his honeymoon, near
Southampton, when in the course of a month he
wrote 250 pages. Meanwhile Vittoria came to the
fore, and in January, 1865, the harassed author
at The Cedars, Esher, put aside Vittoria in order
to try and complete Rhoda Fleming. On 24th
April, 1865, writing from Kingston, he was able to
inform Jessopp that Rhoda Fleming was just com-
pleted except the last two chapters. He added that
the novel represented six months' labour, and that
he had received an oLer of £400 for it from Tinsley,
whereas Chapman and Hall could not entertain the
idea of the work before November.

It is not clear why Chapman and Hall wanted to
wait seven months before securing one of Meredith's
most readable works in view of the fact that they
had already published four of his books, bringing
fame to the firm if not large monetary returns at
the time. But JMeredith could not wait, and so he
accepted Tinsley's rather poor offer, and it was from
the house in Catherine Street that the novel issued
in this year (1865). William Tinsley relates that

Kingston Loiji;e, Xokhiiun. IIkkk Mekkdith lived 1865-1867



it had " a very poor sale," and there were appar-
ently no contemporary reviews of any note. It was
not vmtil twenty years later that W. E. Henley's
able criticism of the book appeared in The Aihencuum,
wherein he advanced the opinion that of " passion
deeply felt and poignantly expressed there is such
a feast in Rhoda Fleming as no other English
novelist alive has spread." William Watson, in his
Fiction —Plethoric and Ancemic, regarded the work
as "an ill-constructed and very unequally written
story, having some fine scenes and clever, if equally
unattractive, character studies." On the other
hand again, Arthur Symons judged Rhoda Fleming
to be Meredith's chef d'oeuvre in tragedy and said
" the plot is woven with singular closeness and deft
intricacy." The partial and enthusiastic R. L.
Stevenson committed himself to the rather fooHsh
and indemonstrable statement that Rhoda Fleming
was " the strongest thing in English letters since
Shakespeare died, and if the latter had read it he
would have jumped and cried : ' Here's a fellow ! ' "
Literary opinion concerning the story is therefore
not sharply divided, but the general opinion must
be that Rhoda Fleming, hke so many of the author's
books, is of very unequal merit. Meredith himself
did not think much of it in later years, and classed
it with his personally despised Poems of 1851. He
wrote to a correspondent in 1883 to the effect tliat
neither of the books was worth reading.^

That is a judgment no one who cares for Meredith's
work will subscribe to, for, despite its many faults,
Rhoda Fleming is a fine and tragic story of elemental

» But Meredith is reported to have said to someone who expressed
admiration for the character of Rhoda Fleming : " Don't you love
Dahlia more ? I do."-


passions, of dwellers of the soil, and may be said to
approximate most nearly of all Meredith's books to
the subsequent mental outlook of Thomas Hardy.
But, unfortunately, the events do not always spring
from the actions of the characters, as in Hardy, for
the plot is a most mechanical and obvious affair,
with various puppets invented to oil the springs of
this luculent machine. Such is Sedgett, such is
Percy Waring, such is Mrs Lovell, and, most of all,
such is the melodramatic Anthony Hackbut, who
was a temporary reversion to the Dickensian influ-
ence and a jumble of the Jerry and Newman Noggs
types. I do not find Algernon Blancove the lifeless
dummy suggested by Henley. Rather is he a
subtle study of a young fool and a fine foil to the
acutely drawn character of Edward Blancove, who
was apparently based, in some respects, upon
Meredith's brother-in-law, Edward Peacock. At
any rate, in addition to the same Christian name,
Edward Peacock, like Blancove, studied as a
barrister, and was much addicted to boxing in his

Concerning the two sisters, it must be admitted
that Dahha is rather an angemic creation, and Rhoda
an exceedingly unlovable young person, though, no
doubt, her contradictory character and devotion to
a person loved is a correct presentment of a certain
feminine type. But these girls talk and write the
language of Meredith and not that of the daughters
of a farmer of 1860, when educational advantages
for women were negligible, particularly in rural dis-
tricts. Therefore it is a sad blow to probability when
Dahlia writes from Italy such an epigrammatic
remark about modesty being too hot a covering
for human creatures there. And Rhoda's language


all through is entirely too fine. The means by
which Sedgett meets Dahha is left to the imagina-
tion, and there are many missing hnks in the story.
Farmer Fleming is the best drawn character. He
lives, and so does Farmer Eccles. Also Master
Gammon, the champion dumpling eater and immut-
able rustic Stoic, and his interlocutress, Mrs Sumfit,
who is a niece of Mrs Crickledon of Seaford. She
uses the same words as the latter good woman in
The House on the Beach concerning a master who
daily dirtied his thirteen plates. Probably Colonel
Barclay was drawn from an officer Meredith saw at
Lord's in June, 1863, a Colonel M., mentioned by
him in a letter as one he intended to transfer to a

As to the localities of the story. Queen Anne's
Farm is said to have been intended for Byfleet
Manor House : Queen Anne's Hill is in that neigli-
bourhood. " Great ham " is Cobham. When the
action passes to Hampshire, " Fairly Park " is
Beaulieu, and " Warbeach " is probably a picture
of Bursledon, where Meredith stayed, during his
honeymoon, when writing this part oiRhoda Fleming.
The book is not rich in scenic descriptions, but there
are some memorable sayings within its pages, par-
ticularly one picturing the French people. Mere-
dith ever loved France and Italy best among the
nations, and now he voiced the epic of Italy.

Although the composition of Vitioria (or Emilia
in Italy, as it was originally entitled) was inter-
rupted by Rhoda Fleming, the Italian talc was the
immediate sequel, or rather second part, of Sandra
Belloni {Emilia in England). The earlier work
closed with the departure of the lieroinc for her
passionately loved Italy. Meredith had long desired


to write a romance typifying the spirit of modern
Ital}', in the years of revolt, 18 JS and 1859, and now
was his opportunity, for the subject was topical by
the fresh development of political events in that
country. In May, 1864, he told friends he would
have to go to Italy for a little local colour.

In addition to the heroine, Meredith reintroduced
in his new work the characters of Wilfrid and Adela
Pole, Merthyr Powys, Gambler, and the delightful
Pericles, from Smidra Belloni. The earlier portion
of ViUoria was written, amid the happy associa-
tions of his engagement and second marriage, in
The Old House at Mickleham, in the summer of
1864. Here he wrote his rough script, and his
futui'e wife copied out the chapters as they were
completed. Then came the interval when Rhoda
Fleming was completed ; but later in 1865 the author
attacked ViUoria with renewed vigour. He felt he
had a genius for treating an epical subject, and
wished to get out of the rut of a rather morbid
dissection of human nature where his recent novels
had placed him. He was encouraged to pursue his
new path by G. H. Lewes and Frederick Sandys,
who had heard read portions of the manuscript of
ViUoria. ViUoria appeared first as a serial in The
FortnighUy Review, during 1866, during the editor-
ship of G. H. Lewes. The author received £250
for his serial rights.

Meredith also read most of the novel to Madame
Venturi, the great friend of Mazzini, who pronounced
the Italian descriptions good and accurate.

]\Ieredith was much away during 1866. In the
spring he paid a visit to Monckton Milnes, Lord
Houghton, at Fryston Hall, in Yorkshire : this
probably came about through the introduction of



Swinburne. 1 In June he proceeded to Italy to
act as War Correspondent for The Morning Post
during the campaign between that country and
Austria. This expedition enabled him to obtain
some additional and valuable local colour for Vittoria
before it was republished in three-volume form by
Chapman and Hall early in 1867 ; this reason and
the financial benefit accruing induced Meredith to
undertake the work, for he was not by inclination
ever a journalist. In fact, he hated the methods of
journalism, whicli were, of course, in absolute an-
tithesis to his own natural style. Consequently his
war articles were unnatural and cramped, and rather
dull : he cannot be placed in the front rank of war
correspondents. His reports of the war were mainly
second-hand, as he did not see much of the actual
fighting. But he accompanied the Italian army,
driving and camping with the troops. Here he was
more in liis element, and his narratives, written
in haste without time for art and elaboration, and
tliereforc quite un-Meredithian, are not without
some interest and value. ^ On 22nd June he was
with Cialdini's army corps at Ferrara, and on the
30th at Cremona. By 3rd July he was at Bozzolo,

' Lord Crewe informs me : " Mr George Meredith's signature in
the Fryston Visitors' Book is dated 5th April, 1866. Among the
guests a few days eariier appear : T. Carlyle (28th March) ; T. H.
Huxley (29th March) ; and Henry Reeve (2nd April) ; but it is not
likely that any of these stayed on during his visit. The following
were no doubt his fellow-guests : A. C. Swinburne (5th April) ;
Samuel and Florence Baker (4th April) ; the Bishop of St David's
(6th April — Thirlwall) ; Dr and Mrs Vaughan (6th April — then Vicar
of Doncastcr) ; J. H. Bridges (7th April — the positivist philosopher) ;
Henry J. Selwin (7th April — afterwards Sir H. Selwin Ibbetson). I
do not think my father ever saw much of Mr Meredith, though he
admired his work, in poetry especially. '-'-

' Meredith's Corresfyondence from the Seat of Way in Italy is reprinted
in the Memorial Edition and Edition de Luxe of his works.


the headquarters of the eleventh division of the
Italian army, and on the 7th at Torre Malimberti.
Finally he accompanied the troops to the new head-
quarters at Piadena, and thence to Gonzaga, where
he saw a good deal of camp life. Proceeding to
Treviso and Venice, he left Italy, reaching Marseilles
on 24th July. He returned to Austria and Italy in
August, and by 10th September reached the Hotel
Cavour, Milan, after staying in Venice, Padua, and
Vicenza. At the Hotel Cavour, Meredith was with
his friend H. M. Hyndman, and they used to sit
outside the Cafe Florian engrossed in conversation
until the early morning. Hyndman was acting as
War Correspondent for The Pall Mall Gazette, and
also of their party, later, at the Hotel Vittoria,
Venice, were George Henty of The Standard, and
George Augustus Sala of The Daily Telegraph. It
was here that Meredith and Sala had a tremendous
quarrel. Sala did not appreciate Meredith's manner
and clever, artificial talk, which was probably above
his head. From being on the defensive he assumed
the offensive, accused the other of parsimony in the
matter of hospitality, and finally insulted Meredith
in a very gross manner. The latter, very wisely, rose
and left the table ; in an actual physical struggle he
could have demolished the weakly Sala in an instant,
so his forbearance was great. At Vienna, by chance,
Meredith first met Leslie Stephen, who in later years
was to become his very dear friend.

Christmas, 1866, again found Meredith at The Old
House, Mickleham, and the new year witnessed the
publication of Vittoria, enlarged and improved by
much observation and knowledge acquired during
the author's recent visit to Italy. Unfortunately
Vittoria was not warmly received by the majority


of English critics and readers. The Spectator, whilst
admitting the merits of the book, took care to say
that the author suffered from " literary egotism,"
and that his " style often gasps with effort "—this,
no doubt, in fond memory of the controversy
about Modern Love. The fairest notice was in
The Pall Mall Gazette. Meredith was keenly sensi-
tive to what he considered the dense misapprehen-
sion of his contemporaries, and in 1883, many
years after the first appearance of Vittora, he/ told
a correspondent who desired a copy of this book
how the effect of public disfavour had been to make
him indifferent to his works after they had gone
through their course of castigation.

But be it always remembered that Vittoria did
receive the immediate appreciation of at least one
great contemporary and friend — Swinburne, whose
Song of Italy (1807) was then finding voice from the
same inspirational cause that generated the novel.
Swinburne, of course, was passionately enthusiastic
for the cause of Italian freedom : when at Balliol he
had M portrait of Mazzini hanging in the place of
honour in his room, and before this picture he would
declaim verses, with gestures of adoring supplica-
tion ; and at tliis period he wrote an Ode to Mazzini,
which was found in manuscript after his death. He
therefore warmly appreciated Meredith's eulogy of
his hero's cause and that wonderful description
of Mazzini's personal appearance — particularly the
eyes — when, at the outset of the story, the patriot
is seen standing on the heights amid the hanging
forests and pointed crags ; and the gleam of the
distant rose-shadowed snows.

In reply to his friend's praise, Meredith wrote
from Kingston Ivodge to say how much he valued


Swinburne's good opinion, the possession of wliich
was as good as success. But publicly he felt Viitoria
was a faihu-e, and his pubhshers informed him the
work was disliked. He feared he would have to
abandon novel writing and rely on journalism. He
hoped that Swinburne would be able to contribute
a review on his work in general to The Fortnightly
Review. As regarded Vittoria, he said his intention
had been to present the Italian revolt with all its
native passion rather than an epic on the subject, but
he feared, after all, the style of his picture waf^ stiff.

Meredith was here, for once, a correct critic of his
own work. The style of Vittoria may be stiff, but
it docs indeed reanimate the Italian revolt and
present that event not only as an historical picture

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 13 of 23)