S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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(somewhat incomplete and episodical certainly), but
far more as a pulsating momentary drama of passion
and blood. Vittoria is not so much a novel of
intense characterisation as of incident, thereby
differing from the majority of Meredithian studies.
Apart from the heroine, Barto Rizzo, and Pericles,
the characters are not deeply etched : rather are
they suggestive types of their respective nations or
provinces. The Italians of Meredith utter ringing
phrases : inspiring words for Italy, as fitting for
to-day and the future as when they were penned in
the glorious times of Mazzini and Garibaldi.

Vittoria herself — the consummated Emilia who
has realised her personality and her ideal — is one of
Meredith's most characteristic and living creations,
on whom he lavished infinite pains. A very woman,
contradictory, and thus essentially feminine, she is
compact of patriot, musical artiste, passionate
lover, and a] so coquette — as witness her relations
with Wilfrid, her former lover, en route to Rivoli,


and her meditations on Count Kari and his Austrian
and enemy attire.

But in recalling Vittoria it is always the incidents
and not the characters which stand out in high relief
from the glorious Italian scenic background. Mere-
dith never painted finer pictures than here. The
rather tortuous narrative and harsh dialogues may
be forgotten, but never those vivid scenes suddenly
thrown upon the imagination with all the quivering
movement, living momentariness, and realistic
fidelity of the kinematograph. The comparison is
not altogether an apt one, but it can stand to convey
the impression of restless movement and excitement
and drama that pulsate in the scene at La Scala
on the eve of the Revolt ; in the subsequent flight
of Vittoria and her night wanderings with Angelo
on the hills of the Austrian border ; in the duel in
the pass ; in Wilfrid's escape from the dungeon-
house of Barto Rizzo ; in the rioting at Milan ; in
the vengeance of the Guidascarpi on the betrayer
of their sister (worthy of Balzac this) ; in Carlo's
death. These, and many similar pictured episodes,
are in the front rank of historical romance and bring
Meredith into line with Scott and Dumas, though he
gets his effects by a different method. And the
same witli the wonderful pictures of scenery in this
story. Without the long detailed descriptions of
the earlier school of romancers, the scene is con-
veyed by a few bold impressionist strokes. The
first paragraph of tlie book, visualising the land-
scape from the Motterone, is a blaze of colour.
Even the mystery of a dark night is a visible
picture. Vittoria ends finely, and that passage
where she regarded her dead liusband as one who
lay upon another shore expresses the same thought



to be found in Roden Noel's beautiful little poem,

Dying :

They are waiting on the shore
For the bark to take them home ;
They will toil and grieve no more ;
The hour for release hath come.

• * « • *

Now the shadowy bark is come,
And the weary may go home.

ViUoria, as we have seen, was the hnk which drew
Meredith and Swinburne together again for a time,
with the result that Swinburne came to stay for a
few days at Kingston Lodge. That was in March,
1867, and Swinburne's visit to Kingston Lodge is
the last incident of any importance connected with
Meredith's life there. He was now anxious to leave,
owing to his privacy being invaded by the incoming
tide of bricks and mortar engineered by that bite
noire of authors and artists— the speculative builder.
He was worried, too, by the notes of a neighbouring
church organ, concerning which he once wrote
amusingly to William Hardman.

Meredith succeeded in disposing of the remainder
of his lease of Kingston Lodge to Mr and Mrs
Frederick Jones, who were to become his very valued
friends. Mrs Jones's first sight of him, when she
went to see over the house, was amid the branches of
an apple-tree, where he was gathering the fruit, and
from whence he made her a profound bow nearly at
the expense of Meredithian equilibrium. Meredith
now took FUnt Cottage, Box Hill, and his furniture
was removed to his new house at the close of 1867,
but Christmas he spent with his family, as usual,
at The Old House, Mickleham, where he remained
for most of January until all was ready at Box Hill.
During the last months of 1867 he acted as editor


of The Fortnightly Review, during the absence in
America of John Morley, and Meredith's poems To
J. M. and Lines to a Friend Visiting America, which
appeared within its pages, relate to this matter.

Meredith's poem. Phaeton, had appeared in The
Fortnightly Review for September of this year ; and
during 1867-1869 he also contributed some lengthy
criticisms of new books to this Review, among the
works he noticed being the Poems of Robert Lytton,
The Reminiscences of a Septuagenarian, by Countess
Brownlow, and Frederic Myers's poem, St Paul.

As Meredith's temporary editorship of The Fort-
nightly Review marks his most noticeable position as
a journalist, this will now be a convenient time to
relate briefly such facts as are known of that phase
of his life.



APART from his early contributions to
Chambers' s Journal and Household Words^
and later to Once a Week, Meredith did not
become a professional journalist until he was thirty-
two ; it was in 1860 that he joined the staff of The
Ipswich Journal, and his work for the paper con-
tinued for more than eight years at a salary, it is
reported, of £200 a year. The Ipswich Journal, for
one hundred and seventy years the leading paper
in East Angha, was founded in 1720. It was ac-
quired by the Jackson family in 1739, and, passing
through several generations, it was eventually owned
and edited by Stephen Jackson, who died in 1855.
His widow (formerly Miss Catharine Cobbold)
married, in 1858, Thomas Eyre Foakes, a barrister
of the Inner Temple. Foakes thus became possessed
of the then valuable property of The Ipswich Journal,
which he was supposed to conduct, but in reality
he delegated his duties to others. He was a friend
of R. S. Charnock, and it was probably through the
latter that he became acquainted with Meredith.
Later they were neighbours in Surrey ; Foakes was
on and off with his mother at Walton at the time
Meredith lived at Lower Halliford ; and when
the Foakeses took a house on Weybridge Heath,
Meredith often came over to see them from Esher.
Ai'thur Meredith was a playmate of Mrs Foakes's



son (by her first husband), now the Rev. F. J.
Foakes Jackson, of Jesus College, Cambridge, the
distinguished historian.

It thus came about that Meredith obtained regular
employment on The Ipswich Journal : he was never
editor of the paper, as has been stated at times : he
could hardly have edited from a cottage in Surrey a
journal published in Suffolk. The actual editor was
Henry Knights. Meredith contributed every week
leading articles and a column summarising the week's
news in London and abroad. Every Thursday,
too, he went up to Foakes's office, transacted busi-
ness matters with the London agent of the paper,
and completed his " copy " there, at 1 New Square,
Lincoln's Inn. Some of his letters to friends are
amusingly addressed and dated from " Foakes's
Den," on " Foakes's Day " ; and occasionally, when
he was going away on holiday, his articles were
written for him by one of his intimate companions.
Thus he requested Hardman in August, 1862, from
Ryde, to write for The Ipswich Journal a summary
of the week's news, and an article on America, as
a topical subject.

It is not possible, of course, to trace and identify
for certain many of Meredith's contributions to the
Suffolk paper. Mr Frederick Dolman went to some
pains to examine the files, and printed some extracts
which seem to bear the impress of Meredith's hand.^
This was, presumably, the gentleman alluded to
by Meredith, in a remark he made to Mr Clodd, as
a ghoul who had threatened to make search for
these articles ; " may the Commination Service be
thundered in his ears ! "

The most interesting feature of Meredith's articles

* Georgg Mtredith as a Journalist. The New Review, March, 1893.


for The Ipswich Journol, a strong Conservative
paper, was the facile manner in which he, a hfelong
Radical of advanced views, advocated Tory prin-
ciples. It would be amusing if one could estabhsh
for certain that he wrote the article attacking Glad-
stone for ceding the Ionian Islands to Greece, which
article caused a great fluttering and outcry in the
Radical dovecotes of Ipswich in 1862. It seems
certain, however, that Meredith, Champion of
Liberty, perverted his principles most egregiously
for journalistic requirements or salary by supporting
the cause of the South and the Slave Owners, during
the American Civil War, in the articles attributed
to him in The Ipswich Journal. Thus :

" Alas ! with a President who cannot write
grammar, and generals who lie to the public and
snarl among themselves, and who all turn tail to
the foe, what can the North do but be abject and
ask for a master."

And alluding to John Bright's support of the
North, it is written :

" Mr Bright, par exemple, spoke at the Birming-
ham Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. His
speech contained the necessary ' vindication ' of the
North. Their blockade is perfect, wonderful, their
greatness should inspire fear, and so forth. We
dub him Yankee and bid him good-bye."

A curious article also attributed to Meredith was
that in which he drew a not very obvious analogy
between George III. and Alexandra, then the
youthful Princess of Wales :


" George III. would have been the most un-
popular Sovereign that ever sat on the throne if he
had not dined at one o'clock, had a siesta after-
wards, and gone to bed at ten. He was constantly-
doing things which the nation did not like, and the
greater part of his reign was dark with all sorts of
disasters. But people forgave him because he con-
formed to the rules of ordinary life and showed
himself, at least at dinner time, to be as other men
are. Not the least effective source of the astounding
popularity of the Princess of Wales is something of
the same kind. She is very comely and graceful,
and has the intrinsic attractiveness of youth, and
these make her loved. But above and beyond
these things are all the stories which reach the
popular ear of her thorough geniality, her enjoy-
ment of spectacle and gaiet}?-, and the interest taken
by her in everything which interests other people. . . .

" Our ladies wish, they tell us, and we can more
decidedly say that every man living who is not a
milliner in spirit devoutly desires, that the Princess
Alexandra will relieve them from servitude to
the Crinoline Empress. The introduction of the
crinoline has been in its effects morally worse than
a coup d'etat. It has sacrificed more lives ; it
has utterly destroyed more tempers ; it has put
an immense division between the sexes. It has
obscured us, smothered us, stabbed us."

Finally, the following extract, relating to the
rumour that Lord Palmerston was to figure as co-
respondent in a divorce suit, is distinctly Meredithian
in phrase :

" But rumour is a wicked old woman. Cannot


something be done to stop her tongue ? Surely one
who is an octogenarian might be spared ? We are
a moral people, and it does not become us to have
our Premier, agile though he be, bandied about de-
risively like a feathered shuttlecock on the reckless
battledore of scandal. . . . We are indeed warned
that nothing less than an injured husband has
threatened and does really intend to lay an axe to
the root of our Premier's extraordinary success, in a
certain awful court. We ti-ust that rumour again
lies, but that she is allowed to speak at all, and that
men believe her and largely propagate her breath-
ings, is a terrible comment on the sublime art of
toasting the ladies as prosecuted by aged juveniles
in office. It is a retribution worthy of Greek tragedy.
We are determined to believe nothing before it is
proved. It is better to belong to the laughed-at
minoritv who decline to admit that the virtue has
gone out of our Premier than to confirm a shame-
ful scandal, the flourishing existence of which is
sufficient for our moral."

It is curious that the other paper, The Morning
Post, for which Meredith wrote a good deal, should
also have been of Conservative views. He seems
to have commenced his work for this journal in
1862. As we have seen, Meredith went to the seat
of war in Italy, in 1866, as the special correspondent
of this paper, and his articles were not particularly
noteworthy. He had no military knowledge and
no sympathy with a soldier's outlook and tempera-
ment. Therefore he could not get to the heart of
things, and his war articles were merely narratives
of what he saw with his eyes or heard by report.
After he left the Italian army he seems to have


realised that he was wasting his time as a corre-
spondent. He hoped to be employed by The
Times abroad, but that project came to nothing.
Two years later, 1868, he was working regularly
for another important newspaper, The Pall Mall

As I have said, Meredith took up journalism
merely as a means of making money, and to tliat
extent it served his purpose for the years 1860-1868.
But his heart was never in the work, and his results
were commonplace and mechanical. His attitude
to journalism, and its payment pro tanto a column,
is aptly expressed in chapter vii. of The Tragic

Meredith secured the position of publisher's reader
of manuscripts as a means of making money also in
the first place, and indeed it was the staple source of
his income for thirty-five years. But he liked this
employment much better than journalism ; he was
very painstaking and thorough with the work, as
will be seen, though his judgments in literary and
business matters were sometimes wrong, which was
only to be expected when so original a stylist and
so highly strung a temperament essayed the role of
critic and censor.

It was in 1860 that Meredith succeeded John
Forster as literary adviser to the firm of Chapman
and Hall, who had published his Shaving of Shagpat
and Richard Feverel. In the early years of his
engagement he entered his opinion of the manu-
scripts he had read — and they comprised nearly all
those sent to the publishers — in an official book,
which is, of course, carefully preserved. Mr B. W.
Matz quoted many extracts from this volume in the
interesting article, George Meredith as Publisher's


Reader, whicli appeared in The Fortnightly Review
in 1910. It is possible, therefore, to recover some
of the judgments Meredith passed upon the early-
work and unformed stjde of writers who have since
become famous, and piquant comments upon both
those who attained success and those who did not.
The first recorded manuscript he read, in August,
1860, was The Two JDmnsels : a Spanish Tale, by
C. M. O'Hara, which he dismissed as " Childish :
return without comment." Next, Blanchard
Jerrold's The Fleet that brought the Pudding Home
was described as " poor, genial stuff " ; and Whyte
Melville's Market Harbor ough as "of the order of
Soapy Sponge's Sporting Tour.''

In the following year he performed his famous
faux pas of the reiterated rejection of East Lynne.
The story had first appeared as a serial in The New
Monthly Magazine, 1860-1861, then owned and
edited by Harrison Ainsworth, who, as a personal
friend of Mrs Henry Wood, did his best to further
publication of the work in book form, for he fully
perceived the future prospects of popular success in
East Lynne and its author. He called twice upon
Chapman and Hall to urge the advisability of their
accepting the manuscript, but " Opinion emphatic-
ally against it " was the report of their Reader,
George Meredith. Ainsworth pressed the Chapmans
to look over the story personally. They did so, and
then took the unusual course of returning the book
to the Reader for renewed consideration. But
Meredith, whose supercilious didactics must ever be
emulously envied by the scholastic profession, coolly
ignored his employers' wishes, and, being perfectly
independent and unmoved by introductions and
recommendations of any work, again rejected East


Lynne, thereby entailing the loss of a vast sum of
money to Chapman and Hall. After refusal by
Smith and Elder the work was acquired by Richard
Bentley, and proved to be one of his most profitable
speculations. Since that time considerably over a
million copies have been sold. As Ainsworth said
to Mrs Henry Wood on one occasion : " Chapman
and Hall have never ceased to repent . . . they
publish a work that has no chance of success , . .
and when such a book as East Lynne is brought
under their notice they pass it over. I was never
more amazed than when Frederic Chapman told me
they had returned it to you." Curiously enough,
East Lynne was started on its triumphant career of
success by the review in The Times (25th January,
1862) written by Samuel Lucas, the editor of Oyice
a Week. Meredith was very indignant at his friend's
apostasy from his views, and wrote to the recal-
citrant reviewer charging him with encouraging
foul taste, and asserting that the incidents of East
Lynne were all artificial and not sprung from the
characters of the tale.

This was certainly severe criticism, particularly as
some of its strictures might well have been applied to
the novel, Rhoda Fleming, that the writer was then
evolving. But Meredith never would admit any
merit in Mrs Henry Wood's books. He apparently
disliked a certain type of rather sensational novels
by women, for this same year, 1862, both Villiers,
by Ouida, and I sola, by Mrs Lynn Linton, were
disdainfully marked "Decline " without any reason
being given. His disapproval of Mrs Lynn Linton's
views continued to the end, and as late as 1894
he wrote of one of her manuscripts : " Very sour
in tendencv, hard in stvle. All forced, and


exemplify the author's abhorrence of the emanci-
pation of young females from their ancient rules.
She has been doing this sort of thing in all
directions." ^

On the other hand, he was always ready to appreci-
ate the unpretentious and conscientious work of
young women of literary ability. He would give
ibhem much good advice, and though he might not
accept the manuscript under consideration, by
pointing out its faults he encouraged them to try
again and achieve better things. A case in point is
that of Miss Jennett Humphreys. Meredith wrote
to her from 193 Piccadilly, the office of Chapman
and Hall, in 1864-1866, three letters full of patient,
but rather prosy, criticism and sound advice. At
this date Meredith had adopted the plan of some-
times giving a personal interview to the authors,
whose work he was considering, and verbally express
his opinions and criticisms. It thus came about that
Meredith offered to give Miss Humphreys a personal
interview after she had sent in another manuscript,
which got mislaid. The lady, accepting the invita-
tion for a verbal chastening, replied : " She needs
no persuading to convince her of the value, as well
as the exceptional favour, of freely- spoken criticism.
Her appreciation of it may be measured by the fact
of her agreeing to throw aside her own cloak and
receive a face-to-face castigation . . . , and she
only hopes she shall have sense and ability enough
to derive the benefit from the interview the Reader
kindly intends." Miss Humphreys duly kept the
appointment, and her account of the interview
incidentally gives an interesting pen-portrait of

' Presumably he was annoyed in particular by Mrs Lynn Linton's
The Girl of the Period.

■VHOTT THK .\C.V n| T 1 11 Kl V- 1- Or R


Meredith at the age of thirty-eight, just before he
went out to Italy as War Correspondent :

" He was studiously polite to me ; and I have a
memory of a man dressed with great care — leading
even to lavender-coloured kid gloves — his hair of
chestnut colour and lying in curls, or waves, round a
handsome face.^ What he said was patiently said,
my faults being pointed out, and his judgment over
what I had done being several times repeated — ' It
will not go to the public' I asked if I might know
to whom I was indebted, and he said : ' Excuse me '
— which, of course, I was bound to do. We had
our talk in a small glass-walled office, enclosed off
from the ground floor at 193, Piccadilly. I brought
away my bundle of MSS. myself, in spite of Mr
Meredith's polite desire that I would let him have
it posted."

Not until over forty years later did Miss
Humphreys learn the real identity of the Publisher's
Reader. It is curious proof of how little known
George Meredith was in his meridian to find another
author of note apparently quite unaware of his
existence and confounding his name with the
literary pseudonym of the first Earl of Lytton.
Writing to Miss Humphreys in 1871 (at the time
Harry Richmond was appearing in The Cornhill
Magazine)^ Harrison Ainsworth said : "I fancy the

' Curiously enough, the Rev. F. J. Foakes Jackson, who was only
six years old at the time he saw Meredith, when the latter came
to visit his stepfather, T. E. Foakes, of The Ipswich Journal, says he
mainly recalls " the yellow dogskin gloves and the reddish whiskers
of the novelist ; the odd thing is that I have any recollections at
all, as I certainly was never given to understand that he was a
famous man."


gentleman whom you saw at Chapman and Hall's
must have been Mr Owen Meredith. I do not know
him, but I have heard that he was their Reader." ^
Harrison Ainsworth's ignorance of the identity of
Chapman and Hall's Reader was the more remark-
able as this firm published nine of Ainsworth's
original novels in the years 1861-1870, and the
Chapmans were his personal friends. But, no doubt,
Ainsworth's work was accepted without being sub-
mitted to the Reader. This is confirmed by the
fact that Meredith informed me that he had only
read Ainsworth's Tower of London and Old St PauVs,
and was not acquainted with their author. It was
strange they never met, because from 1871 until
his death in 1882 Ainsworth lived principally at
Reigate, and he shared Meredith's love of Surrey
scenery, long walks, good cookery, and old wine.
It was another odd coincidence that Mrs Henry
Wood, Mrs Lynn Linton, and Ouida all commenced
their literary careers in magazines edited by Ains-
worth, and owed much to his help and advice ; and
that the works of these three ladies should have been
unfailingly disliked and rejected by Meredith when
they were before his judgment-seat of Publisher's
Adviser. Evidently the literary opinions of Mere-
dith and Ainsworth were not in unison. The latter
had been a publisher, and magazine owner, for many
years, and he could exactly gauge what was likely
to be popular and a financial success. Meredith
was, in reahty, not suited for his employment.
Although his literary judgments may have been
correct in a critical, academic sense, that was not

1 Arthur Symons, writing in Time, 1885, thought a novel called
Mary Bertrand. by " Francis Meredith," was the work of George


what the publishers exactly wanted. He was not
able to see what would sell well and be talked about,
unless we assume in high alternative that he de-
liberately placed what he regarded as the pure
interests of literature before the commercial ones of
his employers. And yet no great writer ever learnt
by bitterer personal experience than he what the
public liked or disliked.

Meredith refused another subsequently famous
book, Erewhon, by Samuel Butler, with the comment
"Will not do." This was in 1871, and twenty-
eight years later Butler commented : " This is not
strange, for I should probably have condemned his
Diana of the Crossways, or indeed any other of his
books, had it been submitted to mvself. No
wonder if his work repels me that mine should
repel him."

Meredith also rejected Wilfrid Sea wen Blunt's
first little volume of verse and prose obout 1867.
The author in after years stated this judgment was
" entirely right."

On the other hand, Meredith perceived the

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 14 of 23)