S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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clouds are broken at close of day by bars of blood-
red fire as the sun sets behind the hills.

The tinted foliage Meredith compared to a dozen
differently coloured torches held up in the woods.
The torches still burn there at the fall of the year,
though he who hymned the beauty of the scene has

Such was Meredith's loved home. His first letter
written from Box Hill, on 31st January, 1868, voices


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the inspiration the spot was to bestow on him for
the remainder of his life. Here he, at last, found a
home in the real sense of the word ; here he knew
domestic happiness. His daughter, Marie Eveleen,
was born at Flint Cottage in June, 1871, and she
and her brother passed their childhood here. And
here Meredith reached the maturity of his literary
powers and produced his most profound and
thoughtful work. As Mr J. A. Hammerton well
expressed it : " The tide is making for his greatest
period of joyous and successful literary labour.
Visits abroad, long tramps among the downs of his
own homeland, increase of friends, the fireside haven
of afterwork, love and the glow of good health ; all
these now mark his days, and this period of tranquil
delight is to continue for a good many years, and
out of it shall come the ripest fruits of his genius."

Thus work and domesticity went happily hand in
hand, but he did not forget the old days at Copsham.

In October, 1868, he had stayed at Holly Hill to
help his friend Maxse, who was the Radical candidate
in the Southampton election ; and in the summer
of 1869 Meredith went abroad with Lionel Robinson
to see his son Arthur.

To 1870 belongs the exquisite Dirge in Woods.
The similar, but more pregnant, poem. In the Woods,
was written three years later.

When the spring of 1870 at Box Hill came round,
Meredith remembered his visits to the nightingale-
haunted Vale of Mickleham in former years with
Bonaparte Wyse, and wrote off to that valued
friend to come down and renew old memories.

In 1870, also, Mrs Meredith's father, Justin
Vulliamy, died. This summer Meredith paid a
visit to liis friend Maxse Jirul liad some yachting.


Next he and his wife stayed with the Cotterills at
Tongs wood, and then took rooms at 21 Cavendish
Place, Eastbourne.

During his first two years, or more, at Box Hill,
Meredith was leisurely finishing The Adventures of
Harry Richmond, which commenced to appear
serially in The Cornhill Magazine, September, 1870,
illustrated by George du Maurier with unsatisfactory
designs.^ The story ran for the long period of
fifteen months here, and was published in three
volumes by Smith and Elder in the winter of 1871.
But the work had been commenced as far back as
1863, and in May, 1864, the author told Jessopp, at
the time he was writing Vittoria, that he also had in
hand an autobiography, entitled The Adventure of
Richmond Roy and his Friend, Contrivance Jack .*
Being the History of Two Rising Men. Apparently
his first intention was to write a book on the lines
of Borrow, dealing entirely with the road and the
heath, for he mentioned a few weeks later some
wayside pieces he was writing for The Cornhill,
Sandys to illustrate them.

It is to bt regretted that the project for Sandys's
illustrations never materialised. He was a Norwich
man, and could have given the Borrovian touch to
scenes of nomadic life. And he evidently had some
influence on Meredith's story, for it was a gipsy
model of Sandys's named Kaomi who was the
original of Kiomi in Harry Richmond. How fine
was her presentation there is testified by Watts-
Dunton, himself a profound student of Romany life :

" The pictures of gipsy life ... in all other

• One of them, Janet Ilchester with Harry and his Father, was
omitted in later editions.


novels are the merest daubs compared with the
Kiomi of George Meredith's story Harry Richmond.
Not even Borrow and Groome, with all their in-
timate knowledge of gipsy life, ever painted a more
vigorous picture of the Romany chi than this.
The original was well known in the art circles of
London at one time, and was probably known to
Meredith, but this does not in any way derogate
from the splendour of the imaginative achievement
of painting in a few touches a Romany girl who
must, one would think, live for ever." ^

Meredith's great romance of the open road and
the wild heath lands of Hampshire had for setting
that portion of the county adjoining Sussex, south
of Petersfield. Riversley Grange was seven miles
from " Ewling," which may be identified with
Harting — the country, in fact, of Evan Harrington
and Beckley Court. When little Harry Richmond
was carried away from Riversley Grange by his
imperial father, beyond the park ran a great high-
road toward London, the Portsmouth Road. And
in Harry Richmond, as in Evan Harr'figton, there
are suggestions of Meredith's early life and family
characteristics. Harry Richmond is, in my opinion,
the " Autobiography " mentioned by the author in
his letters, and which some of his commentators
have stated was never written. But Meredith
never asserted that the " Autobiography " was to
be a plain actual account of his own life— a Book of
memoirs in the Rousseau sense. On the contrary,

1 Harry Richmond was regarded by Watts-Dunton as Meredith's
best work, and he re-read it not long before his death. Kaomi was
the model for Sandys's picture of Judith (1864). and another of his
portraits of the girl was in the collection of the late Lord Battersea.


in 1864 he called it the "Autobiographic Tale" —
that is to say, it is written in the first person like
Dickens's David Copperfield, Charlotte Bronte's
Jane Eyre, and William De Morgan's Joseph Vance
(bearing the sub-title " An ill-written Autobio-
graphy "). All these books reflect memories and
experiences of their authors, and present transcrip-
tions of actual characters known to them in the past :
but they are not strictly autobiographies, for they
all contain much that is purely imaginative. It is
thus with Harry Richmond too. The word " Auto-
biography " applies to him and not to Meredith ;
but granting that, and the fact that some prominent
characters, such as the Princess Ottilia and the life-
like Squire Beltham, may be fictitious creations, it
is also true that much of the book is founded on
actuality. The Richmonds, father and son, are a
sort of melange of four generations of Merediths.
Undoubtedly the great Richmond Roy was inspired
by Melchizedek Meredith in the first place. Was
not the latter reputed to have passed as a Marquis
at Bath, where Roy also strutted one of the many
glorious hours of his life ? But Meredith's stupend-
ous creation of his Micawberian Prince of Adven-
turers and Impecunious Impostors far transcended
the personality of his own grandfather, dashing,
thriftless, handsome, and pretentious as the latter
was. Meredith's characters were realities to him,
and he would, it is said, hold communion and talk
aloud with them in the retirement of his study where
they were born. Thus he told Marcel Schwob :
" When Harry Richmond's father first met me, when
I heard him tell me in his pompous style about the
son of a duke of blood royal and an actress of seven-


teen years of age, I perfectly roared with laughter ! "
The claims of Richmond Roy to royal birth were
perhaps suggested to his creator by the absurd
stories which, as we have seen, attributed to the
novelist himself a similar lineage : or it may be the
latter legends were caused by Harry Richmond, when
somebody, reading the story, detected a reflection of
some actual facts of Meredith history and imagined
more. Richmond Roy also has some character-
istics of Augustus Meredith, and Harry himself
resembles both George Meredith and his son

I have already pointed out that Meredith endowed
Harry Richmond with his own gift as a boy of
reading the thoughts and characters of his com-
panions, and that Rippenger's school was a picture
of the one George went to, in Hampshire, as a boarder
after he left St Paul's, Southsea, in 1841. Harry
Richmond's travels with his father on the Continent
suggest those of Meredith and his small son Arthur,
whose juvenile friendship with Miss Janet Duff
Gordon resembled Harry Richmond's with Clara
Goodwin. In this book, the living lady named
Janet seems to have been used again as a model,
this time for physical characteristics and not
character ; Meredith's description of Janet Ilchester
certainly coincides with the Watts portrait of Miss
Janet Duff Gordon. And both the Janets were
skilled horsewomen.

The problem of Harry Richmond is the same as
that of Evan Harrington — the love of a young man
for a girl above him in social rank, and his (and his
author's) conflict with snobbery and pride. The
early part of Harry Richmo7id is certainly the best :


it is too spun out after the hero comes to man's
estate. The boys of the book are delightful. But
it is a pity that, having created his nice boys,
Meredith sometimes makes them talk in his style
and not that of boyhood. Boys who talk of our
horses' hic-lisec-hocks getting strained on this hard
nominative-plural-masculine of the article road,
from conversation should be "expunged" — to use
another unlikely expression emanating from a boy
in this book. Meredith's good things come far
better from the mouth of Richmond Roy.

The character of Janet Ilchester can be regarded
as either a very subtle study or a failure. At the
outset she is a scheming, unpleasant little girl, with
a greed for other people's property : in the end a
noble, generous woman, and it is not clearly marked
in the story when and how her character changed.
Up to the period when she successfully conspired to
separate Ottilia and Harry in the Isle of Wight she
ever appears unlovable and selfish, for her own
obvious and paramount purpose was to secure the
hero herself. A pale " hero " certainly, one who
never accomplished anything except by aid of his
father and friends ; a squanderer of money pro-
vided by others ; and inconceivably weak at the
crisis of his fate. Why he should be debarred by
high scruples of honour from marrying the Princess
when she and her father were " in the net " of
Richmond Roy is not apparent, in view of the fact
that Harry had not hesitated to compromise Ottilia's
reputation by a midnight assignation in Germany.
It cannot be contended that in the meantime his
character had advanced, for, despicable to the last,
he accepts the bounty of Rivcrsley (of which he had


been disinherited) and only discovers he " loves "
Janet Ilchester when that astute young lady is the
heiress of the millions he had reckoned upon in the
past as his future inheritance. In the imbroglio
of the renunciation of the Princess, sympathy goes
most to Richmond Roy at the collapse of all his
schemes ; and his retributive fall, at the vengeful
hands of the blackguardly Squire, is too heavy
and complete for one who had ever before sailed his
glittering bark of personality gaily over the seas
of adversity. Meredith does not account for this
sudden collapse of character either, and thus the
final impression of the tale is disappointing and
vague. This nebulosity of intention, which envelops
much of the book throughout, explains the con-
tradictory criticism it has received. Thus Arthur
Symons found it a romance " rousing, enthralling,
exciting, full of poetry, and a serious and masterly
study in character. On a first reading we are fairly
swept away and carried along by the racing tide
of the narrative. . . . Brilliant and fantastically
lighted pictures flit past, like the slides of a magic
lantern." But W. L. Courtney pronounced :
" Perhaps in no novel do we find the absence of joy
more conspicuous than in Harry Richmond. Here
is a young man who goes through a series of surpris-
ing adventures quite removed from the sphere of
probability. . . . The only literary excuse for such
extravagance would be the rollicking character of
the hero, such a one, for instance, as was endeared
to our childhood by Captain Marryat or Kingston.
But Harry Richmond does not rollick : he is never
young, but talks about himself with the inaladie de
la "pensee of a modern age."


I think Mr Courtney is right, though some, no
doubt, find the story rollicking, and have even re-
garded it as of the school of Lever, the Prince of
Rollickers. Thus, Meredith told Hardman when the
tale was first appearing in The Cornhill that a friend
named Lethbridge had seen it attributed to Lever.
There are some interesting references to Harry
Richmond in two letters to Jessopp from Meredith
(not included in the published Correspondence).
He mentions that some of his friends pronounced
it his best novel. But, as usual, with the general
public the story was not much of a success, and by
many was not even understood.

Maxse told Meredith that he knew a lady— a great
novel reader— who found Harry Richmond quite un-
intelligible in parts. But the German scenes of the
book ought to have appealed to the public of that
time (1870-1871), for they were topical in view of
the contemporary Franco-Prussian War. Meredith,
however, is always topical, whatever the lapse of
years since he wrote, and his revelations of German
character in Harry Richmond could be cited as apt
to-day as they were fifty years ago. The views of
Prince Hermann and Professor von Karsteg have
the ring of 1917.

The war of 1870 deeply affected Meredith, who
was torn asunder by conflicting sympathies for both
belligerents. France he ever loved, but he blamed
the Emperor ; and he liked much that was German.
At first he cherished the hope of seeing something of
the conflict in his old role of war correspondent,
but this did not come about.

By the autumn, Meredith attached more blame
to France, and writing to his son Arthur, whose


sympathies were warmly for the Frencli, he expressed
the view tliat the French were responsible for the
war, and that their Emperor was the villain of
the piece. Two generations had been brought up
on the principles of Napoleonism — in other words
the modern German formula that Might or National
Necessity is Right. The Germans, on the other
hand, Meredith said, had led a continuous life of
civic virtue, and he esteemed them highly for their
excellent moral qualities. He mentioned that,
among his friends, Maxse's sympathies were entirely
for France ; Cotter Morison was pro-German ; whilst
Morley and he himself endeavoured to preserve an
impartial view.

Although Meredith at this time described the
French as the most brutal invader of an enemy
country through all the ages, he grieved for their
losses and humiliation. Consequently he was able
to write at this same time, in seeming contradiction
of sympathies and views, his Ode, France, December,
1870, which appeared the following month in The
Fortnightly Review.

But again, two months later, in February, 1871,
he wrote to Maxse of France in phrases which were
applied to Germany in 1918. In this letter Meredith
did not advocate a British alliance with France, or in-
tervention in that country's quarrels with Germany.
But at the close of his life he foresaw that England
would be involved in a war that would devastate all
Europe. Speaking in 1909 to the Rev. D. Owen, a
Welsh bard, he said he was by temperament an
optimist. He believed in the future of the race, in\
the progress of mankind, and in the inviolability of
the soul. But he was a pessimist on one point,


because he saw looming in the distance, not the very
far distance, a great tragedy, the Armageddon of
Europe. A generation of thunder and hghtning :
Europe a medley of blood and thunder. He would
not live to see it ; he was too old, not in spirit but
in years. But, with all the talk of peace, the signs
of the times were for war. Britain needed a great
stirring up, a great crisis, to rehabilitate the qualities
of the race. We had become limp, lax, and fearful.
We were afraid of death. Militarism in Germany
would produce a sort of barbaric courage, dead to
all the higher instincts of man. War waged by
a nation obsessed by militarism would be horrible
and ruthless.

And in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, 17th
February, 1903, on the subject of Pan-Germanism,
he prognosticated that in the eventual war Germany
would be beaten by internal troubles and the
question of money.

Although Meredith was truly prophetic concern-
ing the coming war, the effects of militarism on
German character (once renowned for intellectual
achievement), and the final course of events in the
great struggle, he did not correctly judge the char-
acteristics of his own countrymen and how they
would behave when the trial came. The English
did not require a German invasion of their shores to
awaken them, and they have not proved afraid of
death, either as soldiers in the field or civilians under
murderous outrages at home. But Meredith was
always too prone to write disparagingly of the
English, especially in his letters. This trait seems
to have originated from what he considered their
lack of appreciation of his work ; and so, to the end,


he would use contemptuous phrases concerning his

These references and others (particularly in One
of our Conquerors and Celt and Salmon) to England
and the English might be the growls of a dyspeptic
foreigner.! It may be contended, of course, that
Meredith wrote thus critically of the English in his
assumed role of a pugnacious Welsh-Irishman con-
stitutionally antagonistic to England. But despite
his frequent assertion that he was Celtic, his Welsh
and Irish descent, as previously demonstrated, was
remote, his progenitors for several generations, on
both the paternal and maternal side, having been
Hampshire people. It must be conceded with re-
gret that Meredith's strictures upon his fellow-
countrymen were based upon a compound of per-
sonal pique and that very English characteristic —

Fifteen years ago Meredith sympathised with
Russia's aspirations for liberty, and desired the fall
of the Tsardom. But that also he did not live to
see. To an interviewer he said, in January, 1905,
that Russia would not long escape the spirit of
Liberalism that was sweeping over Europe. The
British people should give practical assistance to
the brave fellows who were fighting an uneven, an
almost hopeless battle. They could not expect
much help from Germany. Germany ever since
1870 had been an armed camp, waiting behind a
fortress to be attacked. But no doubt the German
people would sympathise with the poor Russians

' It is true that in Lord Ormont and his Aminta Mereditli gave ex-
pression to admiration for many characteristics of Enghsh schoolboys
and their creed, and the dogged pUick of Enghshmen as soldiers.


France was forced into an alliance with Russia by
the Triple Alliance, before she had come to a good
understanding with us. Her people were attracted
by the undeveloped riches of Russia to invest their
money in that country. France had her bond-
holders to consider. But the French people also
would have much sympathy with the aims of the
Russian revolutionaries.

At this same time he wrote his poem, The Crisis,
voicing liberty for Russia.

It is curious that Meredith, a lifelong Radical
and champion of liberty, and one who fully per-
ceived the dangers of militarism, should have been
in favour of the greatest evil of militarism — con-
scription. When the question of the Russian ad-
vance in Asia was prominent in 1878, Meredith wrote
to Hardman, editor of The Morning Post, advocat-
ing conscription. In 1874 he had urged the same
view on Frederick Greenwood for propagation in
The Pall Mall Gazette ; and in 1890 he wrote, in
One oj our Conquerors, to the same effect.

At the end of his life his views seem to have been
modified to an approval of a system of military
training. He wrote to H. M. Hyndman, in January,
1909, approving of his and Mr Blatchford's plea for
a citizen army. Meredith contributed a poem on
the subject, entitled The Call, to The Oxford and
Cambridge Review.

In conclusion, it must be conceded that, on the
whole, Meredith's outlook upon public affairs was
remarkably sane and far-seeing, and that his words,
when dealing with such subjects, are as appropriate
to-day as when they were written in past years.
Despite his pose of criticising the English, he


admitted they were a kind-hearted people ; he
sincerely loved his native country and would,
however much he loved Germany, or France, or
Italy, have supported her in any supreme crisis of
her fate.



DURING the decade of the seventies, Mere-
dith formed some additional and notable
friendships, in particular with Leslie Stephen
(whom he had first met in 1866), Comyns Carr,
R. L. Stevenson, and Frederick Greenwood, the
projector and first editor of The Pall Mall Gazette.

At this date he was contributing to The Graphic
a series of Dialogues which appeared during De-
cember, 1872, and January, 1873, in five parts, and
were entitled Up to Midnight. Seven characters
discuss the topics of the day, the late Franco-
Prussian War, and the political situation abroad
and at home. Recent floods and their influence on
crops introduce a typical little bit of scenic painting.
This leads on to a discussion of the picturesque and
poetry, when Mr M'Nimbus says he prefers good
boots to bad poems. There follows a passage
flavoured with the genuine Meredithian tang.

Since 1871 he had been engaged on the composi-
tion of Beauchamp's Career. In the spring of 1874,
when the work was ready, it was not found accept-
able as a successor to Harry Richmond in The Corn-
hill Magazine.^ This was a disappointing omen for
the story, and, perhaps, contributed more than

• The Cornhill Magazine had, however, published Meredith's rather
obscure poem, The Song of Theodolinda, in September, 1872. For
Harry Richmond Meredith received from The Cornhill Magazine ;^500,
and a further ;^ioo after the sale of 500 copies.



anything else to consolidate Meredith's disgust at
the lack of appreciation he thought he received (it
must be remembered that he was ever appreciated
by a select few of his contemporaries) and his re-
sultant criticism of the English which we considered
in the last chapter. For he was now on the flood
tide of his literary powers, and Beauchamp's Career
merited an enthusiastic reception and immediate
success. Here he gave of his very best — himself,
and his creations were living realities to him. He
had approached and carried out his task with the
most intense seriousness — too serious, I suppose, for
a " popular " novel. In a letter to Dr Jessopp,
dated 8th April, 1873, he expressed his views on
the subject very finely.

He judged only too correctly that it would not be
generally popular. When the story was eventually
accepted for The Fortnightly Review, on the condi-
tion of drastic condensation, he wrote to the editor,
John Morley, concerning the parts to be cut out,
and protested the " mutilation " would not affect him.
But, of course, he did feel acutely the " mutilation "
of his work, for to hack at a created thing is the
most painful task that could be assigned to its
author. He wrote rather sadly and despondently to
Moncure D. Conway, who was negotiating for the
American publication oiBeauchaiU'ifs Career, in June,
1874, that it was not likely to be a popular book.

It is well known that the character of Beauchamp
was drawn from the author's friend. Captain
Frederick Maxse, R.N., whose emotional, mercurial
temperament passed through many changing phases.
It is an interesting study to compare and collate
Beauchamj)^ s Career with the extensive series of
letters addressed by Meredith to the prototype of


his novel, for these letters analyse and advise on all
those warring qualities exhibited by Beauchamp,
some of them penned long before the book was

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 16 of 23)