S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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or trivial, point that I possess a little enamel snuff-
box, bearing a view of Bath on the lid, which was
the property of this great-grandfather of mine. As


for the real Melchizedek Meredith, he kept liorses
and liunted ; in 1796, when he was initiated as a
Freemason in the Phoenix Lodge, he was described
as " a gentleman " ; and in 1801 he was an officer
in the Portsmouth Yeomanry Cavalry, at a time
when patriotism was paramount owing to the
threatened invasion of England by Napoleon. Con-
sequently, he had many opportunities of meeting
and entertaining men of the superior social class
who married his three younger daughters.

The most remarkable of these girls, Louisa Mitchell
Meredith, was the original of her nephew's famous
creation, the Countess de Saldar, in Evan Harrington.
Needless to relate, she was brilliant and the wit of
the family. Ambitious too, her actual career was
perhaps even more romantic than adumbrated by
George Meredith. At the age of eighteen, in March,
1811, she was married, in St Thomas's Church, to
William Harding Read (born in 1775), who, after
serving twenty years in the Royal Navy, as purser,
and doing consular work abroad, became Consul-
General in the Azores, about 1832. Read was a
personal friend of Pedro, Emperor of Brazil and
sometime King of Portugal, who created him a
Knight of the Order of the Tower and Sword as a
mark of royal esteem ; and, when in Portugal, Read
and his wife maintained a high position in Court
circles. In addition to three sons — one being named
Guglielmo Meredith— the Reads had a daughter,
called Luiza Mitchell after her mother. This girl,
born at Ponta Delgada in 1816, was married in
1834, in the island of St Miguel, to Antonio da Costa
Cabral, subsequently Marquis de Thomar, the well-
known Minister of State during the reign of Donna
Maria, second Queen of Portugal. At the time he


met his wife he was acting as Judge in the Azores.
Later on he held the office of Minister of Justice
at Lisbon ; and in 1870 the Count de Thomar
(he was created Marquis in 1878) was appointed
Ambassador to the Vatican. Thus it came about
that the granddaughter of Melchizedek Meredith
the tailor died in Rome an Ambassadress — the only
lady of that high rank at the Papal Court, where
Portugal alone has an Embassy, the other countries
being represented by Legations. The Ambassa-
dress's son, Antonio Cabral, second Count de
Thomar, was an attache at the Portuguese Legation
in London in 1858, and his son, in turn, was, until
recently, in the Portuguese Legation at Berlin.
Other members of the family were officers in the
army and navy of Portugal . Such were the appro-
priate descendants of the diplomatic and strategic
"Countess de Saldar"— she whose airs and graces
and flapping laces, and talk of courts and nobilities,
must indeed have created an excitement when she
revisited, at rare intervals, her old home in Ports-
mouth. That is an aptly characteristic scene in
Evan Harrington — where the Countess arrives after
the demise of her father, and, in low society, turns,
tactfully, the conversation to the most welcome
topic of that stratum of humanity — death and
corpses. Somehow, the incongruous figure of the
aforetime Louisa Meredith always seems one of the
most familiar of the many personalities that haunt
the bow-windowed parlour of the old family house
in the High Street. The memory of Mrs Read sur-
vived in later years among her nephews and nieces
as a sort of fairy godmother. She used to send them
handsome presents — particularly boxes of rare fruits
and sweets from Portugal, where she settled after


tlu' cleat li of lior husband in 1839— and ever there
attaclicd to her an atniosplierc of romance, the
conception of one who had early used her wings
and flown away from the bourgeois to loftier realms.
Slie had entirely eclipsed tailordom or " Demo-
iTorcon " as the Countess called it. Mr Lionel
Robinson, an early and intimate friend of George
Meredith, told me that the novelist said to him " on
more than one occasion that he owed much to one
of his aunts who had lived for some time abroad, in
Portugal, and that to her he was indebted for his
' manners ' and courteous bearing towards women.
He always spoke of her with respect and admiration."

The Marquis de Thomar (Louisa Read's son-in-law)
had a brother called Silva Cabral, and here is found
the source of the name of " Count Silva," used by
George Meredith in Evan Harrington to designate
his uncle-in-law Read. Only once, in later years, did
Meredith come near meeting his Portuguese cousins,
as he relates in the letter dated 5th August, 1881, to
his son Arthur : but apparently George Meredith
never met these children of his " Countess de Saldar."

In September of the same year, 1811, that wit-
nessed the wedding of Louisa Meredith, her sister,
Harriet Eustace, was married to John Hellyer of
Newington, Surrey, a brewer. Little authentic
information is available concerning the Hellyers
beyond the fact that they were the originals of the
Andrew Cogglesbys in Evan Harrington.

Although Melchizedek's youngest and most
beautiful daughter, Catherine Matilda Meredith,
was not married until some years after her father's
death, it is more convenient to record now that it
was on 28th October, 1819, that she was wedded, in
St Thomas's Church, to Samuel Burdon Ellis, then


a lieutenant in the Royal Marines, who subsequently
rose to the rank of General and Knight Commander
of the Order of the Bath. The Ellises, of course,
were the originals of Major and Mrs Strike in Evan
Harrington. How much the characters of my grand-
parents were misrepresented I shall point out, in a
few words, when dealing with that book later on.
My grandfather, S. B. Ellis, was born in 1782 and
was twelve years older than my grandmother. He
entered the Royal Marines at an early age, and at
once took part in many of the naval engagements
of the Napoleonic War, including Sir Robert Calder's
action, the capture of Guadaloupe, and Trafalgar.
In the last-named battle he fought on H.M.S. Ajax,
and before the action commenced it fell to him to
announce to the sailors Nelson's famous signal.
He relates in his Memoirs :

" There was scarcely any wind at the time, and
we approached the enemy at not more than a knot
and a half an hour. As we neared the French fleet,
I was sent below with orders, and was much struck
with the preparations made by the blue- jackets,
the majority of whom were stripped to the waist ;
a handkerchief was bound tightly round their heads
and over the ears, to deaden the noise of the cannon,
many men being deaf for days after an action. The
men were variously occupied : some were sharpen-
ing their cutlasses, others polishing the guns as
though an inspection were about to take place
instead of a mortal combat, whilst three or four, as
if in mere bravado, were dancing a hornpipe ; but
all seemed deeply anxious to come to close quarters
with the enemy. Occasionally they would look out
of the ports, and speculate as to the various ships of


the enemy, many of whieh had been on former occa-
sions engaged by our vessels. It was at this time
that Nelson's famous signal, ' England expects
every man to do his duty,' was hoisted at the mast
head of the Admiral's ship. These words were
requested to be delivered to the men, and I was
desired to inform those on the main-deck of the
Admiral's signal. Upon acquainting one of the
quarter-masters of the order, he assembled the men
with ' Avast there, lads, come and hear the Admiral's
words.' When the men were mustered, I delivered,
with becoming dignity, the sentence, — rather an-
ticipating that the effect on the men would be to
awe them by its grandeur. Jack, however, did not
appreciate it, for there were murmurs from some,
whilst others in an audible whisper muttered, ' Do
our duty ! Of course we'll do our duty. I've
always done mine, haven't you ? Let us come along-
side of 'em, and we'll soon show whether we will do
our duty.' Still, the men cheered vociferously —
more, I believe, from love and admiration of their
Admiral and leaders, than from a full appreciation
of this well-known signal." ^

S. B. Ellis's numerous other services, during nearly
sixty years, in all parts of the world, included the
war with China, 1840-1842, when he was senior
officer in command of the Royal Marines during the
frequent actions the corps engaged in, and for which
he received many encomiums and rewards. He
eventually became Commandant of Woolwich, was
granted a special augmentation of armorial bearings
for his services, was created K.C.B. and knighted,
and died in 1865. He came of a family whose long

' Memoirs of Sir S. B. Ellis. K.C.B. Edited by Lady Ellis. 1866.


Genrrai. Sir S. R Ki,i.i>

Ol' M \|ou SlKIKE

, K.C.H., I\.. M.L.I., THE ORICINAl,

IN "Evan II akrinchon '"


record of military and naval distinction, through
many generations, is unique. His three brothers
all entered the navy. Captain John Ellis fought at
Cape St Vincent and at Cadiz under Nelson ; George
Ellis was wounded in action off Calais, and in 1808
his ship was captured near Toulon by a French
frigate, and he remained a prisoner of war at Verdun
for six years, eventually dying from the effect
of hardships experienced there ; and Lieutenant
Francis Wilson Ellis's many services included
the Baltic and the Bombardment of Copenhagen
in 1807, when the Danish fleet surrendered. The
father of the four brothers. Commander John
Ellis, served with the Naval Brigade at the battle
of the Plains of Abraham, when Wolfe was killed,
at the taking of Quebec, 1759, and through the
American War of Independence ; and their uncle,
Captain Stephen Ellis, Royal Marines, was killed in
the attack at the battle of Bunker's Hill, in 1775.
Their grandfather, Samuel Ellis, was a lieutenant
in Barrel's Regiment, and lost an arm at Culloden,
1745. Their great-grandfather, Samuel Ellis, served
in the Low Countries under the Duke of Marl-
borough, and was captain in the Duke of York's
Maritime Regiment at Oudenarde. Earlier direct
ancestors included Philip Ellis, a noted cavalier,
who defended Rose Castle, in Cumberland, against
the Parliamentarians ; Sir John Ellis, who was at
Marston Moor, and, later, killed in the service of
Charles I. ; Sir William EJlys, who did great execu-
tion against the unfortunate rebels of the Pilgrimage
of Grace ; Sir Henry Ellys, slain at Bosworth Field,
1485 ; Sir William Ellys, who is mentioned as accom-
panying Edward III. to France ; Sir William Ellys,
who served under Eai-1 Warrenne against the Scots


at Dunbar and Stirling ; Sir Thomas Ellys, slain at
the assault on Northampton, 1265 ; and Sir Archibald
Ell vs. a noted erusader in the service of Richard I.

The three sons of Catherine Meredith carried on
the fighting traditions of their father's family. The
eldest, George Ellis, long years after, had his boy-
hood's portrait drawn very faithfully by his first
cousin and namesake, George Meredith, as Crossjay
Patterne in The Egoist. George Ellis, like his
literary presentment, was a restless, high-spirited
lad, with a passion for the navy, which he entered
at the age of fifteen. He became purser, but his
roving spirit, fretting at inaction — for there was no
naval warfare during his time — caused him to leave
the Service and emigrate to South Africa. From
thence he went to America, where he was eventually
killed at the battle of Bull's Run, 1861, in the
American Civil War, fighting as a volunteer in the
Southern Army, thus closing his adventurous career
at the age of thirty-nine. His two brothers entered
their father's corps, the Royal Marines ; Samuel
died, from the effects of service, a lieutenant, in
1847 ; and Arthur Ellis (my father) rose to the rank
of Colonel, after over thirty years' service, including
the Crimean War, when he was wounded at the
Bombardment of Sebastopol, and died in 1885.
George Meredith thus long survived all his English
first cousins : he and Arthur Ellis were born in the
same year, 1828, and much resembled each other in
personal appearance.

To revert to 1811, the year which witnessed two
weddings of the Meredith daughters, there soon
ensued a period of trouble and death for the family.
The Great Mel. (who, I fear, keeps banging up and
down this family chapter, like a pertinacious cracker,


much as he did at the dinner-table of Beckley Court),
having been long indifferent to money matters and
given to much generous hospitality, was now faced
by serious financial difficulties for the neglected
business. In 1812 his eldest daughter, Mrs Burbey,
died, four months after the birth of her only child,
Mary Meredith Burbey (subsequently Mrs Pratt
Wills). In 1813, five months later, his second
daughter, Caroline, Mrs W. P. Read, died ; and
on 10th July, 1814, Melchizcdek Meredith himself
expired, in the prime of life, at the age of fifty-one.
The demise of him who had been at once the sad
dog of Portsmouth, and the pride of the town, is but
unromantically recorded in the local paper, Tlie
Hampshire Courier, of 18th July, 1814, under Ports-
mouth : " Died on Sunday, 10th inst., much re-
spected, Mr M. Meredith, aged 51, who for many
years carried on a respectable trade in the Men's
Mercery line in this town."

It may safely be surmised that some such scenes
as are depicted in the first chapter of Evan Harring-
ton did in reality follow the death of Melchizedek,
for at the very outset George Meredith gives the
actual names of certain neighbouring tradesmen
living in the High Street at the time. Robert Kilne
was the landlord of the Wellington Tavern, No. 62,
exactly opposite the jMerediths' shop ; Barnes was
a pork butcher near the church ; " Grossby " was
intended for William Grossmith, the confectioner,
at No. 77, four doors from the Merediths ; Mrs
Fiske was the wife of the jeweller of that name at
No. 59 ; and Goren was probably meant for Joseph
Gait, a rival tailor, at No. 63.

So passed the gorgeous tailor — a robust Brummel
and the Regent of low life ; and after being laid out


in his old yeomanry uniform, sword and vast helmet
by his side, the house permeated with the cooking
odour of funeral baked meats, the body of the Great
Mel., attended by his widow and surviving children,
was laid to rest in the family vault in St Mary's
burial ground. This is close to St Thomas's Church,
and an ancient place of sepulture for the parish of
Portsmouth. It is now disused and abandoned —
like the derelict Church of St Mary it surrounds.
Barracks and some very poor cottages abut right
on to the graves, and the dismal scene reminds one
of that ghastly burial ground in Bleak House where
Lady Dedlock dreed her weird.

The Great Mel. buried, there remained now in
the old home his widow ; his youngest daughter,
Catherine ; and his only surviving son, Augustus
Urmston Meredith,^ born in 1797, who was but
seventeen years of age at the time of his father's
premature death. He had been destined and parti-
ally trained for the medical profession, for he had
no desire for tailoring or any business aptitude. He
possessed some measure of the family beauty and
savoir faire, and was in all ways a presentable youth,
far above his station in life. It is very likely that,
as adumbrated in Evan Harrington, he was on a
visit to his sister, Louisa Read, in Lisbon, when the

^ The nomenclature of Augustus Meredith has a curious history.
He was baptized at St Thomas's Church, 7th February, 1797, and his
Christian names were entered in the register as Gustave Urmston ;
but a few years later they were corrected to Augustus Armstrong,
the alteration being initialled by the Rev. J. G. Bussell, curate in
charge of the parish. As the boy grew up he accepted the name of
Augustus, but not that of Armstrong, for when he witnessed the
marriage of his sister, Catherine Matilda, to S. B. Ellis, in 18 19,
he signed his name in the register "A. U. Meredith '-'- ; and when
he eventually died, in 1876, the names inscribed on his tombstone
were " Augustus Urmston Meredith."







fatal illness of the father destroyed his ambitions
and recalled him to Portsmouth to assist his widowed
mother with a— to him — distasteful business and
the problem of raising money to pay off the large
debts left by the deceased Melchizedek, who never
was known to have sent in a bill. It is to be hoped
that his heirs and assigns w^ere able to collect some
portion of the long outstanding debts, but whatever
accrued did not benefit the daughters of the house,
for they, in turn, had nothing to bequeath to their
children in the way of money.

For the next few years the tailoring business was
in the capable hands of the admirable Mrs Meredith,
whilst her son did his best to fit himself and become
experienced, more or less as described in the sartorial
novel. In 1819, the last of the Meredith girls having
married, as we have seen, an officer of Marines,
mother and son were left alone in the old home from
whence the father and all the five fine daughters
had departed — to the grave or distant places, a sad
change truly. Mrs Meredith's advancing years
made it advisable for her son to look out for a wife
and housekeeper. He did not require to look far.
Just round the corner had lived a playmate of his
in childhood days, Jane Eliza Macnamara, born in
1802, daughter of Michael Macnamara, of " The
Vine," Broad Street, one of a row of houses, nearly
all inns, just beyond the Sallyport and King James's
Gate on the site now covered by the Point Barracks.
This was the wife selected by Augustus Meredith,
and he chose well, though he probably knew and
cared nothing about eugenics. Despite her origin,
Jane Macnamara was a refined and talented girl,
and no unworthy mother of her famous son, who
had a double heritage of personal beauty, from both


parents. His maternal grandfather, Michael Mac-
namara (who died, in 1815, " much respected, an
old inhabitant of this town," as a Portsmouth paper
records), had married Sarah, daughter of Thomas
and Catherine Dale, of Portsmouth. Consequently,
George JNIeredith was ignorant of his own pedigree
when he stated, as reported : " My mother was pure
Irish." ^ His actual link with Ireland was as remote
as his paternal one with Wales : but it is interesting
proof of the power of Celtic blood to assert itself
that, despite many blendings with English strains,
and long association with Hampshire, George Mere-
dith was predominantly a Celt, though, as he said
to Mr Clodd, " there must have been some Saxon
strain in the ancestry to account for a virility of
temperament which corrected the Celtic in me " :
the Saxon strains were the more numerous.

So Augustus Meredith brought home his wife to
the old family house, No. 73 High Street, Ports-
mouth, and there, on 12th February, 1828, was born
their only child, George Meredith. The boy was
baptized on 9th April following, in St Thomas's
Church, and presumably he was named George after
a cousin, George Meredith, born in 1801. One is
tempted to picture in imagination the scene in the
dim, musty church : the young parents, and prob-
ably some of the beautiful aunts and their husbands,
all in the quaint, stiff dresses and uniforms of the
period ; and then the return to the spacious, bow-
windowed parlour on the first floor, over the shop at
No. 73, for the christening refection, presided over
by the stately Mrs Mel.

But Anne Meredith's course was nearly run. She

' Letter from Mr Coulson Kernahan, Daily Chronicle, 4th April,



died seven months later, on 28th November, 1828,
aged seventy-five (six days after the birth of another
grandson, Arthur EIHs). As related in Evan Har-
rington, ghosts were the only childish enjoyment
Mrs Mel. allowed herself, and she did not care to
converse about the dead, save in their aspect as
ghosts. So, to follow her example, in the absence
of record of any ghostly manifestations, we will
refrain from fiu'ther reference to her demise to be
found in family letters, only pausing to note, as
confirmation of her superstitious nature, that in
her old-fashioned net purse there is still preserved a
silver coin of the date 1703. This coin was placed
in Mrs Meredith's mouth as the moment of mortal
dissolution approached. What relic this custom
was of some far-away folk-lore superstition, or how
it could be expected to speed the parting soul
(perhaps it was a sort of entrance fee to Ghostland,
or Charon's fare for Styx ferry), it is impossible now
to say. Whatever the explanation, the rite was evi-
dently a family tradition, for the coin was carefully
preserved by Mrs iMeredith's youngest daughter and
handed down, together with the story, to her children.
His mother dead, henceforth Augustus Meredith
was sole master of 73 High Street, which is now in
our family panopticon to be the background of the
early scenes in the life of his famous son.

73 High Street, Portsmouth, the Inrthplacc of George Meredith

{From a Coniemporat y Lilho^raph



ACCORDING to George Meredith's own state-
ments, his childhood was not a happy time.
But that was the fault of his own tempera-
ment and constitutional antagonism to his environ-
ment, for, despite the immediate circumstances of
his heredity, he was an aristocrat by nature and
in person — one of the most remarkable examples
of atavism. Personally — during his early years at
any rate — he was loved and cared for by both
his parents, and was, in fact, petted and allowed
to have his own way to a degree very unusual at
that time, when children were treated in a some-
what Spartan manner and had little opportunity
of doing as they liked or of expressing their own

As is generally the case with an only child, brought
up entirely in the society of his elders, and an auditor
of their conversation, Meredith developed early and
always had something of contempt or dislike for
juveniles of his own age. He was a very reserved
and acutely sensitive boy, afraid of ghosts and of
being left alone in the dark, and, as I have indicated,
a trifle spoilt by his relatives in his position of a
solitary little child in a house which had held six
or seven lively children in the preceding generation
of the family. I discovered a gentleman who well
remembered George Meredith at the age of two years,
one who had been his neighbour and playmate in


73< Hn.H Street, Portsmouth, showinc; the alteration on

Photogrn/>h /•}' II . Syiiioiuh iS-^ Co.. I'ottsiiioKlli


those far-away days. In 1830. No. 74 ^ High Street,
the house next door to the Merediths', was occupied
by David Brent Price, printer and bookseller, and
his young family. The youngest son, James Brent
Price, born in 1826, when about four years old, was
one day invited in to No. 73 to " play with young
George " ; and here are his recollections of the
future novelist as a child of two or three :

" I went up to the large front drawing-room, where
I found the boy and a lady who must have been his
mother. The boy did not seem to care much about
playing with me, and I was rather shy. He brought
me his toys and picture books to see, and I was
mightily pleased, I remember, with a horse and cart
(not like the many cheap ones that I had seen)— a
beautiful lifelike white horse, and the cart of superior
make, and as George drew it along it made music as
the w^heels went round. What I remember of the
child's appearance is somewhat hazy — a boy in white
frock and blue ribbons tied up his sleeves,^ but he
was certainly a pretty child. I spent the afternoon
with him, but we did not get on much together as he
assumed a sort of superiority.^

" In February, 1832 or 1833, there came to us from
No. 73 an invitation to a party—' Tea and Ball to
keep the birthday of Master George Meredith.' It
invited ' The Misses and Masters Price,' so my two
sisters, my elder brother and myself went in on the
auspicious evening. We have often laughed in after
years at the way my brother fulfilled his duties to us.

^ Admiral Lord Anson had lived here for a time in the preceding

- See the portrait of Meredith at this age, frontispiece of vol. i.

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 2 of 23)