S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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remarkable second marriage took place in 1858 at
Gibraltar, and he and his beautiful bride (formerly
Miss Adeline de Horsey) proceeded to Madrid. Like
Aminta, Miss de Horsey had excited much comment
when she rode in Hyde Park by the side of the
Cavalry hero.^ But the analogy collapses at the
ridiculous ending of the book, where Lord Ormont,
who throughout has been represented as a fire-eater
and deadly duellist, not only fails to call out or
horsewhip Weyburn, the " betrayer " of his wife,
but actually and meekly arranges to send his young
grand-nephew to the school conducted by this
erring gentleman and lady, both so calmly oblivious
of law and honour, living together in the Unholy
Estate of Adultery. It seems impossible to believe
that Meredith intended this farcical finale to be
taken seriously, and yet there is no evidence that
he ever alluded to it as a trap for the tripping
of his loathed critics, which would seem the most
reasonable explanation.

The character of Lady Charlotte Eglett, who
presents admirably a certain type of arrogant but
kind-hearted grande dame peculiar to the nineteenth
century, is one of the most clearly depicted and
humorous portraits in the Meredith gallery. She is
said to have been suggested by Lady Caroline
Maxse, who died in 1886.^ As the mother of his
intimate friend, Admiral Maxse, Meredith had often
met her, and some confirmation of the supposition
alluded to is provided by the fact that the name of

' Compare chap. xi. of Lord Ormont and his Aminta, and p. 99
of My Recollections, by the Countess of Cardigan.

- Meredith noted her strong character in his epitaph, Lady C. M.


Lady Caroline's grandson, Leo (Maxse), is bestowed
upon Lady Charlotte's grandson in the book.

Although Lady Charlotte Eglett is an entirely suc-
cessful creation, the same cannot be said of Aminta.
One never quite sees the springs which govern her
erratic actions or what causes her sudden muta-
tions of conduct. Except on the principle that
" the glory fades in possession," it is not clear why
her hero-worship for Lord Ormont faded ; and it is
not clear why her original contempt for the scholastic
profession, as exemplified in the person of the un-
heroical Matey Weyburn, should be transmuted
into an ardent desire to share his duties in that
sphere of work, and the world well lost, except on
the plea of the instability and irrationality of the
sex when caught in the toils of Cupid. It is curious
that Meredith should have given his schoolmaster
the name of Weyburn, which so nearly resembles
in sound that of Wrayburn, the character in
Dickens's Owr Mutual Friend who is so insulting
and contemptuous to the schoolmaster, Bradley
Headstone, and his calling, in that book. Matey
Weyburn cuts but a poor figure as a hero when he
escorts Aminta up from Steignton and hides from
Morsfield in " The Jolly Cricketers " Inn — though
the progressive incidents of the journey are very
vivid and in Meredith's best narrative style, re-
calling the scenes of south-western high-roads and
wayside taverns in Evan Harrington and Harry
Richmond. Again in this book Meredith re-harped
on his old theme of the invasion of this country and
the supineness of the English to the possibility, but
for once he paid the reprehensible islanders a few
compliments by the mouth of Lord Ormont.^ There

* Chapter iv.


are many mordant flashes in the old style of Richard
Fever el in Lord Ormont and his Aminta.

By 'WTiting for nearly eight hours every day
Lord Ormont and his Aminta was completed in
1893. It commenced to appear serially in The Pali
Mall Magazine, December, 1893, and was published
by Chapman and Hall, in three volumes, in 1894.
The book was " Gratefully inscribed to George
Buckston Browne, Surgeon " (a Dr Buxton figures
in the story), who had very successfully performed
an operation for stone upon Meredith in 1892. Mr
Buckston Browne has given an account of his first
meeting with the author :

" I had for some years wished to see or to know
Mr George Meredith, and had often tried to imagine
the personality of the author of The Egoist and The
Ordeal oj Richard Feverel, when one morning a letter
came asking me to give him a professional appoint-
ment at my house. On June 20th, 1892, Mr Mere-
dith plumped himself down in what has been called
the victim's chair in my consulting-room. He was
then sixty-four years old and ataxic, and literally
threw himself into chairs or on to couches with
alarming precipitancy. His first words were : ' Mr
Browne, I am a writer,' and I was able to say at
once : ' Mr Meredith, you need no introduction
here,' and opening a bookcase immediately in front
of him, I showed him a complete edition of his works.
We became great friends. He gave me his entire
confidence, and although exceedingly sensitive in
every possible way, he proved an excellent patient."

As Meredith said of Buckston Browne, no victim
of sharp instruments could be in skilfuller or kinder
hands ; " he is the ablest as well as one of the


best of men." Biickston Browne and his wife
and daughter became the ever-welcome friends of
Meredith at Box Hill ; and the dedication of Lord
Ormont and his Aminta to this distinguished surgeon
ranks in literary and medical annals with Thackeray's
tribute to Dr John EUiotson, to whom Pendennis
was dedicated in recognition of " constant watch-
fulness and skill " during a severe illness of the
author in 1849.

In February, 1892, the degree of LL.D. was con-
ferred by St Andrews University on Meredith. His
presence was waived owing to ill-health. On 4th
October of this year his son, William Maxse Mere-
dith, was married to Margaret (Daisy), daughter of
Ralph Elliot, and granddaughter of Sir George Elliot,
1st Bart., M.P. for North Durham and Monmouth, and
step-daughter of Colonel T. H. Lewin, of Parkhurst,
Leith Hall.^ The author's first grandchild, George
Meredith the younger, was born in November, 1894.'*

In iVpril and May, 1893, Meredith sat to G. F.
Watts, R.A., for the portrait presented by the artist
to the nation. At first he refused Watts's request.
But he relented, and the picture was painted.

In July, 1894, Meredith's only daughter, Marie
Eveleen, was married to Henry Parkman Sturgis,
of Givons, Leatherhead — not far distant from Box
Hill, which was a happy mitigation of the sense of
separation for the author now alone at Flint Cottage.
He was still in full mental force, and engaged upon
his last published novel. The Amazing Marriage.

' Her younger sister, Miss Mabel Elliot, was married the following
year to Sir Alexander Mackenzie, K.C.S.I., late Lieutenant-Governor
of Bengal.

' ixeorge William Lewin Meredith, now an officer in the i8th
Hussars, served with distinction in the war and won the Military


This had been commenced, and then laid aside,
fifteen years earlier. He told R. L. Stevenson, in
1 879, he had done a quarter of The Amazing Marriage.
In 1893 he resumed the story at the suggestion of his
friend, Frederick Jameson (to whom it was fittingly
dedicated). In January, 1895, he gave up his
intention of being present at the first night of
Irving's production of King Arthur owing to the
pressure of his work.

The Amazing Marriage had a condensed serial
appearance in Scrihnefs Magazine throughout 1895,
and the complete work ^ was published the same
year, in two volumes, by Constable and Co. The
author's son, W. M. Meredith, had become a partner
in that firm, who henceforth issued the reprints of
Meredith's books, and published posthumously the
work he left unfinished at his death.

Unfortunately R. L. Stevenson did not live to
read The Amazing Marriage, in which he was much
interested from the fact that the character of Gower
Woodseer, in its earlier stages, was drawn from him.
In an interesting letter to Meredith, written from
Vailima, Samoa, on 17th April, 1894, Stevenson said :

* An early version of the manuscript of The A mazing Marriage was
sold for £g6 in 1910. The manuscript of the published version (lacking
the first eight chapters), together with those of Lord Ormont and his
Aminta and Diana of the Crossways, were given in his lifetime by Mere-
dith to Frank Cole, for thirty years his gardener and faithful attendant,
and one of the familiar institutions of Flint Cottage to the author's
visitors. The gift was intended to provide future benefit for Cole, who
accordingly, in 1909, disposed of the three manuscripts to Mr J. Pier-
pont Morgan for the sum of ;^8oo. With regard to the missing chapters
of The A mazing Marriage, it is possible they were a sacrifice to Nicotine,
for Meredith frequently used pages of his manuscripts as spills to light
his cigars, which accounts for the generally incomplete state of his
holograph work. Meredith presented copies of many of his books to
Cole. One bears the inscription : " Frank Cole, from his friend, George
Meredith. A good servant cancels the name of mno+or. Dec. lytn,



" I hear we may soon expect The Amazing Marri-
age. You know how long, and with how much
curiosity, I have looked forward to the book. Now,
in so far as you have adhered to your intention,
Gower Woodseer will be a family portrait, age
twenty-five, of the highly respectable and slightly
influential and fairly aged ' Tusitala.' You have
not known that gentleman ; console yourself he is
not worth knowing. At the same time, my dear
Meredith, he is very sincerely yours — for what he is
worth, for the memories of old times, and in the
expectation of many pleasures still to come. I
suppose we shall never see each other again ; flitting
youths of the Lysaght ^ species may occasionally
cover these unconscionable leagues and bear greet-
ings to and fro. But we ourselves must be content
to converse with an occasional sheet of notepaper,
and I shall never see whether you have grown older,
and you shall never deplore that Gower Woodseer
should have declined into the pantaloon ' Tusitala.'
It is perhaps better so. Let us continue to see each
other as we were, and accept, my dear Meredith,
my love and respect.

" Robert Louis Stevenson."

This letter was sadly prophetic, for Stevenson
died eight months later, and a few days before The
Amazing Marriage commenced in Scrihnefs Maga-
zine. In his later development of the character of
Gower Woodseer, as I have intimated, Meredith was
not drawing upon his recollections of Stevenson.^

^ Sidney R. Lysaght, author of The Marplot, who had recently pre-
sented a letter of introduction from Meredith. Stevenson much liked

'^ J:<urLUci lofcronoo to the subject will be found in The Sketch, 27th
November, 1895.


The character of Captain Kirby , the Old Buccaneer,
was drawn from Captain Edward John Trelawny
(1792-1881), the friend of Shelley and Byron.
Several incidents in the life of Kirby were based
on the experiences of Trelawny .^

In this last novel, Meredith reverts to the easier
style of his earlier work, and it contains much of the
spirit of Evan Harrington and Harry Richmond.
Like those books, it is a novel of Meredith's own
counties, Surrey and Hampshire, of English life.
There are passages in it which recover the point
of view that environed him in his boyhood at
Portsmouth and near Petersfield when the nine-
teenth century Mas still young in its second
quarter. Hindhead, Richmond, and many a spot
in the south-west land beloved of Meredith come
into this book. Lofty Croridge seems to be intended
for Crowborough.

Apart from his trips abroad and visits to Seaford,
to near Southampton, to Wales, and to East Anglia,
it is a curious fact that Meredith's long life of eighty-
one years was spent in that portion of England which
may be roughly defined on the map by drawing a
more or less straight line from Portsmouth to London
with some slight divergencies right and left. From
Portsmouth he went to school near Petersfield, and
then (Neuwied intervening) to London. Thence to
Weybridge, Lower Halliford, Eshcr and Copsham,
Kingston, and finally Box Hill. This topographical
definition of where he lived also comprises the
topography of the novels and much of his poetry.
Hampshire and Surrey are synonymous with Mere-
dith primarily ; and in a lesser degree the places he

1 See his Adventures oj a Younger Son. One of the best portraits
of Trelawny is that by Millais in l he Noflh-Wesi Passage.


visited at home and abroad are all, as I have en-
deavoured to show throughout in this book, tran-
scribed in his literary work, for Meredith ever drew
faithfully from Nature both in the human and scenic

Thus in The Amazing Marriage there are reflec-
tions of his visit to Wales a few years earlier, and
tributes to the race he liked, in his later years, to
identify himself with — owning to a considerable in-
fusion of Welsh blood in the composition of him.^
There is mention more than once of how the Welsh
love their native mountains, seen or in exile. This
book, indeed, is a psean of mountains, for in addition
to those of Wales, the heights of Germany and Styria
are extolled. How beautiful is the picture of dawn
in Carinthia's name-land.^

The Amazing Marriage and its two immediate
predecessors form and complete the trilogy whereby
Meredith voiced his sympathy for the wrongs of
women, particularly for those who find themselves
yoked to unsuitable partners and those who are
— or rather were — debarred from realising their
personalities and gifts in the world of endeavour and
achievement. As he said to Lord Morley, he had
been oppressed by the injustice done to women, the
constraint put upon their natural aptitude, and their
faculties, generally much to the degradation of the

In The Amazing Marriage^ of course, the moral is
conveyed with a Barrie-like touch of phantasy, for
the two protagonists are bathed in a light that never
was on sea or land. It is an impossible and delight-
ful story, but if it is supposed to hold a mirror to
Human Nature, it is as one of those warped freak

1 Chapter xxviii. 2 Chapter ir.


glasses beloved of trippers in exhibitional " Halls
of Mystery." The whole episode of The Amazing
Baby belongs to the realm of French farce, and even
granting the possibility of the cryptic matrimonial
ladder left at the window of the inn, it is not clear
how Lord Fleetwood came to use it, inasmuch as
there is never a hint of his having returned from
Canleys the first night or any other night. On the
contrary, he is made to muse : of course, he could
not return to her. How would she receive him ?
There was no salt in the thought of it ; she was too
submissive. To spring suddenly a joke of this kind
— an infant born to a couple who separated on the
day of their marriage — in the midst of what professes
to be a normal novel may be an amusing literary
harlequinade, but it has no pretence to claim con-
sideration as literature or art. And one regrets this
Jack-in-the-Box intrusion the more, because the
problem of Fleetwood's reconciliation with his wife
would have been of intense interest if treated
seriously. Even as it is, when the improbabilities
and absurdities of the story are put aside, there are
moments when it is possible to be moved acutely by
this tragedy of love — love that came too late on tlie
man's side, love that had been killed in the woman.
What a fine story it might have been : the pity
of it. Fleetwood's character had great possibilities
of development ; a flood of suggestive tragedy is
revealed in the passage which describes how love
affected him.^ Perhaps the final fate of Fleetwood
as a monk was the right one for a man of his extreme
temperament, and Meredith, with his insight into
character, knew the consolations that the Roman
Catholic faith can olTer to an emotional and

^ Chapter ix.


sensitive person who has suhered much in con-
tact with the world, and who in return for the
abnegation of free will finds peace in mystic

Although The Amazing Marriage was Meredith's
last complete novel, he left, at his death, an un-
finished work, which was published posthumously
in 1910 under the title of Celt and Saxon. The
character of Richard Rockney was drawn from
Frederick Greenwood. Celt and Saxon was another
sympathetic study of the Welsh temperament in
the person of Adiante, and of the Irish as repre-
sented by the three O'Donnells— the two races of
which Meredith liked to consider himself a com-
pound. There is, at times, a lightness of touch in
this story, particularly in the delineation of Patrick
O'Donnell and of Captain and Mrs Con, that reminds
one of the later and subdued Lever, of the period of
The Barringtons and The Martins of Cro Martin ;
and it is a pity that the original basis of the tale,
the fate of Adiante and Philip, was never worked
out. Instead, the author fell into the pit of
his own digging and wandered in a morass
of the most precious Meredithese, which reached
high-mud mark in the tilting at the symbol of
England, the long chapter " Of the Great Mr

Another fragment of a novel which it is much
to be regretted Meredith never continued was The
Gentleman of Fifty and the Damsel of Nineteen.^
The six short chapters are very amusing, and the
Vicar and Vicaress might have developed into most
humorous creations, for she cast on him a look of a

* It wrill be found in vol. xxxiv., Miscellaneous Prose, Constable's
Collected Edition of Meredith.


kind that makes matrimony terrific in the dreams
of bachelors.

The scene of the story, Ickleworth, was no doubt
intended for Mickleham, and perhaps the opening
incident of the capsizing of the Vicar and his wife
into the muddy river was suggested by a similar
accident mentioned by Meredith in a letter to Mrs
Walter Palmer, of 16th August, 1894.

The story of Louise de Riverolles promised to bear
some resemblance to that of Renee in Beauchamp^s
Career, and the setting of it was in like manner
placed in Normandy and Dauphine.

Many pens have described the personal character-
istics of Meredith in this decade of 1885-1895.
Perhaps the most succinct and yet graphic portrait
is that drawn by Mr Frank Harris :

" A most noble and inspiring personality, perhaps
the widest and deepest mind born in England since
Shakespeare. ... I was astonished by the Greek
beauty of his face set ofi' by wavy silver hair and the
extraordinaiy variety of ever-changing expression,
astonished, too, by the high loud voice which he
used in ordinary conversation, and by the quick-
glancing eyes which never seemed to rest for a
moment on any object, but flitted about curiously
like a child's."

Meredith never spoke in the low, remote tone
usual to deaf people. And as early as 1894 he
suffered acutely from this affliction, for Lord Morley
notes that year : " Found Meredith very deaf : he
was less turbulent and strained than he used to be."

Mr Wilfrid Scawen Blunt relates in his Dhirij,
11th June, 1894, that he found Meredith " terribly


deaf and afflicted with creeping paralysis. ... It
does not, however, affect his mind, and he has a
novel on hand at the present moment which keeps
him writing six hours a day. He is a queer, voluble
creature, with a play-acting voice."

Although his temper became milder in the latter
years, Meredith preserved to the end his loud, drawl-
ing voice, mouthing his words in the manner now
associated with Lord Dundreary, but which had
been the prevailing habit of spieech among gentle-
men, particularly officers, in the days of his youth.
And now the days of old age are come.


Henry James also adversely criticised Lord Ornwnt and his
Aminta. He wrote in August, 1894: "The unspeakable Lord
Ormont ... It fills me with a critical rage, an artistic fury, utterly
blighting in me the indispensable principle of respect. ... I am
moved to declare that I doubt if any equal quantity of extravagant
verbiage, of airs and graces, of phrases and attitudes, of obscurities
and alembications, ever started less their subject, ever contributed
less of a statement — told the reader less of what the reader needs to
know . . . not a difficulty met, not a figure presented, not a scene
constituted — not a dim shadow condensing once either into audible
or into visible reality — making you hear for an instant the tap of its
feet on the earth."



FOURTEEN years of Meredith's life remain,
but I do not propose to describe them in full
detail, as apart from the publication of his
last volume of poetry, A Reading of Life, in 1901,
and writing a few other poems, his literary work
was done. He realised this himself, for he said in
January, 1901, to Professor W. A. Knight, who had
requested a contribution to Pro P atria et Regina,
that he had nothing to offer him, as his present
powers of production were exhausted.

To note briefly the interesting incidents of the
author's last years. In May, 1895, Alphonse Daudet
and Henry James paid a visit to Flint Cottage. In
July he was induced by Mr Clodd to attend a meet-
ing of the Omar Khayyam Club held at the Burford
Bridge Hotel. Meredith's health did not permit
him to be present at the dinner, but he came at the
close, and was conducted by Mr C. K. Shorter to
the seat of honour on the right-hand side of the
chairman. It was in reply to Mr Clodd's words of
welcome that Meredith made his maiden speech at
this late hour of life, and in tribute to the sly and
artful beguilement which had doubly drawn him
from kennel or covert retirement and to " give
tongue " this friend was ever after dubbed " Sir
Reynard." A very interesting speech was made by
Mr Thomas Hardy, who recalled the history of his
first meeting with Meredith, in the role of Publisher's


Reader. George Gissing also spoke in similarly
reminiscent vein of his meeting with Meredith in
the office of Chapman and Hall.^

At this date (1895-1896) Meredith was still able
to visit London occasionally, to attend a concert
with his friends, the Misses Lawrence, or to go to
Dr Plimmer at Sydenham, where he also had music.
He also enjoyed the water-parties of Mrs Seymour
Trower, who was styled " Lady BytheWey " and
her husband " Gondolier," in memory of pleasant
times on the Wey.

In the summers of 1896 and 1897 Meredith stayed
with Lord and Lady Battersea at Overstrand, near
Cromer. In 1898 his seventieth birthday was
marked by the presentation of an address signed
by thirty notable people, mostly writers, including
J. M. Barrie, Austin Dobson, Thomas Hardy, Henry
James, W. E. H. Lecky, and A. C. Swinburne. It
was worded :

" Some comrades in letters who have long valued
your work send you a cordial greeting upon your
70th birthday.

" You have attained the first rank in literature
after many years of inadequate recognition. From
first to last you have been true to yourself and have
always aimed at the highest mark. We are re-
joiced to know that merits once perceived by only
a few are now appreciated by a wide and steadily
growing circle. We wish you many years of life,
during which you may continue to do good work,
cheered by the consciousness of good work already
achieved, and encouraged by the certainty of a
hearty welcome from many sympathetic readers."

^ See ante, p. 208-210.


Meredith in reply said :

" The recognition that I have always worked
honestly to my best, coming from the men and
women of highest distinction, touches me deeply.
Pray let it be known to them how much they
encourage and support me."

At the same time he said caustically and privately
to Mr Clodd : " I know what they mean, kindly
enough. Poor old devil, he ivill go on writing ; let
us cheer him up. The old fire isn't quite out ; a
stir of the poker may bring out a shoot of gas."

This tribute, and the fact that he was chosen to
succeed Tennyson as President of the Society of
Authors in 1892, should have convinced Meredith
that he had no longer cause for complaint that he
was unappreciated and unacknowledged in England.
But he liked to preserve the little mental myth, and
continued to describe himself as " an unpopular
novelist and unaccepted poet."

He did not approve of the South African War, and
perceived faults on both sides. He wrote to Hynd-
man in October, 1899, saying he condemned the
cause. Further, in 1902, he addressed letters to

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 21 of 23)