S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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example of liberalism in an age of bigotry, and who,
in 17G2, during the religious unrest and intolerance


of his time, made free of his little town to all the
sects that cared for religion sufficiently to stand by
their convictions. Lutherans, Calvinists, Catholics,
Moravians, Jews, were all allowed in Neuwied the
fullest Hberty of thought and worship ; being, as an
old writer quaintly puts it, ' children of the same
Parent, subjects of the same moral government,
candidates alike for a future state, they are taught
to reflect that the articles in which they agree are of
infinitely greater importance than those on which
they differ, and that the minutiae and speculative
opinions cannot annihilate the primary duty of
brotherly love.' The partisans of each sect were
allowed to maintain their own ministers and con-
form each according to their established convictions,
without any form of interference from the state.
A little religious Utopia ! Out of this grew up
the remarkable educational establishment of the
Moravians, whence so manv of the famous mission-
aries of that small but energetic body have gone
out to the far places of the earth. Neuwied was
happy in its princes, the little town was beautifully
laid out, industries encouraged, and life must have
flowed along there with melodious and purposeful
rhythm for generations. When Meredith became a
Neuwieder, the town had a population of about 5000,
but to-day it has considerably extended and contains
some 10,000 inhabitants. It was the scene of
Caesar's crossing of the Rhine, and the district was
rich in Roman antiquities, which the care of Prince
Alexander first brought together in the museum of
his palace, still one of the features of the place. We
may conclude that something of this spirit of liberal-
ism, which must still have been electrical in the air ,
of Neuwied in the earlier years of last century,


entered into the young Meredith and conditioned
the shaping of his mind."

The religious spirit of the place was also strongly
impressed, though only temporarily, upon Mere-
dith's young mind. He was at Neuwied for two
years, without any break of holidays at home, and
it was during this period that he went through that
process of religious unrest and excitement — some-
times introspective and morbid, in other cases en-
thusiastic or ecstatic — which is a common experi-
ence in the development of an imaginative boy or
girl at about the age of fifteen. As he told Mr
Clodd, when he was quite a boy he had a spasm of
religion which lasted about six weeks, during which
he made himself a nuisance in asking everybody
whether they were saved. Interesting evidence
on this point is furnished by the earliest letter of
Meredith's that has been traced, one written at the
time of his departure from Neuwied to a boy named
R. M. Hill, his schoolfellow there, in July, 1844.
In this, after alluding to the fellowship which had
bound them together at school, he said true fellow-
ship could only be had with Christianity — the practice
of it. He wished his friend the greatest of all things
—God's blessing, which comprised all he would or
could say.

Curious to think that the mortal ashes of him who
wrote this devout letter in youth should, sixty-five
years later, be denied interment in Westminster
Abbey on account of religious views presumably not
up to a decanal standard. But then, of course, this
was the dust of him who had said : Parson dom has
always been against progress ; they treat Christi-
anity, not as a religion, but as an institution.



GEORGE MEREDITH left Neuwied in 1844,
and the next two years of his life are a
blank. What he did between his sixteenth
and eighteenth years and where he lived is unre-
corded, though it is permissible to presume he was
with his father in London, and possibly attended to
the account work of the business. As we have seen,
Augustus Meredith was at 26 St James's Street in
1846, the year which provides the next authentic
fact of his son's career, for it was on 3rd February
\y that George Meredith commenced his duties as an
articled clerk with Richard Stephen Charnock, a
solicitor and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries,
whose offices were at 44 Paternoster Row, and later
at 10 Godliman Street. Charnock belonged to the
Arundel Club, whose members included Dickens,
R. H. Home, and Lord John Manners.

According to Meredith's account, during his
absence in Germany his little legacy from his mother
had suffered serious diminution by the mismanage-
ment of his trustee. He was made a ward in
Chancery, and the residue of his money was mainly
devoted to fitting him for the profession of the Law.
Although he said his legal employer " had neither
business nor morals," Charnock was an interesting
and cultured man of literary gifts who did not dis-
courage similar tastes in his pupil ; and though



George was articled and bound to him for five years,
Charnock seems to have released the boy from legal
obligations when ^leredith decided to act like Scott,
Disraeli, Harrison Ainsworth, Charles Reade,
Sheridan Le Fanu, F. C. Burnand, and many other
writers, who all abandoned the Law for the lure of

Charnock, indeed, had some considerable share in
starting Meredith on his literary road, for he intro-
duced the lad to his own set of intimates, mainly
writers and artists, including Edward Peacock and
Mrs Nicolls, son and daughter of Thomas Love
Peacock, the polished novelist and former friend
of Shelley. This was an intensely appreciated
sequence of associations for the eager boy, compact
of dreams and aspirations. Further, Charnock was
mainly instrumental in giving expression to the work
of his little literary coterie by starting, about 1848,
a manuscript magazine entitled The Monthly
Observer. The various contributions, written on
quarto sheets, were bound together, and then cir-
culated among the contributors, each of whom, in
turn, acted as editor and critic. Here, in the number
for April, 1849, appeared George Meredith's earliest
published poem, Chillianwallah. It was criticised
by the editor for the month, Austin Daniel, and
several of his suggestions were adopted, and the
third stanza omitted, when the poem attained the
glory of actual print in Chamber s\s Journal for 7tli
July, 1849, three months after the original manu-
script circulation in the amateur magazine. Five
numbers of The Monthly Observer, including two
edited by Meredith, were sold for £80 at Sotheby's
a few years ago, and crossed the Atlantic to join
the famous bibliographical collections of Mr II. E.


Widener.i Meredith's share as critic of his fellow-
contributors' work included a pungent observation,
which adumbrated the style of the years to come, to
the effect that inspiration, like Balaam's Ass, sud-
denly stopped short of itself, despite all the whipping
and spurring of the infatuated jockey, who compre-
hended not the divine instinct of his Pegasus.

It was in this same year, 1849, that Augustus
Meredith gave up his business in St James's Street
and emigrated with his wife to South Africa, a very
adventurous undertaking in those early days of
travel and colonisation. He established himself
as a tailor in St George's Street, Cape Town, where
we will take another glimpse of him a little later on,
when considering Evan Harrington. George Mere-
dith was now homeless in London, and was obliged
to take lodgings — or probably only one room — at
No. 7 Upper Ebury Street, Pimlico.^ It was from
here that he wrote, on 4th June, 1849, to Messrs
Chambers respecting his poem Chillianwallah.

The poem, though mediocre, found immediate
acceptance, for it was topical and commemorated,
of course, the sanguinary battle fought on 13th
January, 1849, in the Second Sikh War, when the
English lost 2400 killed and wounded in defeating
the natives, preliminary to the annexation of the
Punjab. A week after sending in his manuscript,
Meredith wrote, on 12th June, to Leitch Ritchie,
the editor of Chambers'' s Journal, acknowledging
acceptance of the poem. He suggested submitting a

' See The AthencBum, 24th August, 1912.

* Upper Ebury Street commenced at Elizabeth Street and ran
west to Grosvenor Road. It is now part of Ebury Street, and re-
numbered. No. 7 Upper Ebury Street would probably now be No,
153 Ebury Street, but this particular house looks as if it had been
refronted since 1849.


translation of the life of Kossuth the Magyar.
Nearly half a year went by, and then, on 30th
November, 1849, having made a start with his
study of Kossuth, Meredith wrote again to Leitch
Ritchie, enclosing four sheet pages of Kossuth and
some Sonnets on Two Kings of England.

He was also contemplating a sketch of the life
of Hermann ^ who had lately died.

For some unexplained reason, the study of
Kossuth and the other proposed work never appeared
in Chambers'' s Journal ; and the many sonnets must
have been eventually destroyed in manuscript,
though possibly the early poem, John Lackland, may
be a solitary survivor from the royal galaxy. Mere-
dith, however, preserved no sentimental interest in
his early poetry or his first published work, for
when, towards the end of his life, Mr C. E. S.
Chambers wrote to him, reminding him of his early
association with the famous Journal, and expressing
a hope that they might, perhaps, meet in London,
no reply was forthcoming.

At the time he came of age, 1849, Meredith was,
of course, exceedingly poor. He had merely the
remnant of his mother's small property by way of
income, for his literary earnings in this first year
of publication could only have amounted to a few
pounds. Journalistic " biographers " are very fond
of the legend that Meredith started his literary career
in London with one guinea and lived entirely on
cold porridge. This popular delusion has been
succinctly preserved for future use by the brethren
of " scissors and paste " thus :

> Johann Hermann, 1772-1848, German humanist and Greek


" There is a legend current in literary circles that
Mr Meredith first started his career as a writer in the
possession of one guinea. This he invested in a
sack of oatmeal. Since he was too poor to buy fuel
to cook it, during the whole of the time he wrote his
first work, Evan Harrington, he subsisted on oatmeal
and water, in the form of a most unpalatable drink."

Without doubt a very unpleasant beverage, but
there is no reason to believe that Meredith patronised
it. The slight discrepancy in the above statement,
which places the commencement of his literary
career in 1860, when he published his fifth work,
Evan Harrington, renders the rest of the story value-
less. Indeed, by 1860 Meredith was a connoisseur
in wines, and had the means to offer good vintages
to his friends, and always he was, rightly, an
appreciator of good food and good cooking. Even
as early as 1849, as a member of Charnock's hospit-
able coterie of friends, he would often be asked out
to dine, so the oatmeal fable must be consigned to
the limbo of foolish and unprofitable parables in-
vented for our behoof or chastening. Still, it may
be granted that Meredith had very little money to
spend on himself at this period, and no doubt often
went short of rations in his own room at 7 Upper
Ebury Street. He was in the bloom of his splendid
young manhood, and the long walks in the country
he delighted to take must have engendered a healthy
appetite that needed substantial appeasement. His
footsteps always turned to Surrey, the beautiful
county which called to him ever, and where nearly
all his subsequent life was to be spent. So, let us
picture him, his tall, strong figure crowned by a
mass of curly hair (red chestnut in colour then),


striding through Brompton, Chelsea, or Kensing-
ton — then distinctive village-like suburbs compact
of market gardens and good residential houses —
away to the hills and heaths of Surrey.

He was sometimes accompanied on his long walks
— even as far as to Brighton — by Edward Gryffydh
Peacock/ whose acquaintance, as we have seen, he
had made through Charnock, and the little manu-
script magazine run by the lawyer's friends. And it
was at Peacock's rooms, near the British Museum,
that on one fateful day Meredith was introduced to
his friend's sister, Mary EllenT'ffie eldest daughter
of Thomas Love Peacock, She was a brilliant,
witty, beautiful woman, thirty years of age, and a
widow. She had married, in 1844, Edward Nicolls,
a lieutenant of the Royal Navy, who commanded
H.M.S. Divarf ; he was drowned at sea four months
later, and the posthumous child of the marriage,
Edith (subsequently Mrs Clarke), was born in the
same year.

Meredith was immediately attracted by Mrs
Nicolls and she by him, but the mutual attraction
was probably only of a physical nature. Their
personal qualities and temperaments and the story
of their courtship and disastrous marriage much
resemble the similar tragedy of Bulwer Lytton and
Rosina Wheeler. Just as the latter declined Bulwer's
proposals at first, three or four times according to
her own account, so Mrs Nicolls refused Meredith
six times. If she had only persisted in her refusal,

* Edward Peacock in early life went to sea. He subsequently
became a clerk in the East India House, and a barrister. He was
a great athlete, a champion sculler, and fond of boxing. He married,
and left one son, named Thomas Love Peacock, who was much at
Lower Halliford in the Merediths' time as a playmate for Arthur,
his cousin.


both would have been saved from an immensitv of
grievous pain and sorrow. From the material point
of view even, there were many objections to the
marriage. The disparity in age of nine years'
seniority on Mrs Nicolls's side, and the fact that
Meredith Jacked position, profession, and any income
worth considering, might well have made them
pause. But he had rare personal gifts and beauty,
and Mrs Nicolls, casting discretion aside, yielded to
her persistent young admirer. They were married
on 9th August, 1849, in St George's Church, Hanover
Square, by the Rev. Henry W. Blacket, curate.
Meredith was described in the register as of Maddox
Street — so he musb have moved to lodgings there
prior to the ceremony — and son of Augustus Mere-
dith, whose profession was given as " Esquire." The
bride was described as of Devonshire Street, and
the register was also signed by her father, T. L.
Peacock. Probably Peacock's second daughter,
Rosa, was also present. She later became Mrs
Collinson, and died in 1857, at the age of thirty.
His youngest daughter, Margaret, died in 1826, aged
three vears : and Peacock wrote for her tombstone
in Shepperton Churchyard the poem commencing
" Long night succeeds thy little day."

Soon after the marriage, the Merediths went to
the Continent on the proceeds of a legacy which
had come to George from a relative in Portsmouth ;
but they were back in London by November, when
they stayed with Thomas liOve Peacock at his
house. No. 22 John Street, Adelphi.^ It was from
here that Meredith addressed his later letters to
Leitch Ritchie, on the subject of his Sonnets and

* This is the last house on the north side of John Street, at the
corner of Adam Street and facing the Adelphi Hotel.


—1 s^

- o


c <

■.< >



Kossuth studv. At first the Merediths seem to have
been tolerably happy together, just as the Bulwers
were in the early years of marriage. They passed
their time between Peacock's homes and various
lodgings and boarding-houses by the seaside (par-
ticularly at Felixstowe and Seaford) and in Surrey.
For a considerable time they resided with Mrs
Macirone, at The Limes, Weybridge, a pleasant house
with a large garden. Mrs Macirone (formerly Miss
Elizabeth Williams, of Kew Green) was a woman of
considerable culture and charm. She was the widow
of Colonel Francis Macirone, A.D.C. to Murat, King
of Naples, and a versatile man of inventive powers
who was an early pioneer in the study of aviation.
Mrs Macirone had two very beautiful daughters,
who were, of course, half Italian. The elder, Emilia,
as will be seen later, in some degree suggested to
Meredith his Emilia Sandra Belloni. Miss Emilia
Macirone became the wife of Sir Edmund Hornby,
and was later the author of In and Around Stam-
boul during the Crimean War ; and her sister Giulia
married Major Albert Vaillant, of Meadowleigh,
Weybridge. The Limes was an exceedingly pleasant
abode for the Merediths, for Mrs Macirone and her
daughters knew many interesting people, their guests
including Bulwer Lytton ; Tom Taylor ; Eyre
Crowe, A.R.A. (Thackeray's secretary) ; Samuel
Lucas, the journalist ; and R. H. Home, the
peculiar author of Orion and A New Spirit of the
A<ie. With most of these men Meredith became on
friendly terms, with some important results ; and
through the introduction of Tom Taylor he formed
an eventful friendship with Sir Alexander Duff
Gordon and his wife (a woman of literary and
linguistic gifts), who were then living at Nutfield


Cottage, Weybridge. To their daughter Janet (later
Mrs Ross), then a little girl about eight years old,
^leredith was devoted, and his affectionate regard
for her never wavered throughout life. In the
early days she gave him the name of " My Poet " ;
and she has related how Meredith used to take her
for long walks, perched on his shoulder, telling her
wonderful fairy tales all the way. Meredith loved
children. His own little step- daughter, Edith
Nicolls, speaking of the time when she was seven
years old, says : "He and I were great friends in
those early days even. We played cricket together ;
he was a splendid playfellow."

In the first years of their married life, Meredith
and his talented wife found a congenial link in their
literary pursuits. They were both writing a good
deal of poetry, and sometimes they collaborated.
Through R. H. Home, who was at that time a
member of the staff of Household Words, Meredith
obtained an introduction to Charles Dickens, and
it was in this journal that a number of these early
poems appeared during a period of six years. Mr
B. W. Matz, by means of the contributors' book of
Household Words, was able to attribute twenty-
three poems to Meredith.^ The two first. Sorrows
and Joys and The Two Blackbirds, appeared in 1850,
and the last, Monmouth, in 1856. It is possible some
of the intervening numbers were the work, wholly or
in part, of Mrs Meredith. About this date she and
her husband compiled a treatise on Cookery, an art
they were both practised in, and of which they were
appreciative— as befitted the daughter of Peacock,
tlie Epicurean novelist, and the son and grandson
of those Merediths who, as we have seen, were given

^ See T. P.'s Weekly, 17th February, 191 1.


to much hospitality and good cooking. In addition
to recipes, the work comprised many entertaining
notes on domestic management, apt quotations from
poetry and prose, and some sapient bits of advice
presented to the female sex. Thus :

" A small portion of the time which young Ladies
sacrifice to torturing the strings of their Pianoforte,
employed in obtaining Domestic Accomplishments,
might not make them worse wives, or less agreeable >^
Companions to their Husbands. We hope our fair
readers will forgive us for telling them. Economy
in a Wife is the most certain Charm to ensure the
affection and industry of a husband.

" The Editor has considered the Art of Cookery
not merely as a mechanical operation, fit only for
working cooks, but as the Analeptic part of the Art
of Physic. Philosophers of the highest class, such
only, can comprehend its Importance, which amounts
to no less, than not only the enjoyment of the
present moment, but the more precious advantage
of improving health and prolonging life, which
depends on duly replenishing the daily waste of
the human frame with materials pregnant with
nutriment and easy of digestion.

" I have written for those who make Nourishment
the chief end of Eating, and do not desire to provoke
Appetite beyond the powers and necessities of
Nature ; proceeding, however, on the finest Epi-
curean principles of indulging the Palate, as far
as it can be done without injury or offence to the
stomach, and forbidding nothing but what is
absolutely unfriendly to Health.

" These rules and orders for the regulation of
the business of the Kitchen have been extremely


beneficial to the Editor's own Health and Comfort.
He hopes they will be equally so to others ; they will
help those who enjoy health to preserve it ; teach
those who have delicate and irritable stomachs how to
keep them in good temper, and, with a little discretion,
enable them to indulge occasionally, not only with
impunity but with advantage, in all those alimentary
pleasures which a national epicure can desire."

And on the Eternal Servant Question the Editors
propounded in the same Johnsonian style :

" Avoid all approaches to Famiharity, which
according to a proverb is accompanied by contempt,
and soon breaks the neck of obedience. Servants
are more likely to be praised into good conduct than
scolded into bad, always commend them when they
do right, to cherish the desire of pleasing in them
you must show them that you are pleased :

•' Be to their faults a little blind,
And to their virtues very kind."

And they sum up the Cuisine with the couplet :

" The tender morsels on the palate melt,
And all the force of Cookery is felt." ^

To Frasefs Magazine for December, 1851, Mrs
Meredith had contributed an interesting article
entitled Gastronomy and Civilisation, tracing the
history of cookery from the earliest times, and which
gives evidence of such erudition and wide classical
reading as to suggest that some aid was rendered by
the writer's husband. The article was pessimistic on
the matter of contemporary cooking (both in France
and England), and methods of serving, and lamented

1 Mrs Meredith's daughter, Editli (Mrs Clarke), was for many years,
until 1 91 9, director of the National Training School of Cookery in
Buckingham Palace Road.

POEMS, 1851 65

the declension of hospitality — a curious commentary
in face of the descriptions of Dickens and Thackeray,
who have pictured the forties and fifties as a
period of much good solid dining and constant
hospitality. In the same magazine, 1851 and 1852,
appeared two of George Meredith's poems, Invita-
tion to the Country and The Sweet o' the Year. Fraser^s
Magazine was published by John W. Parker, of
West Strand, London, and Meredith had previously
arranged with this publisher to produce, at the
author's cost, his first book— his collected Poems,
1851. Writing to Parker from Weybridge, on 12th
December, 1850, Meredith enclosed a selection of
completed poems, and a list of others which could
be added to the volume. He said he regarded the
Cassandra as his best work, but that it was not yet
finished,^ and the Pastorals as the most original.
He expressed himself as willing to abide by Parker's
verdict, for a time, to delete any of the poems that
might be unsuitable or inferior in workmanship ;
and added that R. H. Home had spoken very
favourably of those he, Home, had seen.^ Like all
young authors, Meredith was keenly interested in
what he termed the birth and baptism of his first-
born of the Muse.

The little volume, now so valuable, of 159 pages,
bound in green cloth, was published about 30th
June, 1851. It was dedicated " To Thomas Love
Peacock, Esq., with the profound admiration and
affectionate respect of his son-in-law. Weybridge*
May, 1851." Reviews appeared on 5th July in

' Apparently Cassandra was not completed in time for this volume.
It was published with Modern Love, and Poems of the English Roadside,

2 Daphne was sent to R. H. Home with some poetical lines. See
Letters 0} George Meredith, p. 5.


The Leader and The Speaker, and others followed.
These were not enthusiastic, of course, and the book
was not a financial success : how seldom a volume
of verse by a new writer ever fares otherwise.
Meredith had expended and lost some sixty pounds
on his preliminary flight up Parnassus, and he seems
to have judged his resultant position, his poetical

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 4 of 23)