S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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little fellow, whom I often saw with his boy-nurse. Many years later
I went to see Meredith near Dorking. I asked him which of his books
I should recommend to a young Russian who knew a good deal of
our literature, and he said l^he Egoist as the best specimen."


Arthur Meredith and his stei'-sistek, Kdith Nicoli.s

(Mrs. Clarke)


The Times gave a three-column review. ^ In this
book, of course, Meredith first found himself. His
previous essays in fantasy and the supernatural not
having proved popular and financial successes — for
in those days he was compelled to remember he was
writing for a living — he turned to a deeper seam in
his mental equipment, and produced the first of his
philosophic novels, wherein the study of character
and actions predominated over incident and ad-
venture, which had been the bases, combined with
some allegoric intention, of The Shaving of Shagpat
and Farina. Richard Feverel had some notable
contemporaries, for this year, 1859, also witnessed
the first appearance of A Tale of Two Cities, Adam
Bede, Idylls of the King, and The Virginians — a
memorable year in the history of English literature.
As in many of Meredith's stories, one can trace some
autobiographic reflections in Richard Feverel. The
hero in boyhood is not unlike what his creator was
during the same period. Proud and handsome and
elusive, Richard also had his religious-propagandist
phase (when, in addition to the heathen round
and in Raynham Abbey, he tried to convert Adrian
Harley !). Next came his imaginative sojourn in
the land of romance and beauty ; and perhaps that
scene where Sir Austin Feverel makes the boy burn
his manuscript literary lucubrations may have had
its origin in Portsmouth days and account for that
lack of affection and sympathy with which Meredith
treated his father. The sub-title of the book is A
History of Father and Son. Lady Feverel's case /
resembles that of Meredith's wife and her sorrows.
The tinker's philosophy, in the chapter entitled
" The Magian Conflict," concerning the wisdom of pre-

■ October 14th, 1859.


ferring tobacco to a wife, finds an echo in the poem
of The Beggar^s Soliloquy, written not long after.
/^ Dissatisfaction will probably always be expresssed
by each generation that reads the book at the tragic
denouement. Poor Lucy deserved a better reward
after her long martyrdom. ^ It may be fatalistic in
the classical style, and a tribute to the author's art
that he can so acutely arouse in the reader's mind
distaste and irritation at the fate of his creations,
but the fact remains that the double tragedy of the
story serves no purpose. If in the weaving of
Richard's destiny by Fate it was necessary for him
to cause the deaths of the two women who loved him
best, the result should have been portrayed. But
we are not told what was the ultimate effect upon
his character. He felt remorse, at the time, for the
untimely end of Clare, and grief for that of Lucy ;
but what of the after years of this ridiculous " hero "
— victim of a ridiculous System ? Which had him
in the end — the sorrowful experiences of his Ordeal

\ or the System ? If ever a novel with a purpose
called for a sequel it was Richard Feverel.
/ I think all the critics of this book have overlooked
/the proposition that, in addition to tilting at absurd

^ \ / Systems of Education, Meredith was attacking the
conventional hero of fiction at that time. Richard
Feverel had many brethren born a few years earlier.
Those unpleasant young men, masterful and mus-
cular, with their curling hair and curling lips ; their
proud, quivering nostrils ; their high-flown schemes
to redeem the world ; their drastic thrashings and
slayings (in duels) of hapless males " who cross their
path " ; their quixotic chivalry, but despotic, heart-

^ Ai rhi Ti;ms reviewer said, Meredith deserved " to be haunted
by the ghost of his most beautiful creation."


less treatment of the unfortunate women they
"love" — they figure in almost every novel of the
early Victorian period. They abound in Dickens —
James Steerforth, John Westlock, Nicholas Nickleby,
Eugene Wrayburn, Edwin Drood. They were
idealised by Lytton, heroised by the author of Guy
Livingstone, and brought to a fine art by Frank
Smedley, whose vivid creations of Lewis Arundel,
Harry Oaklands, and Harry Coverdale enable
us to examine the popular hero of the forties and
fifties at his best or worst. And even the satiric
Thackeray used the mould for Clive Newcome. The
elderly monsters of the Brontes were preferable to
these impossible young men.

Sir Austin Feverel, another and earlier Egoist,
bears some resemblance to Mr Dombey, for both
men, cold and remote to the world, centred their
deep affections ardently upon an only son, in each
case destined to disappoint parental hopes, each
the victim of an absurd system. Dombey 's faulty
armour was pierced by Edith, Sir Austin's by Lady
Blandish. Another Dickensian influence may be
traced in Mrs Berry, who is certainly a younger, and
much more refined, sister of Mrs Gamp, and a cousin
of Mrs Lupin, Peggotty, Polly Richards, and others.
All these good women, of course, were lineal de-
scendants of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Mrs
Berry is particularly Gampian at the wedding, and
when she visits Lucy in the Isle of Wight and
descants on the advent of the heir of the Feverels.

If i\Irs Berry was one half Dickens, undoubtedly
the other half was Mrs Ockenden, of Seaford. This
was, of course, Meredith's first presentment of that
famous cook who, as we have seen, enchained him
so long in the dismal little town where her lodgings



were situated, and who reappeared a few years later
as Mrs Crickledon in The House on the Beach. Mrs
Berry's wedding present to Lucy was a cookery
book ; the very bedrock of her sapient philosophy
was the art of cookery. I am not sure if she pre-
dated Mr Punch's famous advice for How to be
Happy though Married — Feed the Brute— but she
voiced that Eternal Verity in terms equally ex-
quisite when she pronounced that it is no good
having the hearts of husbands without their stomachs
are well served — " kissing don't last : cookery do."

Apropos of this great aphorism, Sir William
Hardman in after years related an entertaining
anecdote concerning Meredith's second wife, which
deserves a place in any future compilation of the
Curiosities of Coincidence. The Hardmans and
Merediths were dining out together at the same
house, and in Sir William's words : " The widow of
Andrew Crosse, the celebrated electrician, was there,
a very lively and talkative lady, who chaffed
Meredith immensely about a passage in Richard
Fever el which had prejudiced her against our
friend. ... It was ' kissing won't last, but cookery
will,' as a piece of advice to ' persons about to
marry.' On the drive home we discussed it with
Mrs Meredith (George riding outside, smoking a
cigar), and she said that when she was going to
be married, an old aunt wrote her a letter of dis-
couragement and encouragement, saying inter alia
that she had read somewhere, years ago, in a book
whose title she had forgotten, that ' kissing won't
last, but cookery will.' Was not this singular when
she was going to be married to the very man who
had written it ? "

As already intimated, Adrian Harley, the most



" Richard Feverai. "'

/■'roiii the pencil port) ait, by Sntiiuel Laurence, in the possession of his Son


humorous creation in the book, was drawn to a
large extent from Meredith's intimate friend,
Maurice FitzGerald. As he was the gourmetic
instrument that brought Mrs Ockenden's art to
perfect expression, he appropriately attained im-
mortalisation jointly with her at the hands of the
friend who had shared with him the joys of that
good woman's superlative cookery in Seaford days.
One might compile a handbook of wise aphorisms
culled from The Wise Youth's entertaining philos-
ophy. His sardonic humour is perhaps at its best
in that inimitable scene where he presents portions
of Richard's wedding-cake to reluctant relatives,
in particular to Uncle Hippias, who terms the stuff
poison. In spite of being the " ideal bachelor,*'
Adrian's original, Maurice FitzGerald, whose creed
comprised gastronomy, whist, and literature, eventu-
ally succumbed to matrimony. In accordance with
the eccentricities of his family he married secretly,
in 1860, and an entertaining— though probably
elaborated — account of the matter will be found in
F. C. Burnand's Records and Reminiscences.

Maurice FitzGerald seems to figure also in Mere-
dith's remarkable poem. Phantasy, 1861, and he
takes part in the Bruges nightmare of that terpsi-
chorean divcrtisement in waltz metre.

Maurice FitzGerald died at the early age of forty-
three, in 1878 ; which suggests that longevity is
not always to be attained by philosophy and good
cookery, though as a general rule they may aid in
warding off the inevitable hour.

The dyspeptic uncle, Hippias, in Richard FevcreU
is said to have been suggested by R. S. Charnock,
the bon-vivant, to whom Meredith had been articled
in his legal days.



Meredith described the country of Richard Feverel
J- as in a western county by the Thames ; the scenes
he had in mind were really south of that reach of the
river between Shepperton and Chertsey so familiar
to him when Hying in the former village and at
Weybridge. Raynham Abbey can be identified
with Woburn Park, near Addlestone, and Farmer
Blaize's farm, Belthorpe, with Ham Farm, though
the latter place seems to have been considerably
changed and modernised since Meredith's description
of it as an old red-brick house.

The old lock at Shepperton was the scene of the
meeting of Lucy and Richard at the weir, and the
neighbouring country, irradiated by sunset, inspired
that famous passage of the golden meads and wood-
lands at sunset. Meredith's powers of scenic descrip-
tion found full development in Richard Feverel. The
storm on the Rhine is as fine as that in Farina,

The late Justin McCarthy, in his article entitled
" Novels with a Purpose," which contained one of
the ablest reviews of Richard Feverel, compared the
author's style with that of Carlyle. He said :

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel is a novel of the
thoughtful, deep, half-cynical, wholly earnest kind
which has so often striven, perhaps not with signal
success, to arrest the attention of a public only
craving for easy entertainment. It is somewhat
in the style of Sterne ; a good deal in thie style of
one who, acknowledging himself a follower of Sterne,
had a warmer heart, a purer soul, and a richer,
quainter fancy than the British sentimentalist, I
mean Jean Paul Richter. Mr Meredith is often
strikingly like Richter in style, with, almost as a
matter of necessity, a considerable dash of Carlylese


phraseology. Here and there, indeed, something
of unmistakable and pm-e Carlyle flashes in."

This being so, it is of interest to recall that
Meredith's Richard Feverel was read and liked by
Carlyle, and made the two men acquainted. They
were both living in Chelsea, and in his walks Mere-
dith often met Carlyle and longed to speak to him,
but had no excuse for doing so. Then, one day,
Meredith's publishers received a letter from Carlyle
asking about the new author. Meredith seized his
opportunity and called at 5 Cheyne Row. Carlyle
told him that Mrs Carlyle, on first reading Richard
Feverel, had disliked the story and flung it upon the
floor. But she took it up again, and soon began
reading passages aloud to her husband, who said :
" The man is no fool." They read the book to the
end. Carlyle told Meredith that he possessed the
attributes of an historian, and advised him to essay
work of that description. But the novelist replied
that as so much fiction must always enter into
history, he would stick to novel-writing as his
method of writing history, which aphorism caused
Carlyle to ponder, and not argue in reply, for he
realised that there was some truth in the statement.
It was a pity this verity could not be offered to the
unmeticulous Macaulay.

In later years, apparently, Meredith did not
admire his excursion into Carlylean style, for he
mentioned, in 1873, that on taking up a copy of
Richard Feverel and glancing through it he found
the lumpy style objectionable. Yet at about the
same date he paid a tribute to Carlyle's style in the
second chapter of Beauchamp's Career in words
which very well describe Meredith's own style too.


He offered also a fine tribute to CarJyle in a letter,
dated 23rd May, 1882, to M. Andre Raffalovich.

Probably for the reason that Meredith found the
style of the original version of Richard FevereJ
offensive he rewrote the novel to a considerable
extent, eliminating and condensing, before the
edition of 1878 appeared.^
I Owing to a review in The Spectator accusing it

of " low ethical tone," Richard Feverel was banned
for its " immoral tendency " (!) and subversive
doctrines, and Mudie's Library, despite having
purchased three hundred copies, refused to circulate
the book to subscribers in deference to the fiery
cross raised on high by Mrs Grundy.

In 1858 Meredith commenced his memorable
and lasting friendship with Captain (subsequently
Rear- Admiral) Frederick Augustus Maxse (1833-
1900), second son of James Maxse by his marriage
with Lady Caroline Fitzhardinge, daughter of the
5th Earl of Berkeley (whose matrimonial affairs
formed a cause celebre at the beginning of the nine-
teenth century). Maxse, when Meredith first met
him, was a young naval officer who had recently
served with distinction and gallantry in the Crimean
War. He also had marked literary tastes, and was
a deep thinker, much concerned with social questions.
It was, no doubt, to be near this new and congenial
friend— subsequently to be the hero of Beaiichamp''s

' Meredith made a curious arrangement about this edition. He
signed an agreement, dated 3rd November, 1877, with C. Kegan Paul
and Co., seUing to those pubUshers the copyright of The Ordeal of
Richard Feverel for seven years, by which they agreed to issue the
novel in one volume at six shillings, and after the sale of 750 copies
net to pay to Meredith a royalty of one shilling and sixpence per
copy. These certainly were not wonderful terms for an author then
at the height of his powers, who had reached the period of Beau-
champ's Career and was evolving The Egoist.


Career — that Meredith, with his son Arthur, went
in 1859 to hve in lodgings at Esher. For Maxse's
home with his mother, Lady Caroline, was in Surrey ;
and a little later he took for his own use a cottage
at Molesey, when he and Meredith were constantly
together and enjoyed long walks over the heaths
and hills of their beloved Surrev. Meredith accom-
panied his new friend on a trip to Cherbourg in
Maxse's cutter-yacht, the Grebe, in 1858.

The house (now called Faireholme) where Meredith
lodged in Esher is situated on the left-hand side of
the main street between " The Bear " Inn and the
Post Office. It is a very ancient building, and was
formerly a coaching inn known as " The Grapes."
The low-ceiled, narrow rooms still preserve the
aspect of an old-fashioned tavern. Meredith's
sitting-room (where he wrote the commencement
of Evan Harrington) was that to the right on the
first floor, and his bedroom behind it looked on to
the pleasant informal garden and Claremont lands
beyond. At this period the house was occupied by
Mrs Smith, and it is interesting to note that her
son-in-law, Mr F. J. Williamson, tlie distinguished
sculptor, was until 1920 still living there, and well
remembered the time, sixty years ago, when he
and Meredith were under the same roof and con-
stantly meeting, Esher, of course, has other literary
associations in addition to Meredith. A few doors
from his lodgings is the house where the beautiful
sisters, Jane and Anna Maria Porter, had lived with
their mother. Their family vault is in the old
churchyard. Samuel Warren, the novelist, is buried
near the new church ; his son was Rector of Esher.
William and Mary Howitt lived at The Cedars,
Esher, at one time.


At this date, 1859, Meredith had commenced his
activities as a journalist, and his connection with
The Ipswich Journal ensued the following year ;
1860 also marks the date of his securing the post
of publisher's reader to Chapman and Hall, which
he held for many years : it will be more convenient
to deal with these phases of his life in a separate
chapter, merely stating now that at this time he
was also glad to add to his income by reading aloud
to an old lady who, it is to be hoped, appreciated
her singular advantage in securing the services of
the author of Richard Feverel. No doubt she did,
for she was a woman of intelligence, Mrs Benjamin
Wood, of Eltham Lodge. She was the sister of Sir
Evelyn Wood's mother. ^

At Esher, Meredith unexpectedly met again his
friends the Duff Gordons, who had lost sight of him
after he left Weybridge for Lower Halliford and
Seaford. The resumption of friendship was brought
about in a remarkable way. Miss Janet Duff
Gordon, now grown to a girl of sixteen, was riding
down to Esher station one day when a little boy,
some five years old, in trying to run across the road
in front of her horse, stumbled and fell. He was

' They were the daughters of Sampson Michell, of Croft "West,
Cornwall. Mrs Benjamin Wood was a good classic scholar, and her
translations from Lucian were highly commended. Her many
volumes of poetry, prose, and correspondence were privately pub-
lished : a set is in the possession of her grand-nephew. Sir I'homas
Barrett -Lennard, Bart. Mrs Wood's niece, Mrs Steel, relates that
Meredith used to visit Eltham Lodge, " as a rule, twice a week ; and
his gentle chivalry of manner to one many years his senior must have
done much to smooth the intercourse of two natures so dissimilar, so
independent. She sometimes rebuked him for what seemed to her
excess in his opinions and occasionally a fantastic manner of ex-
pressing them ; but they genuinely liked and respected each other,
and he spoke with warmth of her when she could no longer know of
his loyalty.'-

> K

Faireholme, Eshkr. Here Meredith lived 1858-59, and
commenced " evan harrington"

Coiiteiitiorary photograph bv M>: F. J . Williainson


much frightened, and the young lady, dismounting,
picked him up and strove to reassure him. The
boy, who was Arthur Meredith, bravely forced back
his tears, gasping out : " Papa says little men ought
not to cry." He pointed out the house where he
lived, and Miss Duff Gordon, taking the child to
the door, was met by a tall, handsome man, who,
to her utter amazement, after gazing at her for a
moment, and asking : " Are you not Lady Duff
Gordon's daughter ? " clasped her in his arms,
exclaiming : " Oh ! my Janet ! Don't you know
me ? I'm your Poet ! " And then she remembered
her friend of the fairy tales in old days at Weybridge,
when she was a little girl. Meredith went that night
to dine with the Duff Gordons at Bellvidere House,
Esher, near Claremont Park. He was now again
constantly with his rediscovered friends, whose
house was known as " The Gordon Arms " on
account of their ever warm hospitality to troops of
friends who visited them there.

Maurice FitzGerald was much with Meredith at
Esher, where they lived together in the same house,
as in Seaford days ; and it was through his intro-
duction of F. C. Burnand, then a young man of
twenty-two, that we obtain a delightful picture of
Meredith at this period (1859-1860). Sir Francis
Burnand thus vividly related, in his Records and
Reminiscences :

(C ( •>T

'Twas in the prime of summer-time,' as the
Eugene Aram poem commences, when I paid my
first visit to Esher. As we walked across the
common, Maurice expatiated on the beauty of the
country, of the advantages of rural life over existence
in town. . . . ' I thought,' he observed, breaking


ofl in the midst of a vivid description of the beauties
of the Box Hill and Dorking country — ' I thought
we should have met George.'

" ' Who is George ? ' I asked.

" ' George Meredith,' he answered. ' I forgot to
tell 3^ou that he is stopping with me, or I am with
liim. It doesn't much matter. We've been to-
gether for some time. You know him ? ' No, I
didn't. ' You know,' Maurice put it to me in-
quiringly, ' his Shaving of Shagpat and his poems ? '

" I regretted to say that, owing to my studies
having been for the last year or more on subjects
removed far away from modern literature, I had
scarcely looked at any new books for the past
eighteen months.

" ' Ah ! ' said Maurice, reflectively. ' You must
read his Richard Feverel. I've got it and the others
at home.'

" Then we saw a figure standing in front of a
white gate on our left, about a quarter of a mile
distant, waving to us. ' There he is,' said Maurice
quietly (he was always quiet) ; ' we shall meet him
where the roads join at the corner.'

"As we neared the ' crossways ' (no ' Diana '
there as yet), George Meredith was shaking hands
with a stoutish, jovial-looking, rubicund- visaged,
white-haired gentleman, who, if he had only been
attired in gaiters might there and then have been
easily taken for the original of Phiz's delineation
of the immortal Mr Pickwick.^

* Mr Pickwick was the pictorial creation of Robert Seymour, who,
discarding his first design of a long, thin man, drew the portrait of
a short, stout one from the description by Edward Chapman of an
actual person, named John Foster, he, the publisher, knew at Rich-
mond. It was the suicide of Seymour in 1836 that gave Phiz his great
opportunity, for at the age of twenty-one he was selected to fill the


" George ^Meredith and this genial elderly gentle-
man waved their hands encouragingly to one
another as the latter disappeared within the gate,
and George strode towards us. George Meredith
never merely walked, never lounged ; he strode, he
took giant strides. He had on a soft, shapeless
wide-awake, a sad-coloured flannel shirt, with low
open collar turned over a brilliant scarlet necker-
chief tied in loose sailor's knot ; no waistcoat ;
knickerbockers, grey stockings, and the most service-
able laced boots, which evidently meant business in
pedestrianism ; crisp, curly, brownish hair, ignorant
of parting ; a fine brow, quick observant eyes,
greyish— if I remember rightly ;— beard and mous-
tache, a trifle lighter than the hair. A splendid
head ; a memorable personality. Then his sense of
humour, his cynicism, and his absolutely boyish
enjoyment of mere fun, of any pure and simple
absurdity. His laugh was something to hear ; it
was of short duration, but it was a roar ; it set you
off — nay, he himself, when much tickled, would
laugh till he cried (it didn't take long to get to the
crying), and then he would struggle with himself,
hand to open mouth, to prevent another outburst.

" Two more delightful companions for a young-
man, trembling on the brink of literature and the
drama, it would be difficult to imagine. They were
))oth my hosts. I was at home at once.

" ' Who were you talking to as we came up ? '
asked Maurice. ' That,' said George—' Why you've

vacant post of illustrator to Pickwick (then appearing in monthly
parts). He very skilfully continued Seymour's conceptions of Pick-
wick and his three friends, and of Jingle ; all the other presentments
of the prominent characters of the book were the pictorial creations
of Phiz.


met him ' — ' No/ Maurice didn't remember — 'that's
Evans, dear old Pater Evans.'

" And it was in this company, in these circum-
stances, that I first set eyes on ]\Tullet Evans, second
partner in the old publishing firm of Bradbury and
Evans, then known all over the world as the pro-
prietors of Punch. At this time they had among
other ventures started Once a Week as a rival to
Dickens's All the Year Round, and George Meredith
was writing for this opposition his Evan Harrington.
George scouted the suggestion that his novel should
be called Bradhury-and-Evans Harrington.^

" Our near neighbours were the Duff Gordons,
at whose house George was a persona grata. As
Maurice did not affect societv, and as I was ' a

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