S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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person of no importance,' neither of us, though
formally introduced, was included in the invitations
sent to George Meredith, then a rising star, by Sir
Alexander and Lady Duff Gordon.


Meredith, soon after this first meeting at Esher,
introduced Burnand to Bradbury and Evans, the
proprietors and publishers of Punch, of which he,
Burnand, was to become editor some twenty years
later. It happened thus. Burnand, ever the best
of raconteurs, had told Meredith some amusing
stories, merely by way of post-prandial entertain-
ment after the excellent dinners provided by his
friends at Esher. Some time after, Burnand dis-
covered these anecdotes retold, under the title of A
Story Telling Party, in Once a Week for December,
1859, with some clever illustrations by Phiz. The

^ Bradbury and Evans had published much of Dickens's work
originally ; and Mr Evans's daughter married the novelist's eldest
son, Charles Culliford Boz Dickens, in 1861.


contribution was not signed by Meredith. But,
to quote Burnand's words, " seeing a point to be
scored for myself I wrote to George asking him as
a set-off against the ' honorarium ' he had received
for my stories (' only infinitely better told ') to
recommend a story of mine to the editor. George
replied expressing his regret, excusing himself by
saying that he never thought I was going to make
capital out of them (here he was right), and that he
would have great pleasure in submitting my story
to the Once a Week editor." This he accordingly
did, and Mr Lorquison's Story, signed F. C. Burnand,
and illustrated by Charles Keene, appeared in the
issue for 12th May, 1860.

It was cm-ious that Once a Week, ably edited as it
was by Samuel Lucas and Walford, did not have a
more prolonged existence. It was particularly rich
on the pictorial side, for the most distinguished
artists of the time were contributors ; and it thus
came about that ^leredith's work in the magazine
obtained some notable illustrations. His first poem
therein. The Song of Courtesy, 9th July, 1859, was
accompanied by a drawing by John Tenniel, who,
consequently, was the first artist to illustrate
Meredith. The Three Maidens, Over the Hills, and
Juggling Jerry, all dated 1859, were illustrated by
Phiz. For the next three poems, 1859-1860, The
Crown of Love, The Head of Bran, and The Meeting,
the drawings were furnished by J. E. Millais, then
just of age. The Patriot Engineer, 1861, was
illustrated by Charles Keene, and The Old Chartist,\
1862, by Frederick Sandys, whose remarkable )
drawing is a fine example of tlie work of tl\c Pre-
Raphaelite school.

It was owing to his connection with Once a Week,


and the artists he thereby came in contact with,
^y that Meredith formed his friendship with Dante
Gabriel Rossetti. The latter evidently appreciated
his society, for in a letter to Alexander Gilchrist,
the art critic, in November, 1861, Rossetti said:
" Two or three are coming here on Friday evening
at eight or so— George Meredith I hope for one.
Can you look in ? I hope so —nothing but oysters
and the seediest of clothes." A memorable picture
celebrates this new companionship, for Rossetti
when painting Mary Magdalene at the Gate of Simon
the Pharisee studied the head of Christ from Mere-
dith's face ; and this Rossetti portrait is one of the
earliest presentments of the poet-novelist in man-
hood. It was doubtless through Rossetti that
Meredith became acquainted with Swinburne, then
twenty-three years old, just free from his unfortunate
period at Oxford, and already producing one of his
first dramas. The Queen Mother and Rosamond.
As early as October, 1860, Swinburne mentioned in
a letter : " I have done some more work to Chastelard
and rubbed up one or two other things : my friend,
George Meredith, has asked me to send some to
Once a Week, which valuable publication he props
up occasionally with fragments of his own." By
means of Meredith's interest Swinburne secured
acceptance in Once a Week, 1862, for his prose story,
Dead Love, the only one of a series in the Italian
style, which he intended to call The Triameron^
that has been published.

At Esher, Janet Duff Gordon was constantly with
Meredith and Arthur (whom she looked after when
his father was in London), and on one of their
rambles discovered the ideal place for her poet to
have his habitation— Copsham Cottage, in the

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midst of heaths and commons on the way to Oxshott.
Hither, in the autumn of 1859, came the Merediths
to live in this simple and picturesque httle dwelling,
old and Avith low-pitched rooms. ^ Except for the
adjacent Copsen Farm, it stood quite alone and low
by the roadside, immediately adjoining, without
any restricting railings or hedges, the wild and
extensive Common. Gorse and heather and mossy
mounds : and all around glorious pine and larch
woods, and in the heart of them, where their blue
misty aisles converged, a romantic little lake, " The
Black Pool," fringed by dark trees — here, indeed,
was a fitting abode for the poet-novelist.^ No
wonder that amid such lovely surroundings — with
Nature and Wild Life at his very door — Meredith
was inspired to produce good work. It was at
Copsham Cottage that he wrote Eva7i Harrington,
Modern Love, Sandra Belloni, and those Poems of the
English Roadside so racy of the soil and nomadic
life. A few steps from the cottage is a large mound
— possibly a place of sepulture in ancient times —
whence is commanded a glorious view of hill and
dale, and nearer the stately woods of Claremont.
This was Meredith's favourite resort. " The
Mound "—or " Round Hill " as it is called in the

' Copsham Cottage, now called " Copseham," has been greatly
enlarged by subsequent owners, and new wings added. But the
original rooms occupied by Meredith and his son can still be identified
in the present library and two small bedrooms over it. The house
is now the home of Mr Herbert Cook, who has much improved the
place and its charming garden.

^ Unfortunately, in 1918, the trees in the Esher woods were
ruthlessly cut down for Government and War purposes, and the
banks of Black Pool disfigured by timber works. It was unreason-
able that a beauty spot so near London should have been selected
for procuring timber, when supplies were available nearer lading


maps — is often mentioned in both his correspondence
and literary work. In connection with Sandra
Belloni, writing to IMrs Ross (Janet Uuff Gordon)
he reminded her of how in old times, when they were
sitting one day on the top of The Mound at Copsham,
he gave her an account of the real story his novel
was based upon. And it was on this Mound, of
coui-se, that the party from Brookfield, in the second
chapter of the novel, discovered Emilia, the mysteri-
ous singer of the woods. The scenery is very
accurately depicted. The final scene of the story
takes place at the same place. The Mound also
figures in the death scene of Juggling Jerry,^ and
the adjoining common is mentioned in The Meeting.

The influences of surrounding Nature were finely
expressed at this period by Meredith in the Ode to
the Spirit of Earth in Autumn ; but more succinctly
picturesque is his Autumn Even-Song, written during
his first autumn at Copsham Cottage in 1859,
and which at the close again suggests a personal
picture. Merely a matter of individual opinion,
I regard this as Meredith's most exquisite poem.
What a wealth of observation is here enshrined, and
how fine the antithesis of the last line of each
verse. This poem is a succession of vividly con-
trasted pictures. It suggests those wonderful dark-
shadowed twilight scenes drawn by Hablot K.
Browne at the height of his art, particularly " The
Ghost's Walk," in Bleak House, where also "pale
on the panes of the old hall gleams the lone space
between the sunset and the squall."

Copsham Common was a great resort for gipsies,
beggars, tinkers, and so forth, and Meredith de-

^ The illustration, drawn by Phiz, for this poem in Once a Week,
1 859, gives a fair idea of the spot.

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lighted to converse with them. As he said, he was
an associate with owls and night-jars, tramps and
tinkers, who taught him human nature. Much of
his work at this period embodies their elemental
philosophy ; and, needless to say, his first-hand
knowledge of nomads was to find its most vivid
expression a few years later in The Adventures of
Harry Richmond. He gave some interesting details
of his attitude to poetry at this time, and incident-
ally of his life at Copsham, to the Rev. Augustus
Jessopp, a stranger and an admirer of Meredith's
work who had written to express appreciation, and
who, in result, was to become one of the author's
intimate and trusted friends. ^

Jessopp had told Meredith that there were three
men he particularly wished to see in life : Humboldt,
Bunsen and the author of Richard Feverel ; and
that he and his Cambridge friends placed Meredith
next to Tennyson as a poet. In his reply Meredith
said he had not realised his early ambitions in
poetry owing to lack of encouragement on the part
of the public and his own disordered health and
nerves, which were not conducive to good work.
He added that with improving health and more
independence he hoped to do better, and that he
generally wrote from actual observation. Thus his
mendicants were drawn from actual figures met
on the highways of Surrey. He concluded by
inviting his correspondent to visit him at Copsham,
where if the cottage was humble the cooking
was good. (His housekeeper, Miss Grange, lived

' Dr Jessopp (1824-1914) was at tliis period headmaster of King
Edward VI. 's School, Norwich. He became Rector of Seaming, Nor-
folk, 1879, and his book, Trials of a Country Parson, contains some
illuminating studies on the conditions of rural life.



in the cottage many years after Meredith left, in

Jessopp promptly accepted the invitation, and
in December, 1861, paid his first visit to Meredith.

These were the pleasant days of many friendships.
At the Duff Gordons' house Meredith met Mrs
Norton, Millias, Kinglake, and G. F. Watts. He and
Maurice FitzGerald and Burnand also much liked
the society of Frederic Chapman, the publisher,
who had a cottage in the meadows by the river Mole
near Wolsey's Tower and Esher Place. But the
most memorable friendships Meredith was about
to form, in addition to that with Maxse, were with
W. C. Bonaparte Wyse, William Hardman, James
Cotter Morison, Lionel Robinson, and John Morley.

William Charles Bonaparte Wyse, born in 1826,
was a grand-nephew of Napoleon, being the son of
Sir Thomas Wyse, of the Manor of St John, Water-
ford, by his marriage, in 1821, with Letitia, daughter
of Prince Lucien Bonaparte, brother of the Emperor.
W. C. Bonaparte Wyse was a poet, particularly
versed in Provengal metres. His most famous work,
Parpaioun Blu, published in 1868, won the en-
thusiastic approval of Victor Hugo, who wrote :
" C'est de la poesie vraie, parfois touchante . . .
vous ecrivez a merveille, et avec une noble aisance
dans ce vivant et lumineux idiome. . . . Nous
sommes freres dans la grande fraternite de I'ideal.
L'ideal, ciel de I'art, est la patrie des poetes."
Li Piado de la Princesso was a later collection of
Wyse's Provenyal poetry.^ Meredith first met Wyse

^ A monumental record of Wyse was published by the Librairie
Lemerre, Paris, in 1917, under the title of Un Fdlibre Irlandais :
William Bonaparie-Wys* : sa Correspondance avec Mistral, par J.

\Vi 1.1,1 A>r Charles Bonaparte Wysk

From a fihotogra/'/i about iS6<i


in the early part of 1861, and in addition to the
bond of poetry, he found Wyse a man after his own
heart in that this new friend shared his love for
long walks and pleasant excursions in their county
of Surrey, for Wyse was living in Guildford, when
not at his rooms in Great Coram Street. Con-
sequently, Meredith's letters to him are full of their
mutual poetical interests and pedestrian plans,
though they soon voice one of the most intimate
notes that was ever sounded in his correspondence.

The first letter merely gives directions for reach-
ing Copsham Cottage. In the second he becomes
characteristic, and launches forth into directions
for meetings at Ripley and The Lone Hut at Wisley
by Boldermere. He is weary of working at Emilia,
and expatiates on the joys of Burford Bridge and
the nightingale- haunted Vale of Mickleham, and
expeditions afoot as far afield as Guildford and St
Martha's Chapel, near Shere. Sometimes Wyse was
able to come, and when he was unable to or failed
to turn up, Meredith addressed him with lines of
reproachful doggerel verse.

So ended this pleasant spring of 1861, with jaunts
and nights out — particularly in the Vale of Mickle-
ham, for which Meredith had a lifelong love ; here
he was to find his romance, and near by he was to
spend the last forty years of his life.

When the spring of 1862 came round, Meredith"^
had found a new fellow-pedestrian in the person of
William Hardman. Born in Lancashire, Hardman
had studied for the Bar, and, subsequently, he acted
as chairman of Surrey Quarter Sessions from 186:>
until his death in 1890. He was also editor of The
Morning Post from 1872, and was knighted in 1885.
He was a cheerful, humorous man, with wide literary


knowledge, and married to a lady of gifted person-
ality and musical talent. Meredith first met the
Hardmans in 1861, when they were staying at
Littleworth Cottage, Esher.^

Fortunately Sir William Hardman preserved his
reminiscences of Meredith on paper, and they aid
considerably in presenting a picture of the novelist
at this period. Hardman thus notes the com-
mencement of his friendship with Meredith, which
ripened rapidly owing to their mutual tastes,
particularly the love of long walks in Surrey :


During our stay in Esher we have made the
acquaintance of George Meredith, the author of
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, Evan Harrington, etc.
He is very clever, original, and amusing. We soon
became great allies. He is a widower of thirty-two,^
with a boy of eight years — one of the finest lads I
ever saw ... his ' little man,' as he calls him. He
is immensely proud of this boy, and the boy is well
worthy of his father's pride and affection. . . . Con-
trary to the usual habit of authors, he is not a
silent man, and when he is present conversation
goes glibly enough. Although only a new chum,
he is quite like an old one. . . .

" Meredith chaffs me, and says I resemble in many
ways the man (Cobbett) whose biography I have
undertaken. The reason of his opinion is, that I
come down in the midst of his many poetical
rhapsodies with frequent morsels of hard common-
sense. I interrupt him with a stolid request to
define his terms. I point out discrepancies between

' They were introduced by Robert Cooke, of Balham. Mrs Hardman
was the daughter of James Radley, of Liverpool.
- Meredith was thirty-three at this date.

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his most recent sentence and some previous one.
The consequence of this is that we get into long
arguments, and it was only last Sunday, during one
of our country rambles, that, in spite of the raw,
inclement January day,^ we stopped a long time at
a stile, seated on the top of which he lectured me,
quite ineffectually, on his views of the future destinies
of the human race."

And now follow some delightful glimpses of life
at Copsham Cottage and rambles in Surrey during
the autumn of 1861 and the spring of 1862 :

*' We have just returned from a charming little
country run of two days and one night. Yesterday
morning we left the Waterloo Station at 9.15 for
Esher. All our mutual requirements were con-
densed into a little black bag, which I carried, and
we started from the station at Esher triumphantly,
regardless of vehicles, for a walk of two and a half
miles to Copsham Cottage. We were going to stay
all night with our good friend George Meredith.
The heartiest of welcomes awaited us at the really
humble cottage— for it makes no pretensions to
anything, but performs a vast deal more than many
great houses that promise so much, Meredith is
a man who abhors ceremony, and the ' conven-
tionalities.' After our first greetings were over,
we turned out for an hour and a half before hmch.
We had exhausted all our superlatives in extolling
the day and the walk between the station and the
cottage, but we had to begin again now. The scent
of the pine-woods, the autumn tints on the elms
and beeches, the brilliant sunlight exalted us to

' 1862.


a climax of ecstasy. We were children again.
Ivuncheon on our return consisted chiefly of home-
made products- bread, honey, jams, marmalade,
etc., most delicious. Then came a general lighting
of pipes and cigars, and off we started for another
walk through lanes and wood to Cobham, a good
six-mile business. We got back at five o'clock and
dined at six. What appetites we had ! Gracious
goodness ! Meredith's two other guests ^ left at
eight, to walk home to Walton- on-Thames, and
then we put a log of wood on the fire and sat down
for a cosy talk. Meredith read some poems which
are to form part of a volume shortly to be published.
So passed the time till 10.30, when to bed we went,
thoroughly prepared to sleep soundly, as you may
easily imagine. Up at seven, and away went
Meredith and myself for a brisk walk of three or four
miles, after taking a tea- cup of hot soup and a slice
of bread. After breakfast Meredith retired to work
at his book of poems, while we went to call on some
friends in the neighbourhood. On our return he
read to me the result of his morning's work — portion
of a very pretty idyll called Grandfather Bridgeman.^
. . . We left Esher by the four o'clock train, carry-
ing with us a pot of honey for consumption in
Gordon Street. Hadn't we enjoyed ourselves ! "

" On Friday, May 23rd (1862), after dining
together at his cottage at Copsham, Meredith and
I started about seven o'clock in the evening, in-
tending, if we failed to obtain beds at Mickleham,

1 Cotter Morison and James Virtue, his brother-in-law.

" This poem duly appeared in Meredith's second volume of verse.
Modern Love and Poems of the English Roadside, with Poems and
Ballads, published by Chapman and Hall in May, 1862.


to walk on to Burford Bridge. ^ I had no bag or
pack of any kind, carrying ail my necessaries in the
capacious pockets of a shooting jacket. Meredith
had what the Germans call, I believe, a ' rucksack,'
a sort of bag slung by a strap over the back and
hanging under the left arm — a most convenient
article. In it he carried, besides toilet necessaries,
a Murray's Handbook to Surrey, and some capital

" I may as well mention here that we never
addressed each other by our real names. He called
me ' Tuck,' and I called him ' Robin.' Having
enjoyed a good dinner before starting, we walked
at a pace befitting the victuals, steady and sober,
enlivening the way with snatches of song, reminis-
cences of overtures, frequent bursts of laughter, and
absurd rhymes, as occasion suggested. The evening
looked dubious and stormy, and the sunset was red
and lowering, but on we went, nevertheless. We
avoided Leatherhead by a cut across the fields,
coming into the main road by the church. It was
quite dark when we reached Mickleham, about
twenty minutes past nine. The landlady of the
inn was most obliging, and promised us the accom-
modation we required. After making arrangements,
we strolled out to listen to the nightingales in the
meadows on the banks of the Mole. While enjoying
the cool air, drinking in their music, mingled with
the croaking of frogs, ' the monotonous clattering
of the brown eve- jar,' and all the varied sounds of
a summer night, Meredith recited Keats's Ode to a
Nightingale, one of Robin's favourite poems. We
returned to our inn singing my music to Robin's

' Meredith had made the same pilgrimage in honour of spring the
previous year, 1861. See ante, p. 115.


madrigal addressed to myself, Since Tuck is faithless
found, amid peals of laughter. After large potations
of soda-water, flavoured with the brandy aforesaid,
we retired to rest about eleven o'clock. Our bed-
rooms communicated by a passage, being shut out
from the rest of the house, and we lay shouting to
each other, and joking about the joviality of the
whole affair, neither of us getting to sleep for an
hour or so.^ My window was wide open, and I could
hear the nightingales singing in the trees by the
meadows. About three o'clock I was awoke by a
pertinacious sparrow who had his home under the
eaves close by my window ; this was followed by
the ringing of the stable-yard bell by some very late
or early traveller, with no apparent result to himself.
I could hear the stamp of his horse's feet in the
distance, but the bell was close under my window.
After a troubled doze, a busy cock took up the
wondrous tale, and after a few loud crows, com-
menced a very noisy commentary on the egg-laying
work of one or more of his wives ; this sound re-
sembled a much magnified and more andante sort
of night- jar. I have omitted the mention of an
earnest dispute between certain village tipplers
in the bar, on the merits or demerits, sayings and
doings of one ' Charlie Andrews,' all of which was
audible to me and assisted in keeping me awake
when first I went to bed. At last the sparrow
wandered away to seek for food, the eggs were laid,
and I had a snooze in peace, when, about 5.30 a.m.,
Meredith enters my room with a suggestion that
we should get up. I recommended him to go to

* It was at the old " Running Horse -' Inn that Meredith and
Hardman stayed. The place is quite unchanged. In earlier days
the stage coaches stopped here.


bed again, and he did so. We eventually got up
about seven, and strolled out to see the immediate
neighbourhood while breakfast was being got ready.

" The church is nearly opposite the inn, and into
the churchyard we went. A pet lamb came to us,
expecting, as Robin put it, a gratuity of some kind,
but got nothing, as we had nothing to give it.
Beyond the churchyard, which is very lovely, a
stile-road leads across some meadows up the Mickle-
ham Downs. Meredith declares that here may be
obtained one of the most perfect bits of rustic
scenery in this country, and consequently in any
other. The church spire is seen embedded in rich
foliage, backed by the hills crowned by Norbury
Hall, with all the noble trees placed there by dear
old Evelyn of the Diary. The most critical artist —
and Meredith has an artist's appreciation of land-
scape — need not modify one iota of the view ; every
tree in its place, and the spire of the church just
where it should be. Higher up the scene broadens,
and with all the varied greens of May made another
view of great beauty. In the midst of our enthus-
iasm the church clock chimed eight, and warned
us of our waiting breakfast.

" After breakfast I wrote a short note to my wife
(' Demitroia ' as we call her),^ for which I was duly
chaffed by Meredith, who called me an ' uxorious
old Tuck,' and finally wrote a note to her himself
to tell her that I never thought of writing till I
had eaten I know not how many chops, kidneys, eggs,
and the etceteras. I posted the letter at nine, and
on we went for our day's walk. Striking into the
meadows by the Mole we crossed the bridge near

' Meredith gave the name to Mrs Hard man because her husband
had taken five years to win her — half the period of the Siege of Troy.


the ' Swallows,' and so back into the road near
Burford Bridge, reveiiing in tiie glory of the morning
and the lovely scenery. We followed the high-road

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 8 of 23)