S. M. (Stewart Marsh) Ellis.

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

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to Dorking for some distance, and then struck into
a by-path across the fields into the town. After
making vain efforts to obtain a Saturday Review or
any other ' weekly,' we went on towards Guildford,
soon emerging on a heath rich with nutty smells
of gorse all ablaze, on the right of which was a
tumulus. Presently a sudden descent brought us
to ' The Rookery,' the birthplace of Malthus, a
quaint old house embedded deep in foliage. Soon
after this we lost our way, but Meredith made inquiry
of certain tillers of the field, and by dint of scramb-
ling over hedge and ditch we at length found our-
selves on the right road. Our mishap occurred in
consequence of the interest taken by Robin in
Malthus's birthplace. In order to get a better view
of the house we had turned into a lane, which passed
close to ' The Rookery.' Emerging from dense
thicket of underwood, we found ourselves on a
carriage road which led past Wotton House. Com-
ing to the little village of Shere, we turned into the
inn for a rest, and some ale and bread and cheese.

" Soon after leaving Shere we started up a very
steep ascent through a deeply embowered lane,
terminating in an avenue of beech- trees. From the
summit we had glimpses of a magnificent view, St
Martha's Chapel being a very prominent object.
The ascent of the hill took away all my spare breath
to Robin's great amusement. Presently we began
an abrupt descent into a place called Combe Bottom,
one of the most lovely spots in creation. Combe
Bottom is one of those basins hollowed out of the
chalk, with almost precipitous sides, covered with


short grass at the base, but crowned with the most
luxurious foliage in every variety of tint. On a
bare projecting knob Ave lay down and smoked our
pipes while enjoying the surroundings. Here Robin
overhauled his note-books and read to me a number
of aphorisms hereafter to be published in ' The
Pilgrim's Script, by Sir Austin Feverel, edited by
Adrian Harley.' We discussed them at our ease,
for such terse sayings naturally provoke conversa-
tion. As Sir Austin says, ' A proverb is the half-
way house to a thought.' Having finished our
aphorisms and our pipes we descended to the
bottom and crossed to the opposite side, on to the
Merrow Downs, along which we walked as far as
Newland's Corner. Immediately below us on our
left lay Albury, where, as Meredith reminded me,
the author of Proverbial Philosophy resides.^ At
Newland's Corner, by crossing twenty yards to the
right, we obtained a magnificent view over Ripley
towards St George's Hill and the great valley of the
Thames. Returning to the path, we descended to
the valley and mounted St Martha's Hill to the
Chapel at its summit.

" Getting once more on to the main road we made
for Guildford, where, on arriving, we ordered a cold
dinner and proceeded to the railway station to get
copies of The Saturday Review, Public Opinion, and
The Spectator (May 24th, 1862). The last-named
journal contained an article on Meredith's Poems
and Modern Love, etc., and a regular stinger it was !
Robin was naturally annoyed, for the review was
most unreasonable, and was, in my opinion, written
with decidedly personal feeling. Meredith did not
agree with me in this, and eventually concluded

» Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-1889).


that the review was written by a woman. The
disagreeable topic did not interfere much with our
pleasure, we were too much determined to enjoy
ourselves, and Robin's annoyance soon passed off.

" After our cold collation we started again for
Godalming, intending to pass through that town
and sleep at a place two miles beyond. The evening
was very fine, and defying the critic of The Spectator,
we found the walk most exhilarating. In passing
through Godalming we could not help noticing the
number of patriarchal dogs lying about on the door-
steps. Robin was much tickled by my styling one
in particular as an ' ancient dog,' he said it sounded
so very old. At a small inn near the village of
Milford we found a civil and obliging hostess, who
recollected Meredith, he having stayed there the
summer before with Maxse. She said she could
give us beds, so we ordered tea, and took a stroll
to an eminence on the wild common adjoining, from
which we obtained a fine but desolate view. It was
now nine o'clock, and as we had been on our feet
for twelve hours we were not sorry to rest. The
house filled with hilarious rustics, who sang old
tunes with very dolorous choruses. It was Saturday
night. They kept it up till midnight. Our bed-
rooms were very plain, for the house was a small
and poor one, but they were clean, and the beds well
aired. The following morning (Sunday) we were
both up by seven o'clock, took a stroll in the garden,
and awaited our coffee, chops, and unlimited bread
and butter. Our hostess was very reasonable in her
bill, only 3s 6d. each. We gave sixpence to the
little maid who waited upon us, and she was greatly

" Our course now lay by Thursley over heath,


and through hedges white with hawthorn bloom,
most beauteous to behold. The sun streamed
hotly down upon us. ... In due time we reached
the Devil's Punch Bowl, and ascended to the summit
of Hindhead. We lay down and smoked several
pipes, enjoying a prospect of from 15 to 30 miles in
every direction. We thought we could distinguish
the sea through a distant break in the South Downs.
At our feet lay Haslemere, and the Black Down,
in the distance was Baker Hill, and the high ground
about Ashford, and Selborne. We could see the
Hog's Back, St Martha's Chapel, and the ridge of
downs stretching to Box Hill and Reigate. It was
most glorious.

" About noon we started down towards Haslemere,
so as to get there by one o'clock, when folks would
be out of church and inns open. We knocked at the
hostel of the White Horse about ten minutes to one,
and had a cut at the family dinner, a breast of veal,
washed down by copious draughts of the best pale
ale Meredith and I had ever tasted. After dinner
we sat on a wall in the garden and smoked. About
three we started — ignominiously, as Robin would
have it — in a four-wheel chaise for Godalming to
catch the train at 5.15, there being no train from
Haslemere before 7.20. I arrived in town about
seven o'clock having dropped Meredith at Eslier."

I have quoted Hardman's account at length,
because his simple, if detailed, language presents an
admirable picture of IMeredith in these pleasant
days when the two friends, still young and compact
of health and strength, rambled over Surrey,
enjoying the lovely scenery, the good plain fare of
homely inns, and many a jest and hearty laugh.


Such things go to make the best of life. And this
was one of the happiest periods of Meredith's Hfe,
and his friendship with Hardman was one of its
joUiest features. He regarded " Tuck " with a
sort of Shaksperean humour, and the letters to
Hardman, the most delightful he ever wrote, are
redolent of the mutual pleasures they both so
heartily and healthfully enjoyed. Ofttimes he
broke into verse, as for example in the delightful
madrigal which mentions Copsham Mound, Since
Tuck is faithless found J

As with those to Wyse, similarly Meredith's early
letters to Hardman are redolent of high spirits and
full of proposals for walking jaunts, a favourite
destination being the old Talbot Inn at Ripley,
particularly in the merry month of May — and
asparagus. Meredith would work hard at Emiliai
and then be off to the green meadows and gorse-
golden heaths of his lovely county.

Meredith introduced Hardman to Dante Gabriel
Rossetti. Hardman records :


Yesterday I went with George Meredith to see
Rossetti, the celebrated Pre-Raphaelite painter.
He had, Tmfortunately, no finished works in his
studio, but his collection of sketches was most
interesting and beautiful. He is a very jolly fellow,
and we had a most amusing visit. I am going on

' Hardman notes : " This was written in consequence of having
been obhged to postpone a promised visit to Copsham Cottage.
(Mem. ' The Mound,' Une 6, is a conspicuous eminence hard by the
cottage.) I told him I would immortalise the words by setting them
to music, but he begged me not to as he would rather write me some-
thing fit to read. No, I would not be persuaded, and I have yesterday
composed the music in madrigal style for three voices-" See ante,

p. I20.


Friday to his place again, to a social reunion of
artists and literary men, short pipes and beer
being, I am given to understand, the order of
the day."

Hardman gave Rossetti a far more ambitious
entertainment in return. He writes in April, 1862 :

" I had a very select dinner party at the Club
last night. Meredith, Dante Rossetti, and Dr Live-
ing were my party, and I flatter myself they never
sat down to a better selected meal in their lives.
They were enthusiastic, and I have added fresh
laurels to mv fame as a dinner-ffiver. An enviable
notoriety, but expensive. We kept it up till 12-30,
and Meredith (whom I with difficulty piloted througli
the Haymarket, he was so very rampant) came home
and stayed all night with me."

The menu of this most excellent dinner, and
the wines, was quoted by Hardman in full. He
mentioned, too, that Meredith at this date had
taken to felling trees and sawing up logs at
Copsham, to promote circulation and improve his

It was Hardman who first introduced Lionel
Robinson — familiarly know^n as " Poco " — to Mere-
dith about 1861.

Lord MorJey of Blackburn informed me that he
first knew Meredith in the early sixties and that he
frequently visited his friend at Copsham. This is
doubtless the period alluded to by the late W. T.
Stead in his character sketch of the then John
Morley ^ :

1 The Review of Reviews, November, 1890.


" No living person would hold a higher place in
the list of those who had contributed to fashion his
mind than Mr George Meredith. In the early days,
before he became famous, Mr George Meredith, then
himself neither so popular nor so widely known as
he is to-day, took him with a friendly hand. He
used to stay with Mr Meredith in a remote country
village, and in the evening Mr Meredith would read
over the work he had done in the day — the chapter
or the poem. It was Mr Meredith who awoke in him
the feehng for nature which has ever since remained
as one of the great pleasures of his existence, as well
as imparting to him a larger concern for the wisdom
of life. For many years the long walks across the
Surrey Commons, where the south-west wind blows,
and when Mr Meredith's genius was at its best, were
the delight of Mr Morley's life. ' Much, and very
much,' Mr Morley once told me, did he owe to the
wise and stimulating friendship of George Meredith
in the impressionable times." ^

Morley, at this date, was in his early twenties,
and had not long left Oxford. James Cotter Morison
had been at Lincoln College with him, and the two
intimate friends often went to Copsham together.
Morison (1832-1888), as the author of The Life and
Times of St Bernard, was soon dubbed " St Bernard "
by Meredith, and it is by that name that he is
generally alluded to in subsequent correspondence.

But of all the notable friends who came to visit
Meredith amid the woods of Copsham one likes most
to picture the youthful Swinburne with his aureole

1 Lord Morley has also stated that Meredith " lived at every hour
of day and night with all the sounds and shades of Nature open to
his sensitive perception.-'


of flaming hair, his inspired ecstasies of poetical ex-
pression, and his marvellous flow of language which
Meredith described as a torrent of boiling lava.
On one famous occasion at Copsham in June, 1862,
Swinburne read aloud his recent discovery — the
Omar Khayyam of Edward FitzGerald. This had
been first published in 1859, but the work met with
neglect, and FitzGerald, in disgust, disposed of the
two hundred copies he had to Quaritch, telling him
to do what he liked with them. The bookseller
threw them into the "Twopenny Box" — though
fifty years later a single copy could reach the price
of £51. But in the early days the little volume
came to the notice of Swinburne, firing his en-
thusiasm and inspiring him to great creation in
the same stately metre as Oinar.

He was impatient to reveal his find to Meredith.
As he came near to Copsham Cottage, along the road
from Esher, he was seen to be brandishing a white
pamphlet in the manner of a fanatical preacher, and
soon he was heard declaiming the stately stanzas
of his rich treasure. He and Meredith and some
other friends sat on The Mound for hours reciting
Omar Khayyam ; the dinner-bell went unheeded at
first ; then, the meal over, the party returned to
The Mound and recited again the verses until night-
fall. Suddenly Swinburne ran into the cottage,
returned with paper, quill pen, and red ink. In
an hour he had written the first thirteen stanzas of
Laus Veneris, directly inspired by Omar Khayyam.

A month before his death, and in one of the last
letters ^ he ever wrote, Meredith gave a description
of this scene ; the memories of Copsham days were
with him to the last.

* To The Times, 15 th April, 1909,


So The Mound by Copsham Cottage can claim
to be the spot where Swinburne composed Laus
Veneris on that long evening of a far-away June
when, after the sun had set bej^ond the woods of
Claremont, " Night falls like fire ; the heavy lights
run low." Surely if ever mortal scenes are revisited
by the shades of those who met there in the happy
past, in the days of vigorous life and youth and
bright mental power, it is a famous company that
passes silently along the misty vistas of Copsham
woods and lingers regretfully by The Mound and
The Black Pool in the wan light of a waning moon.

C 5

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T~pVAN HARRINGTON, or He would be a
Ay Gentleman, appeared serially in Once a
-^ — ^ Week from February to October, 1860. A
pirated version of the story was brought out in
America at the end of the same year. Meredith had
contemplated an American edition twelve montlis
earlier, but the idea was not carried out.

The three-volume edition of Evan Harringtoji was
issued in London by Bradbury and Evans in 1861,
and it has now some considerable value, for the
author's presentation copy to his friend, W. C.
Bonaparte Wyse, realised as much as £29 not long

In Once a Week the story was illustrated by Charles
Keene, whose drawings are of singularly unequal
merit. Some are admirable, particularly The
Death of the Great Mel. and Toni Cogglesbifs
Arrival at Heckle ij Court : others could hardly
be worse than they are. Those portraying the
Countess de Saldar and Mrs Strike convey no
impression of the beauty and charm of the ladies,
on which such stress is laid m the novel, and poor
Rose Jocelyn is represented always as positively
ugly by the artist : it is, indeed, amazing that
Meredith could ever have passed the drawings of



Evan and Rose, On Board the '"''Jocasta^^ and
In the Conservatory, except as caricatures of his

The story, like the illustrations, is also of unequal
merit : parts are superb, but others are very poor,
and longueurs are not unknown. Though super-
latively entertaining, the story as a story is absurd
and impossible, for no children of tailordom could
have kept up the farce of denying their origin,
even when they were known to be what they
were, in the manner of the Harringtons at Beckley
Court; consequently the Countess's plots and bril-
liant generalship become supererogatory. Evan's
quixotic sacrifice in the matter of taking on himself
the onus of his sister's anonymous letter, and his
frequent wilful misunderstandings and renuncia-
tions of Rose are extremely improbable, and provoke
as much exasperation as the follies of Richard

Again the influence of Dickens is apparent in
some exaggeration of character in this book. Jack
Raikes is a fantastic, impossible creature obviously
inspired by Jingle and Simon Tappertit, and only
the Master of Caricature Character could have
rendered him tolerable ; Lawyer Perkins suggests
Perker the lawyer in Pickwick ; and the Cogglesby
Brothers are nearly allied to the Cheeryble Brothers,
Martin Chuzzlewit, Mr Jarndyce, and many other old
gentlemen of conspiratorial benevolence to be found
with beetling brows but twinkling eyes in the great
Boz Gallery. Evan Harrington himself is stilted,
unsympathetic, and remote from real life ; whilst
Laxley, Harry Jocelyn, and George Uploft are so
remarkable for ill-breeding and insolence that one
can only suppose Meredith desirous of paying off



old grudges against some local Hampshire bloods
who may have slighted him in his sensitive youth.
It is only when we get to the feminine characters
of the story that the sun of Meredith's art rises in
full splendour to dazzle the imagination with subtlety
and wit and portraiture in excelsis. The Countess
de Saldar, Mrs Strike, Mrs Mel., Lady Jocelyn,
Juliana Bonner, and Rose — these are no puppets,
they live, each a distinctive personality and vivid

Very realistic and never to be forgotten are the
great scenes of this book. Evan's adventure with
the postillion on the way home to Portsmouth — how
plainly we see the youth, humiliated yet proud,
striding along the white road across the Downs in
the moonlight, the chariot dragging some paces
behind him ; the funereal events at the shop ; the
race on horseback for Rose's handkerchief and the
resulting accident ; the dinner party at Beckley
Court, when the digesting of the Great Mel. proved
too much for Mrs Strike ; the love scene by the little
stream in Beckley Park ; Mrs Mel.'s dramatic arrival
at the picnic ; the scene, of tremendous power,
where Evan wrests from the Countess the fact that
she wrote the anonymous letter, and in humorous
contrast that one where the outwitted Andrew
Cogglesby dines on bankrupt fare and domestic ice ;
and, finally, Evan's renunciation of Rose by the
Park Gates, amid the glamour of a May night in
sharp contrast to lovers' pain. Evan Harrington
would make a fine play, and it is curious that it has
never been dramatised. Meredith is said to have
discouraged the proposal by asking : " To what
English actress would you entrust the part of the
Countess de Saldar ? '' To which one might reply


in these days : " Miss Irene Vanbrugh, or Mrs
Patrick Campbell."

There are some very apt aphorisms in the book,
such as that relating to the great British hunger for
papers and news— second only to that for beef, and
equally acceptable salted, when it cannot be had
fresh — and much that reflects acute observation of
life and manners. But the work betrays ignorance
of the peculiar and arbitrary laws which govern the
expression of English titles. For instance, refer-
ence is made to a Knight Companion of the Bath ;
the daughter of the Earl of Elburne is called " the
Hon. Miss Jocelyn " ; and the Duke of Belfield is
addressed as " My Lord."

As I have already described in my first chapter,
Evan Harrington is very intimately connected with
the family history of the author, who took his own
father for the hero of the story ; introduced the
characteristics, and personal history, to a certain
extent, of three of his aunts ; and painted a very
accurate picture of his grandparents, Mr and Mrs
Melchizedek Meredith and their tailor's shop at 73
High Street, Portsmouth. With this subject I have
dealt fully, but there remain one or two points con-
nected with my grandparents, the originals of Major
and Mrs Strike, that need, in justice to their reputa-
tions, to be put right. For here, it has to be ad-
mitted, Meredith was actuated by a petty and long-
brooded personal animus against his relatives. It
is no easy task to explain briefly how much fact
and how much fiction go to make up the present-
ment of the Strikes, for their creator had the subtlety
of the serpent in blending verities with falsehoods.
He paid full tribute to the beauty of my grand-
mother and her gentle, clinging disposition (Evan

Catherine Math la .Mkkkdiiti (Mi;s. S. B. The
oRiciNAi. oi Mrs. Strike in "Evan Marrixcton"


loved this beautiful creature the best of his three
sisters) ; and it is interesting proof of Meredith's
meticulous detail that he remembered and mentioned
his aunt's one physical defect — rather too prominent
cheek-bones— in the scene where the Countess begs
her sister to dress her hair plain in order that George
Uploft should not recognise her. The habitual
curls and the high cheek-bones of Mrs Strike will
be seen in the portrait of Mrs Ellis reproduced in
this work. Meredith also admits the personal
bravery of my grandfather, but after the statement
that the Officer of Marines married his wife when he
was stationed at Portsmouth, we come mainly to
the realm of fiction. Most certainly this one of
the Daughters of the Shears was not an escaped
Eurydice who never reappeared in the gloomy realms
of Dis, otherwise Trade. The early years of Mrs
Ellis's married life were spent near her old home in
the High Street, first at 1 Algier Place, Alverstoke,
and later in Great Southsea Street, three of her
children being born during this period. The be-
haviour of Major Strike to his wife in the story is
entirely fiction. The Ellis marriage was a moder-
ately happy one (as numerous letters, journals, and
other evidences attest), though there was but little
money ; a large family was brought up on a Major's
pay. It may be superfluous to add that Mrs Ellis
did not contemplate an elopement with a duke, and
did not become a widow. She died at Chatham, in
1847, at the age of fifty- two, four days after her son
Samuel, who was only twenty-two. It is strange
that her simple, well-spent life, devoted to the care
and interests of her children, should have been so
distorted by her nephew, to whom she had shown
many kindnesses in his boyhood. Both she and her


husband, a particularly distinguished soldier, did
their duty, and had many troubles and sorrows.
Fortunately my grandmother died long before the
publication of Evan Harrington ; my grandfather
was still living in 1861, but I do not know if he read
the book.

It may pertinently be asked in what way had
Sir S. B. Ellis offended George Meredith that he
should be the victim of such a bitter attack here,
and also in The Egoist. I have no definite informa-
tion, but only a suggestion to offer. My grandfather
was induced by some speculators to allow his name
to appear as a director of a company formed to run
" The Direct Exeter and Plymouth Railway." The
scheme became a failure in 1852, and involved the
loss of all Sir S. B, Ellis's savings, and also of a large
portion of his income, which had to be allocated for
many years to meet the claims made upon him in
connection with the liabilities of the company. My
theory is that the General may have advised George
Meredith to invest his small maternal inheritance —
or some portion of it — in this unfortunate enter-
prise, and that the loss of the money brought down
upon the uncle his nephew's implacable resentment.
Meredith stated his trustee " had by fraud or folly
squandered the little estate " ; and it will be re-
called that in Evan Harrington there is frequent
reference to a speculating company in which Major
Strike was interested, and that the Duke of Belfield
resigned from the Board owing to the unsatisfactory
condition of affairs. But, as I have said, this is
merely a suggestion, and may be quite unrelated
to the causes which engendered the undoubted
dislike that George Meredith entertained for his


The author's father, Augustus Meredith, was also
living when Evan Harrington was published, and he
read the story of which he was the hero ; though, of
course, most of the incidents of the tale were fictitious
and the character of Evan mainly evolved by the
creative art of George Meredith, who merely utilised
the situation of his father at the time of the Great
Mel.'s death, whilst fully emphasising Augustus
Meredith's dislike for a trade career and his aspira-

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Online LibraryS. M. (Stewart Marsh) EllisGeorge Meredith; his life and friends in relation to his work → online text (page 9 of 23)