Thomas Adolphus Trollope.

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seemed to me to be more in charity with her Creator. The ways of God
to man had become more justified to her; and her outlook as to the
futurity of the world was a more hopeful one. Of course optimism had
with her to be long-sighted! But she seemed to have become reconciled
to the certainty that he who stands on a lofty eminence must needs see
long stretches of dusty road across the plains beneath him.

Nothing could be more enjoyable than the evenings passed by the
_partie carrée_ consisting of herself and Lewes, and my wife and
myself. I am afflicted by hardness of hearing, which shuts me out from
many of the pleasures of society. And George Eliot had that excellency
in woman, a low voice. Yet, partly no doubt by dint of an exertion
which her kindness prompted, but in great measure from the perfection
of her dainty articulation, I was able to hear her more perfectly than
I generally hear anybody. One evening Mr. and Mrs. Du Maurier joined
us. The Lewes's had a great regard for Mr. Du Maurier, and spoke to us
in a most feeling way of the danger which had then recently threatened
the eyesight of that admirable artist. We had music; and Mr. Du
Maurier sang a drinking song, accompanying himself on the piano.
George Eliot had specially asked for this song, saying, I remember, "A
good drinking song is the only form of intemperance I admire!"

I think also that Lewes seemed in higher spirits than when I had
been with him at Florence. But this was no more than an additional
testimony to the fact that _she_ was happier.

She also was, I take it, in better health, for we had some most
delightful walks over the exceptionally beautiful country in the
neighbourhood of their house, to a greater extent than she would, I
think, have been capable of at Florence.

One day we made a most memorable excursion to visit Tennyson at Black
Down. It was the first time I had ever seen him. He walked with us
round his garden, and to a point finely overlooking the country below,
charmingly varied by cultivated land, meadow and woodland. It was
a magnificent day; but as I looked over the landscape I thought I
understood why the woods, which one looks down on from a similar
Italian height, are called _macchie_ - stains, whereas our ordinarily
more picturesque language knows no such term and no such image. In
looking over a wide-spread Italian landscape one is struck by the
accuracy and picturesque truth of the image; but it needs the sun and
the light and the atmosphere of Italy to produce the contrast of light
and shade which justifies the phrase.

Our friends were evidently _personae gratae_ at the court of the
Laureate; and after our walk he gave us the exquisite treat of reading
to us the just completed manuscript of _Rizpah_. And how he read it!
Everybody thinks that he has been impressed by that wonderful poem to
the full extent of the effect that it is capable of producing. They
would be astonished at the increase of weird terror which thrills the
hearer of the poet's own recital of it.

He was very good-natured about it. It was explained to him by George
Eliot that I should not be able to enjoy the reading unless I were
close to him, so he placed me by his side. He detected me availing
myself of that position to use my good eyes as well as my bad ears,
and protested; but on my appeal _ad misrecordiam_, and assurance that
I should so enjoy the promised treat to infinitely greater effect, he
allowed me to look over his shoulder as he read. After _Rizpah_ he
read the _Northern Cobbler_ to us, also with wonderful effect. The
difference between reading the printed lines and hearing them so read
is truly that between looking on a black and white engraving and the
coloured picture from which it has been taken. Another thing also
struck me. The provincial dialect, which, when its peculiarities are
indicated by letters, looks so uncouth as to be sometimes almost
puzzling, seemed to produce no difficulty at all as he read it, though
he in nowise mitigated it in the least. It seemed the absolutely
natural and necessary presentation of the thoughts and emotions to be
rendered. It was, in fact, a dramatic rendering of them of the highest
order.

I remember with equal vividness hearing Lowell read some of his
_Biglow Papers_ in the drawing-room of my valued friend Arthur Dexter,
of Boston, when there were no others present save him and his mother
and my wife and myself. And that also was a great treat; that also was
the addition of colour to the black and white of the printed page. But
the difference between reading and hearing was not so great as in the
case of the Laureate.

When, full of the delight that had been afforded us, we were taking
our leave of him, our host laid on us his strict injunctions to say
no word to any one of what we had heard, adding with a smile that was
half _naïf_, half funning, and wholly comic, "The newspaper fellows,
you know, would get hold of the story, and they would not do it as
well!"

And then our visit to the Lewes's in their lovely home drew to an end,
and we said our farewells, little thinking as we four stood in that
porch, that we should never in this world look on their faces more.

The history of George Eliot's intellect is to a great extent legible
in her books. But there are thousands of her readers in both
hemispheres who would like to possess a more concrete image of her
in their minds - an image which should give back the personal
peculiarities of face, voice, and manner, that made up her outward
form and semblance. I cannot pretend to the power of creating such an
image; but I may record a few traits which will be set down at all
events as truthfully as I can give them.

She was not, as the world in general is aware, a handsome, or even a
personable woman. Her face was long; the eyes not large nor beautiful
in colour - they were, I think, of a greyish blue - the hair, which she
wore in old-fashioned braids coming low down on either side of her
face, of a rather light brown. It was streaked with grey when last I
saw her. Her figure was of middle height, large-boned and powerful.
Lewes often said that she inherited from her peasant ancestors a frame
and constitution originally very robust. Her head was finely formed,
with a noble and well-balanced arch from brow to crown. The lips and
mouth possessed a power of infinitely varied expression. George Lewes
once said to me when I made some observation to the effect that she
had a sweet face (I meant that the face expressed great sweetness),
"You might say what a sweet hundred faces! I look at her sometimes in
amazement. Her countenance is constantly changing." The said lips and
mouth were distinctly sensuous in form and fulness.

She has been compared to the portraits of Savonarola (who was
frightful) and of Dante (who though stern and bitter-looking, was
handsome). _Something_ there was of both faces in George Eliot's
physiognomy. Lewes told us in her presence, of the exclamation uttered
suddenly by some one to whom she was pointed out at a place of public
entertainment - I believe it was at a Monday Popular Concert in St.
James's Hall. "That," said a bystander, "is George Eliot." The
gentleman to whom she was thus indicated gave one swift, searching
look and exclaimed _sotto voce_, "Dante's aunt!" Lewes thought this
happy, and he recognised the kind of likeness that was meant to the
great singer of the _Divine Comedy_. She herself playfully disclaimed
any resemblance to Savonarola. But, although such resemblance was very
distant - Savonarola's peculiarly unbalanced countenance being a strong
caricature of hers - some likeness there was.

Her speaking voice was, I think, one of the most beautiful I ever
heard, and she used it _conscientiously_, if I may say so. I mean that
she availed herself of its modulations to give thrilling emphasis to
what was profound in her utterances, and sweetness to what was gentle
or playful. She bestowed great care too on her enunciation, disliking
the slipshod mode of pronouncing which is so common. I have several
times heard her declare with enthusiasm that ours is a beautiful
language, a noble language even to the ear, when properly spoken; and
imitate with disgust the short, _snappy_, inarticulate way in which
many people utter it. There was no touch of pedantry or affectation in
her own measured, careful speech, although I can well imagine that she
might have been accused of both by those persons - unfortunately more
numerous than could be desired - who seem to take it for granted that
_all_ difference from one's neighbour, and especially a difference in
the direction of superiority, must be affected.

It has been thought by some persons that the influence of George Henry
Lewes on her literary work was not a fortunate one, that he fostered
too much the scientific bent of her mind to the detriment of its
artistic richness. I do not myself hold this opinion. I am even
inclined to think that but for his companionship and encouragement she
might possibly never have written fiction at all. It is, I believe,
impossible to over-estimate the degree to which the sunshine of
his complete and understanding sympathy and his adoring affection
developed her literary powers. She has written something to this
effect - perhaps more than once; I have not her biography at hand at
this moment for reference - in a letter to Miss Sara Hennell. And no
one who saw them together in anything like intimate intercourse could
doubt that it was true. As I have said before, Lewes worshipped
her, and it is considered a somewhat unwholesome experience to be
worshipped. Fortunately the process is not so common as to constitute
one of the dangers of life for the average human being! But in George
Eliot's case I really believe the process was not deleterious. Her
nature was at once stimulated and steadied by Lewes's boundless faith
in her powers, and boundless admiration for their manifestation. Nor
was it a case of sitting like an idol to be praised and incensed. Her
own mental attitude towards Lewes was one of warm admiration. She
thought most highly of his scientific attainments, whether well
foundedly or mistakenly I cannot pretend to gauge with accuracy. But
she also admired and enjoyed the sparkling brightness of his talk,
and the dramatic vivacity with which he entered into conversation and
discussion, grave or gay. And on these points I may venture to record
my opinion that she was quite right. I always used to think that the
touch of Bohemianism about Lewes had a special charm for her. It must
have offered so piquant a contrast with the middle-class surroundings
of her early life. I observed that she listened with great complacency
to his talk of theatrical things and people. Lewes was fond of
talking about acting and actors, and in telling stories of
celebrated theatrical personages, would imitate - half involuntarily
perhaps - their voice and manner. I remember especially his doing this
with reference to Macready.

Both of them loved music extremely. It was a curious, and, to me,
rather pathetic study to watch Lewes - a man naturally self-sufficient
(I do not use the word in any odious sense), of a combative turn of
intellect, and with scarcely any diffidence in his nature - so humbly
admitting, and even insisting upon, "Polly's" superiority to himself
in every department. Once when he was walking with my wife in the
garden of their house in Surrey, she turned the conversation which had
been touching other topics to speak of George Eliot. "Oh," said Lewes,
stopping short and looking at her with those bright eyes of his,
"_Your blood be on your own head_! I didn't begin it; but if you wish
to speak of her, _I_ am always ready." It was this complete candour,
and the genuineness of his admiring love for her, which made its
manifestations delightful, and freed them from offence.




CHAPTER XVI.


I have a great many letters from G.H. Lewes, and from George Eliot.
Many of the latter are addressed to my wife. And many, especially of
those from Lewes, relating as they do mainly to matters of literary
business, though always containing characteristic touches, are not of
sufficient general interest to make it worth while to transcribe them
for publication. In no case is there any word in any of them that
would make it expedient to withhold them on any other ground. I might
perhaps have introduced them into my narrative as nearly as possible
at the times to which chronologically they refer. But it has seemed to
me so probable that there may be many readers who may be glad of an
opportunity of seeing these letters without feeling disposed to give
their time to the rest of these volumes, that I have thought it best
to throw them together in this place.

I will begin with one written from Blandford Square, by George Eliot
to me, which is of great interest. It bears no date whatever, save
that of place; but the subject of it dates it with considerable
accuracy.

* * * * *

"DEAR MR. TROLLOPE, - I am very grateful to you for your notes.
Concerning _netto di specchio_, I have found a passage in Varchi which
decides the point according to _your_ impression." [Passages equally
decisive might be found _passim_ in the old Florentine historians.
And I ought to have referred her to them. But as she had altogether
mistaken the meaning of the phrase, I had insinuated my correction as
little presumptuously as I could.]

"My inference had been gathered from the vague use of the term to
express disqualification [_i.e._ NON _netto di specchio_ expressed
disqualification]. But I find from Varchi, b. viii. that the
_specchio_ in question was a public book, in which the names of all
debtors to the _Commune_ were entered. Thus your doubt [no doubt at
all!] has been a very useful caveat to me.

"Concerning the Bardi, my authority for making them originally
_popolani_ is G. Villani. He says, c. xxxix., '_e gia cominciavano
a venire possenti i Frescobaldi e Bardi e Mozzi_ ma di piccolo
cominciamento.' And c. lxxxi. '_e questi furono le principale case
de Guelfi che uscirono di Firenze. Del Sesto d' Oltr' Arno, i Rossi,
Nerli, e parte de' Manelli, Bardi, e Frescobaldi de' Popoloni dal
detto Sesto_, case nobili _Canigiani_,' &c. These passages corrected
my previous impression that they were originally Lombard nobles.

[It needs some familiarity with the Florentine chroniclers to
understand that the words quoted by no means indicate that the
families named were not of patrician origin. "There walked into the
lobby with the Radicals, Lord - - and Mr. - - ," would just as much
prove that the persons named had not belonged to the class of
landowners. But the passage is interesting as showing the great care
she took to make her Italian novel historically accurate. And it is to
be remembered that she came to the subject absolutely new to it. She
would have known otherwise, that the _Case_ situated in the Oltr'
Arno quarter, were almost all noble. That ward of the city was the
Florentine _quartier St. Germain_.]

"Concerning the phrase _in piazza_, and _in mercato_, my choice of
them was partly founded on the colloquial usage as represented by
Sacchetti, whose dialogue is intensely idiomatic. Also _in piazza_ is,
I believe, used by the historians (I think even by Macchiavelli), when
speaking of popular _turn-outs_. The ellipse took my fancy because of
its colloquial stamp. But I gather from your objection that it seems
too barbarous in a modern Italian ear. Will you whisper your final
opinion in Mr. Lewes's ear on Monday?

[I do not remember what the ellipse in question was. As regards the
use of the phrase _in piazza_ she is perfectly right. The term keeps
the same meaning to the present day, and is equivalent in political
language to _the street_.]

"_Boto_ was used on similar grounds, and as it is recognised by the
_Voc. della, Crusca_, I think I may venture to keep it, having a
weakness for those indications of the processes by which language is
modified.

[_Boto_ for _voto_ is a Florentinism which may be heard to the present
day, though the vast majority of strangers would never hear it, or
understand it if they did. George Eliot no doubt met with it in some
of those old chroniclers who wrote exactly as not only the lower
orders, but the generality of their fellow citizens, were speaking
around them. And her use of it testifies to the minuteness of her
care to reproduce the form and pressure of the time of which she was
writing.]

"Once more thank you, though my gratitude is in danger of looking too
much like a lively sense of anticipated favours, for I mean to ask you
to take other trouble yet.

"Yours very truly,

"MARION E. LEWES."

* * * * *

The following letter, written from Blandford Square on the 5th July,
1861, is, as regards the first three pages, from him, and the last
from her.

* * * * *

"MY DEAR TROLLOPE, - We have now read _La Beata_ [my first novel], and
must tell you how charmed we have been with it. _Nina_ herself is
perfectly exquisite and individual, and her story is full of poetry
and pathos. Also one feels a breath from the Val d'Arno rustling amid
the pages, and a sense of Florentine life, such as one rarely gets out
of books. The critical objection I should make to it, apart from minor
points, is that often you spoil the artistic attitude by adopting
a critical antagonistic attitude, by which I mean that instead of
painting the thing objectively, you present it critically, _with an
eye to the opinions_ likely to be formed by certain readers; thus,
instead of relying on the simple presentation of the fact of Nina's
innocence you _call up_ the objection you desire to anticipate by side
glances at the worldly and 'knowing' reader's opinions. In a word
I feel as if you were not engrossed by your subject, but were
sufficiently aloof from it to contemplate it as a spectator, which is
an error in art. Many of the remarks are delicately felt and finely
written. The whole book comes from a noble nature, and so it impresses
the reader. But I may tell you what Mrs. Carlyle said last night,
which will in some sense corroborate what I have said. In her opinion
you would have done better to make two books of it, one the love
story, and one a description of Florentine life. She admires the book
very much I should add. Now, although I cannot by any means agree
with that criticism of hers, I fancy the origin of it was some such
feeling, as I have endeavoured to indicate in saying you are often
critical when you should be simply objective.

"We had a pleasant journey home over the St. Gothard, and found our
boy very well and happy at Hofwyl, and our bigger boy _ditto_ awaiting
us here. Polly is very well, and as you may imagine talks daily of
Florence and our delightful trip, our closer acquaintance with you and
yours being among the most delightful of our reminiscences.

"Yesterday Anthony dined with us, and as he had never seen Carlyle he
was glad to go down with us to tea at Chelsea. Carlyle had read and
_agreed_ with the West Indian book, and the two got on very well
together; both Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle liking Anthony, and I suppose
it was reciprocal, though I did not see him afterwards to hear what he
thought. He had to run away to catch his train.

"He told us of the sad news of Mrs. Browning's death. Poor Browning!
That was my first, and remains my constant reflection. When people
love each other and have lived together any time they ought to die
together. For myself I should not care in the least about dying. The
dreadful thing to me would be to live after losing, if I should ever
lose, the one who has made life for me. Of course you who all knew and
valued her will feel the loss, but I cannot think of anybody's grief
but his.

"The next page must be left for Polly's postscript, so I shall only
send my kindest regards and wishes to Mrs. Trollope and the biggest of
kisses to _la cantatrice_" [my poor girl Bice!].

"Ever faithfully yours,

"G.H. LEWES."

* * * * *

"DEAR MRS. TROLLOPE, - While I am reading _La Beata_ I constantly feel
as if Mr. Trollope were present telling it all to me _vivâ voce_. It
seems to me more thoroughly and fully like himself than any of his
other books. And in spite of our having had the most of his society
away from you" [on our Camaldoli excursion] "you are always part of
his presence to me in a hovering aerial fashion. So it seems quite
natural that a letter addressed to him should have a postscript
addressed to you. Pray reckon it amongst the good you do in this
world, that you come very often into our thoughts and conversation.
We see comparatively so few people that we are apt to recur to
recollections of those we like best with almost childish frequency,
and a little fresh news about you would be a welcome variety,
especially the news that you had quite shaken off that spine
indisposition which was still clinging to you that last morning when
we said our good-byes. We have enough knowledge about you and your
world to interpret all the details you can give us. But our words
about our own home doings would be very vague and colourless to you.
You must always imagine us coming to see you and wanting to know as
much about you as we can, and like a charming hostess gratify that
want. I must thank you for the account of Cavour in _The Athenaeum_,
which stirred me strongly. I am afraid I have what _The Saturday
Review_ would call 'a morbid delight in deathbeds' - not having reached
that lofty superiority which considers it bad taste to allude to them.

"How is Beatrice, the blessed and blessing? That will always be a
history to interest us - how her brown hair darkens, how her voice
deepens and strengthens, and how you get more and more delight in her.
I need send no separate message to Mr. Trollope, before I say that

"I am always yours, with lively remembrance,

"MARION E. LEWES."

* * * * *

It needed George Eliot's fine and minute handwriting to put all this
into one page of note-paper.

The next letter that came from Blandford Square, dated 9th December,
1861, was also a joint one, the larger portion of which however is
from her pen.

* * * * *

"DEAR GOOD PEOPLE, - If your ears burn as often as you are talked about
in this house, there must be an unpleasant amount of aural circulation
to endure! And as the constant _refrain_ is, 'Really we must write to
them, that they may not altogether slip away from us,' I have this
morning screwed my procrastination to the writing-desk.

"First and foremost let us know how you are, and what are the results
of the bathing. Then a word as to the new novel, or any other work,
will be acceptable. I lend about _La Beata_ in all good quarters, and
always hear golden opinions from all sorts of people. Of course you
hear from Anthony.

"Is he prosperous and enjoying his life? The book will have an enormous
sale just now; but I fancy he will find more animosity and less
friendliness than he expected, to judge from the state of exasperation
against the Britisher, which seems to be general.

"We have been pursuing the even baritone - I wish I could say tenor - of
our way. My health became seriously alarming in September, so we went
off to Malvern for a fortnight; and there the mountain air, exercise,
and regular diet set me up, so that I have been in better training for
work than I had been for a long while. Polly has not been strong, yet
not materially amiss. But as she will add a postscript to this I shall
leave her to speak for herself.

"In your (T.A.T.) book huntings, if you could lay your hand on a copy
of Hermolaus Barbarus, _Compendium Scientiae Naturalis_, 1553, or any
of Telesio's works, think of me and pounce on them. I was going to
bother you about the new edition of Galileo, but fortunately I fell in
with the Milan edition cheap, and contented myself with that. Do you
know what there is _new_ in the Florentine edition? I suppose you
possess it, as you do so many enviable books.

"We heard the other day that Miss Blagden had come to stay in London
for the winter, so Polly sent a message to her to say how glad we
should be to see her. If she comes she will bring us some account of
_casa_ Trollope. When you next pass Giotto's tower salute it for me;
it is one of my dearest Florentines, and always beckoning to us to
come back.

"Ever your faithful friend,

"G.H. LEWES."

* * * * *


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Online LibraryThomas Adolphus TrollopeWhat I Remember, Volume 2 → online text (page 18 of 24)