Famous Affinities of History (Complete)
Part 7 out of 8
To the very end of the poet's brief career they were inseparable.
Later he was able to pension Harriet, who, being of a morbid
disposition, ended her life by drowning--not, it may be said,
because of grief for Shelley. It has been told that Fanny Imlay,
Mary's sister, likewise committed suicide because Shelley did not
care for her, but this has also been disproved. There was really
nothing to mar the inner happiness of the poet and the woman who,
at the very end, became his wife. Living, as they did, in Italy
and Switzerland, they saw much of their own countrymen, such as
Landor and Leigh Hunt and Byron, to whose fascinations poor Miss
Clairmont yielded, and became the mother of the little girl
But there could have been no truer union than this of Shelley's
with the woman whom nature had intended for him. It was in his
love-life, far more than in his poetry, that he attained
completeness. When he died by drowning, in 1822, and his body was
burned in the presence of Lord Byron, he was truly mourned by the
one whom he had only lately made his wife. As a poet he never
reached the same perfection; for his genius was fitful and
uncertain, rare in its flights, and mingled always with that which
As the lover and husband of Mary Godwin, there was nothing left to
wish. In his verse, however, the truest word concerning him will
always be that exquisite sentence of Matthew Arnold:
"A beautiful and ineffectual angel beating his luminous wings
against the void in vain."
THE STORY OF THE CARLYLES
To most persons, Tennyson was a remote and romantic figure. His
homes in the Isle of Wight and at Aldworth had a dignified
seclusion about them which was very appropriate to so great a
poet, and invested him with a certain awe through which the
multitude rarely penetrated. As a matter of fact, however, he was
an excellent companion, a ready talker, and gifted with so much
wit that it is a pity that more of his sayings have not been
preserved to us.
One of the best known is that which was drawn from him after he
and a number of friends had been spending an hour in company with
Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. The two Carlyles were unfortunately at their
worst, and gave a superb specimen of domestic "nagging." Each
caught up whatever the other said, and either turned it into
ridicule, or tried to make the author of it an object of contempt.
This was, of course, exceedingly uncomfortable for such strangers
as were present, and it certainly gave no pleasure to their
friends. On leaving the house, some one said to Tennyson:
"Isn't it a pity that such a couple ever married?"
"No, no," said Tennyson, with a sort of smile under his rough
beard. "It's much better that two people should be made unhappy
The world has pretty nearly come around to the verdict of the poet
laureate. It is not probable that Thomas Carlyle would have made
any woman happy as his wife, or that Jane Baillie Welsh would have
made any man happy as her husband.
This sort of speculation would never have occurred had not Mr.
Froude, in the early eighties, given his story about the Carlyles
to the world. Carlyle went to his grave, an old man, highly
honored, and with no trail of gossip behind him. His wife had died
some sixteen years before, leaving a brilliant memory. The books
of Mr. Froude seemed for a moment to have desecrated the grave,
and to have shed a sudden and sinister light upon those who could
not make the least defense for themselves.
For a moment, Carlyle seemed to have been a monster of harshness,
cruelty, and almost brutish feeling. On the other side, his wife
took on the color of an evil-speaking, evil-thinking shrew, who
tormented the life of her husband, and allowed herself to be
possessed by some demon of unrest and discontent, such as few
women of her station are ever known to suffer from.
Nor was it merely that the two were apparently ill-mated and
unhappy with each other. There were hints and innuendos which
looked toward some hidden cause for this unhappiness, and which
aroused the curiosity of every one. That they might be clearer,
Froude afterward wrote a book, bringing out more plainly--indeed,
too plainly--his explanation of the Carlyle family skeleton. A
multitude of documents then came from every quarter, and from
almost every one who had known either of the Carlyles. Perhaps the
result to-day has been more injurious to Froude than to the two
Many persons unjustly speak of Froude as having violated the
confidence of his friends in publishing the letters of Mr. and
Mrs. Carlyle. They take no heed of the fact that in doing this he
was obeying Carlyle's express wishes, left behind in writing, and
often urged on Froude while Carlyle was still alive. Whether or
not Froude ought to have accepted such a trust, one may perhaps
hesitate to decide. That he did so is probably because he felt
that if he refused, Carlyle might commit the same duty to another,
who would discharge it with less delicacy and less discretion.
As it is, the blame, if it rests upon any one, should rest upon
Carlyle. He collected the letters. He wrote the lines which burn
and scorch with self-reproach. It is he who pressed upon the
reluctant Froude the duty of printing and publishing a series of
documents which, for the most part, should never have been
published at all, and which have done equal harm to Carlyle, to
his wife, and to Froude himself.
Now that everything has been written that is likely to be written
by those claiming to possess personal knowledge of the subject,
let us take up the volumes, and likewise the scattered fragments,
and seek to penetrate the mystery of the most ill-assorted couple
known to modern literature.
It is not necessary to bring to light, and in regular order, the
external history of Thomas Carlyle, or of Jane Baillie Welsh, who
married him. There is an extraordinary amount of rather fanciful
gossip about this marriage, and about the three persons who had to
do with it.
Take first the principal figure, Thomas Carlyle. His life until
that time had been a good deal more than the life of an ordinary
country-man. Many persons represent him as a peasant; but he was
descended from the ancient lords of a Scottish manor. There was
something in his eye, and in the dominance of his nature, that
made his lordly nature felt. Mr. Froude notes that Carlyle's hand
was very small and unusually well shaped. Nor had his earliest
appearance as a young man been commonplace, in spite of the fact
that his parents were illiterate, so that his mother learned to
read only after her sons had gone away to Edinburgh, in order that
she might be able to enjoy their letters.
At that time in Scotland, as in Puritan New England, in each
family the son who had the most notable "pairts" was sent to the
university that he might become a clergyman. If there were a
second son, he became an advocate or a doctor of medicine, while
the sons of less distinction seldom went beyond the parish school,
but settled down as farmers, horse-dealers, or whatever might
happen to come their way.
In the case of Thomas Carlyle, nature marked him out for something
brilliant, whatever that might be. His quick sensibility, the way
in which he acquired every sort of learning, his command of logic,
and, withal, his swift, unerring gift of language, made it certain
from the very first that he must be sent to the university as soon
as he had finished school, and could afford to go.
At Edinburgh, where he matriculated in his fourteenth year, he
astonished every one by the enormous extent of his reading, and by
the firm hold he kept upon it. One hesitates to credit these so-
called reminiscences which tell how he absorbed mountains of Greek
and immense quantities of political economy and history and
sociology and various forms of metaphysics, as every Scotsman is
bound to do. That he read all night is a common story told of many
a Scottish lad at college. We may believe, however, that Carlyle
studied and read as most of his fellow students did, but far
beyond them, in extent.
When he had completed about half of his divinity course, he
assured himself that he was not intended for the life of a
clergyman. One who reads his mocking sayings, or what seemed to be
a clever string of jeers directed against religion, might well
think that Carlyle was throughout his life an atheist, or an
agnostic. He confessed to Irving that he did not believe in the
Christian religion, and it was vain to hope that he ever would so
Moreover, Carlyle had done something which was unusual at that
time. He had taught in several local schools; but presently he
came back to Edinburgh and openly made literature his profession.
It was a daring thing to do; but Carlyle had unbounded confidence
in himself--the confidence of a giant, striding forth into a
forest, certain that he can make his way by sheer strength through
the tangled meshes and the knotty branches that he knows will meet
him and try to beat him back. Furthermore, he knew how to live on
very little; he was unmarried; and he felt a certain ardor which
beseemed his age and gifts.
Through the kindness of friends, he received some commissions to
write in various books of reference; and in 1824, when he was
twenty-nine years of age, he published a translation of Legendre's
Geometry. In the same year he published, in the London Magazine,
his Life of Schiller, and also his translation of Goethe's Wilhelm
Meister. This successful attack upon the London periodicals and
reviews led to a certain complication with the other two
characters in this story. It takes us to Jane Welsh, and also to
Irving was three years older than Carlyle. The two men were
friends, and both of them had been teaching in country schools,
where both of them had come to know Miss Welsh. Irving's seniority
gave him a certain prestige with the younger men, and naturally
with Miss Welsh. He had won honors at the university, and now, as
assistant to the famous Dr. Chalmers, he carried his silk robes in
the jaunty fashion of one who has just ceased to be an
undergraduate. While studying, he met Miss Welsh at Haddington,
and there became her private instructor.
This girl was regarded in her native town as something of a
personage. To read what has been written of her, one might suppose
that she was almost a miracle of birth and breeding, and of
intellect as well. As a matter of fact, in the little town of
Haddington she was simply prima inter pares. Her father was the
local doctor, and while she had a comfortable home, and doubtless
a chaise at her disposal, she was very far from the "opulence"
which Carlyle, looking up at her from his lowlier surroundings,
was accustomed to ascribe to her. She was, no doubt, a very clever
girl; and, judging from the portraits taken of her at about this
time, she was an exceedingly pretty one, with beautiful eyes and
an abundance of dark glossy hair.
Even then, however, Miss Welsh had traits which might have made it
certain that she would be much more agreeable as a friend than as
a wife. She had become an intellectuelle quite prematurely--at an
age, in fact, when she might better have been thinking of other
things than the inwardness of her soul, or the folly of religious
Even as a young girl, she was beset by a desire to criticize and
to ridicule almost everything and every one that she encountered.
It was only when she met with something that she could not
understand, or some one who could do what she could not, that she
became comparatively humble. Unconsciously, her chief ambition was
to be herself distinguished, and to marry some one who could be
more distinguished still.
When she first met Edward Irving, she looked up to him as her
superior in many ways. He was a striking figure in her small
world. He was known in Edinburgh as likely to be a man of mark;
and, of course, he had had a careful training in many subjects of
which she, as yet, knew very little. Therefore, insensibly, she
fell into a sort of admiration for Irving--an admiration which
might have been transmuted into love. Irving, on his side, was
taken by the young girl's beauty, her vivacity, and the keenness
of her intellect. That he did not at once become her suitor is
probably due to the fact that he had already engaged himself to a
Miss Martin, of whom not much is known.
It was about this time, however, that Carlyle became acquainted
with Miss Welsh. His abundant knowledge, his original and striking
manner of commenting on it, his almost gigantic intellectual
power, came to her as a revelation. Her studies with Irving were
now interwoven with her admiration for Carlyle.
Since Irving was a clergyman, and Miss Welsh had not the slightest
belief in any form of theology, there was comparatively little
that they had in common. On the other hand, when she saw the
profundities of Carlyle, she at once half feared, and was half
fascinated. Let her speak to him on any subject, and he would at
once thunder forth some striking truth, or it might be some
puzzling paradox; but what he said could never fail to interest
her and to make her think. He had, too, an infinite sense of
humor, often whimsical and shot through with sarcasm.
It is no wonder that Miss Welsh was more and more infatuated with
the nature of Carlyle. If it was her conscious wish to marry a man
whom she could reverence as a master, where should she find him--
in Irving or in Carlyle?
Irving was a dreamer, a man who, she came to see, was thoroughly
one-sided, and whose interests lay in a different sphere from
hers. Carlyle, on the other hand, had already reached out beyond
the little Scottish capital, and had made his mark in the great
world of London, where men like De Quincey and Jeffrey thought it
worth their while to run a tilt with him. Then, too, there was the
fascination of his talk, in which Jane Welsh found a perpetual
source of interest:
The English have never had an artist, except in poetry; no
musician; no painter. Purcell and Hogarth are not exceptions, or
only such as confirm the rule.
Is the true Scotchman the peasant and yeoman--chiefly the former?
Every living man is a visible mystery; he walks between two
eternities and two infinitudes. Were we not blind as molea we
should value our humanity at infinity, and our rank, influence and
so forth--the trappings of our humanity--at nothing. Say I am a
man, and you say all. Whether king or tinker is a mere appendix.
Understanding is to reason as the talent of a beaver--which can
build houses, and uses its tail for a trowel--to the genius of a
prophet and poet. Reason is all but extinct in this age; it can
never be altogether extinguished.
The devil has his elect.
Is anything more wonderful than another, if you consider it
maturely? I have seen no men rise from the dead; I have seen some
thousands rise from nothing. I have not force to fly into the sun,
but I have force to lift my hand, which is equally strange.
Is not every thought properly an inspiration? Or how is one thing
more inspired than another?
Examine by logic the import of thy life, and of all lives. What is
it? A making of meal into manure, and of manure into meal. To the
cui bono there is no answer from logic.
In many ways Jane Welsh found the difference of range between
Carlyle and Irving. At one time, she asked Irving about some
German works, and he was obliged to send her to Carlyle to solve
her difficulties. Carlyle knew German almost as well as if he had
been born in Dresden; and the full and almost overflowing way in
which he answered her gave her another impression of his potency.
Thus she weighed the two men who might become her lovers, and
little by little she came to think of Irving as partly shallow and
partly narrow-minded, while Carlyle loomed up more of a giant than
It is not probable that she was a woman who could love profoundly.
She thought too much about herself. She was too critical. She had
too intense an ambition for "showing off." I can imagine that in
the end she made her choice quite coolly. She was flattered by
Carlyle's strong preference for her. She was perhaps repelled by
Irving's engagement to another woman; yet at the time few persons
thought that she had chosen well.
Irving had now gone to London, and had become the pastor of the
Caledonian chapel in Hatton Garden. Within a year, by the
extraordinary power of his eloquence, which, was in a style
peculiar to himself, he had transformed an obscure little chapel
into one which was crowded by the rich and fashionable. His
congregation built for him a handsome edifice on Regent Square,
and he became the leader of a new cult, which looked to a second
personal advent of Christ. He cared nothing for the charges of
heresy which were brought against him; and when he was deposed his
congregation followed him, and developed a new Christian order,
known as Irvingism.
Jane Welsh, in her musings, might rightfully have compared the two
men and the future which each could give her. Did she marry
Irving, she was certain of a life of ease in London, and an
association with men and women of fashion and celebrity, among
whom she could show herself to be the gifted woman that she was.
Did she marry Carlyle, she must go with him to a desolate, wind-
beaten cottage, far away from any of the things she cared for,
working almost as a housemaid, having no company save that of her
husband, who was already a dyspeptic, and who was wont to speak of
feeling as if a rat were tearing out his stomach.
Who would have said that in going with Carlyle she had made the
better choice? Any one would have said it who knew the three--
Irving, Carlyle, and Jane Welsh.
She had the penetration to be certain that whatever Irving might
possess at present, it would be nothing in comparison to what
Carlyle would have in the coming future. She understood the
limitations of Irving, but to her keen mind the genius of Carlyle
was unlimited; and she foresaw that, after he had toiled and
striven, he would come into his great reward, which she would
share. Irving might be the leader of a petty sect, but Carlyle
would be a man whose name must become known throughout the world.
And so, in 1826, she had made her choice, and had become the bride
of the rough-spoken, domineering Scotsman who had to face the
world with nothing but his creative brain and his stubborn
independence. She had put aside all immediate thought of London
and its lures; she was going to cast in her lot with Carlyle's,
largely as a matter of calculation, and believing that she had
made the better choice.
She was twenty-six and Carlyle was thirty-two when, after a brief
residence in Edinburgh, they went down to Craigenputtock. Froude
has described this place as the dreariest spot in the British
The nearest cottage is more than a mile from it; the elevation,
seven hundred feet above the sea, stunts the trees and limits the
garden produce; the house is gaunt and hungry-looking. It stands,
with the scanty fields attached, as an island in a sea of morass.
The landscape is unredeemed by grace or grandeur--mere undulating
hills of grass and heather, with peat bogs in the hollows between
Froude's grim description has been questioned by some; yet the
actual pictures that have been drawn of the place in later years
make it look bare, desolate, and uninviting. Mrs. Carlyle, who
owned it as an inheritance from her father, saw the place for the
first time in March, 1828. She settled there in May; but May, in
the Scottish hills, is almost as repellent as winter. She herself
shrank from the adventure which she had proposed. It was her
husband's notion, and her own, that they should live there in
practical solitude. He was to think and write, and make for
himself a beginning of real fame; while she was to hover over him
and watch his minor comforts.
It seemed to many of their friends that the project was quixotic
to a degree. Mrs. Carlyle delicate health, her weak chest, and the
beginning of a nervous disorder, made them think that she was
unfit to dwell in so wild and bleak a solitude. They felt, too,
that Carlyle was too much absorbed with his own thought to be
trusted with the charge of a high-spirited woman.
However, the decision had been made, and the newly married couple
went to Craigenputtock, with wagons that carried their household
goods and those of Carlyle's brother, Alexander, who lived in a
cottage near by. These were the two redeeming features of their
lonely home--the presence of Alexander Carlyle, and the fact that,
although they had no servants in the ordinary sense, there were
several farmhands and a dairy-maid.
Before long there came a period of trouble, which is easily
explained by what has been already said. Carlyle, thinking and
writing some of the most beautiful things that he ever thought or
wrote, could not make allowance for his wife's high spirit and
physical weakness. She, on her side--nervous, fitful, and hard to
please--thought herself a slave, the servant of a harsh and brutal
master. She screamed at him when her nerves were too unstrung; and
then, with a natural reaction, she called herself "a devil who
could never be good enough for him." But most of her letters were
harsh and filled with bitterness, and, no doubt, his conduct to
her was at times no better than her own.
But it was at Craigenputtock that he really did lay fast and firm
the road to fame. His wife's sharp tongue, and the gnawings of his
own dyspepsia, were lived down with true Scottish grimness. It was
here that he wrote some of his most penetrating and sympathetic
essays, which were published by the leading reviews of England and
Scotland. Here, too, he began to teach his countrymen the value of
The most remarkable of his productions was that strange work
entitled Sartor Resartus (1834), an extraordinary mixture of the
sublime and the grotesque. The book quivers and shakes with tragic
pathos, with inward agonies, with solemn aspirations, and with
In 1834, after six years at Craigenputtock, the Carlyles moved to
London, and took up their home in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, a far from
fashionable retreat, but one in which the comforts of life could
be more readily secured. It was there that Thomas Carlyle wrote
what must seem to us the most vivid of all his books, the History
of the French Revolution. For this he had read and thought for
many years; parts of it he had written in essays, and parts of it
he had jotted down in journals. But now it came forth, as some one
has said, "a truth clad in hell-fire," swirling amid clouds and
flames and mist, a most wonderful picture of the accumulated
social and political falsehoods which preceded the revolution, and
which were swept away by a nemesis that was the righteous judgment
Carlyle never wrote so great a book as this. He had reached his
middle style, having passed the clarity of his early writings, and
not having yet reached the thunderous, strange-mouthed German
expletives which marred his later work. In the French Revolution
he bursts forth, here and there, into furious Gallic oaths and
Gargantuan epithets; yet this apocalypse of France seems more true
than his hero-worshiping of old Frederick of Prussia, or even of
All these days Thomas Carlyle lived a life which was partly one of
seclusion and partly one of pleasure. At all times he and his
dark-haired wife had their own sets, and mingled with their own
friends. Jane had no means of discovering just whether she would
have been happier with Irving; for Irving died while she was still
digging potatoes and complaining of her lot at Craigenputtock.
However this may be, the Carlyles, man and wife, lived an
existence that was full of unhappiness and rancor. Jane Carlyle
became an invalid, and sought to allay her nervous sufferings with
strong tea and tobacco and morphin. When a nervous woman takes to
morphin, it almost always means that she becomes intensely
jealous; and so it was with Jane Carlyle.
A shivering, palpitating, fiercely loyal bit of humanity, she took
it into her head that her husband was infatuated with Lady
Ashburton, or that Lady Ashburton was infatuated with him. She
took to spying on them, and at times, when her nerves were all a
jangle, she would lie back in her armchair and yell with paroxysms
of anger. On the other hand, Carlyle, eager to enjoy the world,
sought relief from his household cares, and sometimes stole away
after a fashion that was hardly guileless. He would leave false
addresses at his house, and would dine at other places than he had
In 1866 Jane Carlyle suddenly died; and somehow, then, the
conscience of Thomas Carlyle became convinced that he had wronged
the woman whom he had really loved. His last fifteen years were
spent in wretchedness and despair. He felt that he had committed
the unpardonable sin. He recalled with anguish every moment of
their early life at Craigenputtock--how she had toiled for him,
and waited upon him, and made herself a slave; and how, later, she
had given herself up entirely to him, while he had thoughtlessly
received the sacrifice, and trampled on it as on a bed of flowers.
Of course, in all this he was intensely morbid, and the diary
which he wrote was no more sane and wholesome than the screamings
with which his wife had horrified her friends. But when he had
grown to be a very old man, he came to feel that this was all a
sort of penance, and that the selfishness of his past must be
expiated in the future. Therefore, he gave his diary to his
friend, the historian, Froude, and urged him to publish the
letters and memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle. Mr. Froude, with an
eye to the reading world, readily did so, furnishing them with
abundant footnotes, which made Carlyle appear to the world as
more or less of a monster.
First, there was set forth the almost continual unhappiness of the
pair. In the second place, by hint, by innuendo, and sometimes by
explicit statement, there were given reasons to show why Carlyle
made his wife unhappy. Of course, his gnawing dyspepsia, which she
strove with all her might to drive away, was one of the first and
greatest causes. But again another cause of discontent was stated
in the implication that Carlyle, in his bursts of temper, actually
abused his wife. In one passage there is a hint that certain blue
marks upon her arm were bruises, the result of blows.
Most remarkable of all these accusations is that which has to do
with the relations of Carlyle and Lady Ashburton. There is no
doubt that Jane Carlyle disliked this brilliant woman, and came to
have dark suspicions concerning her. At first, it was only a sort
of social jealousy. Lady Ashburton was quite as clever a talker as
Mrs. Carlyle, and she had a prestige which brought her more
Then, by degrees, as Jane Carlyle's mind began to wane, she
transferred her jealousy to her husband himself. She hated to be
out-shone, and now, in some misguided fashion, it came into her
head that Carlyle had surrendered to Lady Ashburton his own
attention to his wife, and had fallen in love with her brilliant
On one occasion, she declared that Lady Ashburton had thrown
herself at Carlyle's feet, but that Carlyle had acted like a man
of honor, while Lord Ashburton, knowing all the facts, had passed
them over, and had retained his friendship with Carlyle.
Now, when Froude came to write My Relations with Carlyle, there
were those who were very eager to furnish him with every sort of
gossip. The greatest source of scandal upon which he drew was a
woman named Geraldine Jewsbury, a curious neurotic creature, who
had seen much of the late Mrs. Carlyle, but who had an almost
morbid love of offensive tattle. Froude describes himself as a
witness for six years, at Cheyne Row, "of the enactment of a
tragedy as stern and real as the story of Oedipus." According to
his own account:
I stood by, consenting to the slow martyrdom of a woman whom I
have described as bright and sparkling and tender, and I uttered
no word of remonstrance. I saw her involved in a perpetual
blizzard, and did nothing to shelter her.
But it is not upon his own observations that Froude relies for his
most sinister evidence against his friend. To him comes Miss
Jewsbury with a lengthy tale to tell. It is well to know what Mrs.
Carlyle thought of this lady. She wrote:
It is her besetting sin, and her trade of novelist has aggravated
it--the desire of feeling and producing violent emotions. ...
Geraldine has one besetting weakness; she is never happy unless
she has a grande passion on hand.
There were strange manifestations on the part of Miss Jewsbury
toward Mrs. Carlyle. At one time, when Mrs. Carlyle had shown some
preference for another woman, it led to a wild outburst of what
Miss Jewsbury herself called "tiger jealousy." There are many
other instances of violent emotions in her letters to Mrs.
Carlyle. They are often highly charged and erotic. It is unusual
for a woman of thirty-two to write to a woman friend, who is
forty-three years of age, in these words, which Miss Jewsbury used
in writing to Mrs. Carlyle:
You are never out of my thoughts one hour together. I think of you
much more than if you were my lover. I cannot express my feelings,
even to you--vague, undefined yearnings to be yours in some way.
Mrs. Carlyle was accustomed, in private, to speak of Miss Jewsbury
as "Miss Gooseberry," while Carlyle himself said that she was
simply "a flimsy tatter of a creature." But it is on the testimony
of this one woman, who was so morbid and excitable, that the most
serious accusations against Carlyle rest. She knew that Froude was
writing a volume about Mrs. Carlyle, and she rushed to him, eager
to furnish any narratives, however strange, improbable, or
salacious they might be.
Thus she is the sponsor of the Ashburton story, in which there is
nothing whatsoever. Some of the letters which Lady Ashburton wrote
Carlyle have been destroyed, but not before her husband had
perused them. Another set of letters had never been read by Lord
Ashburton at all, and they are still preserved--friendly,
harmless, usual letters. Lord Ashburton always invited Carlyle to
his house, and there is no reason to think that the Scottish
philosopher wronged him.
There is much more to be said about the charge that Mrs. Carlyle
suffered from personal abuse; yet when we examine the facts, the
evidence resolves itself into practically nothing. That, in his
self-absorption, he allowed her to Sending Completed Page, Please
Wait ... overflowed toward a man who must have been a manly,
loving lover. She calls him by the name by which he called her--a
homely Scottish name.
GOODY, GOODY, DEAR GOODY:
You said you would weary, and I do hope in my heart you are
wearying. It will be so sweet to make it all up to you in kisses
when I return. You will take me and hear all my bits of
experiences, and your heart will beat when you find how I have
longed to return to you. Darling, dearest, loveliest, the Lord
bless you! I think of you every hour, every moment. I love you and
admire you, like--like anything. Oh, if I was there, I could put
my arms so close about your neck, and hush you into the softest
sleep you have had since I went away. Good night. Dream of me. I
am ever YOUR OWN GOODY.
It seems most fitting to remember Thomas Carlyle as a man of
strength, of honor, and of intellect; and his wife as one who was
sorely tried, but who came out of her suffering into the arms of
death, purified and calm and worthy to be remembered by her
THE STORY OF THE HUGOS
Victor Hugo, after all criticisms have been made, stands as a
literary colossus. He had imaginative power which makes his finest
passages fairly crash upon the reader's brain like blasting
thunderbolts. His novels, even when translated, are read and
reread by people of every degree of education. There is something
vast, something almost Titanic, about the grandeur and
gorgeousness of his fancy. His prose resembles the sonorous blare
of an immense military band. Readers of English care less for his
poetry; yet in his verse one can find another phase of his
intellect. He could write charmingly, in exquisite cadences, poems
for lovers and for little children. His gifts were varied, and he
knew thoroughly the life and thought of his own countrymen; and,
therefore, in his later days he was almost deified by them.
At the same time, there were defects in his intellect and
character which are perceptible in what he wrote, as well as in
what he did. He had the Gallic wit in great measure, but he was
absolutely devoid of any sense of humor. This is why, in both his
prose and his poetry, his most tremendous pages often come
perilously near to bombast; and this is why, again, as a man, his
vanity was almost as great as his genius. He had good reason to be
vain, and yet, if he had possessed a gleam of humor, he would
never have allowed his egoism to make him arrogant. As it was, he
felt himself exalted above other mortals. Whatever he did or said
or wrote was right because he did it or said it or wrote it.
This often showed itself in rather whimsical ways. Thus, after he
had published the first edition of his novel, The Man Who Laughs,
an English gentleman called upon him, and, after some courteous
compliments, suggested that in subsequent editions the name of an
English peer who figures in the book should be changed from Tom
"For," said the Englishman, "Tom Jim-Jack is a name that could not
possibly belong to an English noble, or, indeed, to any
Englishman. The presence of it in your powerful story makes it
seem to English readers a little grotesque."
Victor Hugo drew himself up with an air of high disdain.
"Who are you?" asked he.
"I am an Englishman," was the answer, "and naturally I know what
names are possible in English."
Hugo drew himself up still higher, and on his face there was a
smile of utter contempt.
"Yes," said he. "You are an Englishman; but I--I am Victor Hugo."
In another book Hugo had spoken of the Scottish bagpipes as
"bugpipes." This gave some offense to his Scottish admirers. A
great many persons told him that the word was "bagpipes," and not
"bugpipes." But he replied with irritable obstinacy:
"I am Victor Hugo; and if I choose to write it 'bugpipes,' it IS
'bugpipes.' It is anything that I prefer to make it. It is so,
because I call it so!"
So, Victor Hugo became a violent republican, because he did not
wish France to be an empire or a kingdom, in which an emperor or a
king would be his superior in rank. He always spoke of Napoleon
III as "M. Bonaparte." He refused to call upon the gentle-mannered
Emperor of Brazil, because he was an emperor; although Dom Pedro
expressed an earnest desire to meet the poet.
When the German army was besieging Paris, Hugo proposed to fight a
duel with the King of Prussia, and to have the result of it settle
the war; "for," said he, "the King of Prussia is a great king, but
I am Victor Hugo, the great poet. We are, therefore, equal."
In spite, however, of his ardent republicanism, he was very fond
of speaking of his own noble descent. Again and again he styled
himself "a peer of France;" and he and his family made frequent
allusions to the knights and bishops and counselors of state with
whom he claimed an ancestral relation. This was more than
inconsistent. It was somewhat ludicrous; because Victor Hugo's
ancestry was by no means noble. The Hugos of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries were not in any way related to the poet's
family, which was eminently honest and respectable, but by no
means one of distinction. His grandfather was a carpenter. One of
his aunts was the wife of a baker, another of a barber, while the
third earned her living as a provincial dressmaker.
If the poet had been less vain and more sincerely democratic, he
would have been proud to think that he sprang from good, sound,
sturdy stock, and would have laughed at titles. As it was, he
jeered at all pretensions of rank in other men, while he claimed
for himself distinctions that were not really his. His father was
a soldier who rose from the ranks until, under Napoleon, he
reached the grade of general. His mother was the daughter of a
ship owner in Nantes.
Victor Hugo was born in February, 1802, during the Napoleonic
wars, and his early years were spent among the camps and within
the sound of the cannon-thunder. It was fitting that he should
have been born and reared in an age of upheaval, revolt, and
battle. He was essentially the laureate of revolt; and in some of
his novels--as in Ninety-Three--the drum and the trumpet roll and
ring through every chapter.
The present paper has, of course, nothing to do with Hugo's public
life; yet it is necessary to remember the complicated nature of
the man--all his power, all his sweetness of disposition, and
likewise all his vanity and his eccentricities. We must remember,
also, that he was French, so that his story may be interpreted in
the light of the French character.
At the age of fifteen he was domiciled in Paris, and though still
a schoolboy and destined for the study of law, he dreamed only of
poetry and of literature. He received honorable mention from the
French Academy in 1817, and in the following year took prizes in a
poetical competition. At seventeen he began the publication of a
literary journal, which survived until 1821. His astonishing
energy became evident in the many publications which he put forth
in these boyish days. He began to become known. Although poetry,
then as now, was not very profitable even when it was admired, one
of his slender volumes brought him the sum of seven hundred
francs, which seemed to him not only a fortune in itself, but the
forerunner of still greater prosperity.
It was at this time, while still only twenty years of age, that he
met a young girl of eighteen with whom he fell rather
tempestuously in love. Her name was Adele Foucher, and she was the
daughter of a clerk in the War Office. When one is very young and
also a poet, it takes very little to feed the flame of passion.
Victor Hugo was often a guest at the apartments of M. Foucher,
where he was received by that gentleman and his family. French
etiquette, of course, forbade any direct communication between the
visitor and Adele. She was still a very young girl, and was
supposed to take no share in the conversation. Therefore, while
the others talked, she sat demurely by the fireside and sewed.
Her dark eyes and abundant hair, her grace of manner, and the
picture which she made as the firelight played about her, kindled
a flame in the susceptible heart of Victor Hugo. Though he could
not speak to her, he at least could look at her; and, before long,
his share in the conversation was very slight. This was set down,
at first, to his absent-mindedness; but looks can be as eloquent
as spoken words. Mme. Foucher, with a woman's keen intelligence,
noted the adoring gaze of Victor Hugo as he silently watched her
daughter. The young Adele herself was no less intuitive than her
mother. It was very well understood, in the course of a few
months, that Victor Hugo was in love with Adele Foucher.
Her father and mother took counsel about the matter, and Hugo
himself, in a burst of lyrical eloquence, confessed that he adored
Adele and wished to marry her. Her parents naturally objected. The
girl was but a child. She had no dowry, nor had Victor Hugo any
settled income. They were not to think of marriage. But when did a
common-sense decision, such as this, ever separate a man and a
woman who have felt the thrill of first love! Victor Hugo was
insistent. With his supreme self-confidence, he declared that he
was bound to be successful, and that in a very short time he would
be illustrious. Adele, on her side, created "an atmosphere" at
home by weeping frequently, and by going about with hollow eyes
and wistful looks.
The Foucher family removed from Paris to a country town. Victor
Hugo immediately followed them. Fortunately for him, his poems had
attracted the attention of Louis XVIII, who was flattered by some
of the verses. He sent Hugo five hundred francs for an ode, and
soon afterward settled upon him a pension of a thousand francs.
Here at least was an income--a very small one, to be sure, but
still an income. Perhaps Adele's father was impressed not so much
by the actual money as by the evidence of the royal favor. At any
rate, he withdrew his opposition, and the two young people were
married in October, 1822--both of them being under age, unformed,
Their story is another warning against too early marriage. It is
true that they lived together until Mme. Hugo's death--a married
life of forty-six years--yet their story presents phases which
would have made this impossible had they not been French.
For a time, Hugo devoted all his energies to work. The record of
his steady upward progress is a part of the history of literature,
and need not be repeated here. The poet and his wife were soon
able to leave the latter's family abode, and to set up their own
household god in a home which was their own. Around them there
were gathered, in a sort of salon, all the best-known writers of
the day--dramatists, critics, poets, and romancers. The Hugos knew
Unfortunately, one of their visitors cast into their new life a
drop of corroding bitterness. This intruder was Charles Augustin
Sainte-Beuve, a man two years younger than Victor Hugo, and one
who blended learning, imagination, and a gift of critical
analysis. Sainte-Beuve is to-day best remembered as a critic, and
he was perhaps the greatest critic ever known in France. But in
1830 he was a slender, insinuating youth who cultivated a gift for
sensuous and somewhat morbid poetry.
He had won Victor Hugo's friendship by writing an enthusiastic
notice of Hugo's dramatic works. Hugo, in turn, styled Sainte-
Beuve "an eagle," "a blazing star," and paid him other compliments
no less gorgeous and Hugoesque. But in truth, if Sainte-Beuve
frequented the Hugo salon, it was less because of his admiration
for the poet than from his desire to win the love of the poet's
It is quite impossible to say how far he attracted the serious
attention of Adele Hugo. Sainte-Beuve represents a curious type,
which is far more common in France and Italy than in the countries
of the north. Human nature is not very different in cultivated
circles anywhere. Man loves, and seeks to win the object of his
love; or, as the old English proverb has it:
It's a man's part to try,
And a woman's to deny.
But only in the Latin countries do men who have tried make their
attempts public, and seek to produce an impression that they have
been successful, and that the woman has not denied. This sort of
man, in English-speaking lands, is set down simply as a cad, and
is excluded from people's houses; but in some other countries the
thing is regarded with a certain amount of toleration. We see it
in the two books written respectively by Alfred de Musset and
George Sand. We have seen it still later in our own times, in that
strange and half-repulsive story in which the Italian novelist and
poet, Gabriele d'Annunzio, under a very thin disguise, revealed
his relations with the famous actress, Eleanora Duse. Anglo-Saxons
thrust such books aside with a feeling of disgust for the man who
could so betray a sacred confidence and perhaps exaggerate a
simple indiscretion into actual guilt. But it is not so in France
and Italy. And this is precisely what Sainte-Beuve attempted.
Dr. George McLean Harper, in his lately published study of Sainte-
Beuve, has summed the matter up admirably, in speaking of The Book
He had the vein of emotional self-disclosure, the vein of romantic
or sentimental confession. This last was not a rich lode, and so
he was at pains to charge it secretly with ore which he exhumed
gloatingly, but which was really base metal. The impulse that led
him along this false route was partly ambition, partly sensuality.
Many a worse man would have been restrained by self-respect and
good taste. And no man with a sense of honor would have permitted
The Book of Love to see the light--a small collection of verses
recording his passion for Mme. Hugo, and designed to implicate
He left two hundred and five printed copies of this book to be
distributed after his death. A virulent enemy of Sainte-Beuve was
not too expressive when he declared that its purpose was "to leave
on the life of this woman the gleaming and slimy trace which the
passage of a snail leaves on a rose." Abominable in either case,
whether or not the implication was unfounded, Sainte-Beuve's
numerous innuendoes in regard to Mme. Hugo are an indelible stain
on his memory, and his infamy not only cost him his most precious
friendships, but crippled him in every high endeavor.
How monstrous was this violation of both friendship and love may
be seen in the following quotation from his writings:
In that inevitable hour, when the gloomy tempest and the jealous
gulf shall roll over our heads, a sealed bottle, belched forth
from the abyss, will render immortal our two names, their close
alliance, and our double memory aspiring after union.
Whether or not Mme. Hugo's relations with Sainte-Beuve justified
the latter even in thinking such thoughts as these, one need not
inquire too minutely. Evidently, though, Victor Hugo could no
longer be the friend of the man who almost openly boasted that he
had dishonored him. There exist some sharp letters which passed
between Hugo and Sainte-Beuve. Their intimacy was ended.
But there was something more serious than this. Sainte-Beuve had
in fact succeeded in leaving a taint upon the name of Victor
Hugo's wife. That Hugo did not repudiate her makes it fairly plain
that she was innocent; yet a high-spirited, sensitive soul like
Hugo's could never forget that in the world's eye she was
compromised. The two still lived together as before; but now the
poet felt himself released from the strict obligations of the
It may perhaps be doubted whether he would in any case have
remained faithful all his life. He was, as Mr. H.W. Wack well
says, "a man of powerful sensations, physically as well as
mentally. Hugo pursued every opportunity for new work, new
sensations, fresh emotion. He desired to absorb as much on life's
eager forward way as his great nature craved. His range in all
things--mental, physical, and spiritual--was so far beyond the
ordinary that the gage of average cannot be applied to him. The
cavil of the moralist did not disturb him."
Hence, it is not improbable that Victor Hugo might have broken
through the bonds of marital fidelity, even had Sainte-Beuve never
written his abnormal poems; but certainly these poems hastened a
result which may or may not have been otherwise inevitable. Hugo
no longer turned wholly to the dark-haired, dark-eyed Adele as
summing up for him the whole of womanhood. A veil was drawn, as it
were, from before his eyes, and he looked on other women and found
It was in 1833, soon after Hugo's play "Lucrece Borgia" had been
accepted for production, that a lady called one morning at Hugo's
house in the Place Royale. She was then between twenty and thirty
years of age, slight of figure, winsome in her bearing, and one
who knew the arts which appeal to men. For she was no
inexperienced ingenue. The name upon her visiting-card was "Mme.
Drouet"; and by this name she had been known in Paris as a clever
and somewhat gifted actress. Theophile Gautier, whose cult was the
worship of physical beauty, wrote in almost lyric prose of her
At nineteen, after she had been cast upon the world, dowered with
that terrible combination, poverty and beauty, she had lived
openly with a sculptor named Pradier. This has a certain
importance in the history of French art. Pradier had received a
commission to execute a statue representing Strasburg--the statue
which stands to-day in the Place de la Concorde, and which
patriotic Frenchmen and Frenchwomen drape in mourning and half
bury in immortelles, in memory of that city of Alsace which so
long was French, but which to-day is German--one of Germany's
great prizes taken in the war of 1870.
Five years before her meeting with Hugo, Pradier had rather
brutally severed his connection with her, and she had accepted the
protection of a Russian nobleman. At this time she was known by
her real name--Julienne Josephine Gauvin; but having gone upon the
stage, she assumed the appellation by which she was thereafter
known, that of Juliette Drouet.
Her visit to Hugo was for the purpose of asking him to secure for
her a part in his forth-coming play. The dramatist was willing,
but unfortunately all the major characters had been provided for,
and he was able to offer her only the minor one of the Princesse
Negroni. The charming deference with which she accepted the
offered part attracted Hugo's attention. Such amiability is very
rare in actresses who have had engagements at the best theaters.
He resolved to see her again; and he did so, time after time,
until he was thoroughly captivated by her.
She knew her value, and as yet was by no means infatuated with
him. At first he was to her simply a means of getting on in her
profession--simply another influential acquaintance. Yet she
brought to bear upon him the arts at her command, her beauty and
her sympathy, and, last of all, her passionate abandonment.
Hugo was overwhelmed by her. He found that she was in debt, and he
managed to see that her debts were paid. He secured her other
engagements at the theater, though she was less successful as an
actress after she knew him. There came, for a time, a short break
in their relations; for, partly out of need, she returned to her
Russian nobleman, or at least admitted him to a menage a trois.
Hugo underwent for a second time a great disillusionment.
Nevertheless, he was not too proud to return to her and to beg her
not to be unfaithful any more. Touched by his tears, and perhaps
foreseeing his future fame, she gave her promise, and she kept it
until her death, nearly half a century later.
Perhaps because she had deceived him once, Hugo never completely
lost his prudence in his association with her. He was by no means
lavish with money, and he installed her in a rather simple
apartment only a short distance from his own home. He gave her an
allowance that was relatively small, though later he provided for
her amply in his will. But it was to her that he brought all his
confidences, to her he entrusted all his interests. She became to
him, thenceforth, much more than she appeared to the world at
large; for she was his friend, and, as he said, his inspiration.
The fact of their intimate connection became gradually known
through Paris. It was known even to Mme. Hugo; but she,
remembering the affair of Sainte-Beuve, or knowing how difficult
it is to check the will of a man like Hugo, made no sign, and even
received Juliette Drouet in her own house and visited her in turn.
When the poet's sons grew up to manhood, they, too, spent many
hours with their father in the little salon of the former actress.
It was a strange and, to an Anglo-Saxon mind, an almost impossible
position; yet France forgives much to genius, and in time no one
thought of commenting on Hugo's manner of life.
In 1851, when Napoleon III seized upon the government, and when
Hugo was in danger of arrest, she assisted him to escape in
disguise, and with a forged passport, across the Belgian frontier.
During his long exile in Guernsey she lived in the same close
relationship to him and to his family. Mme. Hugo died in 1868,
having known for thirty-three years that she was only second in
her husband's thoughts. Was she doing penance, or was she merely
accepting the inevitable? In any case, her position was most
pathetic, though she uttered no complaint.
A very curious and poignant picture of her just before her death
has been given by the pen of a visitor in Guernsey. He had met
Hugo and his sons; he had seen the great novelist eating enormous
slices of roast beef and drinking great goblets of red wine at
dinner, and he had also watched him early each morning, divested
of all his clothing and splashing about in a bath-tub on the top
of his house, in view of all the town. One evening he called and
found only Mme. Hugo. She was reclining on a couch, and was
evidently suffering great pain. Surprised, he asked where were her
husband and her sons.
"Oh," she replied, "they've all gone to Mme. Drouet's to spend the
evening and enjoy themselves. Go also; you'll not find it amusing
One ponders over this sad scene with conflicting thoughts. Was
there really any truth in the story at which Sainte-Beuve more
than hinted? If so, Adele Hugo was more than punished. The other
woman had sinned far more; and yet she had never been Hugo's wife;
and hence perhaps it was right that she should suffer less. Suffer
she did; for after her devotion to Hugo had become sincere and
deep, he betrayed her confidence by an intrigue with a girl who is
spoken of as "Claire." The knowledge of it caused her infinite
anguish, but it all came to an end; and she lived past her
eightieth year, long after the death of Mme. Hugo. She died only a
short time before the poet himself was laid to rest in Paris with
magnificent obsequies which an emperor might have envied. In her
old age, Juliette Drouet became very white and very wan; yet she
never quite lost the charm with which, as a girl, she had won the
heart of Hugo.
The story has many aspects. One may see in it a retribution, or
one may see in it only the cruelty of life. Perhaps it is best
regarded simply as a chapter in the strange life-histories of men
THE STORY OF GEORGE SAND
To the student of feminine psychology there is no more curious and
complex problem than the one that meets us in the life of the
gifted French writer best known to the world as George Sand.
To analyze this woman simply as a writer would in itself be a
long, difficult task. She wrote voluminously, with a fluid rather
than a fluent pen. She scandalized her contemporaries by her
theories, and by the way in which she applied them in her novels.
Her fiction made her, in the history of French literature, second
only to Victor Hugo. She might even challenge Hugo, because where
he depicts strange and monstrous figures, exaggerated beyond the
limits of actual life, George Sand portrays living men and women,
whose instincts and desires she understands, and whom she makes us
see precisely as if we were admitted to their intimacy.
But George Sand puzzles us most by peculiarities which it is
difficult for us to reconcile. She seemed to have no sense of
chastity whatever; yet, on the other hand, she was not grossly
sensual. She possessed the maternal instinct to a high degree, and
liked better to be a mother than a mistress to the men whose love
she sought. For she did seek men's love, frankly and shamelessly,
only to tire of it. In many cases she seems to have been swayed by
vanity, and by a love of conquest, rather than by passion. She had
also a spiritual, imaginative side to her nature, and she could be
a far better comrade than anything more intimate.
The name given to this strange genius at birth was Amantine Lucile
Aurore Dupin. The circumstances of her ancestry and birth were
quite unusual. Her father was a lieutenant in the French army. His
grandmother had been the natural daughter of Marshal Saxe, who was
himself the illegitimate son of Augustus the Strong of Poland and
of the bewitching Countess of Konigsmarck. This was a curious
pedigree. It meant strength of character, eroticism, stubbornness,
imagination, courage, and recklessness.
Her father complicated the matter by marrying suddenly a Parisian
of the lower classes, a bird-fancier named Sophie Delaborde. His
daughter, who was born in 1804, used afterward to boast that on
one side she was sprung from kings and nobles, while on the other
she was a daughter of the people, able, therefore, to understand
the sentiments of the aristocracy and of the children of the soil,
or even of the gutter.
She was fond of telling, also, of the omen which attended on her
birth. Her father and mother were at a country dance in the house
of a fellow officer of Dupin's. Suddenly Mme. Dupin left the room.
Nothing was thought of this, and the dance went on. In less than
an hour, Dupin was called aside and told that his wife had just
given birth to a child. It was the child's aunt who brought the
news, with the joyous comment:
"She will be lucky, for she was born among the roses and to the
sound of music."
This was at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Lieutenant Dupin was
on the staff of Prince Murat, and little Aurore, as she was
called, at the age of three accompanied the army, as did her
mother. The child was adopted by one of those hard-fighting,
veteran regiments. The rough old sergeants nursed her and petted
her. Even the prince took notice of her; and to please him she
wore the green uniform of a hussar.
But all this soon passed, and she was presently sent to live with
her grandmother at the estate now intimately associated with her
name--Nohant, in the valley of the Indre, in the midst of a rich
country, a love for which she then drank in so deeply that nothing
in her later life could lessen it. She was always the friend of
the peasant and of the country-folk in general.
At Nohant she was given over to her grand-mother, to be reared in
a strangely desultory sort of fashion, doing and reading and
studying those things which could best develop her native gifts.
Her father had great influence over her, teaching her a thousand
things without seeming to teach her anything. Of him George Sand
herself has written:
Character is a matter of heredity. If any one desires to know me,
he must know my father.
Her father, however, was killed by a fall from a horse; and then
the child grew up almost without any formal education. A tutor,
who also managed the estate; believed with Rousseau that the young
should be reared according to their own preferences. Therefore,
Aurore read poems and childish stories; she gained a smattering of
Latin, and she was devoted to music and the elements of natural
science. For the rest of the time she rambled with the country
children, learned their games, and became a sort of leader in
everything they did.
Her only sorrow was the fact that her mother was excluded from
Nohant. The aristocratic old grandmother would not allow under her
roof her son's low-born wife; but she was devoted to her little
grandchild. The girl showed a wonderful degree of sensibility.
This life was adapted to her nature. She fed her imagination in a
perfectly healthy fashion; and, living so much out of doors, she
acquired that sound physique which she retained all through her
When she was thirteen, her grandmother sent the girl to a convent
school in Paris. One might suppose that the sudden change from the
open woods and fields to the primness of a religious home would
have been a great shock to her, and that with her disposition she
might have broken out into wild ways that would have shocked the
nuns. But, here, as elsewhere, she showed her wonderful
adaptability. It even seemed as if she were likely to become what
the French call a devote. She gave herself up to mythical
thoughts, and expressed a desire of taking the veil. Her
confessor, however, was a keen student of human nature, and he
perceived that she was too young to decide upon the renunciation
of earthly things. Moreover, her grandmother, who had no intention
that Aurore should become a nun, hastened to Paris and carried her
back to Nohant.
The girl was now sixteen, and her complicated nature began to make
itself apparent. There was no one to control her, because her
grandmother was confined to her own room. And so Aurore Dupin, now
in superb health, rushed into every sort of diversion with all the
zest of youth. She read voraciously--religion, poetry, philosophy.
She was an excellent musician, playing the piano and the harp.
Once, in a spirit of unconscious egotism, she wrote to her
Do you think that my philosophical studies are compatible with
The shrewd ecclesiastic answered, with a touch of wholesome irony:
I doubt, my daughter, whether your philosophical studies are
profound enough to warrant intellectual pride.
This stung the girl, and led her to think a little less of her own
abilities; but perhaps it made her books distasteful to her. For a
while she seems to have almost forgotten her sex. She began to
dress as a boy, and took to smoking large quantities of tobacco.
Her natural brother, who was an officer in the army, came down to
Nohant and taught her to ride--to ride like a boy, seated astride.
She went about without any chaperon, and flirted with the young
men of the neighborhood. The prim manners of the place made her
subject to a certain amount of scandal, and the village priest
chided her in language that was far from tactful. In return she
refused any longer to attend his church.
Thus she was living when her grandmother died, in 1821, leaving to
Aurore her entire fortune of five hundred thousand francs. As the
girl was still but seventeen, she was placed under the
guardianship of the nearest relative on her father's side--a
gentleman of rank. When the will was read, Aurore's mother made a
violent protest, and caused a most unpleasant scene.
"I am the natural guardian of my child," she cried. "No one can
take away my rights!"
The young girl well understood that this was really the parting of
the ways. If she turned toward her uncle, she would be forever
classed among the aristocracy. If she chose her mother, who,
though married, was essentially a grisette, then she must live
with grisettes, and find her friends among the friends who visited
her mother. She could not belong to both worlds. She must decide
once for all whether she would be a woman of rank or a woman
entirely separated from the circle that had been her father's.
One must respect the girl for making the choice she did.
Understanding the situation absolutely, she chose her mother; and
perhaps one would not have had her do otherwise. Yet in the long
run it was bound to be a mistake. Aurore was clever, refined, well
read, and had had the training of a fashionable convent school.
The mother was ignorant and coarse, as was inevitable, with one
who before her marriage had been half shop-girl and half
courtesan. The two could not live long together, and hence it was
not unnatural that Aurore Dupin should marry, to enter upon a new
Her fortune was a fairly large one for the times, and yet not
large enough to attract men who were quite her equals. Presently,
however, it brought to her a sort of country squire, named Casimir
Dudevant. He was the illegitimate son of the Baron Dudevant. He
had been in the army, and had studied law; but he possessed no
intellectual tastes. He was outwardly eligible; but he was of a
coarse type--a man who, with passing years, would be likely to
take to drink and vicious amusements, and in serious life cared
only for his cattle, his horses, and his hunting. He had, however,
a sort of jollity about him which appealed to this girl of
eighteen; and so a marriage was arranged. Aurore Dupin became his
wife in 1822, and he secured the control of her fortune.
The first few years after her marriage were not unhappy. She had a
son, Maurice Dudevant, and a daughter, Solange, and she loved them
both. But it was impossible that she should continue vegetating
mentally upon a farm with a husband who was a fool, a drunkard,
and a miser. He deteriorated; his wife grew more and more clever.
Dudevant resented this. It made him uncomfortable. Other persons
spoke of her talk as brilliant. He bluntly told her that it was
silly, and that she must stop it. When she did not stop it, he
boxed her ears. This caused a breach between the pair which was
never healed. Dudevant drank more and more heavily, and jeered at
his wife because she was "always looking for noon at fourteen
o'clock." He had always flirted with the country girls; but now he
openly consorted with his wife's chambermaid.
Mme. Dudevant, on her side, would have nothing more to do with
this rustic rake. She formed what she called a platonic
friendship--and it was really so--with a certain M. de Seze, who
was advocate-general at Bordeaux. With him this clever woman could
talk without being called silly, and he took sincere pleasure in
her company. He might, in fact, have gone much further, had not
both of them been in an impossible situation.
Aurore Dudevant really believed that she was swayed by a pure and
mystic passion. De Seze, on the other hand, believed this mystic
passion to be genuine love. Coming to visit her at Nohant, he was
revolted by the clownish husband with whom she lived. It gave him
an esthetic shock to see that she had borne children to this boor.
Therefore he shrank back from her, and in time their relation
faded into nothingness.
It happened, soon after, that she found a packet in her husband's
desk, marked "Not to be opened until after my death." She wrote of
this in her correspondence:
I had not the patience to wait till widowhood. No one can be sure
of surviving anybody. I assumed that my husband had died, and I
was very glad to learn what he thought of me while he was alive.
Since the package was addressed to me, it was not dishonorable for
me to open it.
And so she opened it. It proved to be his will, but containing, as
a preamble, his curses on her, expressions of contempt, and all
the vulgar outpouring of an evil temper and angry passion. She
went to her husband as he was opening a bottle, and flung the
document upon the table. He cowered at her glance, at her
firmness, and at her cold hatred. He grumbled and argued and
entreated; but all that his wife would say in answer was:
"I must have an allowance. I am going to Paris, and my children
are to remain here."
At last he yielded, and she went at once to Paris, taking her
daughter with her, and having the promise of fifteen hundred
francs a year out of the half-million that was hers by right.
In Paris she developed into a thorough-paced Bohemian. She tried
to make a living in sundry hopeless ways, and at last she took to
literature. She was living in a garret, with little to eat, and
sometimes without a fire in winter. She had some friends who
helped her as well as they could, but though she was attached to
the Figaro, her earnings for the first month amounted to only
Nevertheless, she would not despair. The editors and publishers
might turn the cold shoulder to her, but she would not give up her
ambitions. She went down into the Latin Quarter, and there shook
off the proprieties of life. She assumed the garb of a man, and
with her quick perception she came to know the left bank of the
Seine just as she had known the country-side at Nohant or the
little world at her convent school. She never expected again to
see any woman of her own rank in life. Her mother's influence
became strong in her. She wrote:
The proprieties are the guiding principle of people without soul
and virtue. The good opinion of the world is a prostitute who
gives herself to the highest bidder.
She still pursued her trade of journalism, calling herself a
"newspaper mechanic," sitting all day in the office of the Figaro
and writing whatever was demanded, while at night she would prowl
in the streets haunting the cafes, continuing to dress like a man,
drinking sour wine, and smoking cheap cigars.
One of her companions in this sort of hand-to-mouth journalism was
a young student and writer named Jules Sandeau, a man seven years
younger than his comrade. He was at that time as indigent as she,
and their hardships, shared in common, brought them very close
together. He was clever, boyish, and sensitive, and it was not
long before he had fallen at her feet and kissed her knees,
begging that she would requite the love he felt for her. According
to herself, she resisted him for six months, and then at last she
yielded. The two made their home together, and for a while were
wonderfully happy. Their work and their diversions they enjoyed in
common, and now for the first time she experienced emotions which
in all probability she had never known before.
Probably not very much importance is to be given to the earlier
flirtations of George Sand, though she herself never tried to stop
the mouth of scandal. Even before she left her husband, she was
credited with having four lovers; but all she said, when the
report was brought to her, was this: "Four lovers are none too
many for one with such lively passions as mine."
This very frankness makes it likely that she enjoyed shocking her
prim neighbors at Nohant. But if she only played at love-making
then, she now gave herself up to it with entire abandonment,
intoxicated, fascinated, satisfied. She herself wrote:
How I wish I could impart to you this sense of the intensity and
joyousness of life that I have in my veins. To live! How sweet it
is, and how good, in spite of annoyances, husbands, debts,
relations, scandal-mongers, sufferings, and irritations! To live!
It is intoxicating! To love, and to be loved! It is happiness! It
In collaboration with Jules Sandeau, she wrote a novel called Rose
et Blanche. The two lovers were uncertain what name to place upon
the title-page, but finally they hit upon the pseudonym of Jules
Sand. The book succeeded; but thereafter each of them wrote
separately, Jules Sandeau using his own name, and Mme. Dudevant
styling herself George Sand, a name by which she was to be
illustrious ever after.
As a novelist, she had found her real vocation. She was not yet
well known, but she was on the verge of fame. As soon as she had
written Indiana and Valentine, George Sand had secured a place in
the world of letters. The magazine which still exists as the Revue
des Deux Mondes gave her a retaining fee of four thousand francs a
year, and many other publications begged her to write serial
stories for them.
The vein which ran through all her stories was new and piquant. As
was said of her:
In George Sand, whenever a lady wishes to change her lover, God is
always there to make the transfer easy.
In other words, she preached free love in the name of religion.
This was not a new doctrine with her. After the first break with
her husband, she had made up her mind about certain matters, and
One is no more justified in claiming the ownership of a soul than
in claiming the ownership of a slave.
According to her, the ties between a man and a woman are sacred
only when they are sanctified by love; and she distinguished
between love and passion in this epigram:
Love seeks to give, while passion seeks to take.
At this time, George Sand was in her twenty-seventh year. She was
not beautiful, though there was something about her which
attracted observation. Of middle height, she was fairly slender.
Her eyes were somewhat projecting, and her mouth was almost sullen
when in repose. Her manners were peculiar, combining boldness with
timidity. Her address was almost as familiar as a man's, so that
it was easy to be acquainted with her; yet a certain haughtiness
and a touch of aristocratic pride made it plain that she had drawn
a line which none must pass without her wish. When she was deeply
stirred, however, she burst forth into an extraordinary vivacity,
showing a nature richly endowed and eager to yield its treasures.
The existence which she now led was a curious one. She still
visited her husband at Nohant, so that she might see her son, and
sometimes, when M. Dudevant came to town, he called upon her in
the apartments which she shared with Jules Sandeau. He had
accepted the situation, and with his crudeness and lack of feeling
he seemed to think it, if not natural, at least diverting. At any
rate, so long as he could retain her half-million francs, he was
not the man to make trouble about his former wife's arrangements.
Meanwhile, there began to be perceptible the very slightest rift
within the lute of her romance. Was her love for Sandeau really
love, or was it only passion? In his absence, at any rate, the old
obsession still continued. Here we see, first of all, intense
pleasure shading off into a sort of maternal fondness. She sends
Sandeau adoring letters. She is afraid that his delicate appetite
is not properly satisfied.
Yet, again, there are times when she feels that he is irritating
and ill. Those who knew them said that her nature was too
passionate and her love was too exacting for him. One of her
letters seems to make this plain. She writes that she feels
uneasy, and even frightfully remorseful, at seeing Sandeau "pine
away." She knows, she avows, that she is killing him, that her
caresses are a poison, and her love a consuming fire.
It is an appalling thought, and Jules will not understand it. He
laughs at it; and when, in the midst of his transports of delight,
the idea comes to me and makes my blood run cold, he tells me that
here is the death that he would like to die. At such moments he
promises whatever I make him promise.
This letter throws a clear light upon the nature of George Sand's
temperament. It will be found all through her career, not only
that she sought to inspire passion, but that she strove to gratify
it after fashions of her own. One little passage from a
description of her written by the younger Dumas will perhaps make
this phase of her character more intelligible, without going
further than is strictly necessary:
Mme. Sand has little hands without any bones, soft and plump. She
is by destiny a woman of excessive curiosity, always disappointed,
always deceived in her incessant investigation, but she is not
fundamentally ardent. In vain would she like to be so, but she
does not find it possible. Her physical nature utterly refuses.
The reader will find in all that has now been said the true
explanation of George Sand. Abounding with life, but incapable of
long stretches of ardent love, she became a woman who sought
conquests everywhere without giving in return more than her
temperament made it possible for her to do. She loved Sandeau as
much as she ever loved any man; and yet she left him with a sense
that she had never become wholly his. Perhaps this is the reason
why their romance came to an end abruptly, and not altogether
She had been spending a short time at Nohant, and came to Paris
without announcement. She intended to surprise her lover, and she
surely did so. She found him in the apartment that had been
theirs, with his arms about an attractive laundry-girl. Thus
closed what was probably the only true romance in the life of
George Sand. Afterward she had many lovers, but to no one did she
so nearly become a true mate.
As it was, she ended her association with Sandeau, and each
pursued a separate path to fame. Sandeau afterward became a well-
known novelist and dramatist. He was, in fact, the first writer of
fiction who was admitted to the French Academy. The woman to whom
he had been unfaithful became greater still, because her fame was
not only national, but cosmopolitan.
For a time after her deception by Sandeau, she felt absolutely
devoid of all emotions. She shunned men, and sought the friendship
of Marie Dorval, a clever actress who was destined afterward to
break the heart of Alfred de Vigny. The two went down into the
country; and there George Sand wrote hour after hour, sitting by
her fireside, and showing herself a tender mother to her little
This life lasted for a while, but it was not the sort of life that
would now content her. She had many visitors from Paris, among
them Sainte-Beuve, the critic, who brought with him Prosper
Merimee, then unknown, but later famous as master of revels to the
third Napoleon and as the author of Carmen. Merimee had a certain
fascination of manner, and the predatory instincts of George Sand
were again aroused. One day, when she felt bored and desperate,
Merimee paid his court to her, and she listened to him. This is
one of the most remarkable of her intimacies, since it began,
continued, and ended all in the space of a single week. When
Merimee left Nohant, he was destined never again to see George
Sand, except long afterward at a dinner-party, where the two
stared at each other sharply, but did not speak. This affair,
however, made it plain that she could not long remain at Nohant,
and that she pined for Paris.
Returning thither, she is said to have set her cap at Victor Hugo,
who was, however, too much in love with himself to care for any
one, especially a woman who was his literary rival. She is said
for a time to have been allied with Gustave Planche, a dramatic
critic; but she always denied this, and her denial may be taken as
quite truthful. Soon, however, she was to begin an episode which
has been more famous than any other in her curious history, for
she met Alfred de Musset, then a youth of twenty-three, but
already well known for his poems and his plays.
Musset was of noble birth. He would probably have been better for
a plebeian strain, since there was in him a touch of the
degenerate. His mother's father had published a humanitarian poem
on cats. His great-uncle had written a peculiar novel. Young
Alfred was nervous, delicate, slightly epileptic, and it is
certain that he was given to dissipation, which so far had
affected his health only by making him hysterical. He was an
exceedingly handsome youth, with exquisite manners, "dreamy rather
than dazzling eyes, dilated nostrils, and vermilion lips half
opened." Such was he when George Sand, then seven years his
senior, met him.
There is something which, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, seems far more
absurd than pathetic about the events which presently took place.
A woman like George Sand at thirty was practically twice the age
of this nervous boy of twenty-three, who had as yet seen little of
the world. At first she seemed to realize the fact herself; but
her vanity led her to begin an intrigue, which must have been
almost wholly without excitement on her part, but which to him,
for a time, was everything in the world.
Experimenting, as usual, after the fashion described by Dumas, she
went with De Musset for a "honeymoon" to Fontainebleau. But they
could not stay there forever, and presently they decided upon a
journey to Italy. Before they went, however, they thought it
necessary to get formal permission from Alfred's mother!
Naturally enough, Mme. de Musset refused consent. She had read
George Sand's romances, and had asked scornfully:
"Has the woman never in her life met a gentleman?"
She accepted the relations between them, but that she should be
asked to sanction this sort of affair was rather too much, even
for a French mother who has become accustomed to many strange
things. Then there was a curious happening. At nine o'clock at
night, George Sand took a cab and drove to the house of Mme. de
Musset, to whom she sent up a message that a lady wished to see
her. Mme. de Musset came down, and, finding a woman alone in a
carriage, she entered it. Then George Sand burst forth in a
torrent of sentimental eloquence. She overpowered her lover's
mother, promised to take great care of the delicate youth, and
finally drove away to meet Alfred at the coach-yard.
They started off in the mist, their coach being the thirteenth to
leave the yard; but the two lovers were in a merry mood, and
enjoyed themselves all the way from Paris to Marseilles. By
steamer they went to Leghorn; and finally, in January, 1834, they
took an apartment in a hotel at Venice. What had happened that
their arrival in Venice should be the beginning of a quarrel, no
one knows. George Sand has told the story, and Paul de Musset--
Alfred's brother--has told the story, but each of them has
doubtless omitted a large part of the truth.
It is likely that on their long journey each had learned too much
of the other. Thus, Paul de Musset says that George Sand made
herself outrageous by her conversation, telling every one of her
mother's adventures in the army of Italy, including her relations
with the general-in-chief. She also declared that she herself was
born within a month of her parents' wedding-day. Very likely she
did say all these things, whether they were true or not. She had
set herself to wage war against conventional society, and she did
everything to shock it.
On the other hand, Alfred de Musset fell ill after having lost ten
thousand francs in a gambling-house. George Sand was not fond of
persons who were ill. She herself was working like a horse,
writing from eight to thirteen hours a day. When Musset collapsed
she sent for a handsome young Italian doctor named Pagello, with
whom she had struck up a casual acquaintance. He finally cured
Musset, but he also cured George Sand of any love for Musset.
Before long she and Pagello were on their way back to Paris,
leaving the poor, fevered, whimpering poet to bite his nails and
think unutterable things. But he ought to have known George Sand.
After that, everybody knew her. They knew just how much she cared
when she professed to care, and when she acted as she acted with
Pagello no earlier lover had any one but himself to blame.
Only sentimentalists can take this story seriously. To them it has
a sort of morbid interest. They like to picture Musset raving and
shouting in his delirium, and then, to read how George Sand sat on
Pagello's knees, kissing him and drinking out of the same cup. But
to the healthy mind the whole story is repulsive--from George
Sand's appeal to Mme. de Musset down to the very end, when Pagello
came to Paris, where his broken French excited a polite ridicule.
There was a touch of genuine sentiment about the affair with Jules
Sandeau; but after that, one can only see in George Sand a half-
libidinous grisette, such as her mother was before her, with a
perfect willingness to experiment in every form of lawless love.
As for Musset, whose heart she was supposed to have broken, within
a year he was dangling after the famous singer, Mme. Malibran, and
writing poems to her which advertised their intrigue.
After this episode with Pagello, it cannot be said that the life
of George Sand was edifying in any respect, because no one can
assume that she was sincere. She had loved Jules Sandeau as much
as she could love any one, but all the rest of her intrigues and
affinities were in the nature of experiments. She even took back
Alfred de Musset, although they could never again regard each
other without suspicion. George Sand cut off all her hair and gave
it to Musset, so eager was she to keep him as a matter of
conquest; but he was tired of her, and even this theatrical trick
was of no avail.
She proceeded to other less known and less humiliating adventures.
She tried to fascinate the artist Delacroix. She set her cap at
Franz Liszt, who rather astonished her by saying that only God was
worthy to be loved. She expressed a yearning for the affections of
the elder Dumas; but that good-natured giant laughed at her, and
in fact gave her some sound advice, and let her smoke
unsentimentally in his study. She was a good deal taken with a
noisy demagogue named Michel, a lawyer at Bourges, who on one
occasion shut her up in her room and harangued her on sociology
until she was as weary of his talk as of his wooden shoes, his
shapeless greatcoat, his spectacles, and his skull-cap, Balzac
felt her fascination, but cared nothing for her, since his love
was given to Mme. Hanska.
In the meanwhile, she was paying visits to her husband at Nohant,
where she wrangled with him over money matters, and where he would
once have shot her had the guests present not interfered. She
secured her dowry by litigation, so that she was well off, even
without her literary earnings. These were by no means so large as
one would think from her popularity and from the number of books
she wrote. It is estimated that her whole gains amounted to about
a million francs, extending over a period of forty-five years. It
is just half the amount that Trollope earned in about the same
period, and justifies his remark--"adequate, but not splendid."
One of those brief and strange intimacies that marked the career
of George Sand came about in a curious way. Octave Feuillet, a man
of aristocratic birth, had set himself to write novels which
portrayed the cynicism and hardness of the upper classes in
France. One of these novels, Sibylle, excited the anger of George
Sand. She had not known Feuillet before; yet now she sought him
out, at first in order to berate him for his book, but in the end
to add him to her variegated string of lovers.
It has been said of Feuillet that he was a sort of "domesticated
Musset." At any rate, he was far less sensitive than Musset, and
George Sand was about seventeen years his senior. They parted
after a short time, she going her way as a writer of novels that
were very different from her earlier ones, while Feuillet grew
more and more cynical and even stern, as he lashed the abnormal,
neuropathic men and women about him.
The last great emotional crisis in George Sand's life was that
which centers around her relations with Frederic Chopin. Chopin
was the greatest genius who ever loved her. It is rather odd that
he loved her. She had known him for two years, and had not
seriously thought of him, though there is a story that when she
first met him she kissed him before he had even been presented to
her. She waited two years, and in those two years she had three
lovers. Then at last she once more met Chopin, when he was in a
state of melancholy, because a Polish girl had proved unfaithful
It was the psychological moment; for this other woman, who was a
devourer of hearts, found him at a piano, improvising a
lamentation. George Sand stood beside him, listening. When he
finished and looked up at her, their eyes met. She bent down
without a word and kissed him on the lips.
What was she like when he saw her then? Grenier has described her
in these words:
She was short and stout, but her face attracted all my attention,
the eyes especially. They were wonderful eyes--a little too close
together, it may be, large, with full eyelids, and black, very
black, but by no means lustrous; they reminded me of unpolished
marble, or rather of velvet, and this gave a strange, dull, even
cold expression to her countenance. Her fine eyebrows and these
great placid eyes gave her an air of strength and dignity which
was not borne out by the lower part of her face. Her nose was
rather thick and not over shapely. Her mouth was also rather
coarse, and her chin small. She spoke with great simplicity, and
her manners were very quiet.
Such as she was, she attached herself to Chopin for eight years.
At first they traveled together very quietly to Majorca; and
there, just as Musset had fallen ill at Venice, Chopin became
feverish and an invalid. "Chopin coughs most gracefully," George
Sand wrote of him, and again:
Chopin is the most inconstant of men. There is nothing permanent
about him but his cough.
It is not surprising if her nerves sometimes gave way. Acting as
sick nurse, writing herself with rheumatic fingers, robbed by
every one about her, and viewed with suspicion by the peasants
because she did not go to church, she may be perhaps excused for
her sharp words when, in fact, her deeds were kind.
Afterward, with Chopin, she returned to Paris, and the two lived
openly together for seven years longer. An immense literature has
grown around the subject of their relations. To this literature
George Sand herself contributed very largely. Chopin never wrote a
word; but what he failed to do, his friends and pupils did
Probably the truth is somewhat as one might expect. During the
first period of fascination, George Sand was to Chopin what she
had been to Sandeau and to Musset; and with her strange and subtle
ways, she had undermined his health. But afterward that sort of
love died out, and was succeeded by something like friendship. At
any rate, this woman showed, as she had shown to others, a vast
maternal kindness. She writes to him finally as "your old woman,"
and she does wonders in the way of nursing and care.
But in 1847 came a break between the two. Whatever the mystery of
it may be, it turns upon what Chopin said of Sand:
"I have never cursed any one, but now I am so weary of life that I
am near cursing her. Yet she suffers, too, and more, because she
grows older as she grows more wicked."
In 1848, Chopin gave his last concert in Paris, and in 1849 he
died. According to some, he was the victim of a Messalina.
According to others, it was only "Messalina" that had kept him
alive so long.
However, with his death came a change in the nature of George
Sand. Emotionally, she was an extinct volcano. Intellectually, she
was at her very best. She no longer tore passions into tatters,
but wrote naturally, simply, stories of country life and tales for
children. In one of her books she has given an enduring picture of
the Franco-Prussian War. There are many rather pleasant
descriptions of her then, living at Nohant, where she made a
curious figure, bustling about in ill-fitting costumes, and
smoking interminable cigarettes.
She had lived much, and she had drunk deep of life, when she died
in 1876. One might believe her to have been only a woman of
perpetual liaisons. Externally she was this, and yet what did
Balzac, that great master of human psychology, write of her in the
intimacy of a private correspondence?
She is a female bachelor. She is an artist. She is generous. She
is devoted. She is chaste. Her dominant characteristics are those
of a man, and therefore, she is not to be regarded as a woman. She
is an excellent mother, adored by her children. Morally, she is
like a lad of twenty; for in her heart of hearts, she is more than
chaste--she is a prude. It is only in externals that she comports
herself as a Bohemian. All her follies are titles to glory in the
eyes of those whose souls are noble.
A curious verdict this! Her love-life seems almost that of neither
man nor woman, but of an animal. Yet whether she was in reality
responsible for what she did, when we consider her strange
heredity, her wretched marriage, the disillusions of her early
life--who shall sit in judgment on her, since who knows all?
THE MYSTERY OF CHARLES DICKENS
Perhaps no public man in the English-speaking world, in the last
century, was so widely and intimately known as Charles Dickens.
From his eighteenth year, when he won his first success in
journalism, down through his series of brilliant triumphs in
fiction, he was more and more a conspicuous figure, living in the
blaze of an intense publicity. He met every one and knew every
one, and was the companion of every kind of man and woman. He
loved to frequent the "caves of harmony" which Thackeray has
immortalized, and he was a member of all the best Bohemian clubs
of London. Actors, authors, good fellows generally, were his
intimate friends, and his acquaintance extended far beyond into
the homes of merchants and lawyers and the mansions of the
proudest nobles. Indeed, he seemed to be almost a universal
One remembers, for instance, how he was called in to arbitrate
between Thackeray and George Augustus Sala, who had quarreled. One
remembers how Lord Byron's daughter, Lady Lovelace, when upon her
sick-bed, used to send for Dickens because there was something in
his genial, sympathetic manner that soothed her. Crushing pieces
of ice between her teeth in agony, she would speak to him and he
would answer her in his rich, manly tones until she was comforted
and felt able to endure more hours of pain without complaint.
Dickens was a jovial soul. His books fairly steam with Christmas
cheer and hot punch and the savor of plum puddings, very much as
do his letters to his intimate friends. Everybody knew Dickens. He
could not dine in public without attracting attention. When he
left the dining-room, his admirers would descend upon his table
and carry off egg-shells, orange-peels, and other things that
remained behind, so that they might have memorials of this much-
loved writer. Those who knew him only by sight would often stop
him in the streets and ask the privilege of shaking hands with
him; so different was he from--let us say--Tennyson, who was as
great an Englishman in his way as Dickens, but who kept himself
aloof and saw few strangers.
It is hard to associate anything like mystery with Dickens, though
he was fond of mystery as an intellectual diversion, and his last
unfinished novel was The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Moreover, no one
admired more than he those complex plots which Wilkie Collins used
to weave under the influence of laudanum. But as for his own life,
it seemed so normal, so free from anything approaching mystery,
that we can scarcely believe it to have been tinged with darker
colors than those which appeared upon the surface.
A part of this mystery is plain enough. The other part is still
obscure--or of such a character that one does not care to bring it
wholly to the light. It had to do with his various relations with
The world at large thinks that it knows this chapter in the life
of Dickens, and that it refers wholly to his unfortunate
disagreement with his wife. To be sure, this is a chapter that is
writ large in all of his biographies, and yet it is nowhere
correctly told. His chosen biographer was John Forster, whose Life
of Charles Dickens, in three volumes, must remain a standard work;
but even Forster--we may assume through tact--has not set down all
that he could, although he gives a clue.
As is well known, Dickens married Miss Catherine Hogarth when he
was only twenty-four. He had just published his Sketches by Boz,
the copyright of which he sold for one hundred pounds, and was
beginning the Pickwick Papers. About this time his publisher
brought N. P. Willis down to Furnival's Inn to see the man whom
Willis called "a young paragraphist for the Morning Chronicle."
Willis thus sketches Dickens and his surroundings:
In the most crowded part of Holborn, within a door or two of the
Bull and Mouth Inn, we pulled up at the entrance of a large
building used for lawyers' chambers. I followed by a long flight
of stairs to an upper story, and was ushered into an uncarpeted
and bleak-looking room, with a deal table, two or three chairs and
a few books, a small boy and Mr. Dickens for the contents.
I was only struck at first with one thing--and I made a memorandum
of it that evening as the strongest instance I had seen of English
obsequiousness to employers--the degree to which the poor author
was overpowered with the honor of his publisher's visit! I
remember saying to myself, as I sat down on a rickety chair:
"My good fellow, if you were in America with that fine face and
your ready quill, you would have no need to be condescended to by
Dickens was dressed very much as he has since described Dick
Swiveller, minus the swell look. His hair was cropped close to his
head, his clothes scant, though jauntily cut, and, after changing
a ragged office-coat for a shabby blue, he stood by the door,
collarless and buttoned up, the very personification of a close
sailer to the wind.
Before this interview with Willis, which Dickens always
repudiated, he had become something of a celebrity among the
newspaper men with whom he worked as a stenographer. As every one
knows, he had had a hard time in his early years, working in a
blacking-shop, and feeling too keenly the ignominious position of
which a less sensitive boy would probably have thought nothing.
Then he became a shorthand reporter, and was busy at his work, so
that he had little time for amusements.
It has been generally supposed that no love-affair entered his
life until he met Catherine Hogarth, whom he married soon after
making her acquaintance. People who are eager at ferreting out
unimportant facts about important men had unanimously come to the
conclusion that up to the age of twenty Dickens was entirely
fancy-free. It was left to an American to disclose the fact that
this was not the case, but that even in his teens he had been
captivated by a girl of about his own age.
Inasmuch as the only reproach that was ever made against Dickens
was based upon his love-affairs, let us go back and trace them
from this early one to the very last, which must yet for some
years, at least, remain a mystery.
Everything that is known about his first affair is contained in a
book very beautifully printed, but inaccessible to most readers.
Some years ago Mr. William K. Bixby, of St. Louis, found in London
a collector of curios. This man had in his stock a number of
letters which had passed between a Miss Maria Beadnell and Charles
Dickens when the two were about nineteen and a second package of
letters representing a later acquaintance, about 1855, at which
time Miss Beadnell had been married for a long time to a Mr. Henry
Louis Winter, of 12 Artillery Place, London.
The copyright laws of Great Britain would not allow Mr. Bixby to
publish the letters in that country, and he did not care to give
them to the public here. Therefore, he presented them to the
Bibliophile Society, with the understanding that four hundred and
ninety-three copies, with the Bibliophile book-plate, were to be
printed and distributed among the members of the society. A few
additional copies were struck off, but these did not bear the
Bibliophile book-plate. Only two copies are available for other
readers, and to peruse these it is necessary to visit the
Congressional Library in Washington, where they were placed on
July 24, 1908.
These letters form two series--the first written to Miss Beadnell
in or about 1829, and the second written to Mrs. Winter, formerly
Miss Beadnell, in 1855.
The book also contains an introduction by Henry H. Harper, who
sets forth some theories which the facts, in my opinion, do not
support; and there are a number of interesting portraits,
especially one of Miss Beadnell in 1829--a lovely girl with dark
curls. Another shows her in 1855, when she writes of herself as
"old and fat"--thereby doing herself a great deal of injustice;
for although she had lost her youthful beauty, she was a very
presentable woman of middle age, but one who would not be
particularly noticed in any company.
Summing up briefly these different letters, it may be said that in
the first set Dickens wrote to the lady ardently, but by no means
passionately. From what he says it is plain enough that she did
not respond to his feeling, and that presently she left London and
went to Paris, for her family was well-to-do, while Dickens was
living from hand to mouth.
In the second set of letters, written long afterward, Mrs. Winter
seems to have "set her cap" at the now famous author; but at that
time he was courted by every one, and had long ago forgotten the
lady who had so easily dismissed him in his younger days. In 1855,
Mrs. Winter seems to have reproached him for not having been more
constant in the past; but he replied:
You answered me coldly and reproachfully, and so I went my way.
Mr. Harper, in his introduction, tries very hard to prove that in
writing David Copperfield Dickens drew the character of Dora from
Miss Beadnell. It is a dangerous thing to say from whom any
character in a novel is drawn. An author takes whatever suits his
purpose in circumstance and fancy, and blends them all into one
consistent whole, which is not to be identified with any
individual. There is little reason to think that the most intimate
friends of Dickens and of his family were mistaken through all the
years when they were certain that the boy husband and the girl
wife of David Copperfield were suggested by any one save Dickens
himself and Catherine Hogarth.
Why should he have gone back to a mere passing fancy, to a girl
who did not care for him, and who had no influence on his life,
instead of picturing, as David's first wife, one whom he deeply
loved, whom he married, who was the mother of his children, and
who made a great part of his career, even that part which was
inwardly half tragic and wholly mournful?
Miss Beadnell may have been the original of Flora in Little
Dorrit, though even this is doubtful. The character was at the
time ascribed to a Miss Anna Maria Leigh, whom Dickens sometimes
flirted with and sometimes caricatured.
When Dickens came to know George Hogarth, who was one of his
colleagues on the staff of the Morning Chronicle, he met Hogarth's
daughters--Catherine, Georgina, and Mary--and at once fell
ardently in love with Catherine, the eldest and prettiest of the
three. He himself was almost girlish, with his fair complexion and
light, wavy hair, so that the famous sketch by Maclise has a
remarkable charm; yet nobody could really say with truth that any
one of the three girls was beautiful. Georgina Hogarth, however,
was sweet-tempered and of a motherly disposition. It may be that
in a fashion she loved Dickens all her life, as she remained with
him after he parted from her sister, taking the utmost care of his
children, and looking out with unselfish fidelity for his many
It was Mary, however, the youngest of the Hogarths, who lived with
the Dickenses during the first twelvemonth of their married life.
To Dickens she was like a favorite sister, and when she died very
suddenly, in her eighteenth year, her loss was a great shock to
It was believed for a long time--in fact, until their separation--
that Dickens and his wife were extremely happy in their home life.
His writings glorified all that was domestic, and paid many tender
tributes to the joys of family affection. When the separation came
the whole world was shocked. And yet rather early in Dickens's
married life there was more or less infelicity. In his
Retrospections of an Active Life, Mr. John Bigelow writes a few
sentences which are interesting for their frankness, and which
give us certain hints:
Mrs. Dickens was not a handsome woman, though stout, hearty, and
matronly; there was something a little doubtful about her eye, and
I thought her endowed with a temper that might be very violent
when roused, though not easily rousable. Mrs. Caulfield told me
that a Miss Teman--I think that is the name--was the source of the
difficulty between Mrs. Dickens and her husband. She played in
private theatricals with Dickens, and he sent her a portrait in a
brooch, which met with an accident requiring it to be sent to the
jeweler's to be mended. The jeweler, noticing Mr. Dickens's
initials, sent it to his house. Mrs. Dickens's sister, who had
always been in love with him and was jealous of Miss Teman, told
Mrs. Dickens of the brooch, and she mounted her husband with comb
and brush. This, no doubt, was Mrs. Dickens's version, in the
Back to Full Books