"T'ai-je dit que j'avais trouve ici-meme un locataire etudiant la botanique a 'l'herbarium' tous les jours, et qu'en nous promenant ensemble au jardin, les soirs, il m'apprend les noms des arbres qui ne sont pas indiques. J'ai aussi des fleurs sur ma fenetre: je t'en donne une. Je ne connais pas le langage des fleurs, mais si celle-ci ne te dit pas que je t'aime beaucoup—beaucoup—elle interprete bien mal mes sentiments.
"J'ai lu un peu du livre de Max Mueller sur l'etude comparative des langues. C'est excessivement curieux. Tu n'as aucune idee de combien l'etymologie est interessante quand elle est basee sur la connaissance de tant d'idiomes; on peut tracer la parente les mots d'une maniere etonnante; les changements dans la facon de les ecrire ont pour resultat de les denaturer tellement que nous avons beaucoup de peine a les reconnaitre sans retracer toute leur histoire dans la litterature. Mr. Max Mueller retrace ainsi, d'une maniere ingenieuse, mais bien convaincante, l'usage des mots pour arriver a leurs racines primitives, et puis il forme des theories d'apres ces comparaisons—qui sont au moins toujours interessantes. Ce qu'il y a de remarquable c'est qu'on retrouve les memes mots dans les endroits les plus eloignes, des mots Anglais et Francais qui ont leur origine dans le Sanskrit; et de meme pour d'autres idiomes. Max Mueller differe des philologues anciens en ceci que tandis qu'ils etudiaient seulement les langues classiques, lui trouve la lumiere et le materiel partout, meme dans le Patois: ainsi le Provencal lui a ete indispensable et bien d'autres langues encore que les amateurs des classiques negligent generalement."
This interest in languages grew with years. When at Sens, we studied Italian together, but my increasing deafness made me abandon it on account of the pronunciation, whilst my husband, on the contrary, made it a point to read some pages of it every day, and even to write his diary in that language. Later still, he used to send to Florence some literary compositions to be corrected. After the marriage of his daughter, he used occasionally to ask his son-in-law, M. Raillard, for lessons in German, and had even undertaken to write, with his collaboration, a work on philology which was to have been entitled, "Words on their Travels, and Stay-at-Home Words," which his unexpected death cut short. In the afternoon of the day on which he died, as he was coming back home from the Louvre in a tram-car, he took out of his pocket a volume of Virgil, and read it the whole way. "I furbish up my Latin and Greek when on a steamer or in omnibuses," he said to me; "it prevents my being annoyed by the loss of time."
"Je suis retourne chez Seeley ou on m'a traite d'une facon tout-a-fait delicate; le Professeur est un des hommes les plus sympathiques que j'aie rencontres. Je t'en parlerai plus longuement de vive voix, et quant a son frere Richmond je n'ai jamais connu quelqu'un avec qui je m'entende aussi facilement. Il y a une chose bien charmante en lui, c'est que, bien qu'il soit a la tete d'une grande maison, il n'a jamais l'air presse et vous ecoute avec une patience parfaite.
"Ce que tu me dis de 'mon courage au travail et a la lutte' me paye pour bien des heures de besogne. Tout ce qui me decourage parfois, c'est ma faible sante qui m'oblige souvent a paraitre paresseux sous peine d'etre malade.
"Il me tarde tant de te revoir que je suis comme un pauvre prisonnier en pays etranger, loin de la Dame de ses pensees. Alors, tu sais, il faut m'ecrire et embrasser les enfants pour moi."
"J'ai ete desole de ne pas pouvoir t'ecrire aujourd'hui; il est maintenant 1 h. du matin. Je vais bien, mais je suis accable de travaux et pourtant je veux partir bientot; je finirai a la maison. Aujourd'hui j'ai termine mon article juste a temps pour l'impression. Comme notre ane 'Je dors debout'; aujourd'hui je tombais presque de sommeil dans les rues de Londres.
"Les travaux sur l'eau-forte sont termines cette fois. A bientot!"
"22 RUE DE L'OUEST PARIS. Lundi.
"Je suis arrive hier a 5 h. du soir. Je ne suis pas du tout fatigue, ce qui semble indiquer une augmentation de force, car tu sais que les longs voyages me fatiguent generalement beaucoup. Je suis alle ce matin des 8 h. chez Delatre ou j'ai fait tirer mes planches. On fait le tirage de suite et les livraisons paraitront cette semaine.
"Quant a mes pauvres enfants, je suis desole de les savoir malades, mais ta lettre m'encourage a esperer qu'ils sont en bonne voie de convalescence. Tu as du avoir un temps difficile a passer ainsi tout seule: chere petite femme, je crois que si j'y avais ete c'eut ete plus facile pour toi: les enfants de mon ami Pearce sont egalement malades de la scarlatine.
"Hier soir j'ai dine chez Froment [the artist who paints such beautiful decorative works for Sevres]; ce matin j'ai dejeune chez Froment, ce soir j'y dine, et ainsi de suite."
M. Froment had been most hospitable to both of us during our stay in Paris; he had given us a day at Sevres, and had shown us the Manufacture in all its details. He was a widower, and inconsolable for the loss of his wife, whose memory was as sacred to him as religion. His two daughters were at home; the eldest watching maternally over the younger sister, who, however, died a few years later. M. Froment's feelings, perceptions, and tastes were exquisitely refined, and my husband derived both benefit and pleasure from the friendly intercourse. In after years Gilbert met M. Froment occasionally, and found him always full of kindness and regard.
After nursing the children through scarlatina I caught it myself, and when my husband knew of it, he wrote:—
"I write just to say how sorry I am not to be able to set off at once, and be at your bedside. I shall certainly not be later than Saturday. I am of course very busy, and have no time for letter-writing. I have seen Docteur Dereims to-day, and told him of your illness. He insists on the necessity of the greatest care during your convalescence. You must especially avoid cold drinks, as highly dangerous.
"Things are going on as I wish for my book on Etching. I am getting hold of plates which alone would make it valuable. Pray take care of yourself. I wish I were with you."
On the following day:—
"I am very sorry to hear you had such a bad night; but from all I can hear from Dr. Dereims you are only going through the usual course of the illness. I will be with you on Saturday without fail. You may count upon me as upon an attentive, though not, I fear, a very skilful nurse. But I will try, like some other folks, to make up in talk what I lack in professional skill. I am tolerably well, but rather upset by this news from Pre-Charmoy. I could not sleep much last night.
"I am going to the exhibition to-day, and will be thinking of little wife all the time. I have met with a quantity of very fine paper for etching, of French manufacture, and have obtained Macmillan's authority to purchase it for the text also. It will be a splendid publication. I feel greater and greater hopes about that book.
"Only forty-eight hours of separation from the time I write."
The day after:—
"Enfin il y a bien peu de chose a faire a mes planches, et j'espere que dans un jour ce sera termine.
"J'ai beaucoup de choses a te dire mais ce sera pour nos bonnes causeries intimes. Je voyagerai toute la nuit de vendredi afin d'arriver samedi dans la matinee. Quand je pense a toi et aux enfants, a la petite maison, a la petite riviere et a tous les details de cette delicieuse existence que nous passons ensemble, il me faut beaucoup de courage pour rester ici seul a terminer mon travail."
When my husband reached home, I was still in bed, and unwilling to let him come to me for fear of infection; but he would not hear of keeping away. "I never catch anything," he said gayly, "don't be anxious on my account;" and he insisted upon sleeping on a little iron bedstead in the dressing-room close to our bedroom, to nurse me in the night.
He soon recovered his usual health, with occasional troubles of the nervous system; but he had grown careful about the premonitory symptoms, and used to grant himself a holiday whenever they occurred. Having been told whilst in London that novel-writing paid better than any other literary production, he now turned his thoughts towards the possibility of using his past experience for the composition of a story. It would be a pleasant change from criticism, he said, and would exercise different mental faculties. Very soon the plan of "Wenderholme" was formed, and we entertained good hopes of its success.
In the month of September, 1866, the wedding of my sister Caroline took place quietly at our house, Mr. Hamerton being looked upon as the head of the family since the death of my father. Although he prized his privacy above everything else, he was ready to sacrifice it as a token of his affection for his sister-in-law, and went through all the necessary trouble and expense for her sake. She married a young man who had formed an attachment for her ever since she was fifteen years old,—M. Pelletier,—and they went to live at Algiers, where he was then Commis d'Economat at the Lycee. It was agreed that they should spend the long vacation with us every year.
There are a good many days of frost in a Morvandau winter, and the snow often remains deep on the ground for several weeks together; there was even more than usual in 1867, so my husband devised a new amusement for the boys by showing them how to make a giant. Every time they came home, they rolled up huge balls of snow which were left out to be frozen hard, then sawn into large bricks to build up the monster. The delight of the boys may be imagined. Every new limb was greeted with enthusiastic shouts, they thought of nothing else; and, perched on ladders, their little hands protected by woollen gloves, they worked like slaves, and could hardly be got to eat their meals. But how should I describe the final scene, when in the dark evening two night-lights shone out of the giant's eyes, and flames came out of its monstrous mouth?... It was nothing less than wild ecstasy. Their father also taught them skating; there was very little danger except from falls, for they began in the meadows about the house, where they skated over shallow pools left in the hollows by rain-water or melted snow; but when they became proficient, we used to go to the great pond at Varolles. As my husband has said in one of his letters, all that was very good for him.
In January, 1868, he left again for London, and felt but little inconvenience on the way and during his stay. Knowing that I should be anxious, he formed the habit of sending me frequent short pencil notes, to say how he was. I give here a few of them:—
"LONDRES. Vendredi soir.
"J'ai ete tres occupe aujourd'hui au musee Britannique. Demain j'irai voir des expositions. Je compte partir dimanche pour Paris."
"J'ecris dans une boutique. Je vais bien. Je dine au Palais de Cristal avec un Club."
"Je vais bien. Pauvre petit Richard! embrasse-le bien pour moi; tu as du etre bien inquiete."
This was about a serious accident which had happened to our youngest boy. Whilst at play with his brother on the terrace, and in my presence, he ran his head against a low wall, and was felled senseless to the ground by the force of the blow; the temple was cut open, and his blood ran over my arm and dress when I lifted him up, apparently lifeless. The farmer's cart drove us rapidly to Autun, where we found our doctor in bed—it was ten at night. The wound was dressed and sewn up, and the pain brought back some signs of life. I asked if I ought to take a room at the hotel to secure the doctor's attendance at short intervals, but I was told that blows of that kind were either fatal or of little importance; the only thing to be done was to keep ice on the head and renew it constantly. The poor child seemed to have relapsed into an insensible state, and remained so all night. In the early morning, however, he awoke without fever, and was quite well in about three weeks.
I had asked my husband to take the opinion of an aurist about my increasing deafness, and he tenderly answered:—
"Serieusement je ne crois pas que ta surdite augmente. Avant de te rendre compte combien tu etais sourde, tu ne savais pas quels bruits restaient pour toi inapercus. Maintenant tu fais de tristes decouvertes; moi qui suis mieux place pour t'observer, puisque j'entends ce que tu n'entends pas, je sais que tu es tres sourde, mais je ne vois pas d'augmentation depuis tres longtemps et je crois que tu resteras a peu pres comme tu es. J'en ai parle aujourd'hui avec Macmillan dont une amie ete comme toi pendant longtemps et qui eprouve maintenant une amelioration graduelle, mais tres sensible. Tache surtout de ne pas trop t'attrister, parce qu'il parait que le chagrin a une tendance a augmenter la surdite. Quant a parler d'aimer mieux mourir, tu oublies que mon affection pour toi est bien au-dessus de toute infirmite corporelle, et que nous aurons toujours beaucoup de bonheur a etre ensemble; du moins je parle pour moi. Et meme si ta surdite augmentait beaucoup, nous aurions toujours le moyen de communiquer ensemble en parlant tres haut: en France nous parlerions anglais, et en Angleterre, francais."
He sympathized so much with my trouble that, unlike many other husbands, who would have been annoyed at having to take a deaf wife into society, he urged me to go with him everywhere, kindly repeated what I had not heard, and explained what I misunderstood. He always tried his best to keep away from me the feeling of solitude, so common to those who are deprived of hearing.
Just as I was rejoicing over the thought that my husband had prosperously accomplished this last journey, I had a letter from him, dated "Hotel du Nord, Amiens," in which he said he was obliged to stop there till he felt better, for he could eat absolutely nothing, and was very weak. The worst was that I dared not leave my poor little Richard yet, to go to his father: the wound on the temple was not healed, and the doctor had forbidden all excitement, for fear of brain-fever after the shock. I was terribly perplexed when the following letter reached me:—
"HOTEL DE L'AIGLE NOIR, FONTAINEBLEAU. Mercredi.
"Tu apprendras avec plaisir que j'ai regagne un peu d'appetit hier soir. J'ai mange un diner qui m'a fait tant de bien que ce ne serait pas cher a une centaine de francs. Cet hotel est tres propre et la cuisine y est faite convenablement sans melange de sauces. Toute la journee de lundi a Amiens, j'ai vecu d'un petit morceau de pain d'epices. Le soir a 10 h. 1/2 j'ai mange une tranche de jambon. Je suis parti a minuit pour Paris ou je suis arrive a 4 h. du matin. Pour ne pas me rendre plus malade, je n'ai pas voulu rester dans la grande ville que j'ai traversee d'une gare a l'autre immediatement. J'ai pris une tasse de chocolat et ecrit quelques lettres en attendant le train pour Fontainebleau qui est parti de la gare a 8 h. C'etait un train demi-express, mais je l'ai bien supporte. En arrivant a Fontainebleau je n'ai pas pu dejeuner et je n'ai rien mange jusqu'au soir quand j'ai bien dine. C'est tres economique de ne pas pouvoir manger. J'ai saute plusieurs repas, qui par consequent ne figurent nullement dans les notes.
"Hier soir je me suis promene un peu dans les jardins du palais qui est lui-meme vaste, mais c'est un amas de constructions lourdes et de mauvais gout, du moins en general. Cela me fait l'effet d'une caserne ajoutee a une petite ville. Les jardins, les arbres sont magnifiques. Je me trouve bien ce matin, mais un peu faible par suite du peu de nourriture que j'ai pu prendre depuis quelques jours. Enfin, je suis en train de me refaire. Je desire vivement etre chez moi, et j'y arriverai aussitot que possible sans me rendre malade. Embrasse pour moi les enfants et ta mere; a toi de tout coeur."
He reached home safely, but the fatigue and weakness seemed to last longer than previously, and insomnia frequently recurred. He did his best to insure refreshing sleep by taking more exercise in the open air, but it became clear that he must abandon work at night, because when his brain had been working on some particular subject, he could not quiet it at once by going to bed, and it went on—in spite of himself—to a state of great cerebral excitement, during which production was rapid and felicitous—therefore tempting; but it was paid for too dearly by the nervous exhaustion surely following it. It was a great sacrifice on his part, because he liked nothing better than to wait till every one had retired and the house was all quiet and silent, to sit down to his desk under the lamp, and write undisturbed—and without fear of disturbance—till dawn put out the stars.
He now changed his rules, and devoted the evenings to reading.
Studies of Animals.—A Strange Visitor.—Illness at Amiens.— Resignation of post on the "Saturday Review."—Nervous seizure in railway train.—Mrs. Craik.—Publication of "Etching and Etchers."— Tennyson.—Growing reputation in America.
In the course of the years 1865-67 Mr. Hamerton had made the acquaintance of several leading French artists,—Dore, Corot, Daubigny, Courbet, Landelle, Lalanne, Rajon, Brunet-Debaines, Flameng, Jacquemart, etc. The etchers he frequently met at Cadart's, where they came to see proofs of their etchings; the painters he went to see for the preparation of his "Contemporary French Painters" and "Painting in France." Together with these works he had begun his first novel, "Wenderholme," and had been contemplating for some time the possibility of lecturing on aesthetics. I was adverse to this last plan on account of his nervous state, which did not seem to allow so great an excitement as that of appearing in public at stated times; I persuaded him at least to delay the realization of the project till he had quite recovered his health, despite the invitations he had received both from England and America. He continued to paint from nature, with the intention of resigning his post on the "Saturday Review" in case of success, but now devoted more of his time to the study of animals, principally oxen, as he liked to have models at hand without leaving home.
Desiring to be thoroughly acquainted with the anatomy of the ox, he bought one which had died at the farm, and had it boiled in parts till the flesh was separated from the bones, which were then exposed to dry in the sunshine. When thoroughly dried they were kept in the garret, and successively taken to the studio to serve for a series of drawings, of which I still possess several. As we had a goat, and sometimes kids, he also made numerous sketches from them, as well as from ducks, sheep and lambs, hens and chickens. There was also a Waterloo veteran who came weekly as a model, and who was painted in a monk's dress, which my husband used afterwards, and for a long time, as a dressing-gown.
This habit of sketching animals whenever he had a chance gave rise to some amusing incidents before our peasant neighbors knew that he "painted portraits of dumb beasts, as well as of Christians." Some farmers' wives, alarmed at the sight of odd pennies in the pockets of their offspring, accused them of pilfering, but on being told that the "gros sous" had been given them by "le pere anglais," came to our house to ascertain how and why; for, unlike the people of the South, they would not have tolerated begging. They were quieted by the assurance that the money had been honestly earned by the children for holding their goat or donkey whilst its portrait was taken; nay, they even felt a little proud that an animal of theirs should have been thought worthy of such an honor.
Etching in all its forms was pursued at the same time with lithography and photography; even a new kind of transparent etching ground was invented by Mr. Hamerton, which made it possible for etchers to see the work already done upon a plate after having it grounded again for correction or additional work.
A strange incident occurred during this winter. My husband's rising reputation had, it appears, given to many people a desire for his personal acquaintance, or for intercourse by correspondence. The first desire brought him many unexpected visitors, the second quite an appreciable increase of work, as he hardly ever left a letter unanswered. To give the reader an instance of the extraordinary notions entertained by some people, I shall relate the true history of one visitor amongst others. Some letters at short intervals, from England, signed—let us say—Beamish, mentioned a mysterious project which could not possibly be explained otherwise than by word of mouth, and which might be both profitable and agreeable to Mr. Hamerton, if realized. He was asked to call upon the correspondent for an explanation if he should happen to go to London soon; if not, Mr. Beamish begged leave to come over and see him. Of course the leave was given, and the gentleman having written that on such a day he would be at such an hotel in Autun, Gilbert went to fetch him in the pony-carriage—for Dort-debout had tired out our patience, and had been replaced by a beautiful and energetic little pony called Cocote.
When we met Mr. Beamish, we found him a most prepossessing young man, of elegant manners and refined speech; in short, a gentleman. He begged me to allow his portmanteau to be placed in the carriage; and as I observed that he was not expected to dress for our family dinner, he answered that it only contained papers that he should want.
Two other friends, understanding English, joined us at dinner. The conversation was animated, but Mr. Beamish never hinted at the mysterious project. In the evening, engravings and etchings were shown to our guest, but failed to excite his interest, for he soon fell asleep on the sofa, and let our friends go without awaking. Unwilling to disturb him, we remained till nearly one o'clock, when I decided to retire, whatever happened afterwards; and I was so tired that after going to bed I never awoke till morning, when I asked my husband at what time Mr. Beamish had gone. "Gone," he answered; "why, I don't know that he has gone at all, for I left him after three, just where he was." I hardly dared peep into the drawing-room; however, it was empty; but when the breakfast-bell was rung, Mr. Beamish came in unconcernedly to have his share of the simple meal, during which he talked pleasantly and intelligently of his experiences in India, where he had spent the greater part of eighteen years. Nothing was said of the project, and after vainly waiting for some mention of it, my husband returned to his study, after letting Mr. Beamish know that he was not to be disturbed till eleven o'clock, for it was the time of his morning work. "Very well," answered our guest; "meanwhile I shall put my books and papers in order." At the same time he requested me to send rather a large table into the room where he had slept (it was the room in which his portmanteau had been put), and to tell the servants to be careful not to interfere in any way with what he would leave upon it, not even to dust, so long as he remained with us. I then believed that Gilbert had invited him to stay some time, but I was undeceived in the course of the day, and told that the mysterious project had been unfolded at last, and was a proposition that he should undertake a journey to Palestine in the company of Mr. Beamish, to join Holman Hunt, who was painting studies in the Holy Land. "But what made you think I was ready to undertake such a pilgrimage?" Mr. Hamerton had asked in great astonishment. "Because I read that you liked camping out," was the reply; "and thought also that, being an artist, you would be glad to meet with Holman Hunt, who, like you in the Highlands, works directly from nature. I thought, moreover, that, as I intend to go myself, you would be agreeable and profitable society."
Although my husband had declined to give the slightest consideration to this plan, Mr. Beamish still remained, and vaguely hinted that a still more mysterious project detained him at Autun.
He went on foot, alone, to the college, on three successive afternoons, begged to see our boys, and tipped them so generously that the principal thought it his duty to ask their father whether he had authorized these visits—clearly implying that he doubted the soundness of the visitor's mind.
We had learned in the course of conversation that our guest was of a benevolent and charitable disposition, and that he had spent much money in India in founding hospital-beds for poor women, whose sufferings he warmly compassionated. He was also full of sympathy for the Indian people, and spoke of their wrongs not without a certain degree of excitement, but still in a manner to arouse our interest. Altogether, although he was a self-imposed guest, we had already learned to like him, and were unwilling to remind him, with ever so little rudeness, that he was in the way. My husband said that his conduct might be explained by the fact that he had lived so long in India, where the dwellings of Europeans are often at great distances from each other, and where a visitor is always made at home and welcome; that Mr. Beamish was only acting as he had been accustomed to do for the greater part of his life, for he was still a young man of about thirty-six.
After about a week's stay, he began to talk of leaving us within a short time, but did not say when—that would depend on certain circumstances. However, on a bitterly cold evening, with the snow deep on the ground, he requested to be driven to Autun, and took a friendly leave of us all without explanation. But the principal of the college related the following strange story to Mr. Hamerton:—
"Your friend, Mr. Beamish, whom I had met at your house, came here under pretext of seeing your sons, but called upon me, and asked point-blank if I would give him my help in a charitable deed of some importance. 'What is the nature of the deed?' was my first question. 'The salvation of a soul.' 'In what form?' I did not get a direct answer, but I was told that the idea had sprung from religious motives, and that knowing my strong attachment to religion—though it was the Roman Catholic religion—he hoped I should have sufficient moral courage to help him in his deed of mercy—in fact he had resolved to reclaim a fallen woman. Vainly did I attempt to turn him from his generous but impracticable resolution. He threatened to act alone if I refused him the sanction of my presence, but he hoped that the Aumonier would see his action in its true light, and putting himself above popular suspicion, would accompany him 'to the very den of sin to offer salvation to a lost but repentant sheep.' It was useless to try to make him understand that it was impossible for the Aumonier to risk his character, even with the hope of doing good, and at last Mr. Beamish expressed a desire to meet him in my presence on the morrow. Our worthy Aumonier was horrified at the idea of the kind of sinners he would have to meet, and declined to have anything to do with the wildly charitable scheme."
The next news was brought to Autun four days later by the woman whom poor Mr. Beamish thought he had rescued at the cost of four hundred francs for her liberation from debt, and about two hundred more for decent clothing. He had taken her as far as Dijon, where he had left her in some kind of reformatory; but after enjoying the change, and with her purse replenished to carry her through the first difficulties of an honest life, she hastened back to the old haunt to gibe and jeer at her benefactor.
Another queer visitor was an English gentleman, past middle age, who could never find his way back to our house, but invariably appeared at meal-times in the dining-room of some neighbor, who had to escort him to Pre-Charmoy.
The opening of the Academy exhibition had come round again, and Mr. Hamerton had to go and criticise it as usual; but after reaching Amiens, he felt so poorly that he resolved to send his resignation to the "Saturday Review," and to return home as quickly as he could. Here is his letter to me:—
"HOTEL DU NORD, AMIENS. Dimanche.
"Bonne cherie.—Je suis arrive a Amiens samedi matin de bonne heure, ayant l'intention de me reposer un peu a l'hotel et puis de continuer mon voyage le tantot, mais en me levant j'ai senti que j'avais besoin d'un repos un peu plus prolonge apres les fatigues de Paris. Le plus ennuyeux c'est que je peux a peine manger quelque chose. Comme ce manque d'appetit m'affaiblera inevitablement s'il continue longtemps et que l'affaiblissement amenerait probablement un mauvais etat du systeme nerveux, je crois que le plus sage serait de renoncer pour cette fois au voyage en Angleterre et de revenir au Pre-Charmoy comme un faux billet indigne de circuler. Mon intention est donc de retourner, et pour changer je prendrai probablement la ligne de Dijon, en m'arretant un jour a Sens pour voir Challard. [An artist who had copied some drawings of Jean Cousin for the "Fine Arts Quarterly Review."]
"Comme je te l'ai promis, je fais ce qui me semble etre le plus sage. Je reviendrai le plus vite que je pourrai sans hasarder ma sante.
"J'ai loue un petit bateau hier avec lequel j'ai explore la riviere d'Amiens—la Somme—en haut de la ville. Il est impossible d'imaginer rien de plus pittoresque. Il y a une grande quantite de petites maisons et baraques au bord de l'eau et je vais prendre la le materiel d'une eau-forte. J'espere que cette retraite n'est pas trop ridicule. Un bon general, dit-on, se distingue tout autant dans la retraite que dans l'avance; et comme par le fait il y a manque de vivres—puisque je ne peux pas manger—il me semble que la prudence conseille ce que les Americains appelaient 'un mouvement strategique' quand ils avaient ete battus."
"AMIENS. Lundi matin.
"Comme je n'avais pas encore regagne d'appetit hier j'ai pense qu'il serait plus sage de rester ici encore un peu et je suis alle canoter sur la riviere.
"Mr. Cook avec une grande et charmante bonte m'a fait des remontrances: il me dit que le ton de ma lettre l'a blesse et que mes 'menaces' lui ont fait de la peine; qu'il n'a jamais manque de largesse envers ses ecrivains et que l'excedent de mes depenses en livres, voyages, etc., sera toujours defraye par la Revue. J'ai ete reellement touche de la maniere affectueuse dont il m'a fait ses observations auxquelles il a su joindre des compliments, en me disant que j'avais decouvert la meilleure facon de faire la revue des expositions et que mes articles sont precisement ce qu'il lui faut. J'ai repondu que quant a la peine que cela avait pu lui faire, je le regrettais sincerement, mais que les 'menaces' etaient tout simplement l'expression d'une resolution tres decidement prise, et dans un moment ou j'etais a la fois trop malade et trop presse pour proceder avec plus de formes.
"Comme ma promenade sur l'eau m'a fait du bien hier je vais la renouveler.
"Ton mari, qui te reverra bientot."
I decided at once to go to him; my mother, who had come to stay with me during his absence, approved my resolution, and undertook the management of the house and the care of the children: so without asking for his leave, I wrote that I was on my way to Amiens.
His joy was great when he saw me, and his progress towards recovery was so rapid that he abandoned the idea of retracing his steps, and encouraged by my presence, thought he could accomplish the journey to London without danger. It was of great importance that he should keep his post on the "Saturday Review," because it was his only regular income, everything else being uncertain; and we knew that if he could undertake the work again it would be readily entrusted to him.
We only stayed two days at Amiens, and as my husband was never seasick or nervous on the sea, everything went on satisfactorily so far; but as soon as we had left Dover for London, I perceived signs of uneasiness in his behavior. He closed his eyes not to see the moving objects we passed; he uncovered his head, which seemed burning by the flushed face; he chafed his cold, bloodless hands, and shuffled his feet to bring back circulation. For a long time he attempted to hide these alarming symptoms from me, but I had detected them from the beginning; his eyes had a far-reaching look and unusual steely brilliancy; the expression of his countenance was hard-set, rigid, almost defiant, as if ready to overthrow any obstacle in his way; and indeed it was the case, for unable to control himself any longer, he got up and told me hoarsely that he was going to jump out of the train. I took hold of his hands, and said I would follow; only I entreated him to wait a short time, as we were so near a station. I placed myself quite close to the door of the railway carriage, and stood between it and him. Happily we were near a station, else I don't know what might have happened; he rushed out of carriage and station into the fields, whilst I followed like one dazed and almost heart-broken. After half-an-hour he lessened his pace, and turned to me to say, "I think it is going." I could not speak for fear of bursting into tears, but I pressed his hand in mine and held it as we continued our miserable way across the fields. We walked perhaps two hours, at the end of which Gilbert said tenderly, in his usual voice: "You must be terribly tired, my poor darling; I think I could bear to rest now; we may try to sit down." We sat down upon a fallen tree, and after some minutes he told me that if I could get him a glass of beer somewhere it would bring him round. I went in search of an inn and discovered a closed one, for it was Sunday and the time of afternoon service. Nevertheless I knocked so perseveringly that a woman came forth, incensed by my pertinacity, and peremptorily refused with indignation any kind of drink: to obtain a bottle of beer I had to take an oath that it was for a patient.
The glass of ale at once calmed and revived my husband, and when the bottle had been emptied—in the course of an hour or so—he was himself again and felt hungry.
We did not know the place,—it was Adisham; we had no luggage, and as to resuming our journey it was out of the question, for some time at least. So I went again to the inn, and asked the woman if she could give us a room. "No, there was not one ready; and then it was so suspicious, people coming like that through the fields and without luggage." I offered to pay in advance. "But we might be runaways." My husband had his passport, and I explained that he had been taken ill suddenly, and that our luggage could be sent to us from London. "If the gentleman were to die here it would be a great trouble." I had to assure her that it was not dangerous, and that rest only was required. At last she consented to show me into a very clean, freshly-papered room, deprecating volubly the absence of curtains and bedstead in such an emergency, but promising to put them up shortly if we remained some time.
The bedding was laid upon the carpet; the mattresses had just undergone a thorough cleaning, and the sheets and counterpane smelt sweet. When night came we were thankful to rest our tired limbs even on the floor, and to hope that sleep would bury in oblivion the anguish of the day, at least for a while.
Oh, the weary, weary time spent there, without work, without books, and with but little hope of better days. How should we get out of it, and when?... It was now clear that these terrible attacks were due to railway travelling. Then how should we ever get home again?...
Our luggage had been telegraphed for and returned, and the appearance of the trunks had evidently inspired some confidence in our landlady. Materially we were comfortable enough: a clean bedroom, a quiet, rather large sitting-room (it was the usual public dining-room, but it being early in the season, there were no boarders besides ourselves); and the cookery, though simple and unvaried, was good of its kind,—alternately ham and eggs, beef-steak and chops with boiled potatoes, rice pudding, or gooseberry tart.
Morning after morning my husband wondered if he would feel equal to resuming the journey; but the necessary self-reliance was found wanting still. We walked out slowly and aimlessly, and we chose for our long walks the most solitary lanes. Gilbert felt that the air, impregnated by sea-salt, was gradually invigorating him, and after three weeks of this melancholy existence made up his mind to order a carriage to take us as far as Canterbury. The long drive and change did him good, and he was well enough to take me to the Cathedral, and show me the town, where we lingered two days, and then took another carriage for Croydon. At that stage my husband told me that we were not far from Beckenham, and proposed that we should call upon Mr. and Mrs. Craik on the following day. I shall never forget the kindness of the reception nor the sympathy of our hostess. I was surprised to see my husband enjoying conversation and society so much, because when he was unwell he shrank from meeting with any one, and required complete solitude; he only wished to feel that I was near him, without fretting and in silence. But the charming simplicity of the welcome in the garden, the peacefulness, not only of the dwelling, but still more the calm and sweet aspect of the celebrated authoress, together with her husband's friendly manner, acted soothingly upon the nerves of their visitor. He told without reticence what had happened, and soon changed the subject to fall into an animated and interesting conversation.
After lunch Mrs. Craik made me walk in the garden with her, and inquired more closely into the particulars of this strange illness; she encouraged and comforted me greatly. She was tall, and though white-haired, very beautiful still, I thought. As we walked she bent her head (covered with the Highland blue bonnet) over mine, and as she clasped my shoulders within her arm, I could see her hand laid upon my breast, as if to soothe it; it was the loveliest hand I ever saw; the shape so perfect, the skin so white and soft. We spoke French together; she was interested about France, and liked talking of its people and customs. Before we left she asked me to write to her, and offered to render me any service I might require.
The journey to Todmorden was not to be thought of this time, and Gilbert had begged his uncle and aunt to meet us at Kew, if they could manage it. They answered in the affirmative, and he found lodgings for them, not far from ours, nearly opposite to the church.
Knowing that his book must now be ready, he longed to see a copy of it, and feeling well enough one morning, he started with me for London; but as soon as we were in the heart of the town, its bustle, crowd, and noise drove my husband to the comparative peace of the nearest park. There, as usual in such cases, we had to walk till his nerves were calmed, and then to sit down for a long time. He did not think he would be equal to the busy streets that day, and asked me to take a cab and see if I could bring him back a copy of his book. Reluctantly I left him, though he assured me the attack was over; only he was afraid of bringing it on again if he went into the street. So I was driven to Mr. Macmillan's house of business, and immediately received by him. He was evidently truly sorry to hear that my husband was unwell, and "Etching and Etchers" being upon his table, he took up a copy, and with many warm praises insisted upon placing it himself in my cab. The book was everything that its author had desired, and taken so much pains to ensure; he was gratified by the result, and gratefully acknowledged the liberality of the publishers. One of the first visits paid by Mr. Hamerton when he felt well again was to Mr. Cook, of the "Saturday Review," who was himself out of health through overwork. He feelingly expressed his regret that my husband could not continue to act as regular art critic, but trusted that he would still contribute to the "Saturday" as much as possible, and on subjects he might himself select.
Next we saw Mr. Seymour Haden, and I begged him to try and discover what was the nature of my husband's ailment.
It was no easy matter, as the patient refused to submit to examination and to prescriptions of any kind. Mrs. Haden, who was full of sympathy and kindness, apprised her husband of this peculiarity and he undertook to passer-outre. So the next time we called by invitation, he looked steadily at his guest for some time, and said to him deliberately: "You are very ill; it's no use denying it to me; you must give up all work,—not in a month, or a week, or to-morrow, but to-day, instantly." My husband flushed, so that I trembled in fear of another seizure, and answered angrily: "I cannot give up work; I must work for my family; I shall try to work less." ... "I say you are to give up all mental labor immediately; I shall see, later, what amount of intellectual work you are able to bear, according to the state you will be in. You may break stones on the road, but I forbid you to hold a pen for literary composition; and once back home, you must renounce railway travelling as long as it produces uncomfortable sensations." All this was said imperatively, and although it drove my husband almost to desperation, I thanked Mr. Haden in my heart for his courageous and timely interference, and Gilbert did the same after recovering from the shock.
This time he did not feel either so sad or so despondent as formerly, when he had suffered alone; he knew now for certain that the causes of his trouble were overwork and railway travelling, and he took the resolution of avoiding both dangers as much as possible. Whenever he felt nervous we remained quietly at Kew, reading or sketching or walking in solitary places with his uncle and aunt, and when he thought himself well enough we went to London by boat or omnibus, to the British Museum, the National Gallery, or South Kensington Museum, and to the public or private art exhibitions. We also paid calls, and on one of these occasions I was introduced to George Eliot and to Mr. Lewes; the latter sat by us on a sofa outside of the inner circle (the room was full), and talked with wonderful vivacity and great discrimination of the state of French literature. He judged of it like a Frenchman; his conversation was extremely interesting and suggestive, and he appeared to derive great pleasure from a rapid exchange of thoughts. Undeniably he was very plain, when you had time to think of it, but it was with him as with the celebrated advocate, M. Cremieux,—so much caricatured,—neither of them seemed at all plain to me as soon as they spoke; both had expressive eyes and countenance, and the interest awakened by the varying expression of the features did not allow one to think of their want of symmetry and shape.
The person who sat next to George Eliot seemed determined to monopolize her attention; but as a new-comer was announced she came forward to meet him, and kindly taking me by the hand, made me sit in the chair she had herself occupied, and motioned to my husband to come also. He remained standing inside the circle, whilst the Monopolizer had, at once, to yield his seat to the mistress of the house, as well as a share of her conversation to others than himself.
I immediately recognized the description given of her by my husband; her face expressed at the same time great mental power and a sort of melancholy human sympathy; her voice was full-toned, though low, and wonderfully modulated. We were frequently interrupted by people just coming in, and with each and all she exchanged a few phrases appropriate to the position, pursuit, or character of her interlocutor, immediately to revert to the subject of our conversation with the utmost apparent ease and pleasure.
Mr. Lewes offered tea himself, because the worshippers surrounded the Idol so closely that they kept her a prisoner within a double circle, and they were so eager for a few words from her lips that as soon as she moved a step or two they crowded about her in a way to make me think that, in a small way and in her own drawing-room, she was mobbed like a queen at some public ceremony.
The next time we called upon George Eliot she had heard of our meeting with Mr. Tennyson, and said,—
"So you have seen the great man—and did he talk?"
"Talk?" answered my husband; "he talked the whole time, and was in high spirits."
"Then you were most fortunate."
We understood what was implied, for Mr. Tennyson had the reputation of not being always gracious. However, we had learned from himself that nothing short of rudeness could keep his intrusive admirers at a distance, so as to allow him some privacy. He told us of a man who so dogged his steps that he was afraid of going out of his own garden gates, for even in front of those locked gates the man would stand and pry for hours together, till the poet's son was sent to him with a request that he would go elsewhere.
In the case of his meeting with Mr. Hamerton it was totally different, for he had himself expressed a wish for it to Mr. Woolner. Of course my husband was greatly flattered when he heard of it, and readily accepted an invitation to lunch with Mr. Woolner's family, and to meet the poet whom he so much admired. I sat by Mr. Tennyson, and endeavored to suppress any outward sign of the interest and admiration so distasteful to him. Nevertheless, I was greatly impressed by the dignity of his simple manners and by the inscrutable expression of the eyes, so keen and yet so calm, so profound yet so serene. His was a fine and noble face, even in merriment, and he was very merry on that day, for the string of humorous anecdotes he told kept us all laughing, himself included. I am sorry now not to remember them, the more so as they generally concerned himself. Several were connected with his title of "Lord of the Manor," but the only one I can remember in its entirety is the following, because he was addressing himself to me—a Frenchwoman—the scene of the story being the Hotel du Louvre, in Paris.
Mr. Tennyson began by remarking that there were a good many stories current about him; some of them were true, but most of them apocryphal.
"And is the one you are going to relate true?" I asked.
He smiled, and answered:—
"I think it is capital; you will have to guess. I had occasion to go to Paris with a friend who was supposed to speak French creditably, and who fancied himself a master of it. On the morning following our arrival in the French capital, being somewhat knocked up by the journey, we had a late breakfast at a small side-table of the dining-room, of which we were soon the only occupants, under the watchful and, as I thought, suspicious eyes of a waiter, whose attention had probably been attracted by the conspicuous difference between our stature and garb from that of his little dandified countrymen. Having caught a slight cold on the passage, I felt more inclined to stay by the fire with a newspaper than to go out, and did so, whilst my friend, who had some business in the town, left me for some time. As I drew my chair up to the hearth I heard the waiter answering with alacrity to some recommendation of my friend's, 'Oh, monsieur peut etre tranquille, j'y veillerai.' I thought it was some order about our dinner, and resumed my political studies. Was it my cold which made me dull and inattentive? It is quite possible, for my eyes kept wandering from my paper, and, strange to say, always met those of the French waiter riveted upon me. At first I felt annoyed: what could be so strange about my person? Then I was irritated, for though that queer little man was making some pretence at dusting or replacing chairs, still his eyes never left me for a moment, and at last, being somewhat drowsy, I had the sensation that one experiences in a nightmare, and thought I had better resort to my room and make up for a shortened night. No sooner, however, had I got up from my chair than the waiter was entreating me to remain, offering to heap coals on the fire, to bring me another paper or a pillow if I was tired, and 'Did I wish to write a letter? he would fetch instantly what was required; or should I like something hot for my cold?' His voice had the strange coaxing tone that we use to pacify children, and made me stare; but I answered angrily that I only wanted a nap, and to be let alone, and I made for the door in spite of his objurgations. Then he ran in front of me, and barring the door with arms outstretched, besought me to await my friend. This unaccountable behavior had rendered me furious, and now I was determined to force my way out, despite the mad resistance and loud gibberish of the waiter, and I began to use my fists. It was in the midst of this tremendous row that my astonished friend re-appeared in the dining-room, and was greeted with this exclamation from my adversary: 'Ah, monsieur, vous voyez, j'ai tenu ma parole: je ne l'ai pas laisse sortir le fou; mais ca n'a pas ete sans peine, il etait temps que vous arriviez.'
"It turned out that my friend, anxious for my comfort, and noticing that the fire was getting low, had said in his easy French before leaving, 'Garcon, surtout ne laissez pas sortir le fou' (feu)—meaning 'Don't let the fire go out,' and the intelligent foreigner had immediately guessed from my appearance that I was le fou."
Amidst general laughter I said,—
"It is cleverly invented."
"I see you do not believe it," Mr. Tennyson answered; "yet it has passed current in society and in the newspapers."
Sitting close to Mr. Tennyson, as I did, I noticed the large size, and somehow plebeian shape, of his hands. They did not seem to belong to the same body as the head, indicating merely physical strength and fitness for physical labor. His dress also struck me as peculiar: he was wearing a shirt of coarse linen, starchless, with a large and loose turned-down collar, very like a farmer's of former days, and shirt and hands looked suited to each other. After remarking this I happened to look up into Mr. Tennyson's face, which then wore its habitual expression of serious and grand simplicity; and I thought that the rough and dull linen, with the natural, unstiffened fall about the neck, formed a most artistic sculpturesque setting for the handsome head well poised above it.
After lunch Mr. Woolner took the gentlemen to his studio for a smoke, and my husband told me afterwards that Mr. Tennyson had continued as talkative there as he had been at lunch, and was only interrupted by the entrance of Sir Bartle Frere, who had a great deal to say on his own account.
It was very gratifying to me to notice that whenever my husband met with celebrities he was treated by them on a footing of equality, and although still a young man, his opinions and views were always accepted or discussed with evident respect, even by his seniors. His presence invariably awoke interest and confidence, and in most cases sympathy. It was felt that he was one of the few to be looked up to, and I have heard people much older than himself tell me that they prized highly a private hour spent with him, because his influence made them feel more desirous of striving for noble aims and elevated thoughts which seemed so natural and easy to him. It is true, indeed, that whatever he thought, said, or did, bore the stamp of genuine uprightness, for his nature was so much above meanness of any kind that he had great difficulty in admitting it in others; whenever he met with it his first attitude was one of charitable hesitation, but when he recognized it unmistakably his indignation was as unbounded and unrestrained as in cases of cruelty.
In spite of the impediment to social intercourse caused by his intermittent nervous state, Mr. Hamerton enjoyed rather a large share of cultivated and intelligent society at this time. His worst moments happened in the morning and in bright sunshine; the evening was in general entirely free from disagreeable sensations, and a rainy day or clouded sky most favorable. This peculiarity enabled him to accept invitations to dinners, at which he met the persons whose acquaintance he cared for.
Mr. Thomas Hamerton and his sister had left us at Kew to go back home, and we wished it were as simple for us to do the same, but we could only think of the journey with the saddest forebodings; yet we longed to be through it, and safely restored to our peaceful rustic life and to a sight of our children.
It was a very tedious, trying, and harassing journey; we travelled only at night, by the slowest trains, and went but short distances at a time. Sometimes my husband was unable to proceed for a few days; but, with admirable courage and resolution, he managed to reach the much-desired goal.
And now what was to be done? Mr. Haden allowed literary work only on two consecutive days in the week, and when Gilbert was unwell on those days, there was no remunerative production, and his anxieties became almost intolerable. He resolved to try every day of the week if he were fit for work, and to go on whenever he felt suitably disposed till the two days' work had been done, and then to leave off till the next week. This succeeded for a while, but as he naturally became anxious to produce as much as possible during these two days, he felt driven, and suffered in consequence. He then attempted to devote only two hours to literary composition at a sitting, and to repeat the attempt twice a day when he did not feel his powers overtaxed. To this new rule he adhered till the end of his life—at least, generally speaking, for in some circumstances he had to write throughout the day, but he was careful to avoid this extremity as much as possible.
We waited impatiently for news of the reception of "Etching and Etchers" by the public, and Mrs. Craik having been so kind as to offer any service she could render, I wrote to her on the subject, and she answered:—
"BECKENHAM. July 19, 1868.
"My dear Mrs. Hamerton,—I can quite understand how you care about the book—perhaps more than your husband even, and I wish I could send you news of it. But there have been no reviews as yet, and this being the dull time of year, the sale is slow. Whatever reviews come out you shall have without fail from the firm. It is so valuable and charming a book that I do hope it may gradually make its way. I do believe it is only the dreadful cities which make your husband ill—and no wonder; in peaceful Autun he will flourish, I trust; and you too recover yourself, for I am sure you were very far from well when you were here. It was so kind of you to come to us that Sunday, and to believe that we are both people who really mean what we say—and say what we think: which all the world does not. If ever I can do anything for you, pray write. And some day in future ages I shall write to you to ask advice upon our little tour in unknown French towns and country, when we shall certainly drop upon Autun en route. Not this year, however.
"With very kind remembrance to you both, believe me, dear Mrs. Hamerton,
"D. M. Craik."
My sister, Caroline Pelletier, had now come to Pre-Charmoy with her baby-daughter, to escape from the drought prevailing at Algiers, and her presence was a great pleasure to my recluse. She often read to him to keep up her English, and accompanied him in his drives when I was prevented, aware that he did not much like to venture away alone since he had been ill. At his request she had brought an Algerian necklace and bracelets made of hardened paste of roses, which were intended for Aunt Susan, who had greatly liked the odor of mine, and who acknowledged the little present in a very cordial letter.
My younger brother Frederic was at that moment very ill with typhoid fever, and I had asked my husband to let me go to help my mother in nursing him; however, with greater wisdom and firmness he refused his leave, and made me understand my duty to our children. "If you brought back to them the germs of disease, and if they died of it, you never would forgive yourself," he said. But after the fatal ending he allowed me to attend the funeral, on condition that I should not enter the house, but come back directly after the painful duty was accomplished. At the same time, he kindly invited my mother to come to us, after taking all necessary precautions against the danger of bringing infection to her grandchildren.
The society of M. Pelletier, who used to follow his wife to Pre-Charmoy as soon as he was free, proved quite a boon to Gilbert in his solitude, and a solid friendship was soon formed between the two brothers-in-law. M. Pelletier's mind was inquisitive and receptive; he had read much, and in the family circle we called him our "Encyclopedia." He made it his duty and pleasure to clear up any obscure point which might embarrass any of us, and often undertook long researches to spare my husband's time. They regularly sat up together long after the other inmates of the house had gone to their rest, talking and smoking, or walking out in the refreshing breeze of the summer night.
My brother Charles also joined us at times, and, being a capital swimmer, taught his nephews all sorts of wonderful aquatic feats. We all went daily to the pond at Varolles, and though the men and boys were all proficient in swimming, Charles astonished them by taking a header, preceded by a double somersault, from the top of the wall, and kindling thereby a jealous desire to rival him, so that in a very short time my husband, who hitherto had remained but an indifferent performer, now trod the water, read aloud, or smoked in it, with the greatest ease. It was very good exercise for him.
For some time past Mr. Hamerton's reputation had been growing in America, but he did not derive the slightest profit from the sale of his books there till Messrs. Roberts Brothers, of Boston, proposed to pay him a royalty upon the works that should be published by them in advance of pirated editions. This offer was accepted with pleasure and gratitude, and the pecuniary result, though not very important, proved a timely help. Moreover, Roberts Brothers admired Mr. Hamerton's talent, and in very flattering terms acknowledged it, besides doing much for the spread of his reputation in America.
In the autumn, bad news of Aunt Susan's health reached Pre-Charmoy. The reports soon became alarming, and her nephew was made very miserable by the impossibility of going to her bedside. When we had taken leave of each other at Kew, she was very despondent on account of my husband's illness, and expressed a fear that she might die without our being near her. No one could say when the taboo on railway travelling could be withdrawn for him, but I gave our aunt a solemn promise that in such an emergency as she mentioned, I at any rate would go to her when she called me, and Gilbert had ratified the engagement. From her letters it was easy to see that she wished very much for my companionship and nursing, being very low in spirits and feeble in body, yet she was reluctant to ask, with the knowledge that her nephew also frequently required my care. At last we agreed that the proposal should come from us, my husband, as usual, sacrificing his own comfort to the claims of affection. The offer was gratefully accepted.
As I had never travelled much alone, and am entirely destitute of the gift of topography, it was not without misgivings that my husband saw me off; but he had taken the trouble of writing down for my guidance the minutest directions, and though he told his uncle that he should not be astonished to hear that I had turned up in New York, I reached London safely.
He was very lonely at Pre-Charmoy, with only his little girl and a maid, the boys being at college, but he frequently went to dine there with the principal, M. Schmitt, from whom he needed no invitation, and who always made him welcome. He was also cheered by my letters, which told him of his aunt's rapid improvement in health and strength. We went out together upon the hills as often as the weather allowed, and when threatened with an attack of nervous dizziness—which she dreaded unspeakably—she derived confidence from my apparent composure, and tided over it when I firmly grasped her round the waist, and made her take a few steps in the keener and purer air of the garden. When our aunt was restored to her usual state of health, rather more than a month after my arrival, I took leave of my kind relatives loaded with presents for every one of the children, and even for their parents. Of course I wished to spend Christmas at home, and I arrived just in time to realize my wish. Gilbert had come to meet me at the station, and as soon as we had exchanged greetings and news he began to tell of a plan for an artistic periodical which had mainly occupied his thoughts during my absence. As we were driving home he entered into all the details of the scheme as he conceived it, and said he believed he might undertake the management of such a periodical, even where he was situated, if Mr. Seeley gave his valuable help. He was full of the idea, and his thoughts were continually reverting to it.
"Wenderholme."—The Mont Bouvray,—Botanical Studies—La Tuilerie. —Commencement of the "Portfolio."—The Franco-German War.
The uncertainty of finding sufficient literary work after the resignation of his post on the "Saturday Review" had been a cause of great anxiety to Mr. Hamerton, though he had enough on hand at that time, but he wondered very much if it would last. He wrote for the "Globe" regularly; for the "Saturday Review," "Pall Mall Gazette," and "Atlantic Monthly" occasionally, though he had a great dislike for anonymous writing, as he bestowed as much care and labor upon it as if it could have added to his reputation. He worked with greater pleasure and some anticipation of success at his novel of "Wenderholme," the first volume of which had been sent to Mr. Blackwood, who agreed to give L200 for the copyright. Here are some passages from his letter, which of course was very welcome. After a few criticisms:—
"The narrative is natural and taking. Your description of the drunken habits of Shayton are excellent, and not a bit overdone. It reminds me of a joke of Aytoun's when there was a report of an earthquake at a village in Scotland notorious for its convivial habits. He remarked, 'Nonsense; the whole inhabitants are in a chronic state of D. T. that would have shaken down the walls of Jericho.'
"The picture of poor Isaac's struggles and his final break-down at his own home is very well done, and so is that of his old mother, with her narrow fat forehead.
"I particularly like Colonel Stanburne. He is like a gentleman, and I hope he has a great deal to do in the remaining part of the story. Little Jacob is very nice, and promises to make a good hero.
"The style is throughout pleasant and graceful. I shall look anxiously for vols. 2 and 3, but I feel confident that you will not write anything unkind or inconsistent with good taste."
Encouraged by the favorable opinion of Mr. Blackwood, the author went on as diligently with the novel as his health allowed. From time to time I find in his diary, "too unwell to work," or "obliged to rest," or "not well enough to write." Still, he was remarkably free from bodily pain, as it is generally felt and understood; he never complained of aches or sickness, and to any ordinary observer he looked vigorous and unusually healthy; but from me, accustomed to scrutinize the most transient expression of his face and countenance, he could not hide the slightest symptoms of nervousness, were it merely the bending forward of the body, the steady gaze or unwonted cold brightness of the eyes. Whenever I detected any of these threatening signs at home, I begged him to leave work and to go out, and if we happened to be in an exhibition or any crowded place, we had to resort to some secluded spot in a public garden—to the parks if we were in London; and I believe it must be on account of the repeated anguish I suffered there that I never wished to visit them for my pleasure: those horribly painful hours have deprived them of all charm for me. What my husband had to bear was a terrible apprehension of something fearful,—he did not know what,—now increasing, as if a fatal end were inevitable; now decreasing, only to return—ah! how many times?—till sometimes only after hours of strife, and sometimes suddenly, it left him calm but always weakened. At the very time that he was most frequently subject to these attacks, the American papers were giving numerous notices of his works, and brief biographies in which he was invariably presented to the public as an athlete in possession of the most robust health.
The doctors agreed in saying that this disorder was only nervous, and not the result of any known disease; that the only remedy lay in rest for the brain, and active exercise for the body in the open air. But it was indeed difficult to give rest to a mind incessantly thirsting for knowledge, and finding an inexhaustible mine of interest in the most trivial events, in the simplest natures and the monotonous existence of the rustics, as well as in the philosophy of Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill, or in the aesthetics of Ruskin and Charles Blanc. It was a mind which turned all that came in its way into the gold of knowledge, and which spent it generously afterwards, not only in his writings, but in familiar conversations; his friends used to say that they always gained something when with him, on account of the natural elevation of mind which made him treat all questions intellectually. He had no taste for sport or amusements or games, with the exception of boating and chess; but chess-playing can hardly be called mental rest, and boating is not always practicable, requiring several hours each time it is indulged in, particularly when one is not close to a lake or river.
Riding Cocote was a pleasant relaxation to her master, as she was a spirited little creature, and the two often went together to the Mont Beuvray (the site of the ancient Bibracte of the Gauls), to find the learned and venerable President of the Societe Eduenne busy with his researches among the ruins, but nevertheless always ready to receive them hospitably. The use of one of his huts was given to his young friend, and his four-footed companion was turned loose to browse on the fine, short grass which grew thickly under the shade of the noble oaks and chestnut trees of the mountain.
On these occasions, a valise containing sketching material and books was strapped on behind the rider, on the horse's back; at other times, when I accompanied my husband, we went in a light cart, which was left with Cocote at a farmhouse about half-way up the hill.
My husband liked me to read to him whilst he sketched, and I see by his diary of 1869 that some of the works he listened to in the course of that year were: "Les Couleuvres," by Louis Veuillot; Victor Jacquemond's "Voyage en Italie;" "l'Art en Hollande," and "La Litterature Anglaise," by Taine "Le Postscriptum;" George Eliot's "Silas Marner;" Sidney Colvin's "Academy Notes;" Tennyson's "In Memoriam;" Legouve's "l'Art de la lecture;" "Chateaubriand et son groupe litteraire," "Beranger et de Senancourt," by Sainte-Beuve, whose talent as a critic he greatly admired.
The rambles and drives which he took in quest of picturesque subjects inclined him to botanical studies, and he began to form a herbarium; the search for plants gave a zest to the long walks recommended by the doctors, which might have become tedious had they been aimless. The prettiest or most remarkable of these plants were sketched or painted before being dried, to be used in the foregrounds of pictures. Gilbert's mind was also inventive; the reader may have remarked in the autobiography that he had made various models of double-boats, the principle of which he wished to see more generally adopted on account of their safety; but in 1869 it was not with boats that this faculty of invention was busy,—it was with a plan for a carriage which would meet our requirements. The little donkey-cart was so rickety now that it had become unsafe, and the carriage-builders could not show anything sufficiently convenient of a size and weight to suit Cocote. The elegant curves above the fore-wheels reduced the stowage room to a mere nothing, and we required plenty of space to carry, safely protected from rain and dust, many things—amongst them change of garments when we went to Autun for a wedding, a funeral, or a soiree, and plenty of wraps for the drive back in the cold or mist of midnight. A good deal of room was also wanted for the provisions regularly fetched from the town,—grocery, ironmongery, etc. My husband succeeded in contriving a carriage perfectly answering our wants: it was four-wheeled, and provided with a double seat covering a roomy well; there was also a considerable space behind to receive bundles and parcels, or at will a small removable seat. Six persons could thus ride comfortably in the carriage, and as we were expecting a visit from Mr. T. Hamerton and his sister, we wished very much to have it ready for their use.
With the tender thoughtfulness which characterized my husband, he had contrived a low step and a door at the back part of the carriage to allow an aged person, like his aunt or my mother, to get inside with ease and safety, and to get out quite as easily in case of danger.
They arrived in the middle of July, and spent a month with us. They were both in very good health, and Aunt Susan, in spite of her seventy years, rivalled her little grand-niece with the skipping-rope. She wrote afterwards from West Lodge on August 20:—
"MY DEAR NEPHEW AND NIECE,—We arrived at home all safe and well at five o'clock on Monday to tea, and to-day it is a week since we left your most kind and hospitable entertainment, and I can assure you a most true, heartfelt pleasure and gratification it has been to me to spend a month with you, for which you must accept our best thanks for your kindly studied attentions and exertions to make our visit pleasant. I am sure I am much better for my journey; I feel strong and more vigorous; the drives in the little carriage were no doubt the very thing that would conduce to my getting strong, as I had then fresh air and exercise without fatigue. [There follows a description of the journey, according to a careful itinerary prepared by her nephew.] How is little Lala, lal, a, lala? [her little niece, who was always singing]. We often talk of her interesting ways and doings, and I often wish I could give other English lessons to my nephews. I think we should have made some progress, as both sides seemed interested in their business."
Shortly after the departure of his relatives, Mr. Hamerton was informed by his landlord that he would have to leave the little house and garden and stream he liked so well, because it was now the intention of the proprietor to come to it with his family to spend the vacations. He was offered, instead, another house on the same estate, called "La Tuilerie," larger and more convenient, but a thoroughly banale maison bourgeoise, devoid of charm and picturesqueness, close to the main road, and without a garden; moreover, in an inconceivable state of dirtiness and dilapidation. I felt horror-struck at the notion of removing to such a place; however, I was at last obliged to submit to fate. My husband, though very disinclined to a move, thought that since it could not be avoided, it was as well to make it as easy, cheap, and rapid as possible. He could not afford to lose time, and his health prohibited long travels in search of a new abode, since he could not make use of railways. We went as far in the neighborhood of Pre-Charmoy as Cocote could take us in a day in different directions, but found nothing suitable, probably because we did not wish to be at a distance from the college, which would prevent the boys from coming home as they had been accustomed to do.
The greater space and conveniences offered at La Tuilerie were a temptation to my husband. We had, besides two entrances, a large dining-room, drawing-room, kitchen, six bedrooms, lots of closets, cupboards, dressing-rooms, and an immense garret all over the first floor, well lighted by two windows, and paved with bricks. In the extensive courtyard was a set of out-buildings, consisting of a gardener's cottage, cartshed, and stable for six horses; and as on the ground belonging to the house there had formerly existed a tile-kiln (tuilerie) with drying sheds, there was ample space for a garden after removing the rubbish which still covered it.
The fact is that circumstances allowed of no choice, and we had to resign ourselves to the inevitable. Gilbert saw at once that with a certain outlay and a great deal of ingenuity he could make La Tuilerie not only tolerable, but even convenient and pleasant—though I doubted it—and he explained how the outbuilding might be used as laundry, laboratory, and carpenter's shop—there being three rooms of different sizes in it; and what a gain it would be so to have all the dirty work done outside the house. Another attraction was the good views from all the windows; that of the Beuvray, with the plain leading to it; the amphitheatre of Autun, with the intervening wood of noble trees, and beyond it the temple of Janus; the range of the Morvan hills, the fields of golden wheat and waving corn, and the pastures which looked like mysterious lakes in the moonlight when the white mist rose from the marshes and spread all over their surface—endlessly as it seemed. He promised me to plan out a garden, and there being several fine trees about the kiln and on the border of the road—oaks, elders, elms, and spindle trees—he said he would contrive to keep them all, so as to have shade from the beginning, and to give the new garden an appearance of respectable antiquity.
The workmen were set at once to their task of repairing, painting, and papering, and though my husband deprecated both the time spent on supervision and the unavoidable expense (for the landlord, under pretext that the rent was low, refused to contribute to the repairs, which he called ameliorations), was unmistakably elated by the prospect of having the use of a more spacious dwelling; for he very easily suffered from a feeling of confinement, and tried to get rid of it by having two small huts which could be moved about to different parts of the estate according to his convenience, and to which he resorted when so inclined. Even when they were not used, it was for him a satisfaction to know that he had in readiness a refuge away from the house whenever he chose to seek it. This dislike to confinement was betrayed unconsciously when he sat down to his meals by his first movement, which pushed aside whatever seemed too near his plate—glass, wine-bottle, salt-cellars, etc. I remember that he would not use the public baths in France, because the cabins are small and generally locked on the outside. It was therefore a great pleasure to devise stands and cupboards and shelves in the large room which was to be his laboratory, and which he adorned with a cheap frieze of white paper with gilt edges, and "Lose no Time" in black-and-red letters, repeated upon each of the four walls, so as not to escape notice whichever way you turned.
The carpenter's shop also had its due share of attention, and was well provided with labelled boxes of all dimensions for nails, screws, etc., whilst a roomy closet, opening into the studio, was fitted up with a piece of furniture specially designed to receive the different-sized portfolios containing engravings, etchings, and studies of all kinds, together with a lot of pigeon-holes to keep small things separate and in order. All this was done at home, under his direction, and he has let his readers into the secret of his taste when he wrote in "Wenderholme": "For the present we must leave him (Captain Eureton) in the tranquil happiness of devising desks and pigeon-holes with Mr. Bettison, an intelligent joiner at Sooty thorn, than which few occupations can be more delightful." About the pigeon-holes, a friend of my husband once made a discovery which he declared astounding. "I well knew that Mr. Hamerton was a model of order," he said to me; "but I only knew to what extent when, having to seek for string, I was directed to these pigeon-holes. I easily found the one labelled 'String,' but what it contained was too coarse for my purpose. 'Look above,' said Mr. Hamerton. I did, and sure enough I saw another label with 'String (thin).' I thought it wonderful."
Yes, Gilbert loved order, and strove to keep it; but as it generally happened that he had to do many things in a hurry (catching the post, for instance), he could not always find time to replace what he had used. When this had gone on so as to produce real disorder, he gave a day to restoring each item to its proper place—this happened generally after a long search for a mislaid paper, the finding of which evoked the oft-repeated confession, "I love Order better than she loves me, as Byron said of Wisdom."
The correspondence relating to the foundation of the "Portfolio" was now very heavy; everything had to be decided between Mr. Seeley and Mr. Hamerton; suitable contributors had to be found, subjects discussed, illustrations chosen. The only English art magazine of that day confined its illustrations to line engravings and woodcuts, and its plates were almost always engraved from pictures or statues. It was intended that the "Portfolio" should make use of all new methods of illustration, and should publish drawings and studies as well as finished works. But it was the dearest wish of the editor that the revived art of Etching should receive due appreciation in England, and that, with this object, etched plates should be made a feature of the new magazine.
The contents of the first volume will best show the plan, which was quite unlike that of any existing periodical. A series of articles on "English Artists of the Present Day" was contributed by Mr. Sidney Colvin, Mr. W. M. Rossetti, Mr. Tom Taylor, Mr. Beavington Atkinson, and the editor. These were illustrated by drawings most willingly lent by Mr. G. F. Watts, Mr. Poynter, Sir E. Burne-Jones, Mr. Calderon, Mr. H. S. Marks, Mr. G. D. Leslie, and other painters; and by paintings by Lord Leighton, Mr. Armitage, and Mr. A. P. Newton. The reproductions were made by the autotype (or carbon) process of photography, which was then coming into high estimation as a means of making permanent copies of works by the great masters. Every copy of these illustrations was printed by light, a process only possible in the infancy of a magazine which could count at first on the interest of but a small circle, and had to form its own public. The editor contributed a series of papers, entitled "The Unknown River," illustrated by small etchings by his own hand. These were printed on India paper, and mounted in the text, another process only possible in a magazine addressed to a few. The first volume also contained a very fine etching by M. Legros, and others by Cucinotta and Grenaud. Articles were contributed by Mr. F. T. Palgrave, Mr. Watkiss Lloyd, Mr. G. A. Simcox, and Mrs. Mark Pattison (Lady Dilke). A paper on "A New Palette" of nine colors was the forerunner of the elaborate "Technical Notes" of later years. The imposing size of the new magazine, its bold type, fine, thick paper, and wide margins were much admired, and prepared the way for the many editions de luxe issued in England in the next quarter of the century.
In the second year the slow autotype process had to be abandoned for the quicker Woodburytype, by which were reproduced drawings kindly contributed by Sir J. E. Millais, Sir John Gilbert, Mr. Holman Hunt, Mr. Woolner, Mr. G. Mason, Mr. Hook, and others. The editor commenced a series of "Chapters on Animals," illustrated with etchings by Veyrassat. Other etchings by M. Martial, Mr. Chattock, Mr. J. P. Heseltine, and Mr. Lumsden Propert appeared. Mr. Basil Champneys, Mr. W. B. Scott, and Mr. F. G. Stephens contributed articles.
In the third year a series of "Examples of Modern Etching" was made the chief feature. It included plates by M. L. Flameng, Sir F. Seymour Haden, M. Legros, M. Bracquemond, M. Lalanne, M. Rajon, M. Veyrassat, and Mr. S. Palmer. The editor wrote a note upon each, and had now the pleasure of seeing one of his objects accomplished, and the public appreciation of his favorite art extending every day.
In subsequent years the various methods of photo-engraving were employed instead of the carbon processes of photography, and the "Portfolio" was one of the first English periodicals to give reproductions of pen-drawings.
Several of M. Amand-Durand's admirable facsimiles of etchings and engravings by the old masters adorned its pages. In 1873 appeared one of Mr. R. L. Stevenson's first contributions to literature,—if not his first,—a paper on "Roads," signed "L. S. Stoneven." This was followed by other articles in the years 1874, 1875, and 1878, bearing his own name.
The fear of running short of work was not realized; on the contrary, my husband had always too much on his hands; for he dreaded hurry, and would have liked to bestow upon each of his works as much time as he thought necessary, not only for its completion, but also for its preparation, and that was often considerable, because he could not slight a thing. When he was writing for the "Globe" he polished his articles as much as a book destined to last; he always respected his work, and the care given to it bore no relation to the price it was to fetch. He often expressed a wish that he might labor like the monks in the Middle Ages, without being disturbed by mercenary considerations; that simple shelter, food, and raiment should be provided for himself and for those dependent upon him—he did not foresee any other wants—so that he might devote the whole of his mental energy to subjects worthy of it. But I used to answer that if he had such liberty he never would publish anything; for whenever he sent MS. to the printer it was inevitably with regret at not being able to keep it longer for improvement. Still, the second volume of "Wenderholme" had been sent to Mr. Blackwood, who wrote on Sept. 24, 1869:—
"There is no doubt that I liked vol. 2 very much. The story is told in a simple, matter-of-fact way, which is very effective, by giving an air of truth to the narrative.
"The fire and the whole scene at the Hall is powerfully described. The love at first sight is well put, and the militia quarters and the landlord are true to the life."
My husband read to me the MS. of the novel as fast as he wrote it, and I was afraid that some of the original characters might be recognized by their friends, being so graphically described; however, he believed it unlikely, people seeing and judging so differently from each other.
In the summer, as usual, we had several visitors who afforded varying degrees of pleasure; a strange lady-artist amongst others, whose blandishments did not succeed in making my husband acquiesce in her desire of boarding with us, free of charge, in return for the English lessons she would give to our children. She resented the non-acceptance of her proposition, and having begged to look at the studies on the easel, feigned to hesitate about their right side upwards, by turning them up and down several times, and retiring a few steps each time as if in doubt.
A more desirable visit was that of M. Lalanne, who besides his talent had much amiability and very refined manners. Ever after he remained, if not quite an intimate friend of my husband, at least more than an acquaintance, and whenever they had a chance of meeting they made the most of it. Gilbert, after one of these meetings,—a dejeuner at M. Lalanne's,—told me the following anecdote. Some one asked him if he had not the "Legion d'honneur"? and being answered that it had not been offered, went on to say that it was not "offered," but "accordee" through the influence of some important personage, or by the pressure of public opinion; "and I think this should be your case," M. Lalanne's friend went on, "for you have rendered, and are still rendering, such great service to French art and to French artists, that it ought to be acknowledged. As you do not seem inclined to trouble yourself about it, a deputation might be chosen among your admirers to present a petition to that effect to the Ministre des Beaux-Arts." Mr. Hamerton having replied that he should prize the distinction only if it were spontaneously conferred, M. Lalanne remarked that decorations were of small importance, and asked without the slightest pride, "Do you know that I am one of the most decores of civilians?... No; well, then, I will show you my decorations." Then ringing the bell, he said to the maid who answered it, "Bring the box of decorations, please." It was a good-sized box, and when opened showed on a velvet tray a number of crosses, stars, rosettes, and ribbons of different sizes and hues, all vying in brilliancy and splendor. The first tray removed, just such another was displayed equally well filled, and M. Lalanne explained that, having given lessons to the sons of great foreign personages, they had generally sent him as a token of regard and gratitude some kind of decoration—maybe in lieu of payment.
At the end of 1869 "Wenderholme" was published, and the first number of the "Portfolio" made its appearance on January 1, 1870, and from that date it became for the editor an undertaking of incessant interest, to the maintenance and improvement of which he was ever ready to devote himself, and for which he would have made important sacrifices. The dedication of "Wenderholme" was meant for Aunt Susan, and after receiving the book, she wrote:—
"Accept my most sincere and highly gratified thanks for the copy of your novel, and its dedication. We have heard that the "Times" and the "Yorkshire Post" had each favorable articles on the merits of your novel. We have detected nearly every character, even those that take other forms, but we do not even whisper any information in this neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. W—— were immediately struck with the 'hoffens' and 'hirritation' of the doctor, but I pretend to think it not individual, but that it was the case among the people you were writing about."
In May 1870, Mr. Hamerton removed to La Tuilerie, about five hundred yards from Pre-Charmoy. He continued to date his letters from Pre-Charmoy—the new house being on the estate so called; his motive was to avoid possible confusion in the delivery of his letters. He was greatly tickled to hear the peasants call his new abode "le chateau de l'Anglais," and to see them staring admiringly from the road at the windows, which were left open that paint and plaster might dry before we came to live in it. Though perfectly independent of luxury, my husband liked cleanliness and taste in the arrangement of the simplest materials, and he contrived by a good choice of patterns and colors in the papering of the rooms, with the help of fresh matting on the floors, and the judicious hanging of fine engravings and etchings in his possession, to impart quite a new and pleasant aspect to the banale maison bourgeoise. Gradually I became reconciled to it, on account of its greater convenience, and I even came to like it when the vines and wisteria and golden nasturtiums hid the ugly bare walls, and the fragrance of mignonette and roses and petunias was wafted into the rooms looking over the garden, and that of wild thyme and honeysuckle into those which looked over the fields; when the tall acacias began to shoot upwards straight and graceful from their velvety green carpet, and scattered upon it their perfumed moth-like flowers; while we listened to the humming of the happy bees in the sweet-smelling lime trees and to the wondrous song of the rival nightingales challenging each other from bower to bower in the calm, warm nights of summer-time. And such a great change did not take very long to realize: the ground had been well drained and plentifully manured, and it was almost virgin soil, unexhausted by previous vegetation, so that the elm-bower was soon thickly leaved and with difficulty prevented from closing up, the climbing vines became heavy with grapes, whilst the spreading branches of the acacias speedily formed a vast parasol, and afforded a pleasant shelter from the glare of the August sunshine. Hardy fruit trees of all kinds had been planted all along the garden hedge, and in the third year began to yield cherries—in moderation—but plums of different species we had in great quantities, also quinces, sometimes apples, apricots, and figs—the two last, however, were frequently destroyed by frost, the spring being generally very cold in the Morvan. As to pears, we had to wait somewhat longer for them, the pear trees requiring strict pruning to preserve the quality of the fruit; but we used to have a small cart-load of them when the year had been favorable. There was nothing my husband liked better than to pick gooseberries, currants, raspberries, cherries, or plums, and eat them fresh as we took a walk in the garden; he was very fond of fruit, and unlike most men, he would rather do without meat than without vegetables or dessert. His tastes in food, as in everything else, were very simple, but he was particular about quality. I never heard him complain of insufficiency, though, situated as we were, there was sometimes only just enough; and even that lacking which might have been considered as most necessary, namely, a dish of meat. For Gilbert, however, it was not a privation when occurring occasionally; nay, he even enjoyed the change, and as I generally went to Autun on Fridays and could get fish, we made it a jour maigre, though not from religious motives. It was understood that if eggs were served they must be newly laid; if potatoes, mealy and a point; if fish, fresh and palatable; he would not have tolerated the economy of one of our lady neighbors, who abstained from buying fish at Autun because it was too dear, she said; but who used to bring a full hamper when she came back yearly from Hyeres, where it was cheap, enough to last for a week after the journey, and who considered the unsavory hamper an ample compensation for the absence of fish from her menus during the remainder of the year.