In 1869 I was called on to decide, in council with my two boys and their mother, what should be their destination in life. In June of that year the elder, who was then twenty-three, was called to the Bar; and as he had gone through the regular courses of lecturing tuition and study, it might be supposed that his course was already decided. But, just as he was called, there seemed to be an opening for him in another direction; and this, joined to the terrible uncertainty of the Bar, the terror of which was not in his case lessened by any peculiar forensic aptitudes, induced us to sacrifice dignity in quest of success. Mr. Frederic Chapman, who was then the sole representative of the publishing house known as Messrs. Chapman & Hall, wanted a partner, and my son Henry went into the firm. He remained there three years and a half; but he did not like it, nor do I think he made a very good publisher. At any rate he left the business with perhaps more pecuniary success than might have been expected from the short period of his labours, and has since taken himself to literature as a profession. Whether he will work at it so hard as his father, and write as many books, may be doubted.
My second son, Frederic, had very early in life gone to Australia, having resolved on a colonial career when he found that boys who did not grow so fast as he did got above him at school. This departure was a great pang to his mother and me; but it was permitted on the understanding that he was to come back when he was twenty-one, and then decide whether he would remain in England or return to the Colonies. In the winter of 1868 he did come to England, and had a season’s hunting in the old country; but there was no doubt in his own mind as to his settling in Australia. His purpose was fixed, and in the spring of 1869 he made his second journey out. As I have since that date made two journeys to see him — of one of which at any rate I shall have to speak, as I wrote a long book on the Australasian Colonies — I will have an opportunity of saying a word or two further on of him and his doings.
The Vicar of Bullhampton was written in 1868 for publication in Once a Week, a periodical then belonging to Messrs. Bradbury & Evans. It was not to come out till 1869, and I, as was my wont had made my terms long previously to the proposed date. I had made my terms and written my story and sent it to the publisher long before it was wanted; and so far my mind was at rest. The date fixed was the first of July, which date had been named in accordance with the exigencies of the editor of the periodical. An author who writes for these publications is bound to suit himself to these exigencies, and can generally do so without personal loss or inconvenience, if he will only take time by the forelock. With all the pages that I have written for magazines I have never been a day late, nor have I ever caused inconvenience by sending less or more matter than I had stipulated to supply. But I have sometimes found myself compelled to suffer by the irregularity of others. I have endeavoured to console myself by reflecting that such must ever be the fate of virtue. The industrious must feed the idle. The honest and simple will always be the prey of the cunning and fraudulent. The punctual, who keep none waiting for them, are doomed to wait perpetually for the unpunctual. But these earthly sufferers know that they are making their way heavenwards — and their oppressors their way elsewards. If the former reflection does not suffice for consolation, the deficiency is made up by the second. I was terribly aggrieved on the matter of the publication of my new Vicar, and had to think very much of the ultimate rewards of punctuality and its opposite. About the end of March, 1869, I got a dolorous letter from the editor. All the Once a Week people were in a terrible trouble. They had bought the right of translating one of Victor Hugo’s modern novels, L’Homme Qui Rit; they bad fixed a date, relying on positive pledges from the French publishers; and now the great French author had postponed his work from week to week and from month to month, and it had so come to pass that the Frenchman’s grinning hero would have to appear exactly at the same time as my clergyman. Was it not quite apparent to me, the editor asked, that Once a Week could not hold the two? Would I allow my clergyman to make his appearance in the Gentleman’s Magazine instead?
My disgust at this proposition was, I think, chiefly due to Victor Hugo’s latter novels, which I regard as pretentious and untrue to nature. To this perhaps was added some feeling of indignation that I should be asked to give way to a Frenchman. The Frenchman had broken his engagement. He had failed to have his work finished by the stipulated time. From week to week and from month to month he had put off the fulfilment of his duty. And because of these laches on his part — on the part of this sententious French Radical — I was to be thrown over! Virtue sometimes finds it difficult to console herself even with the double comfort. I would not come out in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and as the Grinning Man could not be got out of the way, by novel was published in separate numbers.
The same thing has occurred to me more than once since. “You no doubt are regular,” a publisher has said to me, “but Mr. —— is irregular. He has thrown me out, and I cannot be ready for you till three months after the time named.” In these emergencies I have given perhaps half what was wanted, and have refused to give the other half. I have endeavoured to fight my own battle fairly, and at the same time not to make myself unnecessarily obstinate. But the circumstances have impressed on my mind the great need there is that men engaged in literature should feel themselves to be bound to their industry as men know that they are bound in other callings. There does exist, I fear, a feeling that authors, because they are authors, are relieved from the necessity of paying attention to everyday rules. A writer, if he be making £800 a year, does not think himself bound to live modestly on £600, and put by the remainder for his wife and children. He does not understand that he should sit down at his desk at a certain hour. He imagines that publishers and booksellers should keep all their engagements with him to the letter — but that he, as a brain-worker, and conscious of the subtle nature of the brain, should be able to exempt himself from bonds when it suits him. He has his own theory about inspiration which will not always come — especially will not come if wine-cups overnight have been too deep. All this has ever been odious to me, as being unmanly. A man may be frail in health, and therefore unable to do as he has contracted in whatever grade of life. He who has been blessed with physical strength to work day by day, year by year — as has been my case — should pardon deficiencies caused by sickness or infirmity. I may in this respect have been a little hard on others — and, if so, I here record my repentance. But I think that no allowance should be given to claims for exemption from punctuality, made if not absolutely on the score still with the conviction of intellectual superiority.
The Vicar of Bullhampton was written chiefly with the object of exciting not only pity but sympathy for fallen woman, and of raising a feeling of forgiveness for such in the minds of other women. I could not venture to make this female the heroine of my story. To have made her a heroine at all would have been directly opposed to my purpose. It was necessary therefore that she should be a second-rate personage in the tale — but it was with reference to her life that the tale was written, and the hero and the heroine with their belongings are all subordinate. To this novel I affixed a preface — in doing which I was acting in defiance of my old-established principle. I do not know that any one read it; but as I wish to have it read, I will insert it here again:—
“I have introduced in the Vicar of Bullhampton the character of a girl whom I will call — for want of a truer word that shall not in its truth be offensive — a castaway. I have endeavoured to endow her with qualities that may create sympathy, and I have brought her back at last from degradation, at least to decency. I have not married her to a wealthy lover, and I have endeavoured to explain that though there was possible to her a way out of perdition, still things could not be with her as they would have been had she not fallen.
“There arises, of course, the question whether a novelist, who professes to write for the amusement of the young of both sexes, should allow himself to bring upon his stage a character such as that of Carry Brattle. It is not long since — it is well within the memory of the author — that the very existence of such a condition of life as was hers, was supposed to be unknown to our sisters and daughters, and was, in truth, unknown to many of them. Whether that ignorance was good may be questioned; but that it exists no longer is beyond question. Then arises the further question — how far the conditions of such unfortunates should be made a matter of concern to the sweet young hearts of those whose delicacy and cleanliness of thought is a matter of pride to so many of us. Cannot women, who are good, pity the sufferings of the vicious, and do something perhaps to mitigate and shorten them without contamination from the vice? It will be admitted probably by most men who have thought upon the subject that no fault among us is punished so heavily as that fault, often so light in itself but so terrible in its consequences to the less faulty of the two offenders, by which a woman falls. All of her own sex is against her, and all those of the other sex in whose veins runs the blood which she is thought to have contaminated, and who, of nature, would befriend her, were her trouble any other than it is.
“She is what she is, and she remains in her abject, pitiless, unutterable misery, because this sentence of the world has placed her beyond the helping hand of Love and Friendship. It may be said, no doubt, that the severity of this judgment acts as a protection to female virtue — deterring, as all known punishments do deter, from vice. But this punishment, which is horrible beyond the conception of those who have not regarded it closely, is not known beforehand. Instead of the punishment, there is seen a false glitter of gaudy life — a glitter which is damnably false — and which, alas I has been more often portrayed in glowing colours, for the injury of young girls, than have those horrors which ought to deter, with the dark shadowings which belong to them.
“To write in fiction of one so fallen as the noblest of her sex, as one to be rewarded because of her weakness, as one whose life is, happy, bright, and glorious, is certainly to allure to vice and misery. But it may perhaps be possible that if the matter be handled with truth to life, some girl, who would have been thoughtless, may be made thoughtful, or some parent’s heart may be softened.”
Those were my ideas when I conceived the story, and with that feeling I described the characters of Carry Brattle and of her family. I have not introduced her lover on the scene, nor have I presented her to the reader in the temporary enjoyment of any of those fallacious luxuries, the longing for which is sometimes more seductive to evil than love itself. She is introduced as a poor abased creature, who hardly knows how false were her dreams, with very little of the Magdalene about her — because though there may be Magdalenes they are not often found — but with an intense horror of the sufferings of her position. Such being her condition, will they who naturally are her friends protect her? The vicar who has taken her by the hand endeavours to excite them to charity; but father, and brother, and sister are alike hard-hearted. It had been my purpose at first that the hand of every Brattle should be against her; but my own heart was too soft to enable me to make the mother cruel — or the unmarried sister who had been the early companion of the forlorn one.
As regards all the Brattles, the story is, I think, well told. The characters are true, and the scenes at the mill are in keeping with human nature. For the rest of the book I have little to say. It is not very bad, and it certainly is not very good. As I have myself forgotten what the heroine does and says — except that she tumbles into a ditch — I cannot expect that any one else should remember her. But I have forgotten nothing that was done or said by any of the Brattles.
The question brought in argument is one of fearful importance. As to the view to be taken first, there can, I think, be no doubt. In regard to a sin common to the two sexes, almost all the punishment and all the disgrace is heaped upon the one who in nine cases out of ten has been the least sinful. And the punishment inflicted is of such a nature that it hardly allows room for repentance. How is the woman to return to decency to whom no decent door is opened? Then comes the answer: It is to the severity of the punishment alone that we can trust to keep women from falling. Such is the argument used in favour of the existing practice, and such the excuse given for their severity by women who will relax nothing of their harshness. But in truth the severity of the punishment is not known beforehand; it is not in the least understood by women in general, except by those who suffer it. The gaudy dirt, the squalid plenty, the contumely of familiarity, the absence of all good words and all good things, the banishment from honest labour, the being compassed round with lies, the flaunting glare of fictitious revelry, the weary pavement, the horrid slavery to some horrid tyrant — and then the quick depreciation of that one ware of beauty, the substituted paint, garments bright without but foul within like painted sepulchres, hunger, thirst, and strong drink, life without a hope, without the certainty even of a morrow’s breakfast, utterly friendless, disease, starvation, and a quivering fear of that coming hell which still can hardly be worse than all that is suffered here! This is the life to which we doom our erring daughters, when because of their error we close our door upon them! But for our erring sons we find pardon easily enough.
Of course there are houses of refuge, from which it has been thought expedient to banish everything pleasant, as though the only repentance to which we can afford to give a place must necessarily be one of sackcloth and ashes. It is hardly thus that we can hope to recall those to decency who, if they are to be recalled at all, must be induced to obey the summons before they have reached the last stage of that misery which I have attempted to describe. To me the mistake which we too often make seems to be this — that the girl who has gone astray is put out of sight, out of mind if possible, at any rate out of speech, as though she had never existed, and that this ferocity comes not only from hatred of the sin, put in part also from a dread of the taint which the sin brings with it. Very low as is the degradation to which a girl is brought when she falls through love or vanity, or perhaps from a longing for luxurious ease, still much lower is that to which she must descend perforce when, through the hardness of the world around her, she converts that sin into a trade. Mothers and sisters, when the misfortune comes upon them of a fallen female from among their number, should remember this, and not fear contamination so strongly as did Carry Brattle’s married sister and sister-in-law.
In 1870 I brought out three books — or rather of the latter of the three I must say that it was brought out by others, for I had nothing to do with it except to write it. These were Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, An Editor’s Tales, and a little volume on Julius Caesar. Sir Harry Hotspur was written on the same plan as Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, and had for its object the telling of some pathetic incident in life rather than the portraiture of a number of human beings. Nina and Linda Tressel and The Golden Lion had been placed in foreign countries, and this was an English story. In other respects it is of the same nature, and was not, I think, by any means a failure. There is much of pathos in the love of the girl, and of paternal dignity and affection in the father.
It was published first in Macmillan’s Magazine, by the intelligent proprietor of which I have since been told that it did not make either his fortune or that of his magazine. I am sorry that it should have been so; but I fear that the same thing may be said of a good many of my novels. When it had passed through the magazine, the subsequent use of it was sold to other publishers by Mr. Macmillan, and then I learned that it was to be brought out by them as a novel in two volumes. Now it had been sold by me as a novel in one volume, and hence there arose a correspondence.
I found it very hard to make the purchasers understand that I had reasonable ground for objection to the process. What was it to me? How could it injure me if they stretched my pages by means of lead and margin into double the number I had intended. I have heard the same argument on other occasions. When I have pointed out that in this way the public would have to suffer, seeing that they would have to pay Mudie for the use of two volumes in reading that which ought to have been given to them in one, I have been assured that the public are pleased with literary short measure, that it is the object of novel-readers to get through novels as fast as they can, and that the shorter each volume is the better! Even this, however, did not overcome me, and I stood to my guns. Sir Harry was published in one volume, containing something over the normal 300 pages, with an average of 220 words to a page — which I had settled with my conscience to be the proper length of a novel volume. I may here mention that on one occasion, and one occasion only, a publisher got the better of me in a matter of volumes. He had a two-volume novel of mine running through a certain magazine, and had it printed complete in three volumes before I knew where I was — before I had seen a sheet of the letterpress. I stormed for a while, but I had not the heart to make him break up the type.
The Editor’s Tales was a volume republished from the St. Paul’s Magazine, and professed to give an editor’s experience of his dealings with contributors. I do not think that there is a single incident in the book which could bring back to any one concerned the memory of a past event. And yet there is not an incident in it the outline of which was not presented to my mind by the remembrance of some fact:— how an ingenious gentleman got into conversation with me, I not knowing that he knew me to be an editor, and pressed his little article on my notice; how I was addressed by a lady with a becoming pseudonym and with much equally becoming audacity; how I was appealed to by the dearest of little women whom here I have called Mary Gresley; how in my own early days there was a struggle over an abortive periodical which was intended to be the best thing ever done; how terrible was the tragedy of a poor drunkard, who with infinite learning at his command made one sad final effort to reclaim himself, and perished while he was making it; and lastly how a poor weak editor was driven nearly to madness by threatened litigation from a rejected contributor. Of these stories, The Spotted Dog, with the struggles of the drunkard scholar, is the best. I know now, however, that when the things were good they came out too quick one upon another to gain much attention — and so also, luckily, when they were bad.
The Caesar was a thing of itself. My friend John Blackwood had set on foot a series of small volumes called Ancient Classics for English Readers, and had placed the editing of them, and the compiling of many of them, in the hands of William Lucas Collins, a clergyman who, from my connection with the series, became a most intimate friend. The Iliad and the Odyssey had already come out when I was at Edinburgh with John Blackwood, and, on my expressing my very strong admiration for those two little volumes — which I here recommend to all young ladies as the most charming tales they can read — he asked me whether I would not undertake one myself. Herodotus was in the press, but, if I could get it ready, mine should be next. Whereupon I offered to say what might be said to the readers of English on The Commentaries of Julius Caesar.
I at once went to work, and in three months from that day the little book had been written. I began by reading through the Commentaries twice, which I did without any assistance either by translation or English notes. Latin was not so familiar to me then as it has since become — for from that date I have almost daily spent an hour with some Latin author, and on many days many hours. After the reading what my author had left behind him, I fell into the reading of what others had written about him, in Latin, in English, and even in French — for I went through much of that most futile book by the late Emperor of the French. I do not know that for a short period I ever worked harder. The amount I had to write was nothing. Three weeks would have done it easily. But I was most anxious, in this soaring out of my own peculiar line, not to disgrace myself. I do not think that I did disgrace myself. Perhaps I was anxious for something more. If so, I was disappointed.
The book I think to be a good little book. It is readable by all, old and young, and it gives, I believe accurately, both an account of Caesar’s Commentaries — which of course was the primary intention — and the chief circumstances of the great Roman’s life. A well-educated girl who had read it and remembered it would perhaps know as much about Caesar and his writings as she need know. Beyond the consolation of thinking as I do about it, I got very little gratification from the work. Nobody praised it. One very old and very learned friend to whom I sent it thanked me for my “comic Caesar,” but said no more. I do not suppose that he intended to run a dagger into me. Of any suffering from such wounds, I think, while living, I never showed a sign; but still I have suffered occasionally. There was, however, probably present to my friend’s mind, and to that of others, a feeling that a man who had spent his life in writing English novels could not be fit to write about Caesar. It was as when an amateur gets a picture hung on the walls of the Academy. What business had I there? Ne sutor ultra crepidam. In the press it was most faintly damned by most faint praise. Nevertheless, having read the book again within the last month or two, I make bold to say that it is a good book. The series, I believe, has done very well. I am sure that it ought to do well in years to come, for, putting aside Caesar, the work has been done with infinite scholarship, and very generally with a light hand. With the leave of my sententious and sonorous friend, who had not endured that subjects which had been grave to him should be treated irreverently, I will say that such a work, unless it be light, cannot answer the purpose for which it is intended. It was not exactly a schoolbook that was wanted, but something that would carry the purposes of the schoolroom even into the leisure hours of adult pupils. Nothing was ever better suited for such a purpose than the Iliad and the Odyssey, as done by Mr. Collins. The Virgil, also done by him, is very good; and so is the Aristophanes by the same hand.
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