Part 6 out of 8
his gifted son, as well as by his personal privations. But the
mother lived until 1863, while Karl was everywhere stirring the
fires of revolution, driven from land to land, both feared and
persecuted, and often half famished. As Mr. Spargo says:
It was the irony of life that the son, who kindled a mighty hope
in the hearts of unnumbered thousands of his fellow human beings,
a hope that is today inspiring millions of those who speak his
name with reverence and love, should be able to do that only by
destroying his mother's hope and happiness in her son, and that
every step he took should fill her heart with a great agony.
When young Marx grew out of boyhood into youth, he was attractive
to all those who met him. Tall, lithe, and graceful, he was so
extremely dark that his intimates called him "der neger"--"the
negro." His loosely tossing hair gave to him a still more exotic
appearance; but his eyes were true and frank, his nose denoted
strength and character, and his mouth was full of kindliness in
its expression. His lineaments were not those of the Jewish type.
Very late in life--he died in 1883--his hair and beard turned
white, but to the last his great mustache was drawn like a bar
across his face, remaining still as black as ink, and making his
appearance very striking. He was full of fun and gaiety. As was
only natural, there soon came into his life some one who learned
to love him, and to whom, in his turn, he gave a deep and unbroken
There had come to Treves--which passed from France to Prussia with
the downfall of Napoleon--a Prussian nobleman, the Baron Ludwig
von Westphalen, holding the official title of "national adviser."
The baron was of Scottish extraction on his mother's side, being
connected with the ducal family of Argyll. He was a man of genuine
rank, and might have shown all the arrogance and superciliousness
of the average Prussian official; but when he became associated
with Heinrich Marx he evinced none of that condescending manner.
The two men became firm friends, and the baron treated the
provincial lawyer as an equal.
The two families were on friendly terms. Von Westphalen's infant
daughter, who had the formidable name of Johanna Bertha Julie
Jenny von Westphalen, but who was usually spoken of as Jenny,
became, in time, an intimate of Sophie Marx. She was four years
older than Karl, but the two grew up together--he a high-spirited,
manly boy, and she a lovely and romantic girl.
The baron treated Karl as if the lad were a child of his own. He
influenced him to love romantic literature and poetry by
interpreting to him the great masterpieces, from Homer and
Shakespeare to Goethe and Lessing. He made a special study of
Dante, whose mysticism appealed to his somewhat dreamy nature, and
to the religious instinct that always lived in him, in spite of
his dislike for creeds and churches.
The lore that he imbibed in early childhood stood Karl in good
stead when he began his school life, and his preparation for the
university. He had an absolute genius for study, and was no less
fond of the sports and games of his companions, so that he seemed
to be marked out for success. At sixteen years of age he showed a
precocious ability for planning and carrying out his work with
thoroughness. His mind was evidently a creative mind, one that was
able to think out difficult problems without fatigue. His taste
was shown in his fondness for the classics, in studying which he
noted subtle distinctions of meaning that usually escape even the
mature scholar. Penetration, thoroughness, creativeness, and a
capacity for labor were the boy's chief characteristics.
With such gifts, and such a nature, he left home for the
university of Bonn. Here he disappointed all his friends. His
studies were neglected; he was morose, restless, and dissatisfied.
He fell into a number of scrapes, and ran into debt through sundry
small extravagances. All the reports that reached his home were
most unsatisfactory. What had come over the boy who had worked so
hard in the gymnasium at Treves?
The simple fact was that he had became love-sick. His separation
from Jenny von Westphalen had made him conscious of a feeling
which he had long entertained without knowing it. They had been
close companions. He had looked into her beautiful face and seen
the luminous response of her lovely eyes, but its meaning had not
flashed upon his mind. He was not old enough to have a great
consuming passion, he was merely conscious of her charm. As he
could see her every day, he did not realize how much he wanted
her, and how much a separation from her would mean.
As "absence makes the heart grow fonder," so it may suddenly draw
aside the veil behind which the truth is hidden. At Bonn young
Marx felt as if a blaze of light had flashed before him; and from
that moment his studies, his companions, and the ambitions that he
had hitherto cherished all seemed flat and stale. At night and in
the daytime there was just one thing which filled his mind and
heart--the beautiful vision of Jenny von Westphalen.
Meanwhile his family, and especially his father, had become
anxious at the reports which reached them. Karl was sent for, and
his stay at Bonn was ended.
Now that he was once more in the presence of the girl who charmed
him so, he recovered all his old-time spirits. He wooed her
ardently, and though she was more coy, now that she saw his
passion, she did not discourage him, but merely prolonged the
ecstasy of this wonderful love-making. As he pressed her more and
more, and no one guessed the story, there came a time when she was
urged to let herself become engaged to him.
Here was seen the difference in their ages--a difference that had
an effect upon their future. It means much that a girl should be
four years older than the man who seeks her hand. She is four
years wiser; and a girl of twenty is, in fact, a match for a youth
of twenty-five. Brought up as she had been, in an aristocratic
home, with the blood of two noble families in her veins, and being
wont to hear the easy and somewhat cynical talk of worldly people,
she knew better than poor Karl the un-wisdom of what she was about
She was noble, the daughter of one high official and the sister of
another. Those whom she knew were persons of rank and station. On
the other hand, young Marx, though he had accepted Christianity,
was the son of a provincial Jewish lawyer, with no fortune, and
with a bad record at the university. When she thought of all these
things, she may well have hesitated; but the earnest pleading and
intense ardor of Karl Marx broke down all barriers between them,
and they became engaged, without informing Jenny's father of their
compact. Then they parted for a while, and Karl returned to his
home, filled with romantic thoughts.
He was also full of ambition and of desire for achievement. He had
won the loveliest girl in Treves, and now he must go forth into
the world and conquer it for her sake. He begged his father to
send him to Berlin, and showed how much more advantageous was that
new and splendid university, where Hegel's fame was still in the
In answer to his father's questions, the younger Marx replied:
"I have something to tell you that will explain all; but first you
must give me your word that you will tell no one."
"I trust you wholly," said the father. "I will not reveal what you
may say to me."
"Well," returned the son, "I am engaged to marry Jenny von
Westphalen. She wishes it kept a secret from her father, but I am
at liberty to tell you of it."
The elder Marx was at once shocked and seriously disturbed. Baron
von Westphalen was his old and intimate friend. No thought of
romance between their children had ever come into his mind. It
seemed disloyal to keep the verlobung of Karl and Jenny a secret;
for should it be revealed, what would the baron think of Marx?
Their disparity of rank and fortune would make the whole affair
stand out as something wrong and underhand.
The father endeavored to make his son see all this. He begged him
to go and tell the baron, but young Marx was not to be persuaded.
"Send me to Berlin," he said, "and we shall again be separated;
but I shall work and make a name for myself, so that when I return
neither Jenny nor her father will have occasion to be disturbed by
With these words he half satisfied his father, and before long he
was sent to Berlin, where he fell manfully upon his studies. His
father had insisted that he should study law; but his own tastes
were for philosophy and history. He attended lectures in
jurisprudence "as a necessary evil," but he read omnivorously in
subjects that were nearer to his heart. The result was that his
official record was not much better than it had been at Bonn.
The same sort of restlessness, too, took possession of him when he
found that Jenny would not answer his letters. No matter how
eagerly and tenderly he wrote to her, there came no reply. Even
the most passionate pleadings left her silent and unresponsive.
Karl could not complain, for she had warned him that she would not
write to him. She felt that their engagement, being secret, was
anomalous, and that until her family knew of it she was not free
to act as she might wish.
Here again was seen the wisdom of her maturer years; but Karl
could not be equally reasonable. He showered her with letters,
which still she would not answer. He wrote to his father in words
of fire. At last, driven to despair, he said that he was going to
write to the Baron von Westphalen, reveal the secret, and ask for
the baron's fatherly consent.
It seemed a reckless thing to do, and yet it turned out to be the
wisest. The baron knew that such an engagement meant a social
sacrifice, and that, apart from the matter of rank, young Marx was
without any fortune to give the girl the luxuries to which she had
been accustomed. Other and more eligible suitors were always
within view. But here Jenny herself spoke out more strongly than
she had ever done to Karl. She was willing to accept him with what
he was able to give her. She cared nothing for any other man, and
she begged her father to make both of them completely happy.
Thus it seemed that all was well, yet for some reason or other
Jenny would not write to Karl, and once more he was almost driven
to distraction. He wrote bitter letters to his father, who tried
to comfort him. The baron himself sent messages of friendly
advice, but what young man in his teens was ever reasonable? So
violent was Karl that at last his father wrote to him:
I am disgusted with your letters. Their unreasonable tone is
loathsome to me. I should never had expected it of you. Haven't
you been lucky from your cradle up?
Finally Karl received one letter from his betrothed--a letter that
transfused him with ecstatic joy for about a day, and then sent
him back to his old unrest. This, however, may be taken as a part
of Marx's curious nature, which was never satisfied, but was
always reaching after something which could not be had.
He fell to writing poetry, of which he sent three volumes to
Jenny--which must have been rather trying to her, since the verse
was very poor. He studied the higher mathematics, English and
Italian, some Latin, and a miscellaneous collection of works on
history and literature. But poetry almost turned his mind. In
later years he wrote:
Everything was centered on poetry, as if I were bewitched by some
Luckily, he was wise enough, after a time, to recognize how
halting were his poems when compared with those of the great
masters; and so he resumed his restless, desultory work. He still
sent his father letters that were like wild cries. They evoked, in
reply, a very natural burst of anger:
Complete disorder, silly wandering through all branches of
science, silly brooding at the burning oil-lamp! In your wildness
you see with four eyes--a horrible setback and disregard for
everything decent. And in the pursuit of this senseless and
purposeless learning you think to raise the fruits which are to
unite you with your beloved one! What harvest do you expect to
gather from them which will enable you to fulfil your duty toward
Writing to him again, his father speaks of something that Karl had
written as "a mad composition, which denotes clearly how you waste
your ability and spend nights in order to create such
monstrosities." The young man was even forbidden to return home
for the Easter holidays. This meant giving up the sight of Jenny,
whom he had not seen for a whole year. But fortune arranged it
otherwise; for not many weeks later death removed the parent who
had loved him and whom he had loved, though neither of them could
understand the other. The father represented the old order of
things; the son was born to discontent and to look forward to a
new heaven and a new earth.
Returning to Berlin, Karl resumed his studies; but as before, they
were very desultory in their character, and began to run upon
social questions, which were indeed setting Germany into a
ferment. He took his degree, and thought of becoming an instructor
at the university of Jena; but his radicalism prevented this, and
he became the editor of a liberal newspaper, which soon, however,
became so very radical as to lead to his withdrawal.
It now seemed best that Marx should seek other fields of activity.
To remain in Germany was dangerous to himself and discreditable to
Jenny's relatives, with their status as Prussian officials. In the
summer of 1843, he went forth into the world--at last an
"international." Jenny, who had grown to believe in him as against
her own family, asked for nothing better than to wander with him,
if only they might be married. And they were married in this same
summer, and spent a short honeymoon at Bingen on the Rhine--made
famous by Mrs. Norton's poem. It was the brief glimpse of sunshine
that was to precede year after year of anxiety and want.
Leaving Germany, Marx and Jenny went to Paris, where he became
known to some of the intellectual lights of the French capital,
such as Bakunin, the great Russian anarchist, Proudhon, Cabet, and
Saint-Simon. Most important of all was his intimacy with the poet
Heine, that marvelous creature whose fascination took on a
thousand forms, and whom no one could approach without feeling his
Since Goethe's death, down to the present time, there has been no
figure in German literature comparable to Heine. His prose was
exquisite. His poetry ran through the whole gamut of humanity and
of the sensations that come to us from the outer world. In his
poems are sweet melodies and passionate cries of revolt, stirring
ballads of the sea and tender love-songs--strange as these last
seem when coming from this cynic.
For cynic he was, deep down in his heart, though his face, when in
repose, was like the conventional pictures of Christ. His
fascinations destroyed the peace of many a woman; and it was only
after many years of self-indulgence that he married the faithful
Mathilde Mirat in what he termed a "conscience marriage." Soon
after he went to his "mattress-grave," as he called it, a hopeless
To Heine came Marx and his beautiful bride. One may speculate as
to Jenny's estimate of her husband. Since his boyhood, she had not
seen him very much. At that time he was a merry, light-hearted
youth, a jovial comrade, and one of whom any girl would be proud.
But since his long stay in Berlin, and his absorption in the
theories of men like Engels and Bauer, he had become a very
different sort of man, at least to her.
Groping, lost in brown studies, dreamy, at times morose, he was by
no means a sympathetic and congenial husband for a high-bred,
spirited girl, such as Jenny von Westphalen. His natural drift was
toward a beer-garden, a group of frowsy followers, the reek of
vile tobacco, and the smell of sour beer. One cannot but think
that his beautiful wife must have been repelled by this, though
with her constant nature she still loved him.
In Heinrich Heine she found a spirit that seemed akin to hers. Mr.
Spargo says--and in what he says one must read a great deal
between the lines:
The admiration of Jenny Marx for the poet was even more ardent
than that of her husband. He fascinated her because, as she said,
he was "so modern," while Heine was drawn to her because she was
It must be that Heine held the heart of this beautiful woman in
his hand. He knew so well the art of fascination; he knew just how
to supply the void which Marx had left. The two were indeed
affinities in heart and soul; yet for once the cynical poet stayed
his hand, and said no word that would have been disloyal to his
friend. Jenny loved him with a love that might have blazed into a
lasting flame; but fortunately there appeared a special providence
to save her from herself. The French government, at the request of
the King of Prussia, banished Marx from its dominions; and from
that day until he had become an old man he was a wanderer and an
exile, with few friends and little money, sustained by nothing but
Jenny's fidelity and by his infinite faith in a cause that crushed
him to the earth.
There is a curious parallel between the life of Marx and that of
Richard Wagner down to the time when the latter discovered a royal
patron. Both of them were hounded from country to country; both of
them worked laboriously for so scanty a living as to verge, at
times, upon starvation. Both of them were victims to a cause in
which they earnestly believed--an economic cause in the one case,
an artistic cause in the other. Wagner's triumph came before his
death, and the world has accepted his theory of the music-drama.
The cause of Marx is far greater and more tremendous, because it
strikes at the base of human life and social well-being.
The clash between Wagner and his critics was a matter of poetry
and dramatic music. It was not vital to the human race. The cause
of Marx is one that is only now beginning to be understood and
recognized by millions of men and women in all the countries of
the earth. In his lifetime he issued a manifesto that has become a
classic among economists. He organized the great International
Association of Workmen, which set all Europe in a blaze and
extended even to America. His great book, "Capital"--Das Kapital--
which was not completed until the last years of his life, is read
to-day by thousands as an almost sacred work.
Like Wagner and his Minna, the wife of Marx's youth clung to him
through his utmost vicissitudes, denying herself the necessities
of life so that he might not starve. In London, where he spent his
latest days, he was secure from danger, yet still a sort of
persecution seemed to follow him. For some time, nothing that he
wrote could find a printer. Wherever he went, people looked at him
askance. He and his six children lived upon the sum of five
dollars a week, which was paid him by the New York Tribune,
through the influence of the late Charles A. Dana. When his last
child was born, and the mother's life was in serious danger, Marx
complained that there was no cradle for the baby, and a little
later that there was no coffin for its burial.
Marx had ceased to believe in marriage, despised the church, and
cared nothing for government. Yet, unlike Wagner, he was true to
the woman who had given up so much for him. He never sank to an
artistic degeneracy. Though he rejected creeds, he was
nevertheless a man of genuine religious feeling. Though he
believed all present government to be an evil, he hoped to make it
better, or rather he hoped to substitute for it a system by which
all men might get an equal share of what it is right and just for
them to have.
Such was Marx, and thus he lived and died. His wife, who had long
been cut off from her relatives, died about a year before him.
When she was buried, he stumbled and fell into her grave, and from
that time until his own death he had no further interest in life.
He had been faithful to a woman and to a cause. That cause was so
tremendous as to overwhelm him. In sixty years only the first
great stirrings of it could be felt. Its teachings may end in
nothing, but only a century or more of effort and of earnest
striving can make it plain whether Karl Marx was a world-mover or
a martyr to a cause that was destined to be lost.
FERDINAND LASSALLE AND HELENE VON DONNIGES
The middle part of the nineteenth century is a period which has
become more or less obscure to most Americans and Englishmen. At
one end the thunderous campaigns of Napoleon are dying away. In
the latter part of the century we remember the gorgeousness of the
Tuileries, the four years' strife of our own Civil War, and then
the golden drift of peace with which the century ended. Between
these two extremes there is a stretch of history which seems to
lack interest for the average student of to-day.
In America, that was a period when we took little interest in the
movement of affairs on the continent of Europe. It would not be
easy, for instance, to imagine an American of 1840 cogitating on
problems of socialism, or trying to invent some new form of
arbeiterverein. General Choke was still swindling English
emigrants. The Young Columbian was still darting out from behind a
table to declare how thoroughly he defied the British lion. But
neither of these patriots, any more than their English compeers,
was seriously disturbed about the interests of the rest of the
world. The Englishman was contentedly singing "God Save the
Queen!" The American, was apostrophizing the bird of freedom with
the floridity of rhetoric that reached its climax in the "Pogram
Defiance." What the Dutchies and Frenchies were doing was little
more to an Englishman than to an American.
Continental Europe was a mystery to English-speaking people. Those
who traveled abroad took their own servants with them, spoke only
English, and went through the whole European maze with absolute
indifference. To them the socialist, who had scarcely received a
name, was an imaginary being. If he existed, he was only a sort of
offspring of the Napoleonic wars--a creature who had not yet
fitted into the ordinary course of things. He was an anomaly, a
person who howled in beer-houses, and who would presently be
regulated, either by the statesmen or by the police.
When our old friend, Mark Tapley, was making with his master a
homeward voyage to Britain, what did he know or even care about
the politics of France, or Germany, or Austria, or Russia? Not the
slightest, you may he sure. Mark and his master represented the
complete indifference of the Englishman or American--not
necessarily a well-bred indifference, but an indifference that was
insular on the one hand and republican on the other. If either of
them had heard of a gentleman who pillaged an unmarried lady's
luggage in order to secure a valuable paper for another lady, who
was married, they would both have looked severely at this abnormal
person, and the American would doubtless have added a remark which
had something to do with the matchless purity of Columbia's
If, again, they had been told that Ferdinand Lassalle had joined
in the great movement initiated by Karl Marx, it is absolutely
certain that neither the Englishman nor the American could have
given you the slightest notion as to who these individuals were.
Thrones might be tottering all over Europe; the red flag might
wave in a score of cities--what would all this signify, so long as
Britannia ruled the waves, while Columbia's feathered emblem
shrieked defiance three thousand miles away?
And yet few more momentous events have happened in a century than
the union which led one man to give his eloquence to the social
cause, and the other to suffer for that cause until his death.
Marx had the higher thought, but his disciple Lassalle had the
more attractive way of presenting it. It is odd that Marx, today,
should lie in a squalid cemetery, while the whole western world
echoes with his praises, and that Lassalle--brilliant, clear-
sighted, and remarkable for his penetrating genius--should have
lived in luxury, but should now know nothing but oblivion, even
among those who shouted at his eloquence and ran beside him in the
glory of his triumph.
Ferdinand Lassalle was a native of Breslau, the son of a wealthy
Jewish silk-merchant. Heymann Lassal--for thus the father spelled
his name--stroked his hands at young Ferdinand's cleverness, but
he meant it to be a commercial cleverness. He gave the boy a
thorough education at the University of Breslau, and later at
Berlin. He was an affectionate parent, and at the same time
tyrannical to a degree.
It was the old story where the father wishes to direct every step
that his son takes, and where the son, bursting out into youthful
manhood, feels that he has the right to freedom. The father thinks
how he has toiled for the son; the son thinks that if this toil
were given for love, it should not be turned into a fetter and
restraint. Young Lassalle, instead of becoming a clever silk-
merchant, insisted on a university career, where he studied
earnestly, and was admitted to the most cultured circles.
Though his birth was Jewish, he encountered little prejudice
against his race. Napoleon had changed the old anti-Semitic
feeling of fifty years before to a liberalism that was just
beginning to be strongly felt in Germany, as it had already been
in France. This was true in general, but especially true of
Lassalle, whose features were not of a Semitic type, who made
friends with every one, and who was a favorite in many salons. His
portraits make him seem a high-bred and high-spirited Prussian,
with an intellectual and clean-cut forehead; a face that has a
sense of humor, and yet one capable of swift and cogent thought.
No man of ordinary talents could have won the admiration of so
many compeers. It is not likely that such a keen and cynical
observer as Heinrich Heine would have written as he did concerning
Lassalle, had not the latter been a brilliant and magnetic youth.
Heine wrote to Varnhagen von Ense, the German historian:
My friend, Herr Lassalle, who brings you this letter, is a young
man of remarkable intellectual gifts. With the most thorough
erudition, with the widest learning, with the greatest penetration
that I have ever known, and with the richest gift of exposition,
he combines an energy of will and a capacity for action which
astonish me. In no one have I found united so much enthusiasm and
No better proof of Lassalle's enthusiasm can be found than a few
lines from his own writings:
I love Heine. He is my second self. What audacity! What
overpowering eloquence! He knows how to whisper like a zephyr when
it kisses rose-blooms, how to breathe like fire when it rages and
destroys; he calls forth all that is tenderest and softest, and
then all that is fiercest and most daring. He has the sweep of the
Lassalle's sympathy with Heine was like his sympathy with every
one whom he knew. This was often misunderstood. It was
misunderstood in his relations with women, and especially in the
celebrated affair of the Countess von Hatzfeldt, which began in
the year 1846--that is to say, in the twenty-first year of
In truth, there was no real scandal in the matter, for the
countess was twice the age of Lassalle. It was precisely because
he was so young that he let his eagerness to defend a woman in
distress make him forget the ordinary usage of society, and expose
himself to mean and unworthy criticism which lasted all his life.
It began by his introduction to the Countess von Hatzfeldt, a lady
who was grossly ill-treated by her husband. She had suffered
insult and imprisonment in the family castles; the count had
deprived her of medicine when she was ill, and had forcibly taken
away her children. Besides this, he was infatuated with another
woman, a baroness, and wasted his substance upon her even contrary
to the law which protected his children's rights.
The countess had a son named Paul, of whom Lassalle was extremely
fond. There came to the boy a letter from the Count von Hatzfeldt
ordering him to leave his mother. The countess at once sent for
Lassalle, who brought with him two wealthy and influential
friends--one of them a judge of a high Prussian court--and
together they read the letter which Paul had just received. They
were deeply moved by the despair of the countess, and by the
cruelty of her dissolute husband in seeking to separate the mother
from her son.
In his chivalrous ardor Lassalle swore to help the countess, and
promised that he would carry on the struggle with her husband to
the bitter end. He took his two friends with him to Berlin, and
then to Dusseldorf, for they discovered that the Count von
Hatzfeldt was not far away. He was, in fact, at Aix-la-Chapelle
with the baroness.
Lassalle, who had the scent of a greyhound, pried about until he
discovered that the count had given his mistress a legal document,
assigning to her a valuable piece of property which, in the
ordinary course of law, should be entailed on the boy, Paul. The
countess at once hastened to the place, broke into her husband's
room, and secured a promise that the deed would be destroyed.
No sooner, however, had she left him than he returned to the
baroness, and presently it was learned that the woman had set out
Lassalle and his two friends followed, to ascertain whether the
document had really been destroyed. The three reached a hotel at
Cologne, where the baroness had just arrived. Her luggage, in
fact, was being carried upstairs. One of Lassalle's friends opened
a trunk, and, finding a casket there, slipped it out to his
companion, the judge.
Unfortunately, the latter had no means of hiding it, and when the
baroness's servant shouted for help, the casket was found in the
possession of the judge, who could give no plausible account of
it. He was, therefore, arrested, as were the other two. There was
no evidence against Lassalle; but his friends fared badly at the
trial, one of them being imprisoned for a year and the other for
From this time Lassalle, with an almost quixotic devotion, gave
himself up to fighting the Countess von Hatzfeldt's battle against
her husband in the law-courts. The ablest advocates were pitted
against him. The most eloquent legal orators thundered at him and
at his client, but he met them all with a skill, an audacity, and
a brilliant wit that won for him verdict after verdict. The case
went from the lower to the higher tribunals, until, after nine
years, it reached the last court of appeal, where Lassalle wrested
from his opponents a magnificently conclusive victory--one that
made the children of the countess absolutely safe. It was a battle
fought with the determination of a soldier, with the gallantry of
a knight errant, and the intellectual acumen of a learned lawyer.
It is not surprising that many refuse to believe that Lassalle's
feeling toward the Countess von Hatzfeldt was a disinterested one.
A scandalous pamphlet, which was published in French, German, and
Russian, and written by one who styled herself "Sophie Solutzeff,"
did much to spread the evil report concerning Lassalle. But the
very openness and frankness of the service which he did for the
countess ought to make it clear that his was the devotion of a
youth drawn by an impulse into a strife where there was nothing
for him to gain, but everything to lose. He denounced the
brutality of her husband, but her letters to him always addressed
him as "my dear child." In writing to her he confides small love-
secrets and ephemeral flirtations--which he would scarcely have
done, had the countess viewed him with the eye of passion.
Lassalle was undoubtedly a man of impressionable heart, and had
many affairs such as Heine had; but they were not deep or lasting.
That he should have made a favorable impression on the women whom
he met is not surprising, because of his social standing, his
chivalry, his fine manners, and his handsome face. Mr. Clement
Shorter has quoted an official document which describes him as he
was in his earlier years:
Ferdinand Lassalle, aged twenty-three, a civilian born at Breslau
and dwelling recently at Berlin. He stands five feet six inches in
height, has brown, curly hair, open forehead, brown eyebrows, dark
blue eyes, well proportioned nose and mouth, and rounded chin.
We ought not to be surprised, then, if he was a favorite in
drawing-rooms; if both men and women admired him; if Alexander von
Humboldt cried out with enthusiasm that he was a wunderkind, and
if there were more than Sophie Solutzeff to be jealous. But the
rather ungrateful remark of the Countess von Hatzfeldt certainly
does not represent him as he really was.
"You are without reason and judgment where women are concerned,"
she snarled at him; but the sneer only shows that the woman who
uttered it was neither in love with him nor grateful to him.
In this paper we are not discussing Lassalle as a public agitator
or as a Socialist, but simply in his relations with the two women
who most seriously affected his life. The first was the Countess
von Hatzfeldt, who, as we have seen, occupied--or rather wasted--
nine of the best years of his life. Then came that profound and
thrilling passion which ended the career of a man who at thirty-
nine had only just begun to be famous.
Lassalle had joined his intellectual forces with those of Heine
and Marx. He had obtained so great an influence over the masses of
the people as to alarm many a monarch, and at the same time to
attract many a statesman. Prince Bismarck, for example, cared
nothing for Lassalle's championship of popular rights, but sought
his aid on finding that he was an earnest advocate of German
Furthermore, he was very far from resembling what in those early
days was regarded as the typical picture of a Socialist. There was
nothing frowzy about him; in his appearance he was elegance
itself; his manners were those of a prince, and his clothing was
of the best. Seeing him in a drawing-room, no one would mistake
him for anything but a gentleman and a man of parts. Hence it is
not surprising that his second love was one of the nobility,
although her own people hated Lassalle as a bearer of the red
This girl was Helene von Donniges, the daughter of a Bavarian
diplomat. As a child she had traveled much, especially in Italy
and in Switzerland. She was very precocious, and lived her own
life without asking the direction of any one. At twelve years of
age she had been betrothed to an Italian of forty; but this dark
and pedantic person always displeased her, and soon afterward,
when she met a young Wallachian nobleman, one Yanko Racowitza, she
was ready at once to dismiss her Italian lover. Racowitza--young,
a student, far from home, and lacking friends--appealed at once to
the girl's sympathy.
At that very time, in Berlin, where Helene was visiting her
grandmother, she was asked by a Prussian baron:
"Do you know Ferdinand Lassalle?"
The question came to her with a peculiar shock. She had never
heard the name, and yet the sound of it gave her a strange
emotion. Baron Korff, who perhaps took liberties because she was
so young, went on to say:
"My dear lady, have you really never seen Lassalle? Why, you and
he were meant for each other!"
She felt ashamed to ask about him, but shortly after a gentleman
who knew her said:
"It is evident that you have a surprising degree of intellectual
kinship with Ferdinand Lassalle."
This so excited her curiosity that she asked her grandmother:
"Who is this person of whom they talk so much--this Ferdinand
"Do not speak of him," replied her grandmother. "He is a shameless
A little questioning brought to Helene all sorts of stories about
Lassalle--the Countess von Hatzfeldt, the stolen casket, the
mysterious pamphlet, the long battle in the courts--all of which
excited her still more. A friend offered to introduce her to the
"shameless demagogue." This introduction happened at a party, and
it must have been an extraordinary meeting. Seldom, it seemed, was
there a better instance of love at first sight, or of the true
affinity of which Baron Korff had spoken. In the midst of the
public gathering they almost rushed into each other's arms; they
talked the free talk of acknowledged lovers; and when she left, he
called her love-names as he offered her his arm.
"Somehow it did not appear at all remarkable," she afterward
declared. "We seemed to be perfectly fitted to each other."
Nevertheless, nine months passed before they met again at a
soiree. At this time Lassaller gazing upon her, said:
"What would you do if I were sentenced to death?"
"I should wait until your head was severed," was her answer, "in
order that you might look upon your beloved to the last, and then
--I should take poison!"
Her answer delighted him, but he said that there was no danger. He
was greeted on every hand with great consideration; and it seemed
not unlikely that, in recognition of his influence with the
people, he might rise to some high position. The King of Prussia
sympathized with him. Heine called him the Messiah of the
nineteenth century. When he passed from city to city, the whole
population turned out to do him honor. Houses were wreathed;
flowers were thrown in masses upon him, while the streets were
spanned with triumphal arches.
Worn out with the work and excitement attending the birth of the
Deutscher Arbeiterverein, or workmen's union, which he founded in
1863, Lassalle fled for a time to Switzerland for rest. Helene
heard of his whereabouts, and hurried to him, with several
friends. They met again on July 25,1864, and discussed long and
intensely the possibilities of their marriage and the opposition
of her parents, who would never permit her to marry a man who was
at once a Socialist and a Jew.
Then comes a pitiful story of the strife between Lassalle and the
Donniges family. Helene's father and mother indulged in vulgar
words; they spoke of Lassalle with contempt; they recalled all the
scandals that had been current ten years before, and forbade
Helene ever to mention the man's name again.
The next scene in the drama took place in Geneva, where the family
of Herr von Donniges had arrived, and where Helene's sister had
been betrothed to Count von Keyserling--a match which filled her
mother with intense joy. Her momentary friendliness tempted Helene
to speak of her unalterable love for Lassalle. Scarcely had the
words been spoken when her father and mother burst into abuse and
denounced Lassalle as well as herself.
She sent word of this to Lassalle, who was in a hotel near by.
Scarcely had he received her letter, when Helene herself appeared
upon the scene, and with all the intensity of which she was
possessed, she begged him to take her wherever he chose. She would
go with him to France, to Italy--to the ends of the earth!
What a situation, and yet how simple a one for a man of spirit! It
is strange to have to record that to Lassalle it seemed most
difficult. He felt that he or she, or both of them, had been
compromised. Had she a lady with her? Did she know any one in the
What an extraordinary answer! If she were compromised, all the
more ought he to have taken her in his arms and married her at
once, instead of quibbling and showing himself a prig.
Presently, her maid came in to tell them that a carriage was ready
to take them to the station, whence a train would start for Paris
in a quarter of an hour. Helene begged him. with a feeling that
was beginning to be one of shame. Lassalle repelled her in words
that were to stamp him with a peculiar kind of cowardice.
Why should he have stopped to think of anything except the
beautiful woman who was at his feet, and to whom he had pledged
his love? What did he care for the petty diplomat who was her
father, or the vulgar-tongued woman who was her mother? He should
have hurried her and the maid into the train for Paris, and have
forgotten everything in the world but his Helene, glorious among
women, who had left everything for him.
What was the sudden failure, the curious weakness, the paltriness
of spirit that came at the supreme moment into the heart of this
hitherto strong man? Here was the girl whom he loved, driven from
her parents, putting aside all question of appearances, and
clinging to him with a wild and glorious desire to give herself to
him and to be all his own! That was a thing worthy of a true
woman. And he? He shrinks from her and cowers and acts like a
simpleton. His courage seems to have dribbled through his finger-
tips; he is no longer a man--he is a thing.
Out of all the multitude of Lassalle's former admirers, there is
scarcely one who has ventured to defend him, much less to laud
him; and when they have done so, their voices have had a sound of
mockery that dies away in their own throats.
Helene, on her side, had compromised herself, and even from the
view-point of her parents it was obvious that she ought to be
married immediately. Her father, however, confined her to her room
until it was understood that Lassalle had left Geneva. Then her
family's supplications, the statement that her sister's marriage
and even her father's position were in danger, led her to say that
she would give up Lassalle.
It mattered very little, in one way, for whatever he might have
done, Lassalle had killed, or at least had chilled, her love. His
failure at the moment of her great self-sacrifice had shown him to
her as he really was--no bold and gallant spirit, but a cringing,
spiritless self-seeker. She wrote him a formal letter to the
effect that she had become reconciled to her "betrothed
bridegroom"; and they never met again.
Too late, Lassalle gave himself up to a great regret. He went
about trying to explain his action to his friends, but he could
say nothing that would ease his feeling and reinstate him in the
eyes of the romantic girl. In a frenzy, he sought out the
Wallachian student, Yanko von Racowitza, and challenged him to a
mortal duel. He also challenged Helene's father. Years before, he
had on principle declined to fight a duel; but now he went raving
about as if he sought the death of every one who knew him.
The duel was fought on August 28, 1864. There was some trouble
about pistols, and also about seconds; but finally the combatants
left a small hotel in a village near Geneva, and reached the
dueling-grounds. Lassalle was almost joyous in his manner. His old
confidence had come back to him; he meant to kill his man.
They took their stations high up among the hills. A few spectators
saw their figures outlined against the sky. The command to fire
rang out, and from both pistols gushed the flame and smoke.
A moment later, Lassalle was seen to sway and fall. A chance shot,
glancing from a wall, had struck him to the ground. He suffered
terribly, and nothing but opium in great doses could relieve his
pain. His wound was mortal, and three days later he died.
Long after, Helene admitted that she still loved Lassalle, and
believed that he would win the duel; but after the tragedy, the
tenderness and patience of Racowitza won her heart. She married
him, but within a year he died of consumption. Helene, being
disowned by her relations, prepared herself for the stage. She
married a third husband named Shevitch, who was then living in the
United States, but who has since made his home in Russia.
Let us say nothing of Lassalle's political career. Except for his
work as one of the early leaders of the liberal movement in
Germany, it has perished, and his name has been almost forgotten.
As a lover, his story stands out forever as a warning to the timid
and the recreant. Let men do what they will; but there is just one
thing which no man is permitted to do with safety in the sight of
woman--and that is to play the craven.
THE STORY OF RACHEL
Outside of the English-speaking peoples the nineteenth century
witnessed the rise and triumphant progress of three great tragic
actresses. The first two of these--Rachel Felix and Sarah
Bernhardt--were of Jewish extraction; the third, Eleanor Duse, is
Italian. All of them made their way from pauperism to fame; but
perhaps the rise of Rachel was the most striking.
In the winter of 1821 a wretched peddler named Abraham--or Jacob--
Felix sought shelter at a dilapidated inn at Mumpf, a village in
Switzerland, not far from Basel. It was at the close of a stormy
day, and his small family had been toiling through the snow and
sleet. The inn was the lowest sort of hovel, and yet its
proprietor felt that it was too good for these vagabonds. He
consented to receive them only when he learned that the peddler's
wife was to be delivered of a child. That very night she became
the mother of a girl, who was at first called Elise. So
unimportant was the advent of this little waif into the world that
the burgomaster of Mumpf thought it necessary to make an entry
only of the fact that a peddler's wife had given birth to a female
child. There was no mention of family or religion, nor was the
record anything more than a memorandum.
Under such circumstances was born a child who was destined to
excite the wonder of European courts--to startle and thrill and
utterly amaze great audiences by her dramatic genius. But for ten
years the family--which grew until it consisted of one son and
five daughters--kept on its wanderings through Switzerland and
Germany. Finally, they settled down in Lyons, where the mother
opened a little shop for the sale of second-hand clothing. The
husband gave lessons in German whenever he could find a pupil. The
eldest daughter went about the cafes in the evening, singing the
songs that were then popular, while her small sister, Rachel,
collected coppers from those who had coppers to spare.
Although the family was barely able to sustain existence, the
father and mother were by no means as ignorant as their squalor
would imply. The peddler Felix had studied Hebrew theology in the
hope of becoming a rabbi. Failing this, he was always much
interested in declamation, public reading, and the recitation of
poetry. He was, in his way, no mean critic of actors and
actresses. Long before she was ten years of age little Rachel--who
had changed her name from Elise--could render with much feeling
and neatness of eloquence bits from the best-known French plays of
the classic stage.
The children's mother, on her side, was sharp and practical to a
high degree. She saved and scrimped all through her period of
adversity. Later she was the banker of her family, and would never
lend any of her children a sou except on excellent security.
However, this was all to happen in after years.
When the child who was destined to be famous had reached her tenth
year she and her sisters made their way to Paris. For four years
the second-hand clothing-shop was continued; the father still
taught German; and the elder sister, Sarah, who had a golden
voice, made the rounds of the cafes in the lowest quarters of the
capital, while Rachel passed the wooden plate for coppers.
One evening in the year 1834 a gentleman named Morin, having been
taken out of his usual course by a matter of business, entered a
BRASSERIE for a cup of coffee. There he noted two girls, one of
them singing with remarkable sweetness, and the other silently
following with the wooden plate. M. Morin called to him the girl
who sang and asked her why she did not make her voice more
profitable than by haunting the cafes at night, where she was sure
to meet with insults of the grossest kind.
"Why," said Sarah, "I haven't anybody to advise me what to do."
M. Morin gave her his address and said that he would arrange to
have her meet a friend who would be of great service to her. On
the following day he sent the two girls to a M. Choron, who was
the head of the Conservatory of Sacred Music. Choron had Sarah
sing, and instantly admitted her as a pupil, which meant that she
would soon be enrolled among the regular choristers. The beauty of
her voice made a deep impression on him.
Then he happened to notice the puny, meager child who was standing
near her sister. Turning to her, he said:
"And what can you do, little one?"
"I can recite poetry," was the reply.
"Oh, can you?" said he. "Please let me hear you."
Rachel readily consented. She had a peculiarly harsh, grating
voice, so that any but a very competent judge would have turned
her away. But M. Choron, whose experience was great, noted the
correctness of her accent and the feeling which made itself felt
in every line. He accepted her as well as her sister, but urged
her to study elocution rather than music.
She must, indeed, have had an extraordinary power even at the age
of fourteen, since not merely her voice but her whole appearance
was against her. She was dressed in a short calico frock of a
pattern in which red was spotted with white. Her shoes were of
coarse black leather. Her hair was parted at the back of her head
and hung down her shoulders in two braids, framing the long,
childish, and yet gnome-like face, which was unusual in its
At first she was little thought of; but there came a time when she
astonished both her teachers and her companions by a recital which
she gave in public. The part was the narrative of Salema in the
"Abufar" of Ducis. It describes the agony of a mother who gives
birth to a child while dying of thirst amid the desert sands. Mme.
de Barviera has left a description of this recital, which it is
worth while to quote:
While uttering the thrilling tale the thin face seemed to lengthen
with horror, the small, deep-set black eyes dilated with a fixed
stare as though she witnessed the harrowing scene; and the deep,
guttural tones, despite a slight Jewish accent, awoke a nameless
terror in every one who listened, carrying him through the
imaginary woe with a strange feeling of reality, not to be shaken,
off as long as the sounds lasted.
Even yet, however, the time had not come for any conspicuous
success. The girl was still so puny in form, so monkey-like in
face, and so gratingly unpleasant in her tones that it needed time
for her to attain her full growth and to smooth away some of the
discords in her peculiar voice.
Three years later she appeared at the Gymnase in a regular debut;
yet even then only the experienced few appreciated her greatness.
Among these, however, were the well-known critic Jules Janin, the
poet and novelist Gauthier, and the actress Mlle. Mars. They saw
that this lean, raucous gutter-girl had within her gifts which
would increase until she would he first of all actresses on the
French stage. Janin wrote some lines which explain the secret of
All the talent in the world, especially when continually applied
to the same dramatic works, will not satisfy continually the
hearer. What pleases in a great actor, as in all arts that appeal
to the imagination, is the unforeseen. When I am utterly ignorant
of what is to happen, when I do not know, when you yourself do not
know what will be your next gesture, your next look, what passion
will possess your heart, what outcry will burst from your terror-
stricken soul, then, indeed, I am willing to see you daily, for
each day you will be new to me. To-day I may blame, to-morrow
praise. Yesterday you were all-powerful; to-morrow, perhaps, you
may hardly win from me a word of admiration. So much the better,
then, if you draw from me unexpected tears, if in my heart you
strike an unknown fiber; but tell me not of hearing night after
night great artists who every time present the exact counterpart
of what they were on the preceding one.
It was at the Theatre Francais that she won her final acceptance
as the greatest of all tragedians of her time. This was in her
appearance in Corneille's famous play of "Horace." She had now, in
1838, blazed forth with a power that shook her no, less than it
stirred the emotions and the passions of her hearers. The princes
of the royal blood came in succession to see her. King Louis
Philippe himself was at last tempted by curiosity to be present.
Gifts of money and jewels were showered on her, and through sheer
natural genius rather than through artifice she was able to master
a great audience and bend it to her will.
She had no easy life, this girl of eighteen years, for other
actresses carped at her, and she had had but little training. The
sordid ways of her old father excited a bitterness which was
vented on the daughter. She was still under age, and therefore was
treated as a gold-mine by her exacting parents. At the most she
could play but twice a week. Her form was frail and reed-like. She
was threatened with a complaint of the lungs; yet all this served
to excite rather than to diminish public interest in her. The
newspapers published daily bulletins of her health, and her door
was besieged by anxious callers who wished to know her condition.
As for the greed of her parents, every one said she was not to
blame for that. And so she passed from poverty to riches, from
squalor to something like splendor, and from obscurity to fame.
Much has been written about her that is quite incorrect. She has
been credited with virtues which she never possessed; and, indeed,
it may be said with only too much truth that she possessed no
virtues whatsoever. On the stage while the inspiration lasted she
was magnificent. Off the stage she was sly, treacherous,
capricious, greedy, ungrateful, ignorant, and unchaste. With such
an ancestry as she had, with such an early childhood as had been
hers, what else could one expect from her?
She and her old mother wrangled over money like two pickpockets.
Some of her best friends she treated shamefully. Her avarice was
without bounds. Some one said that it was not really avarice, but
only a reaction from generosity; but this seems an exceedingly
subtle theory. It is possible to give illustrations of it,
however. She did, indeed, make many presents with a lavish hand;
yet, having made a present, she could not rest until she got it
back. The fact was so well known that her associates took it for
granted. The younger Dumas once received a ring from her.
Immediately he bowed low and returned it to her finger, saying:
"Permit me, mademoiselle, to present it to you in my turn so as to
save you the embarrassment of asking for it."
Mr. Vandam relates among other anecdotes about her that one
evening she dined at the house of Comte Duchatel. The table was
loaded with the most magnificent flowers; but Rachel's keen eyes
presently spied out the great silver centerpiece. Immediately she
began to admire the latter; and the count, fascinated by her
manners, said that he would be glad to present it to her. She
accepted it at once, but was rather fearful lest he should change
his mind. She had come to dinner in a cab, and mentioned the fact.
The count offered to send her home in his carriage.
"Yes, that will do admirably," said she. "There will be no danger
of my being robbed of your present, which I had better take with
"With pleasure, mademoiselle," replied the count. "But you will
send me back my carriage, won't you?"
Rachel had a curious way of asking every one she met for presents
and knickknacks, whether they were valuable or not. She knew how
to make them valuable.
Once in a studio she noticed a guitar hanging on the wall. She
begged for it very earnestly. As it was an old and almost
worthless instrument, it was given her. A little later it was
reported that the dilapidated guitar had been purchased by a well-
known gentleman for a thousand francs. The explanation soon
followed. Rachel had declared that it was the very guitar with
which she used to earn her living as a child in the streets of
Paris. As a memento its value sprang from twenty francs to a
It has always been a mystery what Rachel did with the great sums
of money which she made in various ways. She never was well
dressed; and as for her costumes on the stage, they were furnished
by the theater. When her effects were sold at public auction after
her death her furniture was worse than commonplace, and her
pictures and ornaments were worthless, except such as had been
given her. She must have made millions of francs, and yet she had
very little to leave behind her.
Some say that her brother Raphael, who acted as her personal
manager, was a spendthrift; but if so, there are many reasons for
thinking that it was not his sister's money that he spent. Others
say that Rachel gambled in stocks, but there is no evidence of it.
The only thing that is certain is the fact that she was almost
always in want of money. Her mother, in all probability, managed
to get hold of most of her earnings.
Much may have been lost through her caprices. One instance may be
cited. She had received an offer of three hundred thousand francs
to act at St. Petersburg, and was on her way there when she passed
through Potsdam, near Berlin. The King of Prussia was entertaining
the Russian Czar. An invitation was sent to her in the shape of a
royal command to appear before these monarchs and their guests.
For some reason or other Rachel absolutely refused. She would
listen to no arguments. She would go on to St. Petersburg without
"But," it was said to her, "if you refuse to appear before the
Czar at Potsdam all the theaters in St. Petersburg will be closed
against you, because you will have insulted the emperor. In this
way you will be out the expenses of your journey and also the
three hundred thousand francs."
Rachel remained stubborn as before; but in about half an hour she
suddenly declared that she would recite before the two monarchs,
which she subsequently did, to the satisfaction of everybody. Some
one said to her not long after:
"I knew that you would do it. You weren't going to give up the
three hundred thousand francs and all your travelling expenses."
"You are quite wrong," returned Rachel, "though of course you will
not believe me. I did not care at all about the money and was
going back to France. It was something that I heard which made me
change my mind. Do you want to know what it was? Well, after all
the arguments were over some one informed me that the Czar
Nicholas was the handsomest man in Europe; and so I made up my
mind that I would stay in Potsdam long enough to see him."
This brings us to one phase of Rachel's nature which is rather
sinister. She was absolutely hard. She seemed to have no emotions
except those which she exhibited on the stage or the impish
perversity which irritated so many of those about her. She was in
reality a product of the gutter, able to assume a demure and
modest air, but within coarse, vulgar, and careless of decency.
Yet the words of Jules Janin, which have been quoted above,
explain how she could be personally very fascinating.
In all Rachel's career one can detect just a single strand of real
romance. It is one that makes us sorry for her, because it tells
us that her love was given where it never could be openly
During the reign of Louis Philippe the Comte Alexandre Walewski
held many posts in the government. He was a son of the great
Napoleon. His mother was that Polish countess who had accepted
Napoleon's love because she hoped that he might set Poland free at
her desire. But Napoleon was never swerved from his well-
calculated plans by the wish of any woman, and after a time the
Countess Walewska came to love him for himself. It was she to whom
he confided secrets which he would not reveal to his own brothers.
It was she who followed him to Elba in disguise. It was her son
who was Napoleon's son, and who afterward, under the Second
Empire, was made minister of fine arts, minister of foreign
affairs, and, finally, an imperial duke. Unlike the third
Napoleon's natural half-brother, the Duc de Moray, Walewski was a
gentleman of honor and fine feeling. He never used his
relationship to secure advantages for himself. He tried to live in
a manner worthy of the great warrior who was his father.
As minister of fine arts he had much to do with the subsidized
theaters; and in time he came to know Rachel. He was the son of
one of the greatest men who ever lived. She was the child of
roving peddlers whose early training had been in the slums of
cities and amid the smoke of bar-rooms and cafes. She was tainted
in a thousand ways, while he was a man of breeding and right
principle. She was a wandering actress; he was a great minister of
state. What could there be between these two?
George Sand gave the explanation in an epigram which, like most
epigrams, is only partly true. She said:
"The count's company must prove very restful to Rachel."
What she meant was, of course, that Walewski's breeding, his
dignity and uprightness, might be regarded only as a temporary
repose for the impish, harsh-voiced, infinitely clever actress. Of
course, it was all this, but we should not take it in a mocking
sense. Rachel looked up out of her depths and gave her heart to
this high-minded nobleman. He looked down and lifted her, as it
were, so that she could forget for the time all the baseness and
the brutality that she had known, that she might put aside her
forced vivacity and the self that was not in reality her own.
It is pitiful to think of these two, separated by a great abyss
which could not be passed except at times and hours when each was
free. But theirs was, none the less, a meeting of two souls,
strangely different in many ways, and yet appealing to each other
with a sincerity and truth which neither could show elsewhere.
The end of poor Rachel was one of disappointment. Tempted by the
fact that Jenny Lind had made nearly two million francs by her
visit to the United States, Rachel followed her, but with slight
success, as was to be expected. Music is enjoyed by human beings
everywhere, while French classical plays, even though acted by a
genius like Rachel, could be rightly understood only by a French-
speaking people. Thus it came about that her visit to America was
only moderately successful.
She returned to France, where the rising fame of Adelaide Ristori
was very bitter to Rachel, who had passed the zenith of her power.
She went to Egypt, but received no benefit, and in 1858 she died
near Cannes. The man who loved her, and whom she had loved in
turn, heard of her death with great emotion. He himself lived ten
years longer, and died a little while before the fall of the
FAMOUS AFFINITIES OF HISTORY
THE ROMANCE OF DEVOTION
BY LYNDON ORR
VOLUME IV OF IV.
DEAN SWIFT AND THE TWO ESTHERS
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY AND MARY GODWIN
THE STORY OF THE CARLYLES
THE STORY OF THE HUGOS
THE STORY OF GEORGE SAND
THE MYSTERY OF CHARLES DICKENS
HONORE DE BALZAC AND EVELINA HANSKA
CHARLES READE AND LAURA SEYMOUR
DEAN SWIFT AND THE TWO ESTHERS
The story of Jonathan Swift and of the two women who gave their
lives for love of him is familiar to every student of English
literature. Swift himself, both in letters and in politics, stands
out a conspicuous figure in the reigns of King William III and
Queen Anne. By writing Gulliver's Travels he made himself
immortal. The external facts of his singular relations with two
charming women are sufficiently well known; but a definite
explanation of these facts has never yet been given. Swift held
his tongue with a repellent taciturnity. No one ever dared to
question him. Whether the true solution belongs to the sphere of
psychology or of physiology is a question that remains unanswered.
But, as the case is one of the most puzzling in the annals of
love, it may be well to set forth the circumstances very briefly,
to weigh the theories that have already been advanced, and to
Jonathan Swift was of Yorkshire stock, though he happened to be
born in Dublin, and thus is often spoken of as "the great Irish
satirist," or "the Irish dean." It was, in truth, his fate to
spend much of his life in Ireland, and to die there, near the
cathedral where his remains now rest; but in truth he hated
Ireland and everything connected with it, just as he hated
Scotland and everything that was Scottish. He was an Englishman to
High-stomached, proud, obstinate, and over-mastering, independence
was the dream of his life. He would accept no favors, lest he
should put himself under obligation; and although he could give
generously, and even lavishly, he lived for the most part a
miser's life, hoarding every penny and halfpenny that he could.
Whatever one may think of him, there is no doubt that he was a
very manly man. Too many of his portraits give the impression of a
sour, supercilious pedant; but the finest of them all--that by
Jervas--shows him as he must have been at his very prime, with a
face that was almost handsome, and a look of attractive humor
which strengthens rather than lessens the power of his brows and
of the large, lambent eyes beneath them.
At fifteen he entered Trinity College, in Dublin, where he read
widely but studied little, so that his degree was finally granted
him only as a special favor. At twenty-one he first visited
England, and became secretary to Sir William Temple, at Moor Park.
Temple, after a distinguished career in diplomacy, had retired to
his fine country estate in Surrey. He is remembered now for
several things--for having entertained Peter the Great of Russia;
for having, while young, won the affections of Dorothy Osborne,
whose letters to him are charming in their grace and archness; for
having been the patron of Jonathan Swift; and for fathering the
young girl named Esther Johnson, a waif, born out of wedlock, to
whom Temple gave a place in his household.
When Swift first met her, Esther Johnson was only eight years old;
and part of his duties at Moor Park consisted in giving her what
was then an unusual education for a girl. She was, however, still
a child, and nothing serious could have passed between the raw
youth and this little girl who learned the lessons that he imposed
Such acquaintance as they had was rudely broken off. Temple, a man
of high position, treated Swift with an urbane condescension which
drove the young man's independent soul into a frenzy. He returned
to Ireland, where he was ordained a clergyman, and received a
small parish at Kilroot, near Belfast.
It was here that the love-note was first seriously heard in the
discordant music of Swift's career. A college friend of his named
Waring had a sister who was about the age of Swift, and whom he
met quite frequently at Kilroot. Not very much is known of this
episode, but there is evidence that Swift fell in love with the
girl, whom he rather romantically called "Varina."
This cannot be called a serious love-affair. Swift was lonely, and
Jane Waring was probably the only girl of refinement who lived
near Kilroot. Furthermore, she had inherited a small fortune,
while Swift was miserably poor, and had nothing to offer except
the shadowy prospect of future advancement in England. He was
definitely refused by her; and it was this, perhaps, that led him
to resolve on going back to England and making his peace with Sir
On leaving, Swift wrote a passionate letter to Miss Waring--the
only true love-letter that remains to us of their correspondence.
He protests that he does not want Varina's fortune, and that he
will wait until he is in a position to marry her on equal terms.
There is a smoldering flame of jealousy running through the
letter. Swift charges her with being cold, affected, and willing
to flirt with persons who are quite beneath her.
Varina played no important part in Swift's larger life thereafter;
but something must be said of this affair in order to show, first
of all, that Swift's love for her was due only to proximity, and
that when he ceased to feel it he could be not only hard, but
harsh. His fiery spirit must have made a deep impression on Miss
Waring; for though she at the time refused him, she afterward
remembered him, and tried to renew their old relations. Indeed, no
sooner had Swift been made rector of a larger parish, than Varina
let him know that she had changed her mind, and was ready to marry
him; but by this time Swift had lost all interest in her. He wrote
an answer which even his truest admirers have called brutal.
"Yes," he said in substance, "I will marry you, though you have
treated me vilely, and though you are living in a sort of social
sink. I am still poor, though you probably think otherwise.
However, I will marry you on certain conditions. First, you must
be educated, so that you can entertain me. Next, you must put up
with all my whims and likes and dislikes. Then you must live
wherever I please. On these terms I will take you, without
reference to your looks or to your income. As to the first,
cleanliness is all that I require; as to the second, I only ask
that it be enough."
Such a letter as this was like a blow from a bludgeon. The
insolence, the contempt, and the hardness of it were such as no
self-respecting woman could endure. It put an end to their
acquaintance, as Swift undoubtedly intended it should do. He would
have been less censurable had he struck Varina with his fist or
The true reason for Swift's utter change of heart is found, no
doubt, in the beginning of what was destined to be his long
intimacy with Esther Johnson. When Swift left Sir William Temple's
in a huff, Esther had been a mere schoolgirl. Now, on his return,
she was fifteen years of age, and seemed older. She had blossomed
out into a very comely girl, vivacious, clever, and physically
well developed, with dark hair, sparkling eyes, and features that
were unusually regular and lovely.
For three years the two were close friends and intimate
associates, though it cannot he said that Swift ever made open
love to her. To the outward eye they were no more than fellow
workers. Yet love does not need the spoken word and the formal
declaration to give it life and make it deep and strong. Esther
Johnson, to whom Swift gave the pet name of "Stella," grew into
the existence of this fiery, hold, and independent genius. All
that he did she knew. She was his confidante. As to his writings,
his hopes, and his enmities, she was the mistress of all his
secrets. For her, at last, no other man existed.
On Sir William Temple's death, Esther John son came into a small
fortune, though she now lost her home at Moor Park. Swift returned
to Ireland, and soon afterward he invited Stella to join him
Swift was now thirty-four years of age, and Stella a very
attractive girl of twenty. One might have expected that the two
would marry, and yet they did not do so. Every precaution was
taken to avoid anything like scandal. Stella was accompanied by a
friend--a widow named Mrs. Dingley--without whose presence, or
that of some third person, Swift never saw Esther Johnson. When
Swift was absent, how ever, the two ladies occupied his
apartments; and Stella became more than ever essential to his
When they were separated for any length of time Swift wrote to
Stella in a sort of baby-talk, which they called "the little
language." It was made up of curious abbreviations and childish
words, growing more and more complicated as the years went on. It
is interesting to think of this stern and often savage genius, who
loved to hate, and whose hate was almost less terrible than his
love, babbling and prattling in little half caressing sentences,
as a mother might babble over her first child. Pedantic writers
have professed to find in Swift's use of this "little language"
the coming shadow of that insanity which struck him down in his
As it is, these letters are among the curiosities of amatory
correspondence. When Swift writes "oo" for "you," and "deelest"
for "dearest," and "vely" for "very," there is no need of an
interpreter; but "rettle" for "let ter," "dallars" for "girls,"
and "givar" for "devil," are at first rather difficult to guess.
Then there is a system of abbreviating. "Md" means "my dear,"
"Ppt" means "poppet," and "Pdfr," with which Swift sometimes
signed his epistles, "poor, dear, foolish rogue."
The letters reveal how very closely the two were bound together,
yet still there was no talk of marriage. On one occasion, after
they had been together for three years in Ireland, Stella might
have married another man. This was a friend of Swift's, one Dr.
Tisdall, who made energetic love to the sweet-faced English girl.
Tisdall accused Swift of poisoning Stella's mind against him.
Swift replied that such was not the case. He said that no feelings
of his own would ever lead him to influence the girl if she
It is quite sure, then, that Stella clung wholly to Swift, and
cared nothing for the proffered love of any other man. Thus
through the years the relations of the two remained unchanged,
until in 1710 Swift left Ireland and appeared as a very brilliant
figure in the London drawing-rooms of the great Tory leaders of
He was now a man of mark, because of his ability as a
controversialist. He had learned the manners of the world, and he
carried him self with an air of power which impressed all those
who met him. Among these persons was a Miss Hester--or Esther--
Vanhomrigh, the daughter of a rather wealthy widow who was living
in London at that time. Miss Vanhomrigh--a name which she and her
mother pronounced "Vanmeury"--was then seventeen years of age, or
twelve years younger than the patient Stella.
Esther Johnson, through her long acquaintance with Swift, and from
his confidence in her, had come to treat him almost as an
intellectual equal. She knew all his moods, some of which were
very difficult, and she bore them all; though when he was most
tyrannous she became only passive, waiting, with a woman's wisdom,
for the tempest to blow over.
Miss Vanhomrigh, on the other hand, was one of those girls who,
though they have high spirit, take an almost voluptuous delight in
yielding to a spirit that is stronger still. This beautiful
creature felt a positive fascination in Swift's presence and his
imperious manner. When his eyes flashed, and his voice thundered
out words of anger, she looked at him with adoration, and bowed in
a sort of ecstasy before him. If he chose to accost a great lady
with "Well, madam, are you as ill-natured and disagreeable as when
I met you last?" Esther Vanhomrigh thrilled at the insolent
audacity of the man. Her evident fondness for him exercised a
seductive influence over Swift.
As the two were thrown more and more together, the girl lost all
her self-control. Swift did not in any sense make love to her,
though he gave her the somewhat fanciful name of "Vanessa"; but
she, driven on by a high-strung, unbridled temperament, made open
love to him. When he was about to return to Ireland, there came
one startling moment when Vanessa flung herself into the arms of
Swift, and amazed him by pouring out a torrent of passionate
Swift seems to have been surprised. He did what he could to quiet
her. He told her that they were too unequal in years and fortune
for anything but friendship, and he offered to give her as much
friendship as she desired.
Doubtless he thought that, after returning to Ireland, he would
not see Vanessa any more. In this, however, he was mistaken. An
ardent girl, with a fortune of her own, was not to be kept from
the man whom absence only made her love the more. In addition,
Swift carried on his correspondence with her, which served to fan
the flame and to increase the sway that Swift had already
Vanessa wrote, and with every letter she burned and pined. Swift
replied, and each reply enhanced her yearning for him. Ere long,
Vanessa's mother died, and Vanessa herself hastened to Ireland and
took up her residence near Dublin. There, for years, was enacted
this tragic comedy--Esther Johnson was near Swift, and had all his
confidence; Esther Vanhomrigh was kept apart from him, while still
receiving missives from him, and, later, even visits.
It was at this time, after he had become dean of St. Patrick's
Cathedral, in Dublin, that Swift was married to Esther Johnson--
for it seems probable that the ceremony took place, though it was
nothing more than a form. They still saw each other only in the
presence of a third person. Nevertheless, some knowledge of their
close relationship leaked out. Stella had been jealous of her
rival during the years that Swift spent in London. Vanessa was now
told that Swift was married to the other woman, or that she was
his mistress. Writhing with jealousy, she wrote directly to
Stella, and asked whether she was Dean Swift's wife. In answer
Stella replied that she was, and then she sent Vanessa's letter to
All the fury of his nature was roused in him; and he was a man who
could be very terrible when angry. He might have remembered the
intense love which Vanessa bore for him, the humility with which
she had accepted his conditions, and, finally, the loneliness of
But Swift was utterly unsparing. No gleam of pity entered his
heart as he leaped upon a horse and galloped out to Marley Abbey,
where she was living--"his prominent eyes arched by jet-black
brows and glaring with the green fury of a cat's." Reaching the
house, he dashed into it, with something awful in his looks, made
his way to Vanessa, threw her letter down upon the table and,
after giving her one frightful glare, turned on his heel, and in a
moment more was galloping back to Dublin.
The girl fell to the floor in an agony of terror and remorse. She
was taken to her room, and only three weeks afterward was carried
forth, having died literally of a broken heart.
Five years later, Stella also died, withering away a sacrifice to
what the world has called Swift's cruel heartlessness and egotism.
His greatest public triumphs came to him in his final years of
melancholy isolation; but in spite of the applause that greeted
The Drapier Letters and Gulliver's Travels, he brooded morbidly
over his past life. At last his powerful mind gave way, so that he
died a victim to senile dementia. By his directions his body was
interred in the same coffin with Stella's, in the cathedral of
which he had been dean.
Such is the story of Dean Swift, and it has always suggested
several curious questions. Why, if he loved Stella, did he not
marry her long before? Why, when he married her, did he treat her
still as if she were not his wife? Why did he allow Vanessa's love
to run like a scarlet thread across the fabric of the other
affection, which must have been so strong?
Many answers have been given to these questions. That which was
formulated by Sir Walter Scott is a simple one, and has been
generally accepted. Scott believed that Swift was physically
incapacitated for marriage, and that he needed feminine sympathy,
which he took where he could get it, without feeling bound to give
anything in return.
If Scott's explanation be the true one, it still leaves Swift
exposed to ignominy as a monster of ingratitude. Therefore, many
of his biographers have sought other explanations. No one can
palliate his conduct toward Vanessa; but Sir Leslie Stephen makes
a plea for him with reference to Stella. Sir Leslie points out
that until Swift became dean of St. Patrick's his income was far
too small to marry on, and that after his brilliant but
disappointing three years in London, when his prospects of
advancement were ruined, he felt himself a broken man.
Furthermore, his health was always precarious, since he suffered
from a distressing illness which attacked him at intervals,
rendering him both deaf and giddy. The disease is now known as
Meniere's disease, from its classification by the French
physician, Meniere, in 1861. Swift felt that he lived in constant
danger of some sudden stroke that would deprive him either of life
or reason; and his ultimate insanity makes it appear that his
forebodings were not wholly futile. Therefore, though he married
Stella, he kept the marriage secret, thus leaving her free, in
case of his demise, to marry as a maiden, and not to be regarded
as a widow.
Sir Leslie offers the further plea that, after all, Stella's life
was what she chose to make it. She enjoyed Swift's friendship,
which she preferred to the love of any other man.
Another view is that of Dr. Richard Garnett, who has discussed the
question with some subtlety. "Swift," says Dr. Garnett, "was by
nature devoid of passion. He was fully capable of friendship, but
not of love. The spiritual realm, whether of divine or earthly
things, was a region closed to him, where he never set foot." On
the side of friendship he must greatly have preferred Stella to
Vanessa, and yet the latter assailed him on his weakest side--on
the side of his love of imperious domination.
Vanessa hugged the fetters to which Stella merely submitted.
Flattered to excess by her surrender, yet conscious of his
obligations and his real preference, he could neither discard the
one beauty nor desert the other.
Therefore, he temporized with both of them, and when the choice
was forced upon him he madly struck down the woman for whom he
cared the less.
One may accept Dr. Garnett's theory with a somewhat altered
conclusion. It is not true, as a matter of recorded fact, that
Swift was incapable of passion, for when a boy at college he was
sought out by various young women, and he sought them out in turn.
His fiery letter to Miss Waring points to the same conclusion.
When Esther Johnson began to love him he was heart-free, yet
unable, because of his straitened means, to marry. But Esther
Johnson always appealed more to his reason, his friendship, and
his comfort, than to his love, using the word in its material,
physical sense. This love was stirred in him by Vanessa. Yet when
he met Vanessa he had already gone too far with Esther Johnson to
break the bond which had so long united them, nor could he think
of a life without her, for she was to him his other self.
At the same time, his more romantic association with Vanessa
roused those instincts which he had scarcely known himself to be
possessed of. His position was, therefore, most embarrassing. He
hoped to end it when he left London and returned to Ireland; but
fate was unkind to him in this, because Vanessa followed him. He
lacked the will to be frank with her, and thus he stood a
wretched, halting victim of his own dual nature.
He was a clergyman, and at heart religious. He had also a sense of
honor, and both of these traits compelled him to remain true to
Esther Johnson. The terrible outbreak which brought about
Vanessa's death was probably the wild frenzy of a tortured soul.
It recalls the picture of some fierce animal brought at last to
bay, and venting its own anguish upon any object that is within
reach of its fangs and claws.
No matter how the story may be told, it makes one shiver, for it
is a tragedy in which the three participants all meet their doom--
one crushed by a lightning-bolt of unreasoning anger, the other
wasting away through hope deferred; while the man whom the world
will always hold responsible was himself destined to end his years
blind and sleepless, bequeathing his fortune to a madhouse, and
saying, with his last muttered breath:
"I am a fool!"
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY AND MARY GODWIN
A great deal has been said and written in favor of early marriage;
and, in a general way, early marriage may be an admirable thing.
Young men and young women who have no special gift of imagination,
and who have practically reached their full mental development at
twenty-one or twenty-two--or earlier, even in their teens--may
marry safely; because they are already what they will be. They are
not going to experience any growth upward and outward. Passing
years simply bring them more closely together, until they have
settled down into a sort of domestic unity, by which they think
alike, act alike, and even gradually come to look alike.
But early wedlock spells tragedy to the man or the woman of
genius. In their teens they have only begun to grow. What they
will be ten years hence, no one can prophesy. Therefore, to mate
so early in life is to insure almost certain storm and stress,
and, in the end, domestic wreckage.
As a rule, it is the man, and not the woman, who makes the false
step; because it is the man who elects to marry when he is still
very young. If he choose some ill-fitting, commonplace, and
unresponsive nature to match his own, it is he who is bound in the
course of time to learn his great mistake. When the splendid eagle
shall have got his growth, and shall begin to soar up into the
vault of heaven, the poor little barn-yard fowl that he once
believed to be his equal seems very far away in everything. He
discovers that she is quite unable to follow him in his towering
The story of Percy Bysshe Shelley is a singular one. The
circumstances of his early marriage were strange. The breaking of
his marriage-bond was also strange. Shelley himself was an
extraordinary creature. He was blamed a great deal in his lifetime
for what he did, and since then some have echoed the reproach. Yet
it would seem as if, at the very beginning of his life, he was put
into a false position against his will. Because of this he was
misunderstood until the end of his brief and brilliant and erratic
SHELLEY AND MARY GODWIN
In 1792 the French Revolution burst into flame, the mob of Paris
stormed the Tuileries, the King of France was cast into a dungeon
to await his execution, and the wild sons of anarchy flung their
gauntlet of defiance into the face of Europe. In this tremendous
year was born young Shelley; and perhaps his nature represented
the spirit of the time.
Certainly, neither from his father nor from his mother did he
derive that perpetual unrest and that frantic fondness for revolt
which blazed out in the poet when he was still a boy. His father,
Mr. Timothy Shelley, was a very usual, thick-headed, unromantic
English squire. His mother--a woman of much beauty, but of no
exceptional traits--was the daughter of another squire, and at the
time of her marriage was simply one of ten thousand fresh-faced,
pleasant-spoken English country girls. If we look for a strain of
the romantic in Shelley's ancestry, we shall have to find it in
the person of his grandfather, who was a very remarkable and
This person, Bysshe Shelley by name, had in his youth been
associated with some mystery. He was not born in England, but in
America--and in those days the name "America" meant almost
anything indefinite and peculiar. However this might be, Bysshe
Shelley, though a scion of a good old English family, had wandered
in strange lands, and it was whispered that he had seen strange
sights and done strange things. According to one legend, he had
been married in America, though no one knew whether his wife was
white or black, or how he had got rid of her.
He might have remained in America all his life, had not a small
inheritance fallen to his share. This brought him back to England,
and he soon found that England was in reality the place to make
his fortune. He was a man of magnificent physique. His rovings had
given him ease and grace, and the power which comes from a wide
experience of life. He could be extremely pleasing when he chose;
and he soon won his way into the good graces of a rich heiress,
whom he married.
With her wealth he became an important personage, and consorted
with gentlemen and statesmen of influence, attaching himself
particularly to the Duke of Northumberland, by whose influence he
was made a baronet. When his rich wife died, Shelley married a
still richer bride; and so this man, who started out as a mere
adventurer without a shilling to his name, died in 1813, leaving
more than a million dollars in cash, with lands whose rent-roll
yielded a hundred thousand dollars every year.
If any touch of the romantic which we find in Shelley is a matter
of heredity, we must trace it to this able, daring, restless, and
magnificent old grandfather, who was the beau ideal of an English
squire--the sort of squire who had added foreign graces to native
sturdiness. But young Shelley, the future poet, seemed scarcely to
be English at all. As a young boy he cared nothing for athletic
sports. He was given to much reading. He thought a good deal about
abstractions with which most schoolboys never concern themselves
Consequently, both in private schools and afterward at Eton, he
became a sort of rebel against authority. He resisted the fagging-
system. He spoke contemptuously of physical prowess. He disliked
anything that he was obliged to do, and he rushed eagerly into
whatever was forbidden.
Finally, when he was sent to University College, Oxford, he broke
all bounds. At a time when Tory England was aghast over the French
Revolution and its results, Shelley talked of liberty and equality
on all occasions. He made friends with an uncouth but able fellow
student, who bore the remarkable name of Thomas Jefferson Hogg--a
name that seems rampant with republicanism--and very soon he got
himself expelled from the university for publishing a little tract
of an infidel character called "A Defense of Atheism."
His expulsion for such a cause naturally shocked his father. It
probably disturbed Shelley himself; but, after all, it gave him
some satisfaction to be a martyr for the cause of free speech. He
went to London with his friend Hogg, and took lodgings there. He
read omnivorously--Hogg says as much as sixteen hours a day. He
would walk through the most crowded streets poring over a volume,
while holding another under one arm.
His mind was full of fancies. He had begun what was afterward
called "his passion for reforming everything." He despised most of
the laws of England. He thought its Parliament ridiculous. He
hated its religion. He was particularly opposed to marriage. This
last fact gives some point to the circumstances which almost
immediately confronted him.
Shelley was now about nineteen years old--an age at which most
English boys are emerging from the public schools, and are still
in the hobbledehoy stage of their formation. In a way, he was
quite far from boyish; yet in his knowledge of life he was little
more than a mere child. He knew nothing thoroughly--much less the
ways of men and women. He had no visible means of existence except
a small allowance from his father. His four sisters, who were at a
boarding-school on Clapham Common, used to save their pin-money
and send it to their gifted brother so that he might not actually
starve. These sisters he used to call upon from time to time, and
through them he made the acquaintance of a sixteen-year-old girl
named Harriet Westbrook.
Harriet Westbrook was the daughter of a black-visaged keeper of a
coffee-house in Mount Street, called "Jew Westbrook," partly
because of his complexion, and partly because of his ability to
retain what he had made. He was, indeed, fairly well off, and had
sent his younger daughter, Harriet, to the school where Shelley's
Harriet Westbrook seems to have been a most precocious person. Any
girl of sixteen is, of course, a great deal older and more mature
than a youth of nineteen. In the present instance Harriet might
have been Shelley's senior by five years. There is no doubt that
she fell in love with him; but, having done so, she by no means
acted in the shy and timid way that would have been most natural
to a very young girl in her first love-affair. Having decided that
she wanted him, she made up her mind to get Mm at any cost, and
her audacity was equaled only by his simplicity. She was rather
attractive in appearance, with abundant hair, a plump figure, and
a pink-and-white complexion. This description makes of her a
rather doll-like girl; but doll-like girls are just the sort to
attract an inexperienced young man who has yet to learn that
beauty and charm are quite distinct from prettiness, and
infinitely superior to it.
In addition to her prettiness, Harriet Westbrook had a vivacious
manner and talked quite pleasingly. She was likewise not a bad
listener; and she would listen by the hour to Shelley in his
rhapsodies about chemistry, poetry, the failure of Christianity,
the national debt, and human liberty, all of which he jumbled up
without much knowledge, but in a lyric strain of impassioned
eagerness which would probably have made the multiplication-table
For Shelley himself was a creature of extraordinary fascination,
both then and afterward. There are no likenesses of him that do
him justice, because they cannot convey that singular appeal which
the man himself made to almost every one who met him.
The eminent painter, Mulready, once said that Shelley was too
beautiful for portraiture; and yet the descriptions of him hardly
seem to bear this out. He was quite tall and slender, but he
stooped so much as to make him appear undersized. His head was
very small-quite disproportionately so; but this was counteracted
to the eye by his long and tumbled hair which, when excited, he
would rub and twist in a thousand different directions until it
was actually bushy. His eyes and mouth were his best features. The
former were of a deep violet blue, and when Shelley felt deeply
moved they seemed luminous with a wonderful and almost unearthly
light. His mouth was finely chiseled, and might be regarded as
One great defect he had, and this might well have overbalanced his
attractive face. The defect in question was his voice. One would
have expected to hear from him melodious sounds, and vocal tones
both rich and penetrating; but, as a matter of fact, his voice was
shrill at the very best, and became actually discordant and
peacock-like in moments of emotion.
Such, then, was Shelley, star-eyed, with the delicate complexion
of a girl, wonderfully mobile in his features, yet speaking in a
voice high pitched and almost raucous. For the rest, he arrayed
himself with care and in expensive clothing, even though he took
no thought of neatness, so that his garments were almost always
rumpled and wrinkled from his frequent writhings on couches and on
the floor. Shelley had a strange and almost primitive habit of
rolling on the earth, and another of thrusting his tousled head
close up to the hottest fire in the house, or of lying in the
glaring sun when out of doors. It is related that he composed one
of his finest poems--"The Cenci"--in Italy, while stretched out
with face upturned to an almost tropical sun.
But such as he was, and though he was not yet famous, Harriet
Westbrook, the rosy-faced schoolgirl, fell in love with him, and
rather plainly let him know that she had done so. There are a
thousand ways in which a woman can convey this information without
doing anything un-maidenly; and of all these little arts Miss
Westbrook was instinctively a mistress.
She played upon Shelley's feelings by telling him that her father
was cruel to her, and that he contemplated actions still more
cruel. There is something absurdly comical about the grievance
which she brought to Shelley; but it is much more comical to note
the tremendous seriousness with which he took it. He wrote to his
Her father has persecuted her in a most horrible way, by
endeavoring to compel her to go to school. She asked my advice;
resistance was the answer. At the same time I essayed to mollify
Mr. Westbrook, in vain! I advised her to resist. She wrote to say
that resistance was useless, but that she would fly with me and
throw herself on my protection.
Some letters that have recently come to light show that there was
a dramatic scene between Harriet Westbrook and Shelley--a scene in
the course of which she threw her arms about his neck and wept
upon his shoulder. Here was a curious situation. Shelley was not
at all in love with her. He had explicitly declared this only a
short time before. Yet here was a pretty girl about to suffer the
"horrible persecution" of being sent to school, and finding no
alternative save to "throw herself on his protection"--in other
words, to let him treat her as he would, and to become his
The absurdity of the situation makes one smile. Common sense
should have led some one to box Harriet's ears and send her off to
school without a moment's hesitation; while as for Shelley, he
should have been told how ludicrous was the whole affair. But he
was only nineteen, and she was only sixteen, and the crisis seemed
portentous. Nothing could be more flattering to a young man's
vanity than to have this girl cast herself upon him for
protection. It did not really matter that he had not loved her
hitherto, and that he was already half engaged to another Harriet
--his cousin, Miss Grove. He could not stop and reason with
himself. He must like a true knight rescue lovely girlhood from
the horrors of a school!
It is not unlikely that this whole affair was partly managed or
manipulated by the girl's father. Jew Westbrook knew that Shelley
was related to rich and titled people, and that he was certain, if
he lived, to become Sir Percy, and to be the heir of his
grandfather's estates. Hence it may be that Harriet's queer
conduct was not wholly of her own prompting.
In any case, however, it proved to be successful. Shelley's ardent
and impulsive nature could not bear to see a girl in tears and
appealing for his help. Hence, though in his heart she was very
little to him, his romantic nature gave up for her sake the
affection that he had felt for his cousin, his own disbelief in
marriage, and finally the common sense which ought to have told
him not to marry any one on two hundred pounds a year.
So the pair set off for Edinburgh by stagecoach. It was a weary
and most uncomfortable journey. When they reached the Scottish
capital, they were married by the Scottish law. Their money was
all gone; but their landlord, with a jovial sympathy for romance,
let them have a room, and treated them to a rather promiscuous
wedding-banquet, in which every one in the house participated.
Such is the story of Shelley's marriage, contracted at nineteen
with a girl of sixteen who most certainly lured him on against his
own better judgment and in the absence of any actual love.
The girl whom he had taken to himself was a well-meaning little
thing. She tried for a time to meet her husband's moods and to be
a real companion to him. But what could one expect from such a
union? Shelley's father withdrew the income which he had
previously given. Jew Westbrook refused to contribute anything,
hoping, probably, that this course would bring the Shelleys to the
rescue. But as it was, the young pair drifted about from place to
place, getting very precarious supplies, running deeper into debt
each day, and finding less and less to admire in each other.
Shelley took to laudanum. Harriet dropped her abstruse studies,
which she had taken up to please her husband, but which could only
puzzle her small brain. She soon developed some of the unpleasant
traits of the class to which she belonged. In this her sister
Eliza--a hard and grasping middle-aged woman--had her share. She
set Harriet against her husband, and made life less endurable for
both. She was so much older than the pair that she came in and
ruled their household like a typical stepmother.
A child was born, and Shelley very generously went through a
second form of marriage, so as to comply with the English law; but
by this time there was little hope of righting things again.
Shelley was much offended because Harriet would not nurse the
child. He believed her hard because she saw without emotion an
operation performed upon the infant.
Finally, when Shelley at last came into a considerable sum of
money, Harriet and Eliza made no pretense of caring for anything
except the spending of it in "bonnet-shops" and on carriages and
display. In time--that is to say, in three years after their
marriage--Harriet left her husband and went to London and to Bath,
prompted by her elder sister.
This proved to be the end of an unfortunate marriage. Word was
brought to Shelley that his wife was no longer faithful to him.
He, on his side, had carried on a semi-sentimental platonic
correspondence with a schoolmistress, one Miss Hitchener. But
until now his life had been one great mistake--a life of
restlessness, of unsatisfied longing, of a desire that had no
name. Then came the perhaps inevitable meeting with the one whom
he should have met before.
Shelley had taken a great interest in William Godwin, the writer
and radical philosopher. Godwin's household was a strange one.
There was Fanny Imlay, a child born out of wedlock, the offspring
of Gilbert Imlay, an American merchant, and of Mary
Wollstonecraft, whom Godwin had subsequently married. There was
also a singularly striking girl who then styled herself Mary Jane
Clairmont, and who was afterward known as Claire Clairmont, she
and her brother being the early children of Godwin's second wife.
One day in 1814, Shelley called on Godwin, and found there a
beautiful young girl in her seventeenth year, "with shapely golden
head, a face very pale and pure, a great forehead, earnest hazel
eyes, and an expression at once of sensibility and firmness about
her delicately curved lips." This was Mary Godwin--one who had
inherited her mother's power of mind and likewise her grace and
From the very moment of their meeting Shelley and this girl were
fated to be joined together, and both of them were well aware of
it. Each felt the other's presence exert a magnetic thrill. Each
listened eagerly to what the other said. Each thought of nothing,
and each cared for nothing, in the other's absence. It was a great
compelling elemental force which drove the two together and bound
them fast. Beside this marvelous experience, how pale and pitiful
and paltry seemed the affectations of Harriet Westbrook!
In little more than a month from the time of their first meeting,
Shelley and Mary Godwin and Miss Clairmont left Godwin's house at
four o 'clock in the morning, and hurried across the Channel to
Calais. They wandered almost like vagabonds across France, eating
black bread and the coarsest fare, walking on the highways when
they could not afford to ride, and putting up with every possible
inconvenience. Yet it is worth noting that neither then nor at any
other time did either Shelley or Mary regret what they had done.