Part 2 out of 2
"I am the natural guardian of my child," she cried. "No one can
take away my rights!"
The young girl well understood that this was really the parting of
the ways. If she turned toward her uncle, she would be forever
classed among the aristocracy. If she chose her mother, who,
though married, was essentially a grisette, then she must live
with grisettes, and find her friends among the friends who visited
her mother. She could not belong to both worlds. She must decide
once for all whether she would be a woman of rank or a woman
entirely separated from the circle that had been her father's.
One must respect the girl for making the choice she did.
Understanding the situation absolutely, she chose her mother; and
perhaps one would not have had her do otherwise. Yet in the long
run it was bound to be a mistake. Aurore was clever, refined, well
read, and had had the training of a fashionable convent school.
The mother was ignorant and coarse, as was inevitable, with one
who before her marriage had been half shop-girl and half
courtesan. The two could not live long together, and hence it was
not unnatural that Aurore Dupin should marry, to enter upon a new
Her fortune was a fairly large one for the times, and yet not
large enough to attract men who were quite her equals. Presently,
however, it brought to her a sort of country squire, named Casimir
Dudevant. He was the illegitimate son of the Baron Dudevant. He
had been in the army, and had studied law; but he possessed no
intellectual tastes. He was outwardly eligible; but he was of a
coarse type--a man who, with passing years, would be likely to
take to drink and vicious amusements, and in serious life cared
only for his cattle, his horses, and his hunting. He had, however,
a sort of jollity about him which appealed to this girl of
eighteen; and so a marriage was arranged. Aurore Dupin became his
wife in 1822, and he secured the control of her fortune.
The first few years after her marriage were not unhappy. She had a
son, Maurice Dudevant, and a daughter, Solange, and she loved them
both. But it was impossible that she should continue vegetating
mentally upon a farm with a husband who was a fool, a drunkard,
and a miser. He deteriorated; his wife grew more and more clever.
Dudevant resented this. It made him uncomfortable. Other persons
spoke of her talk as brilliant. He bluntly told her that it was
silly, and that she must stop it. When she did not stop it, he
boxed her ears. This caused a breach between the pair which was
never healed. Dudevant drank more and more heavily, and jeered at
his wife because she was "always looking for noon at fourteen
o'clock." He had always flirted with the country girls; but now he
openly consorted with his wife's chambermaid.
Mme. Dudevant, on her side, would have nothing more to do with
this rustic rake. She formed what she called a platonic
friendship--and it was really so--with a certain M. de Seze, who
was advocate-general at Bordeaux. With him this clever woman could
talk without being called silly, and he took sincere pleasure in
her company. He might, in fact, have gone much further, had not
both of them been in an impossible situation.
Aurore Dudevant really believed that she was swayed by a pure and
mystic passion. De Seze, on the other hand, believed this mystic
passion to be genuine love. Coming to visit her at Nohant, he was
revolted by the clownish husband with whom she lived. It gave him
an esthetic shock to see that she had borne children to this boor.
Therefore he shrank back from her, and in time their relation
faded into nothingness.
It happened, soon after, that she found a packet in her husband's
desk, marked "Not to be opened until after my death." She wrote of
this in her correspondence:
I had not the patience to wait till widowhood. No one can be sure
of surviving anybody. I assumed that my husband had died, and I
was very glad to learn what he thought of me while he was alive.
Since the package was addressed to me, it was not dishonorable for
me to open it.
And so she opened it. It proved to be his will, but containing, as
a preamble, his curses on her, expressions of contempt, and all
the vulgar outpouring of an evil temper and angry passion. She
went to her husband as he was opening a bottle, and flung the
document upon the table. He cowered at her glance, at her
firmness, and at her cold hatred. He grumbled and argued and
entreated; but all that his wife would say in answer was:
"I must have an allowance. I am going to Paris, and my children
are to remain here."
At last he yielded, and she went at once to Paris, taking her
daughter with her, and having the promise of fifteen hundred
francs a year out of the half-million that was hers by right.
In Paris she developed into a thorough-paced Bohemian. She tried
to make a living in sundry hopeless ways, and at last she took to
literature. She was living in a garret, with little to eat, and
sometimes without a fire in winter. She had some friends who
helped her as well as they could, but though she was attached to
the Figaro, her earnings for the first month amounted to only
Nevertheless, she would not despair. The editors and publishers
might turn the cold shoulder to her, but she would not give up her
ambitions. She went down into the Latin Quarter, and there shook
off the proprieties of life. She assumed the garb of a man, and
with her quick perception she came to know the left bank of the
Seine just as she had known the country-side at Nohant or the
little world at her convent school. She never expected again to
see any woman of her own rank in life. Her mother's influence
became strong in her. She wrote:
The proprieties are the guiding principle of people without soul
and virtue. The good opinion of the world is a prostitute who
gives herself to the highest bidder.
She still pursued her trade of journalism, calling herself a
"newspaper mechanic," sitting all day in the office of the Figaro
and writing whatever was demanded, while at night she would prowl
in the streets haunting the cafes, continuing to dress like a man,
drinking sour wine, and smoking cheap cigars.
One of her companions in this sort of hand-to-mouth journalism was
a young student and writer named Jules Sandeau, a man seven years
younger than his comrade. He was at that time as indigent as she,
and their hardships, shared in common, brought them very close
together. He was clever, boyish, and sensitive, and it was not
long before he had fallen at her feet and kissed her knees,
begging that she would requite the love he felt for her. According
to herself, she resisted him for six months, and then at last she
yielded. The two made their home together, and for a while were
wonderfully happy. Their work and their diversions they enjoyed in
common, and now for the first time she experienced emotions which
in all probability she had never known before.
Probably not very much importance is to be given to the earlier
flirtations of George Sand, though she herself never tried to stop
the mouth of scandal. Even before she left her husband, she was
credited with having four lovers; but all she said, when the
report was brought to her, was this: "Four lovers are none too
many for one with such lively passions as mine."
This very frankness makes it likely that she enjoyed shocking her
prim neighbors at Nohant. But if she only played at love-making
then, she now gave herself up to it with entire abandonment,
intoxicated, fascinated, satisfied. She herself wrote:
How I wish I could impart to you this sense of the intensity and
joyousness of life that I have in my veins. To live! How sweet it
is, and how good, in spite of annoyances, husbands, debts,
relations, scandal-mongers, sufferings, and irritations! To live!
It is intoxicating! To love, and to be loved! It is happiness! It
In collaboration with Jules Sandeau, she wrote a novel called Rose
et Blanche. The two lovers were uncertain what name to place upon
the title-page, but finally they hit upon the pseudonym of Jules
Sand. The book succeeded; but thereafter each of them wrote
separately, Jules Sandeau using his own name, and Mme. Dudevant
styling herself George Sand, a name by which she was to be
illustrious ever after.
As a novelist, she had found her real vocation. She was not yet
well known, but she was on the verge of fame. As soon as she had
written Indiana and Valentine, George Sand had secured a place in
the world of letters. The magazine which still exists as the Revue
des Deux Mondes gave her a retaining fee of four thousand francs a
year, and many other publications begged her to write serial
stories for them.
The vein which ran through all her stories was new and piquant. As
was said of her:
In George Sand, whenever a lady wishes to change her lover, God is
always there to make the transfer easy.
In other words, she preached free love in the name of religion.
This was not a new doctrine with her. After the first break with
her husband, she had made up her mind about certain matters, and
One is no more justified in claiming the ownership of a soul than
in claiming the ownership of a slave.
According to her, the ties between a man and a woman are sacred
only when they are sanctified by love; and she distinguished
between love and passion in this epigram:
Love seeks to give, while passion seeks to take.
At this time, George Sand was in her twenty-seventh year. She was
not beautiful, though there was something about her which
attracted observation. Of middle height, she was fairly slender.
Her eyes were somewhat projecting, and her mouth was almost sullen
when in repose. Her manners were peculiar, combining boldness with
timidity. Her address was almost as familiar as a man's, so that
it was easy to be acquainted with her; yet a certain haughtiness
and a touch of aristocratic pride made it plain that she had drawn
a line which none must pass without her wish. When she was deeply
stirred, however, she burst forth into an extraordinary vivacity,
showing a nature richly endowed and eager to yield its treasures.
The existence which she now led was a curious one. She still
visited her husband at Nohant, so that she might see her son, and
sometimes, when M. Dudevant came to town, he called upon her in
the apartments which she shared with Jules Sandeau. He had
accepted the situation, and with his crudeness and lack of feeling
he seemed to think it, if not natural, at least diverting. At any
rate, so long as he could retain her half-million francs, he was
not the man to make trouble about his former wife's arrangements.
Meanwhile, there began to be perceptible the very slightest rift
within the lute of her romance. Was her love for Sandeau really
love, or was it only passion? In his absence, at any rate, the old
obsession still continued. Here we see, first of all, intense
pleasure shading off into a sort of maternal fondness. She sends
Sandeau adoring letters. She is afraid that his delicate appetite
is not properly satisfied.
Yet, again, there are times when she feels that he is irritating
and ill. Those who knew them said that her nature was too
passionate and her love was too exacting for him. One of her
letters seems to make this plain. She writes that she feels
uneasy, and even frightfully remorseful, at seeing Sandeau "pine
away." She knows, she avows, that she is killing him, that her
caresses are a poison, and her love a consuming fire.
It is an appalling thought, and Jules will not understand it. He
laughs at it; and when, in the midst of his transports of delight,
the idea comes to me and makes my blood run cold, he tells me that
here is the death that he would like to die. At such moments he
promises whatever I make him promise.
This letter throws a clear light upon the nature of George Sand's
temperament. It will be found all through her career, not only
that she sought to inspire passion, but that she strove to gratify
it after fashions of her own. One little passage from a
description of her written by the younger Dumas will perhaps make
this phase of her character more intelligible, without going
further than is strictly necessary:
Mme. Sand has little hands without any bones, soft and plump. She
is by destiny a woman of excessive curiosity, always disappointed,
always deceived in her incessant investigation, but she is not
fundamentally ardent. In vain would she like to be so, but she
does not find it possible. Her physical nature utterly refuses.
The reader will find in all that has now been said the true
explanation of George Sand. Abounding with life, but incapable of
long stretches of ardent love, she became a woman who sought
conquests everywhere without giving in return more than her
temperament made it possible for her to do. She loved Sandeau as
much as she ever loved any man; and yet she left him with a sense
that she had never become wholly his. Perhaps this is the reason
why their romance came to an end abruptly, and not altogether
She had been spending a short time at Nohant, and came to Paris
without announcement. She intended to surprise her lover, and she
surely did so. She found him in the apartment that had been
theirs, with his arms about an attractive laundry-girl. Thus
closed what was probably the only true romance in the life of
George Sand. Afterward she had many lovers, but to no one did she
so nearly become a true mate.
As it was, she ended her association with Sandeau, and each
pursued a separate path to fame. Sandeau afterward became a well-
known novelist and dramatist. He was, in fact, the first writer of
fiction who was admitted to the French Academy. The woman to whom
he had been unfaithful became greater still, because her fame was
not only national, but cosmopolitan.
For a time after her deception by Sandeau, she felt absolutely
devoid of all emotions. She shunned men, and sought the friendship
of Marie Dorval, a clever actress who was destined afterward to
break the heart of Alfred de Vigny. The two went down into the
country; and there George Sand wrote hour after hour, sitting by
her fireside, and showing herself a tender mother to her little
This life lasted for a while, but it was not the sort of life that
would now content her. She had many visitors from Paris, among
them Sainte-Beuve, the critic, who brought with him Prosper
Merimee, then unknown, but later famous as master of revels to the
third Napoleon and as the author of Carmen. Merimee had a certain
fascination of manner, and the predatory instincts of George Sand
were again aroused. One day, when she felt bored and desperate,
Merimee paid his court to her, and she listened to him. This is
one of the most remarkable of her intimacies, since it began,
continued, and ended all in the space of a single week. When
Merimee left Nohant, he was destined never again to see George
Sand, except long afterward at a dinner-party, where the two
stared at each other sharply, but did not speak. This affair,
however, made it plain that she could not long remain at Nohant,
and that she pined for Paris.
Returning thither, she is said to have set her cap at Victor Hugo,
who was, however, too much in love with himself to care for any
one, especially a woman who was his literary rival. She is said
for a time to have been allied with Gustave Planche, a dramatic
critic; but she always denied this, and her denial may be taken as
quite truthful. Soon, however, she was to begin an episode which
has been more famous than any other in her curious history, for
she met Alfred de Musset, then a youth of twenty-three, but
already well known for his poems and his plays.
Musset was of noble birth. He would probably have been better for
a plebeian strain, since there was in him a touch of the
degenerate. His mother's father had published a humanitarian poem
on cats. His great-uncle had written a peculiar novel. Young
Alfred was nervous, delicate, slightly epileptic, and it is
certain that he was given to dissipation, which so far had
affected his health only by making him hysterical. He was an
exceedingly handsome youth, with exquisite manners, "dreamy rather
than dazzling eyes, dilated nostrils, and vermilion lips half
opened." Such was he when George Sand, then seven years his
senior, met him.
There is something which, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, seems far more
absurd than pathetic about the events which presently took place.
A woman like George Sand at thirty was practically twice the age
of this nervous boy of twenty-three, who had as yet seen little of
the world. At first she seemed to realize the fact herself; but
her vanity led her to begin an intrigue, which must have been
almost wholly without excitement on her part, but which to him,
for a time, was everything in the world.
Experimenting, as usual, after the fashion described by Dumas, she
went with De Musset for a "honeymoon" to Fontainebleau. But they
could not stay there forever, and presently they decided upon a
journey to Italy. Before they went, however, they thought it
necessary to get formal permission from Alfred's mother!
Naturally enough, Mme. de Musset refused consent. She had read
George Sand's romances, and had asked scornfully:
"Has the woman never in her life met a gentleman?"
She accepted the relations between them, but that she should be
asked to sanction this sort of affair was rather too much, even
for a French mother who has become accustomed to many strange
things. Then there was a curious happening. At nine o'clock at
night, George Sand took a cab and drove to the house of Mme. de
Musset, to whom she sent up a message that a lady wished to see
her. Mme. de Musset came down, and, finding a woman alone in a
carriage, she entered it. Then George Sand burst forth in a
torrent of sentimental eloquence. She overpowered her lover's
mother, promised to take great care of the delicate youth, and
finally drove away to meet Alfred at the coach-yard.
They started off in the mist, their coach being the thirteenth to
leave the yard; but the two lovers were in a merry mood, and
enjoyed themselves all the way from Paris to Marseilles. By
steamer they went to Leghorn; and finally, in January, 1834, they
took an apartment in a hotel at Venice. What had happened that
their arrival in Venice should be the beginning of a quarrel, no
one knows. George Sand has told the story, and Paul de Musset--
Alfred's brother--has told the story, but each of them has
doubtless omitted a large part of the truth.
It is likely that on their long journey each had learned too much
of the other. Thus, Paul de Musset says that George Sand made
herself outrageous by her conversation, telling every one of her
mother's adventures in the army of Italy, including her relations
with the general-in-chief. She also declared that she herself was
born within a month of her parents' wedding-day. Very likely she
did say all these things, whether they were true or not. She had
set herself to wage war against conventional society, and she did
everything to shock it.
On the other hand, Alfred de Musset fell ill after having lost ten
thousand francs in a gambling-house. George Sand was not fond of
persons who were ill. She herself was working like a horse,
writing from eight to thirteen hours a day. When Musset collapsed
she sent for a handsome young Italian doctor named Pagello, with
whom she had struck up a casual acquaintance. He finally cured
Musset, but he also cured George Sand of any love for Musset.
Before long she and Pagello were on their way back to Paris,
leaving the poor, fevered, whimpering poet to bite his nails and
think unutterable things. But he ought to have known George Sand.
After that, everybody knew her. They knew just how much she cared
when she professed to care, and when she acted as she acted with
Pagello no earlier lover had any one but himself to blame.
Only sentimentalists can take this story seriously. To them it has
a sort of morbid interest. They like to picture Musset raving and
shouting in his delirium, and then, to read how George Sand sat on
Pagello's knees, kissing him and drinking out of the same cup. But
to the healthy mind the whole story is repulsive--from George
Sand's appeal to Mme. de Musset down to the very end, when Pagello
came to Paris, where his broken French excited a polite ridicule.
There was a touch of genuine sentiment about the affair with Jules
Sandeau; but after that, one can only see in George Sand a half-
libidinous grisette, such as her mother was before her, with a
perfect willingness to experiment in every form of lawless love.
As for Musset, whose heart she was supposed to have broken, within
a year he was dangling after the famous singer, Mme. Malibran, and
writing poems to her which advertised their intrigue.
After this episode with Pagello, it cannot be said that the life
of George Sand was edifying in any respect, because no one can
assume that she was sincere. She had loved Jules Sandeau as much
as she could love any one, but all the rest of her intrigues and
affinities were in the nature of experiments. She even took back
Alfred de Musset, although they could never again regard each
other without suspicion. George Sand cut off all her hair and gave
it to Musset, so eager was she to keep him as a matter of
conquest; but he was tired of her, and even this theatrical trick
was of no avail.
She proceeded to other less known and less humiliating adventures.
She tried to fascinate the artist Delacroix. She set her cap at
Franz Liszt, who rather astonished her by saying that only God was
worthy to be loved. She expressed a yearning for the affections of
the elder Dumas; but that good-natured giant laughed at her, and
in fact gave her some sound advice, and let her smoke
unsentimentally in his study. She was a good deal taken with a
noisy demagogue named Michel, a lawyer at Bourges, who on one
occasion shut her up in her room and harangued her on sociology
until she was as weary of his talk as of his wooden shoes, his
shapeless greatcoat, his spectacles, and his skull-cap, Balzac
felt her fascination, but cared nothing for her, since his love
was given to Mme. Hanska.
In the meanwhile, she was paying visits to her husband at Nohant,
where she wrangled with him over money matters, and where he would
once have shot her had the guests present not interfered. She
secured her dowry by litigation, so that she was well off, even
without her literary earnings. These were by no means so large as
one would think from her popularity and from the number of books
she wrote. It is estimated that her whole gains amounted to about
a million francs, extending over a period of forty-five years. It
is just half the amount that Trollope earned in about the same
period, and justifies his remark--"adequate, but not splendid."
One of those brief and strange intimacies that marked the career
of George Sand came about in a curious way. Octave Feuillet, a man
of aristocratic birth, had set himself to write novels which
portrayed the cynicism and hardness of the upper classes in
France. One of these novels, Sibylle, excited the anger of George
Sand. She had not known Feuillet before; yet now she sought him
out, at first in order to berate him for his book, but in the end
to add him to her variegated string of lovers.
It has been said of Feuillet that he was a sort of "domesticated
Musset." At any rate, he was far less sensitive than Musset, and
George Sand was about seventeen years his senior. They parted
after a short time, she going her way as a writer of novels that
were very different from her earlier ones, while Feuillet grew
more and more cynical and even stern, as he lashed the abnormal,
neuropathic men and women about him.
The last great emotional crisis in George Sand's life was that
which centers around her relations with Frederic Chopin. Chopin
was the greatest genius who ever loved her. It is rather odd that
he loved her. She had known him for two years, and had not
seriously thought of him, though there is a story that when she
first met him she kissed him before he had even been presented to
her. She waited two years, and in those two years she had three
lovers. Then at last she once more met Chopin, when he was in a
state of melancholy, because a Polish girl had proved unfaithful
It was the psychological moment; for this other woman, who was a
devourer of hearts, found him at a piano, improvising a
lamentation. George Sand stood beside him, listening. When he
finished and looked up at her, their eyes met. She bent down
without a word and kissed him on the lips.
What was she like when he saw her then? Grenier has described her
in these words:
She was short and stout, but her face attracted all my attention,
the eyes especially. They were wonderful eyes--a little too close
together, it may be, large, with full eyelids, and black, very
black, but by no means lustrous; they reminded me of unpolished
marble, or rather of velvet, and this gave a strange, dull, even
cold expression to her countenance. Her fine eyebrows and these
great placid eyes gave her an air of strength and dignity which
was not borne out by the lower part of her face. Her nose was
rather thick and not over shapely. Her mouth was also rather
coarse, and her chin small. She spoke with great simplicity, and
her manners were very quiet.
Such as she was, she attached herself to Chopin for eight years.
At first they traveled together very quietly to Majorca; and
there, just as Musset had fallen ill at Venice, Chopin became
feverish and an invalid. "Chopin coughs most gracefully," George
Sand wrote of him, and again:
Chopin is the most inconstant of men. There is nothing permanent
about him but his cough.
It is not surprising if her nerves sometimes gave way. Acting as
sick nurse, writing herself with rheumatic fingers, robbed by
every one about her, and viewed with suspicion by the peasants
because she did not go to church, she may be perhaps excused for
her sharp words when, in fact, her deeds were kind.
Afterward, with Chopin, she returned to Paris, and the two lived
openly together for seven years longer. An immense literature has
grown around the subject of their relations. To this literature
George Sand herself contributed very largely. Chopin never wrote a
word; but what he failed to do, his friends and pupils did
Probably the truth is somewhat as one might expect. During the
first period of fascination, George Sand was to Chopin what she
had been to Sandeau and to Musset; and with her strange and subtle
ways, she had undermined his health. But afterward that sort of
love died out, and was succeeded by something like friendship. At
any rate, this woman showed, as she had shown to others, a vast
maternal kindness. She writes to him finally as "your old woman,"
and she does wonders in the way of nursing and care.
But in 1847 came a break between the two. Whatever the mystery of
it may be, it turns upon what Chopin said of Sand:
"I have never cursed any one, but now I am so weary of life that I
am near cursing her. Yet she suffers, too, and more, because she
grows older as she grows more wicked."
In 1848, Chopin gave his last concert in Paris, and in 1849 he
died. According to some, he was the victim of a Messalina.
According to others, it was only "Messalina" that had kept him
alive so long.
However, with his death came a change in the nature of George
Sand. Emotionally, she was an extinct volcano. Intellectually, she
was at her very best. She no longer tore passions into tatters,
but wrote naturally, simply, stories of country life and tales for
children. In one of her books she has given an enduring picture of
the Franco-Prussian War. There are many rather pleasant
descriptions of her then, living at Nohant, where she made a
curious figure, bustling about in ill-fitting costumes, and
smoking interminable cigarettes.
She had lived much, and she had drunk deep of life, when she died
in 1876. One might believe her to have been only a woman of
perpetual liaisons. Externally she was this, and yet what did
Balzac, that great master of human psychology, write of her in the
intimacy of a private correspondence?
She is a female bachelor. She is an artist. She is generous. She
is devoted. She is chaste. Her dominant characteristics are those
of a man, and therefore, she is not to be regarded as a woman. She
is an excellent mother, adored by her children. Morally, she is
like a lad of twenty; for in her heart of hearts, she is more than
chaste--she is a prude. It is only in externals that she comports
herself as a Bohemian. All her follies are titles to glory in the
eyes of those whose souls are noble.
A curious verdict this! Her love-life seems almost that of neither
man nor woman, but of an animal. Yet whether she was in reality
responsible for what she did, when we consider her strange
heredity, her wretched marriage, the disillusions of her early
life--who shall sit in judgment on her, since who knows all?
THE MYSTERY OF CHARLES DICKENS
Perhaps no public man in the English-speaking world, in the last
century, was so widely and intimately known as Charles Dickens.
From his eighteenth year, when he won his first success in
journalism, down through his series of brilliant triumphs in
fiction, he was more and more a conspicuous figure, living in the
blaze of an intense publicity. He met every one and knew every
one, and was the companion of every kind of man and woman. He
loved to frequent the "caves of harmony" which Thackeray has
immortalized, and he was a member of all the best Bohemian clubs
of London. Actors, authors, good fellows generally, were his
intimate friends, and his acquaintance extended far beyond into
the homes of merchants and lawyers and the mansions of the
proudest nobles. Indeed, he seemed to be almost a universal
One remembers, for instance, how he was called in to arbitrate
between Thackeray and George Augustus Sala, who had quarreled. One
remembers how Lord Byron's daughter, Lady Lovelace, when upon her
sick-bed, used to send for Dickens because there was something in
his genial, sympathetic manner that soothed her. Crushing pieces
of ice between her teeth in agony, she would speak to him and he
would answer her in his rich, manly tones until she was comforted
and felt able to endure more hours of pain without complaint.
Dickens was a jovial soul. His books fairly steam with Christmas
cheer and hot punch and the savor of plum puddings, very much as
do his letters to his intimate friends. Everybody knew Dickens. He
could not dine in public without attracting attention. When he
left the dining-room, his admirers would descend upon his table
and carry off egg-shells, orange-peels, and other things that
remained behind, so that they might have memorials of this much-
loved writer. Those who knew him only by sight would often stop
him in the streets and ask the privilege of shaking hands with
him; so different was he from--let us say--Tennyson, who was as
great an Englishman in his way as Dickens, but who kept himself
aloof and saw few strangers.
It is hard to associate anything like mystery with Dickens, though
he was fond of mystery as an intellectual diversion, and his last
unfinished novel was The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Moreover, no one
admired more than he those complex plots which Wilkie Collins used
to weave under the influence of laudanum. But as for his own life,
it seemed so normal, so free from anything approaching mystery,
that we can scarcely believe it to have been tinged with darker
colors than those which appeared upon the surface.
A part of this mystery is plain enough. The other part is still
obscure--or of such a character that one does not care to bring it
wholly to the light. It had to do with his various relations with
The world at large thinks that it knows this chapter in the life
of Dickens, and that it refers wholly to his unfortunate
disagreement with his wife. To be sure, this is a chapter that is
writ large in all of his biographies, and yet it is nowhere
correctly told. His chosen biographer was John Forster, whose Life
of Charles Dickens, in three volumes, must remain a standard work;
but even Forster--we may assume through tact--has not set down all
that he could, although he gives a clue.
As is well known, Dickens married Miss Catherine Hogarth when he
was only twenty-four. He had just published his Sketches by Boz,
the copyright of which he sold for one hundred pounds, and was
beginning the Pickwick Papers. About this time his publisher
brought N. P. Willis down to Furnival's Inn to see the man whom
Willis called "a young paragraphist for the Morning Chronicle."
Willis thus sketches Dickens and his surroundings:
In the most crowded part of Holborn, within a door or two of the
Bull and Mouth Inn, we pulled up at the entrance of a large
building used for lawyers' chambers. I followed by a long flight
of stairs to an upper story, and was ushered into an uncarpeted
and bleak-looking room, with a deal table, two or three chairs and
a few books, a small boy and Mr. Dickens for the contents.
I was only struck at first with one thing--and I made a memorandum
of it that evening as the strongest instance I had seen of English
obsequiousness to employers--the degree to which the poor author
was overpowered with the honor of his publisher's visit! I
remember saying to myself, as I sat down on a rickety chair:
"My good fellow, if you were in America with that fine face and
your ready quill, you would have no need to be condescended to by
Dickens was dressed very much as he has since described Dick
Swiveller, minus the swell look. His hair was cropped close to his
head, his clothes scant, though jauntily cut, and, after changing
a ragged office-coat for a shabby blue, he stood by the door,
collarless and buttoned up, the very personification of a close
sailer to the wind.
Before this interview with Willis, which Dickens always
repudiated, he had become something of a celebrity among the
newspaper men with whom he worked as a stenographer. As every one
knows, he had had a hard time in his early years, working in a
blacking-shop, and feeling too keenly the ignominious position of
which a less sensitive boy would probably have thought nothing.
Then he became a shorthand reporter, and was busy at his work, so
that he had little time for amusements.
It has been generally supposed that no love-affair entered his
life until he met Catherine Hogarth, whom he married soon after
making her acquaintance. People who are eager at ferreting out
unimportant facts about important men had unanimously come to the
conclusion that up to the age of twenty Dickens was entirely
fancy-free. It was left to an American to disclose the fact that
this was not the case, but that even in his teens he had been
captivated by a girl of about his own age.
Inasmuch as the only reproach that was ever made against Dickens
was based upon his love-affairs, let us go back and trace them
from this early one to the very last, which must yet for some
years, at least, remain a mystery.
Everything that is known about his first affair is contained in a
book very beautifully printed, but inaccessible to most readers.
Some years ago Mr. William K. Bixby, of St. Louis, found in London
a collector of curios. This man had in his stock a number of
letters which had passed between a Miss Maria Beadnell and Charles
Dickens when the two were about nineteen and a second package of
letters representing a later acquaintance, about 1855, at which
time Miss Beadnell had been married for a long time to a Mr. Henry
Louis Winter, of 12 Artillery Place, London.
The copyright laws of Great Britain would not allow Mr. Bixby to
publish the letters in that country, and he did not care to give
them to the public here. Therefore, he presented them to the
Bibliophile Society, with the understanding that four hundred and
ninety-three copies, with the Bibliophile book-plate, were to be
printed and distributed among the members of the society. A few
additional copies were struck off, but these did not bear the
Bibliophile book-plate. Only two copies are available for other
readers, and to peruse these it is necessary to visit the
Congressional Library in Washington, where they were placed on
July 24, 1908.
These letters form two series--the first written to Miss Beadnell
in or about 1829, and the second written to Mrs. Winter, formerly
Miss Beadnell, in 1855.
The book also contains an introduction by Henry H. Harper, who
sets forth some theories which the facts, in my opinion, do not
support; and there are a number of interesting portraits,
especially one of Miss Beadnell in 1829--a lovely girl with dark
curls. Another shows her in 1855, when she writes of herself as
"old and fat"--thereby doing herself a great deal of injustice;
for although she had lost her youthful beauty, she was a very
presentable woman of middle age, but one who would not be
particularly noticed in any company.
Summing up briefly these different letters, it may be said that in
the first set Dickens wrote to the lady ardently, but by no means
passionately. From what he says it is plain enough that she did
not respond to his feeling, and that presently she left London and
went to Paris, for her family was well-to-do, while Dickens was
living from hand to mouth.
In the second set of letters, written long afterward, Mrs. Winter
seems to have "set her cap" at the now famous author; but at that
time he was courted by every one, and had long ago forgotten the
lady who had so easily dismissed him in his younger days. In 1855,
Mrs. Winter seems to have reproached him for not having been more
constant in the past; but he replied:
You answered me coldly and reproachfully, and so I went my way.
Mr. Harper, in his introduction, tries very hard to prove that in
writing David Copperfield Dickens drew the character of Dora from
Miss Beadnell. It is a dangerous thing to say from whom any
character in a novel is drawn. An author takes whatever suits his
purpose in circumstance and fancy, and blends them all into one
consistent whole, which is not to be identified with any
individual. There is little reason to think that the most intimate
friends of Dickens and of his family were mistaken through all the
years when they were certain that the boy husband and the girl
wife of David Copperfield were suggested by any one save Dickens
himself and Catherine Hogarth.
Why should he have gone back to a mere passing fancy, to a girl
who did not care for him, and who had no influence on his life,
instead of picturing, as David's first wife, one whom he deeply
loved, whom he married, who was the mother of his children, and
who made a great part of his career, even that part which was
inwardly half tragic and wholly mournful?
Miss Beadnell may have been the original of Flora in Little
Dorrit, though even this is doubtful. The character was at the
time ascribed to a Miss Anna Maria Leigh, whom Dickens sometimes
flirted with and sometimes caricatured.
When Dickens came to know George Hogarth, who was one of his
colleagues on the staff of the Morning Chronicle, he met Hogarth's
daughters--Catherine, Georgina, and Mary--and at once fell
ardently in love with Catherine, the eldest and prettiest of the
three. He himself was almost girlish, with his fair complexion and
light, wavy hair, so that the famous sketch by Maclise has a
remarkable charm; yet nobody could really say with truth that any
one of the three girls was beautiful. Georgina Hogarth, however,
was sweet-tempered and of a motherly disposition. It may be that
in a fashion she loved Dickens all her life, as she remained with
him after he parted from her sister, taking the utmost care of his
children, and looking out with unselfish fidelity for his many
It was Mary, however, the youngest of the Hogarths, who lived with
the Dickenses during the first twelvemonth of their married life.
To Dickens she was like a favorite sister, and when she died very
suddenly, in her eighteenth year, her loss was a great shock to
It was believed for a long time--in fact, until their separation--
that Dickens and his wife were extremely happy in their home life.
His writings glorified all that was domestic, and paid many tender
tributes to the joys of family affection. When the separation came
the whole world was shocked. And yet rather early in Dickens's
married life there was more or less infelicity. In his
Retrospections of an Active Life, Mr. John Bigelow writes a few
sentences which are interesting for their frankness, and which
give us certain hints:
Mrs. Dickens was not a handsome woman, though stout, hearty, and
matronly; there was something a little doubtful about her eye, and
I thought her endowed with a temper that might be very violent
when roused, though not easily rousable. Mrs. Caulfield told me
that a Miss Teman--I think that is the name--was the source of the
difficulty between Mrs. Dickens and her husband. She played in
private theatricals with Dickens, and he sent her a portrait in a
brooch, which met with an accident requiring it to be sent to the
jeweler's to be mended. The jeweler, noticing Mr. Dickens's
initials, sent it to his house. Mrs. Dickens's sister, who had
always been in love with him and was jealous of Miss Teman, told
Mrs. Dickens of the brooch, and she mounted her husband with comb
and brush. This, no doubt, was Mrs. Dickens's version, in the
A few evenings later I saw Miss Teman at the Haymarket Theatre,
playing with Buckstone and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Mathews. She
seemed rather a small cause for such a serious result--passably
pretty, and not much of an actress.
Here in one passage we have an intimation that Mrs. Dickens had a
temper that was easily roused, that Dickens himself was interested
in an actress, and that Miss Hogarth "had always been in love with
him, and was jealous of Miss Teman."
Some years before this time, however, there had been growing in
the mind of Dickens a certain formless discontent--something to
which he could not give a name, yet which, cast over him the
shadow of disappointment. He expressed the same feeling in David
Copperfield, when he spoke of David's life with Dora. It seemed to
come from the fact that he had grown to be a man, while his wife
had still remained a child.
A passage or two may be quoted from the novel, so that we may set
them beside passages in Dickens's own life, which we know to have
referred to his own wife, and not to any such nebulous person as
The shadow I have mentioned that was not to be between us any
more, but was to rest wholly on my heart--how did that fall? The
old unhappy feeling pervaded my life. It was deepened, if it were
changed at all; but it was as undefined as ever, and addressed me
like a strain of sorrowful music faintly heard in the night. I
loved my wife dearly; but the happiness I had vaguely anticipated,
once, was not the happiness I enjoyed, AND THERE WAS ALWAYS
What I missed I still regarded as something that had been a dream
of my youthful fancy; that was incapable of realization; that I
was now discovering to be so, with some natural pain, as all men
did. But that it would have been better for me if my wife could
have helped me more, and shared the many thoughts in which I had
no partner, and that this might have been I knew.
What I am describing slumbered and half awoke and slept again in
the innermost recesses of my mind. There was no evidence of it to
me; I knew of no influence it had in anything I said or did. I
bore the weight of all our little cares and all my projects.
"There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind
and purpose." These words I remembered. I had endeavored to adapt
Dora to myself, and found it impracticable. It remained for me to
adapt myself to Dora; to share with her what I could, and be
happy; to bear on my own shoulders what I must, and be still
Thus wrote Dickens in his fictitious character, and of his
fictitious wife. Let us see how he wrote and how he acted in his
own person, and of his real wife.
As early as 1856, he showed a curious and restless activity, as of
one who was trying to rid himself of unpleasant thoughts. Mr.
Forster says that he began to feel a strain upon his invention, a
certain disquietude, and a necessity for jotting down memoranda in
note-books, so as to assist his memory and his imagination. He
began to long for solitude. He would take long, aimless rambles
into the country, returning at no particular time or season. He
once wrote to Forster:
I have had dreadful thoughts of getting away somewhere altogether
by myself. If I could have managed it, I think I might have gone
to the Pyrenees for six months. I have visions of living for half
a year or so in all sorts of inaccessible places, and of opening a
new book therein. A floating idea of going up above the snow-line,
and living in some astonishing convent, hovers over me.
What do these cryptic utterances mean? At first, both in his novel
and in his letters, they are obscure; but before long, in each,
they become very definite. In 1856, we find these sentences among
The old days--the old days! Shall I ever, I wonder, get the frame
of mind back as it used to be then? Something of it, perhaps, but
never quite as it used to be.
I find that the skeleton in my domestic closet is becoming a
pretty big one.
His next letter draws the veil and shows plainly what he means:
Poor Catherine and I are not made for each other, and there is no
help for it. It is not only that she makes me uneasy and unhappy,
but that I make her so, too--and much more so. We are strangely
ill-assorted for the bond that exists between us.
Then he goes on to say that she would have been a thousand times
happier if she had been married to another man. He speaks of
"incompatibility," and a "difference of temperaments." In fact, it
is the same old story with which we have become so familiar, and
which is both as old as the hills and as new as this morning's
Naturally, also, things grow worse, rather than better. Dickens
comes to speak half jocularly of "the plunge," and calculates as
to what effect it will have on his public readings. He kept back
the announcement of "the plunge" until after he had given several
readings; then, on April 29, 1858, Mrs. Dickens left his home. His
eldest son went to live with the mother, but the rest of the
children remained with their father, while his daughter Mary
nominally presided over the house. In the background, however,
Georgina Hogarth, who seemed all through her life to have cared
for Dickens more than for her sister, remained as a sort of guide
and guardian for his children.
This arrangement was a private matter, and should not have been
brought to public attention; but it was impossible to suppress all
gossip about so prominent a man. Much of the gossip was
exaggerated; and when it came to the notice of Dickens it stung
him so severely as to lead him into issuing a public justification
of his course. He published a statement in Household Words, which
led to many other letters in other periodicals, and finally a long
one from him, which was printed in the New York Tribune, addressed
to his friend Mr. Arthur Smith.
Dickens afterward declared that he had written this letter as a
strictly personal and private one, in order to correct false
rumors and scandals. Mr. Smith naturally thought that the
statement was intended for publication, but Dickens always spoke
of it as "the violated letter."
By his allusions to a difference of temperament and to
incompatibility, Dickens no doubt meant that his wife had ceased
to be to him the same companion that she had been in days gone by.
As in so many cases, she had not changed, while he had. He had
grown out of the sphere in which he had been born, "associated
with blacking-boys and quilt-printers," and had become one of the
great men of his time, whose genius was universally admired.
Mr. Bigelow saw Mrs. Dickens as she really was--a commonplace
woman endowed with the temper of a vixen, and disposed to
outbursts of actual violence when her jealousy was roused.
It was impossible that the two could have remained together, when
in intellect and sympathy they were so far apart. There is nothing
strange about their separation, except the exceedingly bad taste
with which Dickens made it a public affair. It is safe to assume
that he felt the need of a different mate; and that he found one
is evident enough from the hints and bits of innuendo that are
found in the writings of his contemporaries.
He became a pleasure-lover; but more than that, he needed one who
could understand his moods and match them, one who could please
his tastes, and one who could give him that admiration which he
felt to be his due; for he was always anxious to be praised, and
his letters are full of anecdotes relating to his love of praise.
One does not wish to follow out these clues too closely. It is
certain that neither Miss Beadnell as a girl nor Mrs. Winter as a
matron made any serious appeal to him. The actresses who have been
often mentioned in connection with his name were, for the most
part, mere passing favorites. The woman who in life was Dora made
him feel the same incompleteness that he has described in his
best-known book. The companion to whom he clung in his later years
was neither a light-minded creature like Miss Beadnell, nor an
undeveloped, high-tempered woman like the one he married, nor a
mere domestic, friendly creature like Georgina Hogarth.
Ought we to venture upon a quest which shall solve this mystery in
the life of Charles Dickens! In his last will and testament, drawn
up and signed by him about a year before his death, the first
paragraph reads as follows:
I, Charles Dickens, of Gadshill Place, Higham, in the county of
Kent, hereby revoke all my former wills and codicils and declare
this to be my last will and testament. I give the sum of one
thousand pounds, free of legacy duty, to Miss Ellen Lawless
Ternan, late of Houghton Place, Ampthill Square, in the county of
In connection with this, read Mr. John Bigelow's careless jottings
made some fifteen years before. Remember the Miss "Teman," about
whose name he was not quite certain; the Hogarth sisters' dislike
of her; and the mysterious figure in the background of the
novelist's later life. Then consider the first bequest in his
will, which leaves a substantial sum to one who was neither a
relative nor a subordinate, but--may we assume--more than an
HONORE DE BALZAC AND EVELINA HANSKA
I remember once, when editing an elaborate work on literature,
that the publisher called me into his private office. After the
door was closed, he spoke in tones of suppressed emotion.
"Why is it," said he, "that you have such a lack of proportion? In
the selection you have made I find that only two pages are given
to George P. Morris, while you haven't given E. P. Roe any space
at all! Yet, look here--you've blocked out fifty pages for Balzac,
who was nothing but an immoral Frenchman!"
I adjusted this difficulty, somehow or other--I do not just
remember how--and began to think that, after all, this publisher's
view of things was probably that of the English and American
public. It is strange that so many biographies and so many
appreciations of the greatest novelist who ever lived should still
have left him, in the eyes of the reading public, little more than
"an immoral Frenchman."
"In Balzac," said Taine, "there was a money-broker, an
archeologist, an architect, an upholsterer, a tailor, an old-
clothes dealer, a journeyman apprentice, a physician, and a
notary." Balzac was also a mystic, a supernaturalist, and, above
all, a consummate artist. No one who is all these things in high
measure, and who has raised himself by his genius above his
countrymen, deserves the censure of my former publisher.
Still less is Balzac to be dismissed as "immoral," for his life
was one of singular self-sacrifice in spite of much temptation.
His face was strongly sensual, his look and bearing denoted almost
savage power; he led a free life in a country which allowed much
freedom; and yet his story is almost mystic in its fineness of
thought, and in its detachment, which was often that of another
Balzac was born in 1799, at Tours, with all the traits of the
people of his native province--fond of eating and drinking, and
with plenty of humor. His father was fairly well off. Of four
children, our Balzac was the eldest. The third was his sister
Laure, who throughout his life was the most intimate friend he
had, and to whom we owe his rescue from much scandalous and untrue
gossip. From her we learn that their father was a combination of
Montaigne, Rabelais, and "Uncle Toby."
Young Balzac went to a clerical school at seven, and stayed there
for seven years. Then he was brought home, apparently much
prostrated, although the good fathers could find nothing
physically amiss with him, and nothing in his studies to account
for his agitation. No one ever did discover just what was the
matter, for he seemed well enough in the next few years, basking
on the riverside, watching the activities of his native town, and
thoroughly studying the rustic types that he was afterward to make
familiar to the world. In fact, in Louis Lambert he has set before
us a picture of his own boyish life, very much as Dickens did of
his in David Copperfield.
For some reason, when these years were over, the boy began to have
what is so often known as "a call"--a sort of instinct that he was
to attain renown. Unfortunately it happened that about this time
(1814) he and his parents removed to Paris, which was his home by
choice, until his death in 1850. He studied here under famous
teachers, and gave three years to the pursuit of law, of which he
was very fond as literary material, though he refused to practise.
This was the more grievous, since a great part of the family
property had been lost. The Balzacs were afflicted by actual
poverty, and Honore endeavored, with his pen, to beat the wolf
back from the door. He earned a little money with pamphlets and
occasional stories, but his thirst for fame was far from
satisfied. He was sure that he was called to literature, and yet
he was not sure that he had the power to succeed. In one of his
letters to his sister, he wrote:
I am young and hungry, and there is nothing on my plate. Oh,
Laure, Laure, my two boundless desires, my only ones--to be
famous, and to be loved--they ever be satisfied?
For the next ten years he was learning his trade, and the artistic
use of the fiction writer's tools. What is more to the point, is
the fact that he began to dream of a series of great novels, which
should give a true and panoramic picture of the whole of human
life. This was the first intimation of his "Human Comedy," which
was so daringly undertaken and so nearly completed in his after
years. In his early days of obscurity, he said to his readers:
Note well the characters that I introduce, since you will have to
follow their fortunes through thirty novels that are to come.
Here we see how little he had been daunted by ill success, and how
his prodigious imagination had not been overcome by sorrow and
evil fortune. Meantime, writing almost savagely, and with a
feeling combined of ambition and despair, he had begun, very
slowly indeed, to create a public. These ten years, however, had
loaded him with debts; and his struggle to keep himself afloat
only plunged him deeper in the mire. His thirty unsigned novels
began to pay him a few hundred francs, not in cash, but in
promissory notes; so that he had to go still deeper into debt.
In 1827 he was toiling on his first successful novel, and indeed
one of the best historic novels in French literature--The Chouans.
He speaks of his labor as "done with a tired brain and an anxious
mind," and of the eight or ten business letters that he had to
write each day before he could begin his literary work.
"Postage and an omnibus are extravagances that I cannot allow
myself," he writes. "I stay at home so as not to wear out my
clothes. Is that clear to you?"
At the end of the next year, though he was already popular as a
novelist, and much sought out by people of distinction, he was at
the very climax of his poverty. He had written thirty-five books,
and was in debt to the amount of a hundred and twenty-four
thousand francs. He was saved from bankruptcy only by the aid of
Mme. de Berny, a woman of high character, and one whose moral
influence was very strong with Balzac until her early death.
The relation between these two has a sweetness and a purity which
are seldom found. Mme. de Berny gave Balzac money as she would
have given it to a son, and thereby she saved a great soul for
literature. But there was no sickly sentiment between them, and
Balzac regarded her with a noble love which he has expressed in
the character of Mme. Firmiani.
It was immediately after she had lightened his burdens that the
real Balzac comes before us in certain stories which have no
equal, and which are among the most famous that he ever wrote.
What could be more wonderful than his El Verdugo, which gives us a
brief horror while compelling our admiration? What, outside of
Balzac himself, could be more terrible than Gobseck, a frightful
study of avarice, containing a deathbed scene which surpasses in
dreadfulness almost anything in literature? Add to these A Passion
in the Desert, The Girl with the Golden Eyes, The Droll Stories,
The Red Inn, and The Magic Skin, and you have a cluster of
masterpieces not to be surpassed.
In the year 1829, when he was just beginning to attain a slight
success, Balzac received a long letter written in a woman's hand.
As he read it, there came to him something very like an
inspiration, so full of understanding were the written words, so
full of appreciation and of sympathy with the best that he had
done. This anonymous note pointed out here and there such defects
as are apt to become chronic with a young author. Balzac was
greatly stirred by its keen and sympathetic criticism. No one
before had read his soul so clearly. No one--not even his devoted
sister, Laure de Surville--had judged his work so wisely, had come
so closely to his deepest feeling.
He read the letter over and over, and presently another came, full
of critical appreciation, and of wholesome, tonic, frank, friendly
words of cheer. It was very largely the effect of these letters
that roused Balzac's full powers and made him sure of winning the
two great objects of his first ambition--love and fame--the ideals
of the chivalrous, romantic Frenchman from Caesar's time down to
the present day.
Other letters followed, and after a while their authorship was
made known to Balzac. He learned that they had been written by a
young Polish lady, Mme. Evelina Hanska, the wife of a Polish
count, whose health was feeble, and who spent much time in
Switzerland because the climate there agreed with him.
He met her first at Neuchatel, and found her all that he had
imagined. It is said that she had no sooner raised her face, and
looked him fully in the eyes, than she fell fainting to the floor,
overcome by her emotion. Balzac himself was deeply moved. From
that day until their final meeting he wrote to her daily.
The woman who had become his second soul was not beautiful.
Nevertheless, her face was intensely spiritual, and there was a
mystic quality about it which made a strong appeal to Balzac's
innermost nature. Those who saw him in Paris knocking about the
streets at night with his boon companions, hobnobbing with the
elder Dumas, or rejecting the frank advances of George Sand, would
never have dreamed of this mysticism.
Balzac was heavy and broad of figure. His face was suggestive only
of what was sensuous and sensual. At the same time, those few who
looked into his heart and mind found there many a sign of the fine
inner strain which purified the grosser elements of his nature. He
who wrote the roaring Rabelaisian Contes Drolatiques was likewise
the author of Seraphita.
This mysticism showed itself in many things that Balzac did. One
little incident will perhaps be sufficiently characteristic of
many others. He had a belief that names had a sort of esoteric
appropriateness. So, in selecting them for his novels, he gathered
them with infinite pains from many sources, and then weighed them
anxiously in the balance. A writer on the subject of names and
their significance has given the following account of this trait:
The great novelist once spent an entire day tramping about in the
remotest quarters of Paris in search of a fitting name for a
character just conceived by him. Every sign-board, every door-
plate, every affiche upon the walls, was scrutinized. Thousands of
names were considered and rejected, and it was only after his
companion, utterly worn out by fatigue, had flatly refused to drag
his weary limbs through more than one additional street, that
Balzac suddenly saw upon a sign the name "Marcas," and gave a
shout of joy at having finally secured what he was seeking.
Marcas it was, from that moment; and Balzac gradually evolved a
Christian name for him. First he considered what initial was most
appropriate; and then, having decided upon Z, he went on to expand
this into Zepherin, explaining minutely just why the whole name
Zepherin Marcas, was the only possible one for the character in
In many ways Balzac and Evelina Hanska were mated by nature.
Whether they were fully mated the facts of their lives must
demonstrate. For the present, the novelist plunged into a whirl of
literary labor, toiling as few ever toiled--constructing several
novels at the same time, visiting all the haunts of the French
capital, so that he might observe and understand every type of
human being, and then hurling himself like a giant at his work.
He had a curious practise of reading proofs. These would come to
him in enormous sheets, printed on special paper, and with wide
margins for his corrections. An immense table stood in the midst
of his study, and upon the top he would spread out the proofs as
if they were vast maps. Then, removing most of his outer garments,
he would lie, face down, upon the proof-sheets, with a gigantic
pencil, such as Bismarck subsequently used to wield. Thus
disposed, he would go over the proofs.
Hardly anything that he had written seemed to suit him when he saw
it in print. He changed and kept changing, obliterating what he
disliked, writing in new sentences, revising others, and adding
whole pages in the margins, until perhaps he had practically made
a new book. This process was repeated several times; and how
expensive it was may be judged from the fact that his bill for
"author's proof corrections" was sometimes more than the
publishers had agreed to pay him for the completed volume.
Sometimes, again, he would begin writing in the afternoon, and
continue until dawn. Then, weary, aching in every bone, and with
throbbing head, he would rise and turn to fall upon his couch
after his eighteen hours of steady toil. But the memory of Evelina
Hanska always came to him; and with half-numbed fingers he would
seize his pen, and forget his weariness in the pleasure of writing
to the dark-eyed woman who drew him to her like a magnet.
These are very curious letters that Balzac wrote to Mme. Hanska.
He literally told her everything about himself. Not only were
there long passages instinct with tenderness, and with his love
for her; but he also gave her the most minute account of
everything that occurred, and that might interest her. Thus he
detailed at length his mode of living, the clothes he wore, the
people whom he met, his trouble with his creditors, the accounts
of his income and outgo. One might think that this was egotism on
his part; but it was more than that. It was a strong belief that
everything which concerned him must concern her; and he begged her
in turn to write as freely and as fully.
Mme. Hanska was not the only woman who became his friend and
comrade, and to whom he often wrote. He made many acquaintances in
the fashionable world through the good offices of the Duchesse de
Castries. By her favor, he studied with his microscopic gaze the
beau monde of Louis Philippe's rather unimpressive court.
In a dozen books he scourged the court of the citizen king--its
pretensions, its commonness, and its assemblage of nouveaux
riches. Yet in it he found many friends--Victor Hugo, the
Girardins--and among them women who were of the world. George Sand
he knew very well, and she made ardent love to him; but he laughed
her off very much as the elder Dumas did.
Then there was the pretty, dainty Mme. Carraud, who read and
revised his manuscripts, and who perhaps took a more intimate
interest in him than did the other ladies whom he came to know so
well. Besides Mme. Hanska, he had another correspondent who signed
herself "Louise," but who never let him know her name, though she
wrote him many piquant, sunny letters, which he so sadly needed.
For though Honore de Balzac was now one of the most famous writers
of his time, his home was still a den of suffering. His debts kept
pressing on him, loading him down, and almost quenching hope. He
acted toward his creditors like a man of honor, and his physical
strength was still that of a giant. To Mme. Carraud he once wrote
the half pathetic, half humorous plaint:
Poor pen! It must be diamond, not because one would wish to wear
it, but because it has had so much use!
Here I am, owing a hundred thousand francs. And I am forty!
Balzac and Mme. Hanska met many times after that first eventful
episode at Neuchatel. It was at this time that he gave utterance
to the poignant cry:
Love for me is life, and to-day I feel it more than ever!
In like manner he wrote, on leaving her, that famous epigram:
It is only the last love of a woman that can satisfy the first
love of a man.
In 1842 Mme. Hanska's husband died. Balzac naturally expected that
an immediate marriage with the countess would take place; but the
woman who had loved him mystically for twelve years, and with a
touch of the physical for nine, suddenly draws back. She will not
promise anything. She talks of delays, owing to the legal
arrangements for her children. She seems almost a prude. An
American critic has contrasted her attitude with his:
Every one knows how utterly and absolutely Balzac devoted to this
one woman all his genius, his aspiration, the thought of his every
moment; how every day, after he had labored like a slave for
eighteen hours, he would take his pen and pour out to her the most
intimate details of his daily life; how at her call he would leave
everything and rush across the continent to Poland or to Italy,
being radiantly happy if he could but see her face and be for a
few days by her side. The very thought of meeting her thrilled him
to the very depths of his nature, and made him, for weeks and even
months beforehand, restless, uneasy, and agitated, with an almost
It is the most startling proof of his immense vitality, both
physical and mental, that so tremendous an emotional strain could
be endured by him for years without exhausting his fecundity or
blighting his creativeness.
With Balzac, however, it was the period of his most brilliant
work; and this was true in spite of the anguish of long
separations, and the complaints excited by what appears to be
caprice or boldness or a faint indifference. Even in Balzac one
notices toward the last a certain sense of strain underlying what
he wrote, a certain lack of elasticity and facility, if of nothing
more; yet on the whole it is likely that without this friendship
Balzac would have been less great than he actually became, as it
is certain that had it been broken off he would have ceased to
write or to care for anything whatever in the world.
And yet, when they were free to marry, Mme. Hanska shrank away.
Not until 1846, four years after her husband's death, did she
finally give her promise to the eager Balzac. Then, in the
overflow of his happiness, his creative genius blazed up into a
most wonderful flame; but he soon discovered that the promise was
not to be at once fulfilled. The shock impaired that marvelous
vitality which had carried him through debt, and want, and endless
It was at this moment, by the irony of fate, that his country
hailed him as one of the greatest of its men of genius. A golden
stream poured into his lap. His debts were not all extinguished,
but his income was so large that they burdened him no longer.
But his one long dream was the only thing for which he cared; and
though in an exoteric sense this dream came true, its truth was
but a mockery. Evelina Hanska summoned him to Poland, and Balzac
went to her at once. There was another long delay, and for more
than a year he lived as a guest in the countess's mansion at
Wierzchownia; but finally, in March, 1850, the two were married. A
few weeks later they came back to France together, and occupied
the little country house, Les Jardies, in which, some decades
later, occurred Gambetta's mysterious death.
What is the secret of this strange love, which in the woman seems
to be not precisely love, but something else? Balzac was always
eager for her presence. She, on the other hand, seems to have been
mentally more at ease when he was absent. Perhaps the explanation,
if we may venture upon one, is based upon a well-known
Love in its completeness is made up of two great elements--first,
the element that is wholly spiritual, that is capable of sympathy,
and tenderness, and deep emotion. The other element is the
physical, the source of passion, of creative energy, and of the
truly virile qualities, whether it be in man or woman. Now, let
either of these elements be lacking, and love itself cannot fully
and utterly exist. The spiritual nature in one may find its mate
in the spiritual nature of another; and the physical nature of one
may find its mate in the physical nature of another. But into
unions such as these, love does not enter in its completeness. If
there is any element lacking in either of those who think that
they can mate, their mating will be a sad and pitiful failure.
It is evident enough that Mme. Hanska was almost wholly spiritual,
and her long years of waiting had made her understand the
difference between Balzac and herself. Therefore, she shrank from
his proximity, and from his physical contact, and it was perhaps
better for them both that their union was so quickly broken off by
death; for the great novelist died of heart disease only five
months after the marriage.
If we wish to understand the mystery of Balzac's life--or, more
truly, the mystery of the life of the woman whom he married--take
up and read once more the pages of Seraphita, one of his poorest
novels and yet a singularly illuminating story, shedding light
upon a secret of the soul.
CHARLES READE AND LAURA SEYMOUR
The instances of distinguished men, or of notable women, who have
broken through convention in order to find a fitting mate, are
very numerous. A few of these instances may, perhaps, represent
what is usually called a Platonic union. But the evidence is
always doubtful. The world is not possessed of abundant charity,
nor does human experience lead one to believe that intimate
relations between a man and a woman are compatible with Platonic
Perhaps no case is more puzzling than that which is found in the
life-history of Charles Reade and Laura Seymour.
Charles Reade belongs to that brilliant group of English writers
and artists which included Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, Wilkie Collins,
Tom Taylor, George Eliot, Swinburne, Sir Walter Besant, Maclise,
and Goldwin Smith. In my opinion, he ranks next to Dickens in
originality and power. His books are little read to-day; yet he
gave to the English stage the comedy "Masks and Faces," which is
now as much a classic as Goldsmith's "She Stoops to Conquer" or
Sheridan's "School for Scandal." His power as a novelist was
marvelous. Who can forget the madhouse episodes in Hard Cash, or
the great trial scene in Griffith Gaunt, or that wonderful
picture, in The Cloister and the Hearth, of Germany and Rome at
the end of the Middle Ages? Here genius has touched the dead past
and made it glow again with an intense reality.
He was the son of a country gentleman, the lord of a manor which
had been held by his family before the Wars of the Boses. His
ancestors had been noted for their services in warfare, in
Parliament, and upon the bench. Reade, therefore, was in feeling
very much of an aristocrat. Sometimes he pushed his ancestral
pride to a whimsical excess, very much as did his own creation,
Squire Raby, in Put Yourself in His Place.
At the same time he might very well have been called a Tory
democrat. His grandfather had married the daughter of a village
blacksmith, and Reade was quite as proud of this as he was of the
fact that another ancestor had been lord chief justice of England.
From the sturdy strain which came to him from the blacksmith he,
perhaps, derived that sledge-hammer power with which he wrote many
of his most famous chapters, and which he used in newspaper
controversies with his critics. From his legal ancestors there may
have come to him the love of litigation, which kept him often in
hot water. From those who had figured in the life of royal courts,
he inherited a romantic nature, a love of art, and a very delicate
perception of the niceties of cultivated usage. Such was Charles
Reade--keen observer, scholar, Bohemian--a man who could be both
rough and tender, and whose boisterous ways never concealed his
Reade's school-days were Spartan in their severity. A teacher with
the appropriate name of Slatter set him hard tasks and caned him
unmercifully for every shortcoming. A weaker nature would have
been crushed. Reade's was toughened, and he learned to resist pain
and to resent wrong, so that hatred of injustice has been called
his dominating trait.
In preparing himself for college he was singularly fortunate in
his tutors. One of them was Samuel Wilberforce, afterward Bishop
of Oxford, nicknamed, from his suavity of manner, "Soapy Sam"; and
afterward, when Reade was studying law, his instructor was Samuel
Warren, the author of that once famous novel, Ten Thousand a Year,
and the creator of "Tittlebat Titmouse."
For his college at Oxford, Reade selected one of the most
beautiful and ancient--Magdalen--which he entered, securing what
is known as a demyship. Reade won his demyship by an extraordinary
accident. Always an original youth, his reading was varied and
valuable; but in his studies he had never tried to be minutely
accurate in small matters. At that time every candidate was
supposed to be able to repeat, by heart, the "Thirty-Nine
Articles." Reade had no taste for memorizing; and out of the whole
thirty-nine he had learned but three. His general examination was
good, though not brilliant. When he came to be questioned orally,
the examiner, by a chance that would not occur once in a million
times, asked the candidate to repeat these very articles. Reade
rattled them off with the greatest glibness, and produced so
favorable an impression that he was let go without any further
It must be added that his English essay was original, and this
also helped him; but had it not been for the other great piece of
luck he would, in Oxford phrase, have been "completely gulfed." As
it was, however, he was placed as highly as the young men who were
afterward known as Cardinal Newman and Sir Robert Lowe (Lord
At the age of twenty-one, Reade obtained a fellowship, which
entitled him to an income so long as he remained unmarried. It is
necessary to consider the significance of this when we look at his
subsequent career. The fellowship at Magdalen was worth, at the
outset, about twelve hundred dollars annually, and it gave him
possession of a suite of rooms free of any charge. He likewise
secured a Vinerian fellowship in law, to which was attached an
income of four hundred dollars. As time went on, the value of the
first fellowship increased until it was worth twenty-five hundred
dollars. Therefore, as with many Oxford men of his time, Charles
Reade, who had no other fortune, was placed in this position--if he
refrained from marrying, he had a home and a moderate income for
life, without any duties whatsoever. If he married, he must give
up his income and his comfortable apartments, and go out into the
world and struggle for existence.
There was the further temptation that the possession of his
fellowship did not even necessitate his living at Oxford. He might
spend his time in London, or even outside of England, knowing that
his chambers at Magdalen were kept in order for him, as a resting-
place to which he might return whenever he chose.
Reade remained a while at Oxford, studying books and men--
especially the latter. He was a great favorite with the
undergraduates, though less so with the dons. He loved the boat-
races on the river; he was a prodigious cricket-player, and one of
the best bowlers of his time. He utterly refused to put on any of
the academic dignity which his associates affected. He wore loud
clothes. His flaring scarfs were viewed as being almost
scandalous, very much as Longfellow's parti-colored waistcoats
were regarded when he first came to Harvard as a professor.
Charles Reade pushed originality to eccentricity. He had a passion
for violins, and ran himself into debt because he bought so many
and such good ones. Once, when visiting his father's house at
Ipsden, he shocked the punctilious old gentleman by dancing on the
dining-table to the accompaniment of a fiddle, which he scraped
delightedly. Dancing, indeed, was another of his diversions, and,
in spite of the fact that he was a fellow of Magdalen and a D.C.L.
of Oxford, he was always ready to caper and to display the new
In the course of time, he went up to London; and at once plunged
into the seething tide of the metropolis. He made friends far and
wide, and in every class and station--among authors and
politicians, bishops and bargees, artists and musicians. Charles
Reade learned much from all of them, and all of them were fond of
But it was the theater that interested him most. Nothing else
seemed to him quite so fine as to be a successful writer for the
stage. He viewed the drama with all the reverence of an ancient
Greek. On his tombstone he caused himself to be described as
"Dramatist, novelist, journalist."
"Dramatist" he put first of all, even after long experience had
shown him that his greatest power lay in writing novels. But in
this early period he still hoped for fame upon the stage.
It was not a fortunate moment for dramatic writers. Plays were
bought outright by the managers, who were afraid to risk any
considerable sum, and were very shy about risking anything at all.
The system had not yet been established according to which an
author receives a share of the money taken at the box-office.
Consequently, Reade had little or no financial success. He adapted
several pieces from the French, for which he was paid a few bank-
notes. "Masks and Faces" got a hearing, and drew large audiences,
but Reade had sold it for a paltry sum; and he shared the honors
of its authorship with Tom Taylor, who was then much better known.
Such was the situation. Reade was personally liked, but his plays
were almost all rejected. He lived somewhat extravagantly and ran
into debt, though not very deeply. He had a play entitled
"Christie Johnstone," which he believed to be a great one, though
no manager would venture to produce it. Reade, brooding, grew thin
and melancholy. Finally, he decided that he would go to a leading
actress at one of the principal theaters and try to interest her
in his rejected play. The actress he had in mind was Laura
Seymour, then appearing at the Haymarket under the management of
Buckstone; and this visit proved to be the turning-point in
Reade's whole life.
Laura Seymour was the daughter of a surgeon at Bath--a man in
large practise and with a good income, every penny of which he
spent. His family lived in lavish style; but one morning, after he
had sat up all night playing cards, his little daughter found him
in the dining-room, stone dead. After his funeral it appeared that
he had left no provision for his family. A friend of his--a Jewish
gentleman of Portuguese extraction--showed much kindness to the
children, settling their affairs and leaving them with some money
in the bank; but, of course, something must be done.
The two daughters removed to London, and at a very early age Laura
had made for herself a place in the dramatic world, taking small
parts at first, but rising so rapidly that in her fifteenth year
she was cast for the part of Juliet. As an actress she led a life
of strange vicissitudes. At one time she would be pinched by
poverty, and at another time she would be well supplied with
money, which slipped through her fingers like water. She was a
true Bohemian, a happy-go-lucky type of the actors of her time.
From all accounts, she was never very beautiful; but she had an
instinct for strange, yet effective, costumes, which attracted
much attention. She has been described as "a fluttering, buoyant,
gorgeous little butterfly." Many were drawn to her. She was
careless of what she did, and her name was not untouched with
scandal. But she lived through it all, and emerged a clever,
sympathetic woman of wide experience, both on the stage and off
One of her admirers--an elderly gentleman named Seymour--came to
her one day when she was in much need of money, and told her that
he had just deposited a thousand pounds to her credit at the bank.
Having said this, he left the room precipitately. It was the
beginning of a sort of courtship; and after a while she married
him. Her feeling toward him was one of gratitude. There was no
sentiment about it; but she made him a good wife, and gave no
further cause for gossip.
Such was the woman whom Charles Reade now approached with the
request that she would let him read to her a portion of his play.
He had seen her act, and he honestly believed her to be a dramatic
genius of the first order. Few others shared this belief; but she
was generally thought of as a competent, though by no means
brilliant, actress. Reade admired her extremely, so that at the
very thought of speaking with her his emotions almost choked him.
In answer to a note, she sent word that he might call at her
house. He was at this time (1849) in his thirty-eighth year. The
lady was a little older, and had lost something of her youthful
charm; yet, when Reade was ushered into her drawing-room, she
seemed to him the most graceful and accomplished woman whom he had
She took his measure, or she thought she took it, at a glance.
Here was one of those would-be playwrights who live only to
torment managers and actresses. His face was thin, from which she
inferred that he was probably half starved. His bashfulness led
her to suppose that he was an inexperienced youth. Little did she
imagine that he was the son of a landed proprietor, a fellow of
one of Oxford's noblest colleges, and one with friends far higher
in the world than herself. Though she thought so little of him,
and quite expected to be bored, she settled herself in a soft
armchair to listen. The unsuccessful playwright read to her a
scene or two from his still unfinished drama. She heard him
patiently, noting the cultivated accent of his voice, which proved
to her that he was at least a gentleman. When he had finished, she
"Yes, that's good! The plot is excellent." Then she laughed a sort
of stage laugh, and remarked lightly: "Why don't you turn it into
Reade was stung to the quick. Nothing that she could have said
would have hurt him more. Novels he despised; and here was this
woman, the queen of the English stage, as he regarded her,
laughing at his drama and telling him to make a novel of it. He
rose and bowed.
"I am trespassing on your time," he said; and, after barely
touching the fingers of her outstretched hand, he left the room
The woman knew men very well, though she scarcely knew Charles
Reade. Something in his melancholy and something in his manner
stirred her heart. It was not a heart that responded to emotions
readily, but it was a very good-natured heart. Her explanation of
Reade's appearance led her to think that he was very poor. If she
had not much tact, she had an abundant store of sympathy; and so
she sat down and wrote a very blundering but kindly letter, in
which she enclosed a five-pound note.
Reade subsequently described his feelings on receiving this letter
with its bank-note. He said:
"I, who had been vice-president of Magdalen--I, who flattered
myself I was coming to the fore as a dramatist--to have a five-
pound note flung at my head, like a ticket for soup to a pauper,
or a bone to a dog, and by an actress, too! Yet she said my
reading was admirable; and, after all, there is much virtue in a
five-pound note. Anyhow, it showed the writer had a good heart."
The more he thought of her and of the incident, the more comforted
he was. He called on her the next day without making an
appointment; and when she received him, he had the five-pound note
fluttering in his hand.
She started to speak, but he interrupted her.
"No," he said, "that is not what I wanted from you. I wanted
sympathy, and you have unintentionally supplied it."
Then this man, whom she had regarded as half starved, presented
her with an enormous bunch of hothouse grapes, and the two sat
down and ate them together, thus beginning a friendship which
ended only with Laura Seymour's death.
Oddly enough, Mrs. Seymour's suggestion that Reade should make a
story of his play was a suggestion which he actually followed. It
was to her guidance and sympathy that the world owes the great
novels which he afterward composed. If he succeeded on the stage
at all, it was not merely in "Masks and Faces," but in his
powerful dramatization of Zola's novel, L'Assommoir, under the
title "Drink," in which the late Charles Warner thrilled and
horrified great audiences all over the English-speaking world. Had
Reade never known Laura Seymour, he might never have written so
strong a drama.
The mystery of Reade's relations with this woman can never be
definitely cleared up. Her husband, Mr. Seymour, died not long
after she and Reade became acquainted. Then Reade and several
friends, both men and women, took a house together; and Laura
Seymour, now a clever manager and amiable hostess, looked after
all the practical affairs of the establishment. One by one, the
others fell away, through death or by removal, until at last these
two were left alone. Then Reade, unable to give up the
companionship which meant so much to him, vowed that she must
still remain and care for him. He leased a house in Sloane Street,
which he has himself described in his novel A Terrible Temptation.
It is the chapter wherein Reade also draws his own portrait in the
character of Francis Bolfe:
The room was rather long, low, and nondescript; scarlet flock
paper; curtains and sofas, green Utrecht velvet; woodwork and
pillars, white and gold; two windows looking on the street; at the
other end folding-doors, with scarcely any woodwork, all plate
glass, but partly hidden by heavy curtains of the same color and
material as the others.
At last a bell rang; the maid came in and invited Lady Bassett to
follow her. She opened the glass folding-doors and took them into
a small conservatory, walled like a grotto, with ferns sprouting
out of rocky fissures, and spars sparkling, water dripping. Then
she opened two more glass folding-doors, and ushered them into an
empty room, the like of which Lady Bassett had never seen; it was
large in itself, and multiplied tenfold by great mirrors from
floor to ceiling, with no frames but a narrow oak beading;
opposite her, on entering, was a bay window, all plate glass, the
central panes of which opened, like doors, upon a pretty little
garden that glowed with color, and was backed by fine trees
belonging to the nation; for this garden ran up to the wall of
The numerous and large mirrors all down to the ground laid hold of
the garden and the flowers, and by double and treble reflection
filled the room with delightful nooks of verdure and color.
Here are the words in which Reade describes himself as he looked
when between fifty and sixty years of age:
He looked neither like a poet nor a drudge, but a great fat
country farmer. He was rather tall, very portly, smallish head,
commonplace features, mild brown eye not very bright, short beard,
and wore a suit of tweed all one color.
Such was the house and such was the man over both of which Laura
Seymour held sway until her death in 1879. What must be thought of
their relations? She herself once said to Mr. John Coleman:
"As for our positions--his and mine--we are partners, nothing
more. He has his bank-account, and I have mine. He is master of
his fellowship and his rooms at Oxford, and I am mistress of this
house, but not his mistress! Oh, dear, no!"
At another time, long after Mr. Seymour's death, she said to an
"I hope Mr. Reade will never ask me to marry him, for I should
certainly refuse the offer."
There was no reason why he should not have made this offer,
because his Oxford fellowship ceased to be important to him after
he had won fame as a novelist. Publishers paid him large sums for
everything he wrote. His debts were all paid off, and his income
was assured. Yet he never spoke of marriage, and he always
introduced his friend as "the lady who keeps my house for me."
As such, he invited his friends to meet her, and as such, she even
accompanied him to Oxford. There was no concealment, and
apparently there was nothing to conceal. Their manner toward each
other was that of congenial friends. Mrs. Seymour, in fact, might
well have been described as "a good fellow." Sometimes she
referred to him as "the doctor," and sometimes by the nickname
"Charlie." He, on his side, often spoke of her by her last name as
"Seymour," precisely as if she had been a man. One of his
relatives rather acutely remarked about her that she was not a
woman of sentiment at all, but had a genius for friendship; and
that she probably could not have really loved any man at all.
This is, perhaps, the explanation of their intimacy. If so, it is
a very remarkable instance of Platonic friendship. It is certain
that, after she met Reade, Mrs. Seymour never cared for any other
man. It is no less certain that he never cared for any other
woman. When she died, five years before his death, his life became
a burden to him. It was then that he used to speak of her as "my
lost darling" and "my dove." He directed that they should be
buried side by side in Willesden churchyard. Over the monument
which commemorates them both, he caused to be inscribed, in
addition to an epitaph for himself, the following tribute to his
friend. One should read it and accept the touching words as
answering every question that may be asked:
Here lies the great heart of Laura Seymour, a brilliant artist, a
humble Christian, a charitable woman, a loving daughter, sister,
and friend, who lived for others from her childhood. Tenderly
pitiful to all God's creatures--even to some that are frequently
destroyed or neglected--she wiped away the tears from many faces,
helping the poor with her savings and the sorrowful with her
earnest pity. When the eye saw her it blessed her, for her face
was sunshine, her voice was melody, and her heart was sympathy.
This grave was made for her and for himself by Charles Reade,
whose wise counselor, loyal ally, and bosom friend she was for
twenty-four years, and who mourns her all his days.