Part 3 out of 5
wearied from her hard work, and famous. While here she determined upon
a statue of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, and read much concerning her
and her times. She had touched fiction and poetry; now she would
attempt history. She could scarcely have chosen a more heroic or
pathetic subject. The brave leader of a brave people, a skilful
warrior, marching at the head of her troops, now on foot, and now on
horseback, beautiful in face, and cultured in mind, acquainted with
Latin, Greek, Syriac, and Egyptian, finally captured by Aurelian, and
borne through the streets of Rome, adorning his triumphal procession.
After Miss Hosmer's return to Rome, she worked on "Zenobia" with
energy and enthusiasm, as she molded the clay, and then the plaster.
When brought to this country, it awakened the greatest interest;
crowds gathered to see it. In Chicago it was exhibited at the
Sanitary Fair in behalf of the soldiers. Whittier said: "It very fully
expresses my conception of what historical sculpture should be. It
tells its whole proud and melancholy story. In looking at it, I felt
that the artist had been as truly serving her country while working
out her magnificent design abroad, as our soldiers in the field, and
our public officers in their departments." From its exhibition Miss
Hosmer received five thousand dollars. It was purchased by Mr. A.W.
Griswold, of New York. So great a work was the statue considered in
London, that some of the papers declared Gibson to be its author. Miss
Hosmer at once began suits for libel, and retractions were speedily
In 1860 Miss Hosmer again visited America, to see her father, who
was seriously ill. How proud Dr. Hosmer must have been of his gifted
daughter now that her fame was in two hemispheres! Surely he had not
"spoiled" her. She could now spend for him as he had spent for her in
her childhood. While here, she received a commission from St. Louis
for a bronze portrait-statue of Missouri's famous statesman, Thomas
Hart Benton. The world wondered if she could bring out of the marble a
man with all his strength and dignity, as she had a woman with all her
grace and nobility.
She visited St. Louis, to examine portraits and mementos of Colonel
Benton, and then hastened across the ocean to her work. The next year
a photograph of the model was sent to the friends, and the likeness
pronounced good. The statue was cast at the great royal foundry at
Munich, and in due time shipped to this country. May 27, 1868, it was
unveiled in Lafayette Park, in the presence of an immense concourse of
people, the daughter, Mrs. John C. Fremont, removing the covering. The
statue is ten feet high, and weighs three and one-half tons. It rests
on a granite pedestal, ten feet square, the whole being twenty-two
feet square. On the west side of the pedestal are the words from
Colonel Benton's famous speech on the Pacific Railroad, "There is the
East--there is India." Both press and people were heartily pleased
with this statue, for which Miss Hosmer received ten thousand dollars,
the whole costing thirty thousand.
She was now in the midst of busy and successful work. Orders crowded
upon her. Her "Sleeping Faun," which was exhibited at the Dublin
Exhibition in 1865, was sold on the day of opening for five thousand
dollars, to Sir Benjamin Guinness. Some discussion having arisen about
the sale, he offered ten thousand, saying, that if money could buy it,
he would possess it. Miss Hosmer, however, would receive only the five
thousand. The faun is represented reclining against the trunk of a
tree, partly draped in the spoils of a tiger. A little faun, with
mischievous look, is binding the faun to the tree with the tiger-skin.
The newspapers were enthusiastic about the work.
The _London Times_ said: "In the groups of statues are many works of
exquisite beauty, but there is one which at once arrests attention and
extorts admiration. It is a curious fact that amid all the statues in
this court, contributed by the natives of lands in which the fine arts
were naturalized thousands of years ago, one of the finest should be
the production of an American artist." The French _Galignani_ said,
"The gem of the classical school, in its nobler style of composition,
is due to an American lady, Miss Hosmer." The _London Art Journal_
said, "The works of Miss Hosmer, Hiram Powers, and others we might
name, have placed American on a level with the best modern sculptors
of Europe." This work was repeated for the Prince of Wales and for
Lady Ashburton, of England.
Not long ago I visited the studio of Miss Hosmer in the Via Margutta,
at Rome, and saw her numerous works, many of them still unfinished.
Here an arm seemed just reaching out from the rough block of marble;
here a sweet face seemed like Pygmalion's statue, coming into life. In
the centre of the studio was the "Siren Fountain," executed for Lady
Marion Alford. A siren sits in the upper basin and sings to the music
of her lute. Three little cupids sit on dolphins, and listen to her
For some years Miss Hosmer has been preparing a golden gateway for an
art gallery at Ashridge Hall, England, ordered by Earl Brownlow. These
gates, seventeen feet high, are covered with bas-reliefs representing
the Air, Earth, and Sea. The twelve hours of the night show "Aeolus
subduing the Winds," the "Descent of the Zephyrs," "Iris descending
with the Dew," "Night rising with the Stars," "The Rising Moon," "The
Hour's Sleep," "The Dreams Descend," "The Falling Star," "Phosphor and
Hesper," "The Hours Wake," "Aurora Veils the Stars," and "Morning."
More than eighty figures are in the nineteen bas-reliefs. Miss Hosmer
has done other important works, among them a statue of the beautiful
Queen of Naples, who was a frequent visitor to the artist's studio,
and several well-known monuments. With her girlish fondness for
machinery, she has given much thought to mechanics in these later
years, striving to find, like many another, the secret of producing
perpetual motion. She spends much of her time now in England. She is
still passionately fond of riding, the Empress of Austria, who owns
more horses than any woman in the world, declaring "that there was
nothing she looked forward to with more interest in Rome, than to see
Miss Hosmer ride."
Many of the closing years of the sculptor's long life were spent in
Rome, where she had a wide circle of eminent American and English
friends, among whom were Hawthorne, Thackeray, George Eliot, and the
Brownings. She made several discoveries in her work, one of which was
a process of hardening limestone so that it resembled marble. She
also wrote both prose and poetry, and would have been successful as
an author, if she had not given the bulk of her time to her beloved
After her long sojourn in Rome she spent several years in England,
executing important commissions, and then turned her face toward
America. In Watertown, where she was born, she again made her home;
and here she breathed her last, February 21, 1908, after an illness of
three weeks. She was in her seventy-eighth year. By her long life of
earnest work and self-reliant purpose, coupled with her high gift, she
has made for herself an abiding place in the history of art.
MADAME DE STAEL.
[Illustration: MADAME DE STAEL.
From the painting by Mlle. Godefroy.]
It was the twentieth of September, 1881. The sun shone out mild and
beautiful upon Lake Geneva, as we sailed up to Coppet. The banks were
dotted with lovely homes, half hidden by the foliage, while brilliant
flower-beds came close to the water's edge. Snow-covered Mont Blanc
looked down upon the restful scene, which seemed as charming as
anything in Europe.
We alighted from the boat, and walked up from the landing, between
great rows of oaks, horsechestnuts, and sycamores, to the famous home
we had come to look upon,--that of Madame de Stael. It is a French
chateau, two stories high, drab, with green blinds, surrounding an
open square; vines clamber over the gate and the high walls, and
lovely flowers blossom everywhere. As you enter, you stand in a long
hall, with green curtains, with many busts, the finest of which is
that of Monsieur Necker. The next room is the large library, with
furniture of blue and white; and the next, hung with old Gobelin
tapestry, is the room where Madame Recamier used to sit with Madame de
Stael, and look out upon the exquisite scenery, restful even in their
troubled lives. Here is the work-table of her whom Macaulay called
"the greatest woman of her times," and of whom Byron said, "She is
a woman by herself, and has done more than all the rest of them
together, intellectually; she ought to have been a man."
Next we enter the drawing-room, with carpet woven in a single piece;
the furniture red and white. We stop to look upon the picture of
Monsieur Necker, the father, a strong, noble-looking man; of the
mother, in white silk dress, with powdered hair, and very beautiful;
and De Stael herself, in a brownish yellow dress, with low neck and
short sleeves, holding in her hand the branch of flowers, which she
always carried, or a leaf, that thus her hands might be employed while
she engaged in the conversation that astonished Europe. Here also
are the pictures of the Baron, her husband, in white wig and military
dress; here her idolized son and daughter, the latter beautiful, with
mild, sad face, and dark hair and eyes.
What brings thousands to this quiet retreat every year? Because here
lived and wrote and suffered the only person whom the great Napoleon
feared, whom Galiffe, of Geneva, declared "the most remarkable woman
that Europe has produced"; learned, rich, the author of _Corinne_ and
_Allemagne_, whose "talents in conversation," says George Ticknor,
"were perhaps the most remarkable of any person that ever lived."
April 27, 1766, was the daughter of James Necker, Minister of Finance
under Louis XVI., a man of fine intellect, the author of fifteen
volumes; and Susanna, daughter of a Swiss pastor, beautiful, educated,
and devotedly Christian. Necker had become rich in early life through
banking, and had been made, by the republic of Geneva, her resident
minister at the Court of Versailles.
When the throne of Louis seemed crumbling, because the people were
tired of extravagance and heavy taxation, Necker was called to his
aid, with the hope that economy and retrenchment would save the
nation. He also loaned the government two million dollars. The home
of the Neckers, in Paris, naturally became a social centre, which the
mother of the family was well fitted to grace. Gibbon had been deeply
in love with her.
He says: "I found her learned without pedantry, lively in
conversation, pure in sentiment, and elegant in manners; and the first
sudden emotion was fortified by the habits and knowledge of a more
familiar acquaintance.... At Crassier and Lausanne I indulged my dream
of felicity; but on my return to England I soon discovered that my
father would not hear of this strange alliance, and that, without
his consent, I was myself destitute and helpless. After a painful
struggle, I yielded to my fate; I sighed as a lover; I obeyed as a
son." Gibbon never married, but retained his life-long friendship and
admiration for Madame Necker.
It was not strange, therefore, that Gibbon liked to be present in
her _salon_, where Buffon, Hume, Diderot, and D'Alembert were wont
to gather. The child of such parents could scarcely be other than
intellectual, surrounded by such gifted minds. Her mother, too, was a
most systematic teacher, and each day the girl was obliged to sit by
her side, erect, on a wooden stool, and learn difficult lessons.
"She stood in great awe of her mother," wrote Simond, the traveller,
"but was exceedingly familiar with and extravagantly fond of her
father. Madame Necker had no sooner left the room one day, after
dinner, than the young girl, till then timidly decorous, suddenly
seized her napkin, and threw it across the table at the head of her
father, and then flying round to him, hung upon his neck, suffocating
all his reproofs by her kisses." Whenever her mother returned to the
room, she at once became silent and restrained.
The child early began to show literary talent, writing dramas, and
making paper kings and queens to act her tragedies. This the mother
thought to be wrong, and it was discontinued. But when she was twelve,
the mother having somewhat relented, she wrote a play, which she and
her companions acted in the drawing-room. Grimm was so pleased with
her attempts, that he sent extracts to his correspondents throughout
Europe. At fifteen she wrote an essay on the _Revocation of the Edict
of Nantes_, and another upon Montesquieu's _Spirit of Laws_.
Overtaxing the brain with her continuous study, she became ill,
and the physician, greatly to her delight, prescribed fresh air and
sunshine. Here often she roamed from morning till night on their
estate at St. Ouen. Madame Necker felt deeply the thwarting of her
educational plans, and years after, when her daughter had acquired
distinction, said, "It is absolutely nothing compared to what I would
have made it."
Monsieur Necker's restriction of pensions and taxing of luxuries
soon aroused the opposition of the aristocracy, and the weak but
good-hearted King asked his minister to resign. Both wife and daughter
felt the blow keenly, for both idolized him, so much so that the
mother feared lest she be supplanted by her daughter. Madame de Stael
says of her father, "From the moment of their marriage to her death,
the thought of my mother dominated his life. He was not like other
men in power, attentive to her by occasional tokens of regard, but by
continual expressions of most tender and most delicate sentiment."
Of herself she wrote, "Our destinies would have united us forever, if
fate had only made us contemporaries." At his death she said, "If he
could be restored to me, I would give all my remaining years for six
months." To the last he was her idol.
For the next few years the family travelled most of the time, Necker
bringing out a book on the _Finances_, which had a sale at once of a
hundred thousand copies. A previous book, the _Compte Rendu au Roi_,
showing how for years the moneys of France had been wasted, had also a
large sale. For these books, and especially for other correspondence,
he was banished forty leagues from Paris. The daughter's heart seemed
well-nigh broken at this intelligence. Loving Paris, saying she would
rather live there on "one hundred francs a year, and lodge in the
fourth story," than anywhere else in the world, how could she bear for
years the isolation of the country? Joseph II., King of Poland, and
the King of Naples, offered Necker fine positions, but he declined.
Mademoiselle Necker had come to womanhood, not beautiful, but with
wonderful fascination and tact. She could compliment persons without
flattery, was cordial and generous, and while the most brilliant
talker, could draw to herself the thoughts and confidences of others.
She had also written a book on _Rousseau_, which was much talked
about. Pitt, of England, Count Fersen, of Sweden, and others, sought
her in marriage, but she loved no person as well as her father. Her
consent to marriage could be obtained only by the promise that she
should never be obliged to leave him.
Baron de Stael, a man of learning and fine social position, ambassador
from Sweden, and the warm friend of Gustavus, was ready to make
any promises for the rich daughter of the Minister Necker. He was
thirty-seven, she only a little more than half his age, twenty, but
she accepted him because her parents were pleased. Going to Paris, she
was, of course, received at Court, Marie Antoinette paying her much
attention. Necker was soon recalled from exile to his old position.
The funds rose thirty per cent, and he became the idol of the people.
Soon representative government was demanded, and then, though the King
granted it, the breach was widened. Necker, unpopular with the bad
advisers of the King, was again asked to leave Paris, and make no
noise about it; but the people, hearing of it, soon demanded his
recall, and he was hastily brought back from Brussels, riding through
the streets like "the sovereign of a nation," said his daughter. The
people were wild with delight.
But matters had gone too far to prevent a bloody Revolution. Soon a
mob was marching toward Versailles; thousands of men, women, and even
children armed with pikes. They reached the palace, killed the guards,
and penetrated to the queen's apartments, while some filled the
court-yard and demanded bread. The brave Marie Antoinette appeared
on the balcony leading her two children, while Lafayette knelt by her
side and kissed her hand. But the people could not be appeased.
Necker finding himself unable to serve his king longer, fled to his
Swiss retreat at Coppet, and there remained till his death. Madame
de Stael, as the wife of the Swedish ambassador, continued in the
turmoil, writing her father daily, and taking an active interest in
politics. "In England," she said, "women are accustomed to be silent
before men when political questions are discussed. In France, they
direct all conversation, and their minds readily acquire the facility
and talent which this privilege requires." Lafayette, Narbonne,
and Talleyrand consulted with her. She wrote the principal part of
Talleyrand's report on Public Instruction in 1790. She procured the
appointment of Narbonne to the ministry; and later, when Talleyrand
was in exile, obtained his appointment to the Department of Foreign
Matters had gone from bad to worse. In 1792 the Swedish government
suspended its embassy, and Madame de Stael prepared to fly, but stayed
for a time to save her friends. The seven prisons of Paris were all
crowded under the fearful reign of Danton and Marat. Great heaps of
dead lay before every prison door. During that Reign of Terror it is
estimated that eighteen thousand six hundred persons perished by the
guillotine. Whole squares were shot down. "When the police visited
her house, where some of the ministers were hidden, she met them
graciously, urging that they must not violate the privacy of an
ambassador's house. When her friends were arrested, she went to the
barbarous leaders, and with her eloquence begged for their safety, and
thus saved the lives of many.
At last she must leave the terror-stricken city. Supposing that
her rank as the wife of a foreign ambassador would protect her, she
started with a carriage and six horses, her servants in livery. At
once a crowd of half-famished and haggard women crowded around, and
threw themselves against the horses. The carriage was stopped, and the
occupants were taken to the Assembly. She plead her case before the
noted Robespierre, and then waited for six hours for the decision of
the Commune. Meantime she saw the hired assassins pass beneath the
windows, their bare arms covered with the blood of the slain. The mob
attempted to pillage her carriage, but a strong man mounted the box
and defended it. She learned afterward that it was the notorious
Santerre, the person who later superintended the execution of Louis
XVI., ordering his drummers to drown the last words of the dying King.
Santerre had seen Necker distribute corn to the poor of Paris in a
time of famine, and now he was befriending the daughter for this noble
act. Finally she was allowed to continue her journey, and reached
Coppet with her baby, Auguste, well-nigh exhausted after this terrible
The Swiss home soon became a place of refuge for those who were flying
from the horrors of the Commune. She kept a faithful agent, who knew
the mountain passes, busy in this work of mercy.
The following year, 1793, longing for a change from these dreadful
times, she visited England, and received much attention from prominent
persons, among them Fanny Burny, the author of _Evelina_, who owned
"that she had never heard conversation before. The most animated
eloquence, the keenest observation, the most sparkling wit, the most
courtly grace, were united to charm her."
On Jan. 21 of this year, the unfortunate King had met his death on the
scaffold before an immense throng of people. Six men bound him to the
plank, and then his head was severed from his body amid the shouts
and waving of hats of the blood-thirsty crowd. Necker had begged to go
before the Convention and plead for his king, but was refused. Madame
de Stael wrote a vigorous appeal to the nation in behalf of the
beautiful and tenderhearted Marie Antoinette; but on Sept. 16, 1793,
at four o'clock in the morning, in an open cart, in the midst of
thirty thousand troops and a noisy rabble, she, too, was borne to
the scaffold; and when her pale face was held up bleeding before the
crowd, they jeered and shouted themselves hoarse.
The next year 1794, Madame Necker died at Coppet, whispering to her
husband, "We shall see each other in Heaven." "She looked heavenward,"
said Necker in a most affecting manner, "listening while I prayed;
then, in dying, raised the finger of her left hand, which wore the
ring I had given her, to remind me of the pledge engraved upon it, to
love her forever." His devotion to her was beautiful. "No language,"
says his daughter, "can give any adequate idea of it. Exhausted by
wakefulness at night, she slept often in the daytime, resting her
head on his arm. I have seen him remain immovable, for hours together,
standing in the same position for fear of awakening her by the least
movement. Absent from her during a few hours of sleep, he inquired, on
his return, of her attendant, if she had asked for him? She could no
longer speak, but made an effort to say 'yes, yes.'"
When the Revolution was over, and France had become a republic, Sweden
sent back her ambassador, Baron de Stael, and his wife returned to him
at Paris. Again her _salon_ became the centre for the great men of
the time. She loved liberty, and believed in the republican form
of government. She had written her book upon the _Influence of the
Passions on the Happiness of Individuals and Nations_, prompted by
the horrors of the Revolution, and it was considered "irresistible in
energy and dazzling in thought."
She was also devoting much time to her child, Auguste, developing him
without punishment, thinking that there had been too much rigor in her
own childhood. He well repaid her for her gentleness and trust, and
was inseparable from her through life, becoming a noble Christian man,
and the helper of all good causes. Meantime Madame de Stael saw with
alarm the growing influence of the young Corsican officer, Bonaparte.
The chief executive power had been placed in the hands of the
Directory, and he had control of the army. He had won brilliant
victories in Italy, and had been made commander-in-chief of the
expedition against Egypt He now returned to Paris, turned out the
Directory, drove out the Council of Five Hundred from the hall of
the Assembly at the point of the bayonet, made the government into a
consulate with three consuls, of whom he was the first, and lived at
the Tuileries in almost royal style.
All this time Madame de Stael felt the egotism and heartlessness of
Napoleon. Her _salon_ became more crowded than ever with those who
had their fears for the future. "The most eloquent of the Republican
orators were those who borrowed from her most of their ideas and
telling phrases. Most of them went forth from her door with speeches
ready for the next day, and with resolution to pronounce them--a
courage which was also derived from her." Lucien and Joseph Bonaparte,
the brothers of Napoleon, were proud of her friendship, and often were
guests at her house, until forbidden by their brother.
When Benjamin Constant made a speech against the "rising tyranny,"
Napoleon suspected that she had prompted it, and denounced her
heartily, all the time declaring that he loved the Republic, and would
always defend it! He said persons always came away from De Stael's
home "less his friends than when they entered." About this time her
book, _Literature considered in its Relation to Social Institutions_,
was published, and made a surprising impression from its wealth
of knowledge and power of thought. Its analysis of Greek and Latin
literature, and the chief works in Italian, English, German, and
French, astonished everybody, because written by a woman!
Soon after Necker published his _Last Views of Politics and Finance_,
in which he wrote against the tyranny of a single man. At once
Napoleon caused a sharp letter to be written to Necker advising him
to leave politics to the First Consul, "who was alone able to govern
France," and threatening his daughter with exile for her supposed aid
in his book. She saw the wisdom of escaping from France, lest she be
imprisoned, and immediately hastened to Coppet. A few months later,
in the winter of 1802, she returned to Paris to bring home Baron de
Stael, who was ill, and from whom she had separated because he was
spending all her fortune and that of her three children. He died on
Virtually banished from France, she now wrote her _Delphine_, a
brilliant novel which was widely read. It received its name from a
"Desirous of meeting the First Consul for some urgent reason," says
Dr. Stevens in his charming biography of Madame de Stael, "she went to
the villa of Madame de Montessan, whither he frequently resorted. She
was alone in one of the _salles_ when he arrived, accompanied by the
consular court of brilliant young women. The latter knew the growing
hostility of their master toward her, and passed, without noticing
her, to the other end of the _salle_, leaving her entirely alone.
Her position was becoming extremely painful, when a young lady, more
courageous and more compassionate than her companions, crossed the
_salle_ and took a seat by her side. Madame de Stael was touched
by this kindness, and asked for her Christian name. 'Delphine,' she
responded. 'Ah, I will try to immortalize it,' exclaimed Madame
de Stael; and she kept her word. This sensible young lady was the
Comtesse de Custine."
Her home at Coppet became the home of many great people. Sismondi, the
author of the _History of the Italian Republics_, and _Literature of
Southern Europe_, encouraged by her, wrote here several of his famous
works. Bonstetten made his home here for years. Schlegel, the greatest
critic of his age, became the teacher of her children, and a most
intimate friend. Benjamin Constant, the author and statesman, was
here. All repaired to their rooms for work in the morning, and in the
evening enjoyed philosophic, literary, and political discussions.
Bonstetten said: "In seeing her, in hearing her, I feel myself
electrified.... She daily becomes greater and better; but souls of
great talent have great sufferings: they are solitary in the world,
like Mont Blanc."
In the autumn of 1803, longing for Paris, she ventured to within ten
leagues and hired a quiet home. Word was soon borne to Napoleon that
the road to her house was thronged with visitors. He at once sent an
officer with a letter signed by himself, exiling her to forty leagues
from Paris, and commanding her to leave within twenty-four hours.
At once she fled to Germany. At Frankfort her little daughter was
dangerously ill. "I knew no person in the city," she writes. "I did
not know the language; and the physician to whom I confided my child
could not speak French. But my father shared my trouble; he consulted
physicians at Geneva, and sent me their prescriptions. Oh, what would
become of a mother trembling for the life of her child, if it were not
Going to Weimar, she met Goethe, Wieland, Schiller, and other noted
men. At Berlin, the greatest attention was shown her. The beautiful
Louise of Prussia welcomed her heartily. During this exile her father
died, with his latest breath saying," She has loved me dearly! She
has loved me dearly!" On his death-bed he wrote a letter to Bonaparte
telling him that his daughter was in nowise responsible for his book,
but it was never answered. It was enough for Napoleon to know that she
did not flatter him; therefore he wished her out of the way.
Madame de Stael was for a time completely overcome by Necker's death.
She wore his picture on her person as long as she lived. Only once did
she part with it, and then she imagined it might console her daughter
in her illness. Giving it to her, she said, "Gaze upon it, gaze upon
it, when you are in pain."
She now sought repose in Italy, preparing those beautiful descriptions
for her _Corinne_, and finally returning to Coppet, spent a year in
writing her book. It was published in Paris, and, says Sainte-Beuve,
"its success was instantaneous and universal. As a work of art, as a
poem, the romance of _Corinne_ is an immortal monument." Jeffrey,
in the _Edinburgh Review_, called the author the greatest writer in
France since Voltaire and Rousseau, and the greatest woman writer of
any age or country. Napoleon, however, in his official paper, caused a
scathing criticism on _Corinne_ to appear; indeed, it was declared to
be from his own pen. She was told by the Minister of Police, that she
had but to insert some praise of Napoleon in _Corinne_, and she would
be welcomed back to Paris. She could not, however, live a lie, and she
feared Napoleon had evil designs upon France.
Again she visited Germany with her children, Schlegel, and Sismondi.
So eager was everybody to see her and hear her talk, that Bettina von
Arnim says in her correspondence with Goethe: "The gentlemen stood
around the table and planted themselves behind us, elbowing one
another. They leaned quite over me, and I said in French, 'Your
adorers quite suffocate me.'"
While in Germany, her eldest son, then seventeen, had an interview
with Bonaparte about the return of his mother. "Your mother," said
Napoleon, "could not be six months in Paris before I should be
compelled to send her to Bicetre or the Temple. I should regret this
necessity, for it would make a noise and might injure me a little
in public opinion. Say, therefore, to her that as long as I live she
cannot re-enter Paris. I see what you wish, but it cannot be; she will
commit follies; she will have the world about her."
On her return to Coppet, she spent two years in writing her
_Allemagne_, for which she had been making researches for four years.
She wished it published in Paris, as _Corinne_ had been, and submitted
it to the censors of the Press. They crossed out whatever sentiments
they thought might displease Napoleon, and then ten thousand copies
were at once printed, she meantime removing to France, within her
proscribed limits, that she might correct the proof-sheets.
What was her astonishment to have Napoleon order the whole ten
thousand destroyed, and her to leave France in three days! Her two
sons attempted to see Bonaparte, who was at Fontainebleau, but were
ordered to turn back, or they would be arrested. The only reason given
for destroying the work was the fact that she had been silent about
the great but egotistical Emperor.
Broken in spirit, she returned to Geneva. Amid all this darkness a new
light was about to beam upon her life. In the social gatherings made
for her, she observed a young army officer, Monsieur Rocca, broken in
health from his many wounds, but handsome and noble in face, and, as
she learned, of irreproachable life. Though only twenty-three and she
forty-five, the young officer was fascinated by her conversation,
and refreshed in spirits by her presence. She sympathized with his
misfortunes in battle; she admired his courage. He was lofty in
sentiments, tender in heart, and gave her what she had always needed,
an unselfish and devoted love. When discouraged by his friends, he
replied, "I will love her so much that I will finish by making her
They were married in 1811, and the marriage was a singularly happy
one. The reason for it is not difficult to perceive. A marriage that
has not a pretty face or a passing fancy for its foundation, but
appreciation of a gifted mind and noble heart,--such a marriage
stands the test of time.
The marriage was kept secret from all save a few intimate friends,
Madame de Stael fearing that if the news reached Napoleon, Rocca
would be ordered back to France. Her fears were only too well founded.
Schlegel, Madame Recamier, all who had shown any sympathy for her,
began to be exiled. She was forbidden under any pretext whatever from
travelling in Switzerland, or entering any region annexed to France.
She was advised not to go two leagues from Coppet, lest she be
imprisoned, and this with Napoleon usually meant death.
The Emperor seemed about to conquer the whole world. Whither could she
fly to escape his persecution? She longed to reach England, but there
was an edict against any French subject entering that country without
special permit. Truly his heel was upon France. The only way to reach
that country was through Austria, Russia, and Sweden, two thousand
leagues. But she must attempt it. She passed an hour in prayer by her
parent's tomb, kissed his armchair and table, and took his cloak to
wrap herself in should death come.
May 23, 1812, she, with Rocca and two of her children, began their
flight by carriage, not telling the servants at the chateau, but that
they should return for the next meal.
They reached Vienna June 6, and were at once put under surveillance.
Everywhere she saw placards admonishing the officers to watch her
sharply. Rocca had to make his way alone, because Bonaparte had
ordered his arrest. They were permitted to remain only a few hours
in any place. Once Madame de Stael was so overcome by this brutal
treatment that she lost consciousness, and was obliged to be taken
from her carriage to the roadside till she recovered. Every hour she
expected arrest and death.
Finally, worn in body, she reached Russia, and was cordially received
by Alexander and Empress Elizabeth. From here she went to Sweden, and
had an equally cordial welcome from Bernadotte, the general who
became king. Afterward she spent four months in England, bringing out
_Allemagne._ Here she received a perfect ovation. At Lord Lansdowne's
the first ladies in the kingdom mounted on chairs and tables to catch
a glimpse of her. Sir James Mackintosh said: "The whole fashionable
and literary world is occupied with Madame de Stael, the most
celebrated woman of this, or perhaps of any age." Very rare must be
the case where a woman of fine mind does not have many admirers among
Her _Allemagne_ was published in 1813, the manuscript having been
secretly carried over Germany, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and the Baltic
Sea. The first part treated of the manners of Germany; the second, its
literature and art; the third, its philosophy and morals; the fourth,
its religion. The book had a wonderful sale, and was soon translated
into all the principal tongues of Europe. Lamartine said: "Her style,
without losing any of its youthful vigor and splendor, seemed now to
be illuminated with more lofty and eternal lights as she approached
the evening of life, and the diviner mysteries of thought. This style
no longer paints, no longer chants; it adores.... Her name will live
as long as literature, as long as the history of her country."
Meantime, great changes had taken place in France. Napoleon had been
defeated at Leipsic, leaving a quarter of a million murdered on his
battle-fields; he had abdicated, and was on his way to Elba. She
immediately returned to Paris, with much the same feeling as Victor
Hugo, when he wept as he came from his long exile under "Napoleon the
Little." Again to her _salon_ came kings and generals, Alexander of
Russia, Wellington, and others.
But soon Napoleon returned, and she fled to Coppet. He sent her an
invitation to come to Paris, declaring he would now live for the peace
of Europe, but she could not trust him. She saw her daughter, lovely
and beautiful, married to the Duc de Broglie, a leading statesman,
and was happy in her happiness. Rocca's health was failing, and they
repaired to Italy for a time.
In 1816 they returned to Paris, Napoleon having gone from his final
defeat to St. Helena. But Madame de Stael was broken with her trials.
She seemed to grow more and more frail, till the end came. She said
frequently, "My father awaits me on the other shore." To Chateaubriand
she said, "I have loved God, my father, and my country." She could
not and would not go to sleep the last night, for fear she might never
look upon Rocca again. He begged her to sleep and he would awaken her
often. "Good night," she said, and it was forever. She never wakened.
They buried her beside her father at Coppet, under the grand old
trees. Rocca died in seven months, at the age of thirty-one. "I
hoped," he said, "to have died in her arms."
Her little son, and Rocca's, five years old, was cared for by Auguste
and Albertine, her daughter. After Madame de Stael's death, her
_Considerations on the French Revolution_ and _Ten Years of Exile_
were published. Of the former, Sainte-Beuve says: "Its publication was
an event. It was the splendid public obsequies of the authoress.
Its politics were destined to long and passionate discussions and
a durable influence. She is perfect only from this day; the full
influence of her star is only at her tomb."
Chateaubriand said, "Her death made one of those breaches which the
fall of a superior intellect produces once in an age, and which can
never be closed."
As kind as she was great, loving deeply and receiving love in return,
she has left an imperishable name. No wonder that thousands visit that
quiet grave beside Lake Geneva.
[Illustration: ROSA BONHEUR.]
In a simple home in Paris could have been seen, in 1829, Raymond
Bonheur and his little family,--Rosa, seven years old, August,
Isadore, and Juliette. He was a man of fine talent in painting, but
obliged to spend his time in giving drawing-lessons to support his
children. His wife, Sophie, gave lessons on the piano, going from
house to house all day long, and sometimes sewing half the night, to
earn a little more for the necessities of life.
Hard work and poverty soon bore its usual fruit, and the tired young
mother died in 1833. The three oldest children were sent to board with
a plain woman, "La mere Catherine," in the Champs Elysees, and the
youngest was placed with relatives. For two years this good woman
cared for the children, sending them to school, though she was greatly
troubled because Rosa persisted in playing in the woods of the Bois
de Boulogne, gathering her arms full of daisies and marigolds, rather
than to be shut up in a schoolroom. "I never spent an hour of fine
weather indoors during the whole of the two years," she has often said
since those days.
Finally the father married again and brought the children home. The
two boys were placed in school, and M. Bonheur paid their way by
giving drawing lessons three times a week in the institution. If Rosa
did not love school, she must be taught something useful, and she was
accordingly placed in a sewing establishment to become a seamstress.
The child hated sewing, ran the needle into her fingers at every
stitch, cried for the fresh air and sunshine, and finally, becoming
pale and sickly, was taken back to the Bonheur home. The anxious
painter would try his child once more in school; so he arranged that
she should attend, with compensation met in the same way as for his
boys. Rosa soon became a favorite with the girls in the Fauborg
St. Antoine School, especially because she could draw such witty
caricatures of the teachers, which she pasted against the wall, with
bread chewed into the consistency of putty. The teachers were not
pleased, but so struck were they with the vigor and originality of the
drawings, that they carefully preserved the sketches in an album.
The girl was far from happy. Naturally sensitive--as what poet or
painter was ever born otherwise?--she could not bear to wear a calico
dress and coarse shoes, and eat with an iron spoon from a tin cup,
when the other girls wore handsome dresses, and had silver mugs and
spoons. She grew melancholy, neglected her books, and finally became
so ill that she was obliged to be taken home.
And now Raymond Bonheur very wisely decided not to make plans for his
child for a time, but see what was her natural tendency. It was well
that he made this decision in time, before she had been spoiled by his
well-meant but poor intentions.
Left to herself, she constantly hung about her father's studio, now
drawing, now modeling, copying whatever she saw him do. She seemed
never to be tired, but sang at her work all the day long.
Monsieur Bonheur suddenly awoke to the fact that his daughter had
great talent. He began to teach her carefully, to make her accurate in
drawing, and correct in perspective. Then he sent her to the Louvre to
copy the works of the old masters. Here she worked with the greatest
industry and enthusiasm, not observing anything that was going on
around her. Said the director of the Louvre, "I have never seen an
example of such application and such ardor for work."
One day an elderly English gentleman stopped beside her easel, and
said: "Your copy, my child, is superb, faultless. Persevere as you
have begun, and I prophesy that you will be a great artist." How glad
those few words made her! She went home thinking over to herself the
determination she had made in the school when she ate with her iron
spoon, that sometime she would be as famous as her schoolmates, and
have some of the comforts of life.
Her copies of the old masters were soon sold, and though they brought
small prices, she gladly gave the money to her father, who needed it
now more than ever. His second wife had two sons when he married her,
and now they had a third, Germain, and every cent that Rosa could
earn was needed to help support seven children. "La mamiche," as
they called the new mother, was an excellent manager of the meagre
finances, and filled her place well.
Rosa was now seventeen, loving landscape, historical, and genre
painting, perhaps equally; but happening to paint a goat, she was so
pleased in the work, that she determined to make animal painting a
specialty. Having no money to procure models, she must needs make long
walks into the country on foot to the farms. She would take a piece of
bread in her pocket, and generally forget to eat it. After working
all day, she would come home tired, often drenched with rain, and her
shoes covered with mud.
She took other means to study animals. In the outskirts of Paris were
great _abattoirs_, or slaughter-pens. Though the girl tenderly loved
animals, and shrank from the sight of suffering, she forced herself to
see the killing, that she might know how to depict the death agony
on canvas. Though obliged to mingle more or less with drovers and
butchers, no indignity was ever offered her. As she sat on a bundle of
hay, with her colors about her, they would crowd around to look at
the pictures, and regard her with honest pride. The world soon
learns whether a girl is in earnest about her work, and treats her
The Bonheur family had moved to the sixth story of a tenement house
in the Rue Rumfort, now the Rue Malesherbes. The sons, Auguste and
Isadore, had both become artists; the former a painter, the latter a
sculptor. Even little Juliette was learning to paint. Rosa was working
hard all day at her easel, and at night was illustrating books, or
molding little groups of animals for the figure-dealers. All the
family were happy despite their poverty, because they had congenial
On the roof, Rosa improvised a sort of garden, with honeysuckles,
sweet-peas, and nasturtiums, and here they kept a sheep, with long,
silky wool, for a model. Very often Isadore would take him on his back
and carry him down the six flights of stairs,--the day of elevators
had not dawned,--and after he had enjoyed grazing, would bring him
back to his garden home. It was a docile creature, and much loved by
the whole family. For Rosa's birds, the brothers constructed a net,
which they hung outside the window, and then opened the cage into it.
At nineteen Rosa was to test the world, and see what the critics would
say. She sent to the Fine Arts Exhibition two pictures, "Goats and
Sheep" and "Two Rabbits." The public was pleased, and the press gave
kind notices. The next year "Animals in a Pasture," a "Cow lying in a
Meadow," and a "Horse for sale," attracted still more attention. Two
years later she exhibited twelve pictures, some from her father and
brother being hung on either side of hers, the first time they had
been admitted. More and more the critics praised, and the pathway of
the Bonheur family grew less thorny.
Then, in 1849, when she was twenty-seven, came the triumph. Her
magnificent picture, "Cantal Oxen," took the gold medal, and was
purchased by England. Horace Vernet, the president of the commission
of awards, in the midst of a brilliant assembly, proclaimed the new
laureate, and gave her, in behalf of the government, a superb Sevres
Raymond Bonheur seemed to become young again at this fame of his
child. It brought honors to him also, for he was at once made director
of the government school of design for girls. But the release from
poverty and anxiety came too late, and he died the same year, greatly
lamented by his family. "He had grand ideas," said his daughter, "and
had he not been obliged to give lessons for our support, he would have
been more known, and to-day acknowledged with other masters."
Rosa was made director in his place, and Juliette became a professor
in the school. This same year appeared her "Plowing Scene in the
Nivernais," now in the Luxembourg Gallery, thought to be her most
important work after her "Horse Fair." Orders now poured in upon her,
so that she could not accede to half the requests for work. A rich
Hollander offered her one thousand crowns for a painting which she
could have wrought in two hours; but she refused.
Four years later, after eighteen long months of preparatory studies,
her "Horse Fair" was painted. This created the greatest enthusiasm
both in England and America. It was sold to a gentleman in England for
eight thousand dollars, and was finally purchased by A. T. Stewart, of
New York, for his famous collection. No one who has seen this picture
will ever forget the action and vigor of these Normandy horses. In
painting it, a petted horse, it is said, stepped back upon the canvas,
putting his hoof through it, thus spoiling the work of months.
So greatly was this picture admired, that Napoleon III. was urged to
bestow upon her the Cross of the Legion of Honor, entitled her from
French usage. Though she was invited to the state dinner at the
Tuileries, always given to artists to whom the Academy of Fine Arts
has awarded its highest honors, Napoleon had not the courage to give
it to her, lest public opinion might not agree with him in conferring
it upon a woman. Possibly he felt, more than the world knew, the
insecurity of his throne.
Henry Bacon, in the _Century_, thus describes the way in which Rosa
Bonheur finally received the badge of distinction. "The Emperor,
leaving Paris for a short summer excursion in 1865, left the Empress
as Regent. From the imperial residence at Fontainebleau it was only a
short drive to By (the home of Mademoiselle Bonheur). The countersign
at the gate was forced, and unannounced, the Empress entered the
studio where Mademoiselle Rosa was at work. She rose to receive the
visitor, who threw her arms about her neck and kissed her. It was only
a short interview. The imperial vision had departed, the rumble of
the carriage and the crack of the outriders' whips were lost in the
distance. Then, and not till then, did the artist discover that as the
Empress had given the kiss, she had pinned upon her blouse the Cross
of the Legion of Honor." Since then she has received the Leopold Cross
of Honor from the King of Belgium, said to be the first ever conferred
upon a woman; also a decoration from the King of Spain. Her brother
Auguste, now dead, received the Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1867,
two years after Rosa.
In preparing to paint the "Horse Fair" and other similar pictures,
which have brought her much into the company of men, she has found it
wise to dress in male costume. A laughable incident is related of this
mode of dress. One day when she returned from the country, she found a
messenger awaiting to announce to her the sudden illness of one of
her young friends. Rosa did not wait to change her male attire, but
hastened to the bedside of the young lady. In a few minutes after
her arrival, the doctor, who had been sent for, entered, and seeing a
young man, as he supposed, seated on the side of the bed, with his
arm round the neck of the sick girl, thought he was an intruder, and
retreated with all possible speed. "Oh! run after him! He thinks you
are my lover, and has gone and left me to die!" cried the sick girl.
Rosa flew down stairs, and soon returned with the modest doctor.
She also needs this mannish costume, for her long journeys over
the Pyrenees into Spain or in the Scottish Highlands. She is always
accompanied by her most intimate friend, Mademoiselle Micas, herself
an artist of repute, whose mother, a widow, superintends the home for
the two devoted friends.
Sometimes in the Pyrenees these two ladies see no one for six weeks
but muleteers with their mules. The people in these lonely mountain
passes live entirely upon the curdled milk of sheep. Once Rosa Bonheur
and her friend were nearly starving, when Mademoiselle Micas obtained
a quantity of frogs, and covering the hind legs with leaves, roasted
them over a fire. On these they lived for two days.
In Scotland she painted her exquisite "Denizens of the Mountains,"
"Morning in the Highlands," and "Crossing a Loch in the Highlands." In
England she was treated like a princess. Sir Edwin Landseer, whom some
persons thought she would marry, is reported to have said, when he
first looked upon her "Horse Fair," "It surpasses me, though it's
a little hard to be beaten by a woman." On her return to France she
brought a skye-terrier, named "Wasp," of which she is very fond, and
for which she has learned several English phrases. When she speaks to
him in English, he wags his tail most appreciatively.
Rosa Bonheur stands at the head of her profession, an acknowledged
master. Her pictures bring enormous sums, and have brought her wealth.
A "View in the Pyrenees" has been sold for ten thousand dollars, and
some others for twice that sum.
She gives away much of her income. She has been known to send to the
_Mont de Piete_ her gold medals to raise funds to assist poor artists.
A woman artist, who had been refused help by several wealthy painters,
applied to Rosa Bonheur, who at once took down from the wall a small
but valuable painting, and gave it to her, from which she received a
goodly sum. A young sculptor who greatly admired her work, enclosed
twenty dollars, asking her for a small drawing, and saying that this
was all the money he possessed. She immediately sent him a sketch
worth at least two hundred dollars. She has always provided most
generously for her family, and for servants who have grown old in her
She dresses very simply, always wearing black, brown, or gray, with
a close fitting jacket over a plain skirt. When she accepts a social
invitation, which is very rare, she adorns her dress with a lace
collar, but without other ornament. Her working dress is usually a
long gray linen or blue flannel blouse, reaching nearly from head to
foot. She has learned that the conventional tight dress of women
is not conducive to great mental or physical power. She is small
in stature, with dainty hands and feet, blue eyes, and a noble and
She is an indefatigable worker, rising usually at six in the morning,
and painting throughout the day.
So busy is she that she seldom permits herself any amusements. On one
occasion she had tickets sent her for the theatre. She worked till the
carriage was announced. "_Je suis prete_," said Rosa, and went to the
play in her working dress. A daintily gloved man in the box next to
hers looked over in disdain, and finally went into the vestibule and
found the manager.
"Who is this woman in the box next to mine?" he said, in a rage.
"She's in an old calico dress, covered with paint and oil. The odor is
terrible. Turn her out. If you do not, I will never enter your theatre
The manager went to the box, and returning, informed him that it was
the great painter.
"Rosa Bonheur!" he gasped. "Who'd have thought it? Make my apology to
her. I dare not enter her presence again."
She usually walks at the twilight, often thinking out new subjects for
her brush, at that quiet hour. She said to a friend: "I have been a
faithful student since I was ten years old. I have copied no master. I
have studied Nature, and expressed to the best of my ability the ideas
and feelings with which she has inspired me. Art is an absorbent--a
tyrant. It demands heart, brain, soul, body, the entireness of the
votary. Nothing less will win its highest favor. I wed art. It is my
husband, my world, my life-dream, the air I breathe. I know nothing
else, feel nothing else, think nothing else, My soul finds in it
the most complete satisfaction.... I have no taste for general
society,--no interest in its frivolities. I only seek to be known
through my works. If the world feel and understand them, I have
succeeded.... If I had got up a convention to debate the question of
my ability to paint '_Marche au Chevaux_' [The Horse Fair], for which
England paid me forty thousand francs, the decision would have been
against me. I felt the power within me to paint; I cultivated it, and
have produced works that have won the favorable verdicts of the great
judges. I have no patience with women who ask _permission to think_!"
For years she lived in Rue d'Assas, a retired street half made up of
gardens. Here she had one of the most beautiful studios of Paris, the
room lighted from the ceiling, the walls covered with paintings, with
here and there old armor, tapestry, hats, cloaks, sandals, and skins
of tigers, leopards, foxes, and oxen on the floor. One Friday, the day
on which she received guests, one of her friends, coming earlier
than usual, found her fast asleep on her favorite skin, that of a
magnificent ox, with stuffed head and spreading horns. She had come in
tired from the School of Design, and had thrown herself down to rest.
Usually after greeting her friends she would say, "Allow me to resume
my brush; we can talk just as well together." For those who have any
great work to do in this worlds there is little time for visiting;
interruptions cannot be permitted. No wonder Carlyle groaned when some
person had taken two hours of his time. He could better have spared
money to the visitor.
For several years Rosa Bonheur has lived near Fontainebleau, in the
Chateau By. Henry Bacon says: "The chateau dates from the time of
Louis XV., and the garden is still laid out in the style of Le Notre.
Since it has been in the present proprietor's possession, a quaint,
picturesque brick building, containing the carriage house and
coachman's lodge on the first floor, and the studio on the second,
has been added; the roof of the main building has been raised, and the
chapel changed into an orangery: beside the main carriage-entrance,
which is closed by iron gates and wooden blinds, is a postern gate,
with a small grated opening, like those found in convents. The blinds
to the gate and the slide to the grating are generally closed, and
the only communication with the outside world is by the bell-wire,
terminating in a ring beside the gate. Ring, and the jingle of the
bell is at once echoed by the barking of numerous dogs,--the hounds
and bassets in chorus, the grand Saint Bernard in slow measure, like
the bass-drum in an orchestra. After the first excitement among the
dogs has begun to abate, a remarkably small house-pet that has been
somewhere in the interior arrives upon the scene, and with his sharp,
shrill voice again starts and leads the canine chorus. By this time
the eagle in his cage has awakened, and the parrot, whose cage is
built into the corner of the studio looking upon the street, adds to
"Behind the house is a large park divided from the forest by a high
wall; a lawn and flower-beds are laid out near the buildings; and on
the lawn, in pleasant weather, graze a magnificent bull and cow,
which are kept as models. In a wire enclosure are two chamois from the
Pyrenees, and further removed from the house, in the wooded part of
the park, are enclosures for sheep and deer, each of which knows its
mistress. Even the stag, bearing its six-branched antlers, receives
her caresses like a pet dog. At the end of one of the linden avenues
is a splendid bronze, by Isadore Bonheur, of a Gaul attacking a lion.
"The studio is very large, with a huge chimney at one end, the
supports of which are life-size dogs, modeled by Isadore Bonheur.
Portraits of the father and mother in oval frames hang at each
side, and a pair of gigantic horns ornaments the centre. The room
is decorated with stuffed heads of animals of various kinds,--boars,
bears, wolves, and oxen; and birds perch in every convenient place."
When Prussia conquered France, and swept through this town, orders
were given that Rosa Bonheur's home and paintings be carefully
preserved. Even her servants went unmolested. The peasants idolized
the great woman who lived in the chateau, and were eager to serve her.
She always talked to them pleasantly. Rosa Bonheur died at her home at
11 P.M., Thursday, May 25, 1899.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
[Illustration: Elizabeth Barrett Browning Rome. February. 1859]
Ever since I had received in my girlhood, from my best friend, the
works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in five volumes in blue and gold,
I had read and re-read the pages, till I knew scores by heart. I
had longed to see the face and home of her whom the English call
"Shakespeare's daughter," and whom Edmund Clarence Stedman names "the
passion-flower of the century."
I shall never forget that beautiful July morning spent in the Browning
home in London. The poet-wife had gone out from it, and lay buried in
Florence, but here were her books and her pictures. Here was a marble
bust, the hair clustering about the face, and a smile on the lips that
showed happiness. Near by was another bust of the idolized only child,
of whom she wrote in _Casa Guidi Windows_:--
"The sun strikes through the windows, up the floor:
Stand out in it, my own young Florentine,
Not two years old, and let me see thee more!
It grows along thy amber curls to shine
Brighter than elsewhere. Now look straight before
And fix thy brave blue English eyes on mine,
And from thy soul, which fronts the future so
With unabashed and unabated gaze,
Teach me to hope for what the Angels know
When they smile clear as thou dost!"
Here was the breakfast-table at which they three had often sat
together. Close beside it hung a picture of the room in Florence,
where she lived so many years in a wedded bliss as perfect as any
known in history. Tears gathered in the eyes of Robert Browning, as he
pointed out her chair, and sofa, and writing-table.
Of this room in Casa Guidi, Kate Field wrote in the _Atlantic
Monthly_, September, 1861: "They who have been so favored can never
forget the square ante-room, with its great picture and piano-forte,
at which the boy Browning passed many an hour; the little dining room
covered with tapestry, and where hung medallions of Tennyson, Carlyle,
and Robert Browning; the long room filled with plaster casts and
studies, which was Mr. Browning's retreat; and, dearest of all, the
large drawing-room, where _she_ always sat. It opens upon a balcony
filled with plants, and looks out upon the old iron-gray church of
Santa Felice. There was something about this room that seemed to make
it a proper and especial haunt for poets. The dark shadows and
subdued light gave it a dreamy look, which was enhanced by the
tapestry-covered walls, and the old pictures of saints that looked
out sadly from their carved frames of black wood. Large bookcases,
constructed of specimens of Florentine carving selected by Mr.
Browning, were brimming over with wise-looking books. Tables were
covered with more gayly bound volumes, the gifts of brother authors.
Dante's grave profile, a cast of Keats' face and brow taken after
death, a pen-and-ink sketch of Tennyson, the genial face of John
Kenyon, Mrs. Browning's good friend and relative, little paintings of
the boy Browning, all attracted the eye in turn, and gave rise to a
thousand musings. But the glory of all, and that which sanctified all,
was seated in a low armchair near the door. A small table, strewn with
writing materials, books and newspapers, was always by her side."
Then Mr. Browning, in the London home, showed us the room where he
writes, containing his library and hers. The books are on simple
shelves, choice, and many very old and rare. Here are her books, many
in Greek and Hebrew. In the Greek, I saw her notes on the margin in
Hebrew, and in the Hebrew she had written her marginal notes in Greek.
Here also are the five volumes of her writings, in blue and gold.
The small table at which she wrote still stands beside the larger
where her husband composes. His table is covered with letters and
papers and books; hers stands there unused, because it is a constant
reminder of those companionable years, when they worked together.
Close by hangs a picture of the "young Florentine," Robert Barrett
Browning, now grown to manhood, an artist already famed. He has a
refined face, as he sits in artist garb, before his easel, sketching
in a peasant's house. The beloved poet who wrote at the little table,
is endeared to all the world. Born in 1809, in the county of Durham,
the daughter of wealthy parents, she passed her early years partly in
the country in Herefordshire, and partly in the city. That she loved
the country with its wild flowers and woods, her poem, _The Lost
Bower_, plainly shows.
"Green the land is where my daily
Steps in jocund childhood played,
Dimpled close with hill and valley,
Dappled very close with shade;
Summer-snow of apple-blossoms running up from glade to glade.
* * * * *
"But the wood, all close and clenching
Bough in bough and root in root,--
No more sky (for overbranching)
At your head than at your foot,--
Oh, the wood drew me within it, by a glamour past dispute.
"But my childish heart beat stronger
Than those thickets dared to grow:
_I_ could pierce them! I could longer
Travel on, methought, than so.
Sheep for sheep-paths! braver children climb and creep where they
* * * * *
"Tall the linden-tree, and near it
An old hawthorne also grew;
And wood-ivy like a spirit
Hovered dimly round the two,
Shaping thence that bower of beauty which I sing of thus to you.
"And the ivy veined and glossy
Was enwrought with eglantine;
And the wild hop fibred closely,
And the large-leaved columbine,
Arch of door and window mullion, did right sylvanly entwine.
* * * * *
"I have lost--oh, many a pleasure,
Many a hope, and many a power--
Studious health, and merry leisure,
The first dew on the first flower!
But the first of all my losses was the losing of the bower.
* * * * *
"Is the bower lost then? Who sayeth
That the bower indeed is lost?
Hark! my spirit in it prayeth
Through the sunshine and the frost,--
And the prayer preserves it greenly, to the last
"Till another open for me
In God's Eden-land unknown,
With an angel at the doorway,
White with gazing at His throne,
And a saint's voice in the palm-trees, singing, 'All is lost ...
Elizabeth Barrett wrote poems at ten, and when seventeen, published
an _Essay on Mind, and Other Poems_. The essay was after the manner
of Pope, and though showing good knowledge of Plato and Bacon, did not
find favor with the critics. It was dedicated to her father, who was
proud of a daughter who preferred Latin and Greek to the novels of the
Her teacher was the blind Hugh Stuart Boyd, whom she praises in her
_Wine of Cyprus_.
"Then, what golden hours were for us!--
While we sate together there;
* * * * *
"Oh, our Aeschylus, the thunderous!
How he drove the bolted breath
Through the cloud to wedge it ponderous
In the gnarled oak beneath.
Oh, our Sophocles, the royal,
Who was born to monarch's place,
And who made the whole world loyal,
Less by kingly power than grace.
"Our Euripides, the human,
With his droppings of warm tears,
And his touches of things common
Till they rose to touch the spheres!
Our Theocritus, our Bion,
And our Pindar's shining goals!--
These were cup-bearers undying,
Of the wine that's meant for souls."
More fond of books than of social life, she was laying the necessary
foundation for a noble fame. The lives of Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
George Eliot, and Margaret Fuller, emphasize the necessity of almost
unlimited knowledge, if woman would reach lasting fame. A great man
or woman of letters, without great scholarship, is well-nigh an
Nine years after her first book, _Prometheus Bound and Miscellaneous
Poems_ was published in 1835. She was now twenty-six. A translation
from the Greek of Aeschylus by a woman caused much comment, but like
the first book it received severe criticism. Several years afterward,
when she brought her collected poems before the world, she wrote: "One
early failure, a translation of the _Prometheus of Aeschylus_, which,
though happily free of the current of publication, may be remembered
against me by a few of my personal friends, I have replaced here by an
entirely new version, made for them and my conscience, in expiation of
a sin of my youth, with the sincerest application of my mature mind."
"This latter version," says Mr. Stedman, "of a most sublime tragedy
is more poetical than any other of equal correctness, and has the
fire and vigor of a master-hand. No one has succeeded better than its
author in capturing with rhymed measures the wilful rushing melody of
the tragic chorus."
In 1835 Miss Barrett made the acquaintance of Mary Russell Mitford,
and a life-long friendship resulted. Miss Mitford says: "She was
certainly one of the most interesting persons I had ever seen.
Everybody who then saw her said the same. Of a slight, delicate
figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on either side of a most
expressive face, large tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes,
a smile like a sunbeam, and such a look of youthfulness, that I had
some difficulty in persuading a friend, in whose carriage we went
together to Cheswick, that the translatress of the _Prometheus of
Aeschylus_, the authoress of the _Essay on Mind_, was old enough to
be introduced into company, in technical language, was out. We met so
constantly and so familiarly that, in spite of the difference of
age, intimacy ripened into friendship, and after my return into the
country, we corresponded freely and frequently, her letters being just
what letters ought to be,--her own talk put upon paper."
The next year Miss Barrett, never robust, broke a blood-vessel in the
lungs. For a year she was ill, and then with her eldest and favorite
brother, was carried to Torquay to try the effect of a warmer climate.
After a year spent here, she greatly improved, and seemed likely to
recover her usual health.
One beautiful summer morning she went on the balcony to watch her
brother and two other young men who had gone out for a sail. Having
had much experience, and understanding the coast, they allowed the
boatman to return to land. Only a few minutes out, and in plain sight,
as they were crossing the bar, the boat went down, and the three
friends perished. Their bodies even were never recovered.
The whole town was in mourning. Posters were put upon every cliff and
public place, offering large rewards "for linen cast ashore marked
with the initials of the beloved dead; for it so chanced that all the
three were of the dearest and the best: one, an only son; the other,
the son of a widow"; but the sea was forever silent.
The sister, who had seen her brother sink before her eyes, was utterly
prostrated. She blamed herself for his death, because he came to
Torquay for her comfort. All winter long she heard the sound of
waves ringing in her ears like the moans of the dying. From this time
forward she never mentioned her brother's name, and later, exacted
from Mr. Browning a promise that the subject should never be broached
The following year she was removed to London in an invalid carriage,
journeying twenty miles a day. And then for seven years, in a large
darkened room, lying much of the time upon her couch, and seeing only
a few most intimate friends, the frail woman lived and wrote. Books
more than ever became her solace and joy. Miss Mitford says, "She read
almost every book worth reading, in almost every language, and gave
herself heart and soul to that poetry of which she seem born to be the
priestess." When Dr. Barry urged that she read light books, she had a
small edition of Plato bound so as to resemble a novel, and the good
man was satisfied. She understood her own needs better than he.
When she was twenty-nine, she published _The Seraphim and Other
Poems_. The _Seraphim_ was a reverential description of two angels
watching the Crucifixion. Though the critics saw much that was
strikingly original, they condemned the frequent obscurity of meaning
and irregularity of rhyme. The next year, _The Romaunt of the Page_
and other ballads appeared, and in 1844, when she was thirty-five, a
complete edition of her poems, opening with the _Drama of Exile_.
This was the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the first scene
representing "the outer side of the gate of Eden shut fast with cloud,
from the depth of which revolves a sword of fire self-moved. Adam and
Eve are seen in the distance flying along the glare."
In one of her prefaces she said: "Poetry has been to me as serious a
thing as life itself,--and life has been a _very_ serious thing; there
has been no playing at skittles for me in either. I never mistook
pleasure for the final cause of poetry, nor leisure for the hour of
the poet. I have done my work, so far, as work,--not as mere hand
and head work, apart from the personal being, but as the completest
expression of that being to which I could attain,--and as work I offer
it to the public, feeling its shortcomings more deeply than any of
my readers, because measured from the height of my aspiration; but
feeling also that the reverence and sincerity with which the work was
done should give it some protection from the reverent and sincere."
While the _Drama of Exile_ received some adverse criticism, the shorter
poems became the delight of thousands. Who has not held his breath in
reading the _Rhyme of the Duchess May_?--
"And her head was on his breast, where she smiled as one at rest,--
'Ring,' she cried, 'O vesper-bell, in the beech-wood's old chapelle!'
But the passing-bell rings best!
"They have caught out at the rein, which Sir Guy threw loose--in vain,--
For the horse in stark despair, with his front hoofs poised in air,
On the last verge rears amain.
"Now he hangs, he rocks between, and his nostrils curdle in!--
Now he shivers head and hoof, and the flakes of foam fall off,
And his face grows fierce and thin!
"And a look of human woe from his staring eyes did go,
And a sharp cry uttered he, in a foretold agony of the headlong death below."
Who can ever forget that immortal _Cry of the Children_, which awoke
all England to the horrors of child-labor? That, and Hood's _Song of
the Shirt_, will never die.
Who has not read and loved one of the most tender poems in any
language, _Bertha in the Lane_?--
"Yes, and He too! let him stand
In thy thoughts, untouched by blame.
Could he help it, if my hand
He had claimed with hasty claim?
That was wrong perhaps--but then
Such things be--and will, again.
Women cannot judge for men.
* * * * *
"And, dear Bertha, let me keep
On this hand this little ring,
Which at night, when others sleep,
I can still see glittering.
Let me wear it out of sight,
In the grave,--where it will light
All the Dark up, day and night."
No woman has ever understood better the fulness of love, or described
it more purely and exquisitely.
One person among the many who had read Miss Barrett's poems, felt
their genius, because he had genius in his own soul, and that person
was Robert Browning. That she admired his poetic work was shown in
_Lady Geraldine's Courtship_, when Bertram reads to his lady-love:--
"Or at times a modern volume,--Wordsworth's solemn-thoughted idyl,
Howitt's ballad verse, or Tennyson's enchanted reverie,
Or from Browning some _Pomegranate_, which, if cut deep down the middle,
Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity."
Mr. Browning determined to meet the unknown singer. Years later he
told the story to Elizabeth C. Kinney, when she had gone with the
happy husband and wife on a day's excursion from Florence. She says:
"Finding that the invalid did not receive strangers, he wrote her a
letter, intense with his desire to see her. She reluctantly consented
to an interview. He flew to her apartment, was admitted by the nurse,
in whose presence only could he see the deity at whose shrine he had
long worshipped. But the golden opportunity was not to be lost; love
became oblivious to any save the presence of the real of its ideal.
Then and there Robert Browning poured his impassioned soul into hers;
though his tale of love seemed only an enthusiast's dream. Infirmity
had hitherto so hedged her about, that she deemed herself forever
protected from all assaults of love. Indeed, she felt only injured
that a fellow-poet should take advantage, as it were, of her
indulgence in granting him an interview, and requested him to withdraw
from her presence, not attempting any response to his proposal, which
she could not believe in earnest. Of course, he withdrew from her
sight, but not to withdraw the offer of his heart and hand; on the
contrary, to repeat it by letter, and in such wise as to convince her
how 'dead in earnest' he was. Her own heart, touched already when she
knew it not, was this time fain to listen, be convinced, and overcome.
"As a filial daughter, Elizabeth told her father of the poet's love,
and of the poet's love in return, and asked a parent's blessing to
crown their happiness. At first he was incredulous of the strange
story; but when the truth flashed on him from the new fire in
her eyes, he kindled with rage, and forbade her ever seeing or
communicating with her lover again, on the penalty of disinheritance
and banishment forever from a father's love. This decision was founded
on no dislike for Mr. Browning personally, or anything in him or his
family; it was simply arbitrary. But the new love was stronger
than the old in her,--it conquered." Mr. Barrett never forgave his
daughter, and died unreconciled, which to her was a great grief.
In 1846, Elizabeth Barrett arose from her sick-bed to marry the man
of her choice, who took her at once to Italy, where she spent fifteen
happy years. At once, love seemed to infuse new life into the delicate
body and renew the saddened heart. She was thirty-seven. She had
wisely waited till she found a person of congenial tastes and kindred
pursuits. Had she married earlier, it is possible that the cares of
life might have deprived the world of some of her noblest works.
The marriage was an ideal one. Both had a grand purpose in life.
Neither individual was merged in the other. George S. Hillard, in his
_Six Months in Italy_, when he visited the Brownings the year after
their marriage, says, "A happier home and a more perfect union than
theirs it is not easy to imagine; and this completeness arises not
only from the rare qualities which each possesses, but from their
perfect adaptation to each other.... Nor is she more remarkable
for genius and learning, than for sweetness of temper and purity of
spirit. It is a privilege to know such beings singly and separately,
but to see their powers quickened, and their happiness rounded, by the
sacred tie of marriage, is a cause for peculiar and lasting gratitude.
A union so complete as theirs--in which the mind has nothing to
crave nor the heart to sigh for--is cordial to behold and soothing to
"Mr. Browning," says one who knew him well, "did not fear to speak
of his wife's genius, which he did almost with awe, losing himself so
entirely in her glory that one could see that he did not feel worthy
to unloose her shoe-latchet, much less to call her his own."
When mothers teach their daughters to cultivate their minds as did
Mrs. Browning, as well as to emulate her sweetness of temper, then
will men venerate women for both mental and moral power. A love that
has reverence for its foundation knows no change.
"Mrs. Browning's conversation was most interesting. She never made an
insignificant remark. All that she said was _always_ worth hearing; a
greater compliment could not be paid her. She was a most conscientious
listener, giving you her mind and heart, as well as her magnetic eyes.
_Persons_ were never her theme, unless public characters were under
discussion, or friends were to be praised. One never dreamed of
frivolities in Mrs. Browning's presence, and gossip felt itself out
of place. Yourself, not herself, was always a pleasant subject to her,
calling out all her best sympathies in joy, and yet more in sorrow.
Books and humanity, great deeds, and above all, politics, which
include all the grand questions of the day, were foremost in her
thoughts, and therefore oftenest on her lips. I speak not of religion,
for with her everything was religion.
"Thoughtful in the smallest things for others, she seemed to give
little thought to herself. The first to see merit, she was the last
to censure faults, and gave the praise that she felt with a generous
hand. No one so heartily rejoiced at the success of others, no one
was so modest in her own triumphs. She loved all who offered her
affection, and would solace and advise with any. Mrs. Browning
belonged to no particular country; the world was inscribed upon the
banner under which she fought. Wrong was her enemy; against this she
wrestled, in whatever part of the globe it was to be found."
Three years after her marriage her only son was born. The Italians
ever after called her "the mother of the beautiful child." And now
some of her ablest and strongest work was done. Her _Casa Guidi
Windows_ appeared in 1851. It is the story of the struggle for Italian
liberty. In the same volume were published the _Portuguese Sonnets_,
really her own love-life. It would be difficult to find any thing more
beautiful than these.
"First time he kissed me he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write,
And ever since, it grew more clean and white,
Slow to world-greetings, quick with its 'Oh, list,'
When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half-missed
Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love's own crown
With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
The third upon my lips was folded down
In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, 'My love, my own!'
* * * * *
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right,
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."
Mrs. Browning's next great poem, in 1856, was _Aurora Leigh_, a novel
in blank verse, "the most mature," she says in the preface, "of my
works, and the one into which my highest convictions upon Life and Art
have entered." Walter Savage Landor said of it: "In many pages there
is the wild imagination of Shakespeare. I had no idea that any one in
this age was capable of such poetry."
For fifteen years this happy wedded life, with its work of brain and
hand, had been lived, and now the bond was to be severed. In June,
1861, Mrs. Browning took a severe cold, and was ill for nearly a week.
No one thought of danger, though Mr. Browning would not leave her
bedside. On the night of June 29, toward morning she seemed to be in
a sort of ecstasy. She told her husband of her love for him, gave
him her blessing, and raised herself to die in his arms. "It is
beautiful," were her last words as she caught a glimpse of some
heavenly vision. On the evening of July 1, she was buried in the
English cemetery, in the midst of sobbing friends, for who could carry
out that request?--
"And friends, dear friends, when it shall be
That this low breath is gone from me,
And round my bier ye come to weep,
Let one most loving of you all
Say, 'Not a tear must o'er her fall,--
He giveth his beloved sleep!'"
The Italians, who loved her, placed on the doorway of Casa Guidi a
white marble tablet, with the words:--
"_Here wrote and died E.B. Browning, who, in the heart of a woman,
united the science of a sage and the spirit of a poet, and made with
her verse a golden ring binding Italy and England.
"Grateful Florence placed this memorial, 1861_."
For twenty-five years Robert Browning and his artist-son have done
their work, blessed with the memory of her whom Mr. Stedman calls
"the most inspired woman, so far as known, of all who have composed in
ancient or modern tongues, or flourished in any land or time."
[Illustration: GEORGE ELIOT--1864.]
Going to the Exposition at New Orleans, I took for reading on the
journey, the life of George Eliot, by her husband, Mr. J.W. Cross,
written with great delicacy and beauty. An accident delayed us, so
that for three days I enjoyed this insight into a wonderful life. I
copied the amazing list of books she had read, and transferred to my
note-book many of her beautiful thoughts. To-day I have been reading
the book again; a clear, vivid picture of a very great woman, whose
works, says the _Spectator_, "are the best specimens of powerful,
simple English, since Shakespeare."
What made her a superior woman? Not wealthy parentage; not congenial
surroundings. She had a generous, sympathetic heart for a foundation,
and on this she built a scholarship that even few men can equal. She
loved science, and philosophy, and language, and mathematics, and grew
broad enough to discuss great questions and think great thoughts. And
yet she was affectionate, tender, and gentle.
Mary Ann Evans was born Nov. 22, 1819, at Arbury Farm, a mile from
Griff, in Warwickshire, England. When four months old the family
moved to Griff, where the girl lived till she was twenty-one, in a
two-story, old-fashioned, red brick house, the walls covered with
ivy. Two Norway firs and an old yew-tree shaded the lawn. The father,
Robert Evans, a man of intelligence and good sense, was bred a builder
and carpenter, afterward becoming a land-agent for one of the large
estates. The mother was a woman of sterling character, practical and
For the three children, Christiana, Isaac, and Mary Ann, there was
little variety in the commonplace life at Griff. Twice a day the coach
from Birmingham to Stamford passed by the house, and the coachman
and guard in scarlet were a great diversion. She thus describes, the
locality in _Felix Holt_: "Here were powerful men walking queerly,
with knees bent outward from squatting in the mine, going home to
throw themselves down in their blackened flannel, and sleep through
the daylight, then rise and spend much of their high wages at the
alehouse with their fellows of the Benefit Club; here the pale, eager
faces of handloom weavers, men and women, haggard from sitting up late
at night to finish the week's work, hardly begun till the Wednesday.
Everywhere the cottages and the small children were dirty, for the
languid mothers gave their strength to the loom."
Mary Ann was an affectionate, sensitive child, fond of out-door
sports, imitating everything she saw her brother do, and early in
life feeling in her heart that she was to be "somebody." When but four
years old, she would seat herself at the piano and play, though she
did not know one note from another, that the servant might see that
she was a distinguished person! Her life was a happy one, as is shown
in her _Brother and Sister Sonnet_:--
"But were another childhood's world my share,
I would be born a little sister there."
At five, the mother being in poor health, the child was sent to a
boarding-school with her sister, Chrissy, where she remained three or
four years. The older scholars petted her, calling her "little mamma."
At eight she went to a larger school, at Nuneaton, where one of the
teachers, Miss Lewis, became her life-long friend. The child had the
greatest fondness for reading, her first book, a _Linnet's Life_,
being tenderly cared for all her days. _Aesop's Fables_ were read and
re-read. At this time a neighbor had loaned one of the Waverley novels
to the older sister, who returned it before Mary Ann had finished
it. Distressed at this break in the story, she began to write out as
nearly as she could remember, the whole volume for herself. Her amazed
family re-borrowed the book, and the child was happy. The mother
sometimes protested against the use of so many candles for night
reading, and rightly feared that her eyes would be spoiled.
At the next school, at Coventry, Mary Ann so surpassed her comrades
that they stood in awe of her, but managed to overcome this when
a basket of dainties came in from the country home. In 1836 the
excellent mother died. Mary Ann wrote to a friend in after life, "I
began at sixteen to be acquainted with the unspeakable grief of a last
parting, in the death of my mother." In the following spring Chrissy
was married, and after a good cry with her brother over this breaking
up of the home circle, Mary Ann took upon herself the household
duties, and became the care-taker instead of the school-girl. Although
so young she took a leading part in the benevolent work of the
Her love for books increased. She engaged a well-known teacher to come
from Coventry and give her lessons in French, German, and Italian,
while another helped her in music, of which she was passionately fond.
Later, she studied Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Hebrew. Shut up in
the farm-house, hungering for knowledge, she applied herself with
a persistency and earnestness that by-and-by were to bear their
legitimate fruit. That she felt the privation of a collegiate course
is undoubted. She says in _Daniel Deronda_: "You may try, but you can
never imagine what it is to have a man's force of genius in you, and
yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl."
She did not neglect her household duties. One of her hands, which
were noticeable for their beauty of shape, was broader than the other,
which, she used to say with some pride, was owing to the butter
and cheese she had made. At twenty she was reading the _Life of
Wilberforce_, Josephus' _History of the Jews_, Spenser's _Faery Queen,
Don Quixote_, Milton, Bacon, Mrs. Somerville's _Connection of the
Physical Sciences_, and Wordsworth. The latter was always an especial
favorite, and his life, by Frederick Myers in the _Men of Letters_
series, was one of the last books she ever read.
Already she was learning the illimitableness of knowledge. "For my
part," she says, "I am ready to sit down and weep at the impossibility
of my understanding or barely knowing a fraction of the sum of objects
that present themselves for our contemplation in books and in life."
About this time Mr. Evans left the farm, and moved to Foleshill, near
Coventry. The poor people at Griff were very sorry, and said, "We
shall never have another Mary Ann Evans." Marian, as she was now
called, found at Foleshill a few intellectual and companionable
friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bray, both authors, and Miss Hennell, their
Through the influence of these friends she gave up some of her
evangelical views, but she never ceased to be a devoted student
and lover of the Bible. She was happy in her communing with nature.
"Delicious autumn," she said. "My very soul is wedded to it, and if
I were a bird, I would fly about the earth, seeking the successive
autumns.... I have been revelling in Nichol's _Architecture, of
the Heavens and Phenomena of the Solar System_, and have been in
imagination winging my flight from system to system, from universe to
In 1844, when Miss Evans was twenty-five years old, she began the
translation of Strauss' _Life of Jesus_. The lady who was to marry
Miss Hennell's brother had partially done the work, and asked Miss
Evans to finish it. For nearly three years she gave it all the time at
her command, receiving only one hundred dollars for the labor.
It was a difficult and weary work. "When I can work fast," she said,
"I am never weary, nor do I regret either that the work has been begun
or that I have undertaken it. I am only inclined to vow that I will
never translate again, if I live to correct the sheets for Strauss."
When the book was finished, it was declared to be "A faithful,
elegant, and scholarlike translation ... word for word, thought for
thought, and sentence for sentence." Strauss himself was delighted
The days passed as usual in the quiet home. Now she and her father,
the latter in failing health, visited the Isle of Wight, and saw
beautiful Alum Bay, with its "high precipice, the strata upheaved
perpendicularly in rainbow,--like streaks of the brightest maize,
violet, pink, blue, red, brown, and brilliant white,--worn by the
weather into fantastic fretwork, the deep blue sky above, and the
glorious sea below." Who of us has not felt this same delight in
looking upon this picture, painted by nature?
Now Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as other famous people, visited the
Bray family. Miss Evans writes: "I have seen Emerson,--the first _man_
I have ever seen." High praise indeed from our "great, calm soul,"
as he called Miss Evans. "I am grateful for the Carlyle eulogium (on
Emerson). I have shed some quite delicious tears over it. This is
a world worth abiding in while one man can thus venerate and love
Each evening she played on the piano to her admiring father, and
finally, through months of illness, carried him down tenderly to the
grave. He died May 31, 1849.
Worn with care, Miss Evans went upon the Continent with the Brays,
visiting Paris, Milan, the Italian lakes, and finally resting for some
months at Geneva'. As her means were limited, she tried to sell her
_Encyclopaedia Britannica_ at half-price, so that she could have money
for music lessons, and to attend a course of lectures on experimental
physics, by the renowned Professor de la Rive. She was also carefully
reading socialistic themes, Proudhon, Rousseau, and others. She wrote
to friends: "The days are really only two hours long, and I have so
many things to do that I go to bed every night miserable because I
have left out something I meant to do.... I take a dose of mathematics
every day to prevent my brain from becoming quite soft."
On her return to England, she visited the Brays, and met Mr. Chapman,
the editor of the _Westminster Review_, and Mr. Mackay, upon whose
_Progress of the Intellect_ she had just written a review. Mr. Chapman
must have been deeply impressed with the learning and ability of Miss
Evans, for he offered her the position of assistant editor of the
magazine,--a most unusual position for a woman, since its contributors
were Froude, Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and other able men.
Miss Evans accepted, and went to board with Mr. Chapman's family in
London. How different this from the quiet life at Foleshill! The best
society, that is, the greatest in mind, opened wide its doors to her.
Herbert Spencer, who had just published _Social Statics_, became one of
her best friends. Harriet Martineau came often to see her. Grote was
The woman-editor was now thirty-two; her massive head covered with
brown curls, blue-gray eyes, mobile, sympathetic mouth, strong
chin, pale face, and soft, low voice, like Dorothea's in
_Middlemarch_,--"the voice of a soul that has once lived in an Aeolian
harp." Mr. Bray thought that Miss Evans' head, after that of Napoleon,
showed the largest development from brow to ear of any person's
She had extraordinary power of expression, and extraordinary
psychological powers, but her chief attraction was her universal
sympathy. "She essentially resembled Socrates," says Mathilde Blind,
"in her manner of eliciting whatsoever capacity for thought might
be latent in the people she came in contact with; were it only a
shoemaker or day-laborer, she would never rest till she had found out
in what points that particular man differed from other men of his
class. She always rather educed what was in others than impressed
herself on them; showing much kindliness of heart in drawing out
people who were shy. Sympathy was the keynote of her nature, the
source of her iridescent humor, of her subtle knowledge of character,
of her dramatic genius." No person attains to permanent fame without
Miss Evans now found her heart and hands full of work. Her first
article was a review of Carlyle's _Life of John Sterling_. She was
fond of biography. She said: "We have often wished that genius would
incline itself more frequently to the task of the biographer,
that when some great or good person dies, instead of the dreary
three-or-five volume compilation of letter and diary and detail,
little to the purpose, which two-thirds of the public have not the
chance, nor the other third the inclination, to read, we could have
a real 'life,' setting forth briefly and vividly the man's inward and
outward struggles, aims, and achievements, so as to make clear the
meaning which his experience has for his fellows.
"A few such lives (chiefly autobiographies) the world possesses,
and they have, perhaps, been more influential on the formation of
character than any other kind of reading.... It is a help to read such
a life as Margaret Fuller's. How inexpressibly touching that passage
from her journal, 'I shall always reign through the intellect, but the
life! the life! O my God! shall that never be sweet?' I am thankful,
as if for myself, that it was sweet at last."
The great minds which Miss Evans met made life a constant joy, though
she was frail in health. Now Herbert Spencer took her to hear _William
Tell_ or the _Creation_. She wrote of him: "We have agreed that we
are not in love with each other, and that there is no reason why we
should not have as much of each other's society as we like. He is a
good, delightful creature, and I always feel better for being with
him.... My brightest spot, next to my love of _old_ friends, is the
deliciously calm, _new_ friendship that Herbert Spencer gives me.
We see each other every day, and have a delightful _camaraderie_ in
everything. But for him my life would be desolate enough."
There is no telling what this happy friendship might have resulted in,
if Mr. Spencer had not introduced to Miss Evans, George Henry Lewes, a
man of brilliant conversational powers, who had written a _History of
Philosophy_, two novels, _Ranthorpe_, and _Rose, Blanche, and Violet_,
and was a contributor to several reviews. Mr. Lewes was a witty
and versatile man, a dramatic critic, an actor for a short time,
unsuccessful as an editor of a newspaper, and unsuccessful in his
That he loved Miss Evans is not strange; that she admired him, while
she pitied him and his three sons in their broken home-life, is
perhaps not strange. At first she did not like him, nor did Margaret
Fuller, but Miss Evans says: "Mr. Lewes is kind and attentive, and has
quite won my regard, after having had a good deal of my vituperation.
Like a few other people in the world, he is much better than he seems.
A man of heart and conscience wearing a mask of flippancy."
Miss Evans tired of her hard work, as who does not in this working
world? "I am bothered to death," she writes, "with article-reading and
scrap-work of all sorts; it is clear my poor head will never produce
anything under these circumstances; _but I am patient_.... I had
a long call from George Combe yesterday. He says he thinks the
_Westminster_ under _my_ management the most important means of
enlightenment of a literary nature in existence; the _Edinburgh_,
under Jeffrey, nothing to it, etc. I wish _I_ thought so too."
Sick with continued headaches, she went up to the English lakes to
visit Miss Martineau. The coach, at half-past six in the evening,
stopped at "The Knoll," and a beaming face came to welcome her. During
the evening, she says, "Miss Martineau came behind me, put her hands
round me, and kissed me in the prettiest way, telling me she was so
glad she had got me here."
Meantime Miss Evans was writing learned and valuable articles on
_Taxation, Woman in France, Evangelical Teaching_, etc. She received
five hundred dollars yearly from her father's estate, but she lived
simply, that she might spend much of this for poor relations.
In 1854 she resigned her position on the _Westminster_, and went with
Mr. Lewes to Germany, forming a union which thousands who love her
must regard as the great mistake of a very great life.
Mr. Lewes was collecting materials for his _Life of Goethe_. This took
them to Goethe's home at Weimar. "By the side of the bed," she says,
"stands a stuffed chair where he used to sit and read while he drank
his coffee in the morning. It was not until very late in his life that
he adopted the luxury of an armchair. From the other side of the
study one enters the library, which is fitted up in a very make-shift
fashion, with rough deal shelves, and bits of paper, with Philosophy,
History, etc., written on them, to mark the classification of the
books. Among such memorials one breathes deeply, and the tears rush to
George Eliot met Liszt, and "for the first time in her life beheld
real inspiration,--for the first time heard the true tones of the
piano." Rauch, the great sculptor, called upon them, and "won our
hearts by his beautiful person and the benignant and intelligent charm
of his conversation."
Both writers were hard at work. George Eliot was writing an article
on _Weimar_ for _Fraser_, on _Cumming_ for _Westminster_, and
translating Spinoza's _Ethics_. No name was signed to these
productions, as it would not do to have it known that a woman wrote
them. The education of most women was so meagre that the articles
would have been considered of little value. Happily Girton and Newnham
colleges are changing this estimate of the sex. Women do not like
to be regarded as inferior; then they must educate themselves as
thoroughly as the best men are educated.
Mr. Lewes was not well. "This is a terrible trial to us poor
scribblers," she writes, "to whom health is money, as well as all
other things worth having." They had but one sitting-room between
them, and the scratching of another pen so affected her nerves, as to
drive her nearly wild. Pecuniarily, life was a harder struggle than
ever, for there were four more mouths to be fed,--Mr. Lewes' three
sons and their mother.
"Our life is intensely occupied, and the days are far too short,"
she writes. They were reading in every spare moment, twelve plays of
Shakespeare, Goethe's works, _Wilhelm Meister, Goetz von Berlichingen,
Hermann and Dorothea, Iphigenia, Wanderjahre, Italianische Reise_,
and others; Heine's poems; Lessing's _Laocooen_ and _Nathan the
Wise_; Macaulay's _History of England_; Moore's _Life of Sheridan_;
Brougham's _Lives of Men of Letters_; White's _History of Selborne_;
Whewell's _History of Inductive Sciences_; Boswell; Carpenter's
_Comparative Physiology_; Jones' _Animal Kingdom_; Alison's _History
of Europe_; Kahnis' _History of German Protestantism_; Schrader's
_German Mythology_; Kingsley's _Greek Heroes_; and the _Iliad_ and
_Odyssey_ in the original. She says, "If you want delightful reading,
get Lowell's _My Study Windows_, and read the essays called _My Garden
Acquaintances_ and _Winter_." No wonder they were busy.
On their return from Germany they went to the sea-shore, that Mr.
Lewes might perfect his _Sea-side Studies_. George Eliot entered
heartily into the work. "We were immensely excited," she says, "by the
discovery of this little red mesembryanthemum. It was a _crescendo_ of
delight when we found a 'strawberry,' and a _fortissimo_ when I, for
the first time, saw the pale, fawn-colored tentacles of an _Anthea
cereus_ viciously waving like little serpents in a low-tide pool."
They read here Gosse's _Rambles on the Devonshire Coast_, Edward's
_Zoology_, Harvey's sea-side book, and other scientific works.
And now at thirty-seven George Eliot was to begin her creative work.
Mr. Lewes had often said to her, "You have wit, description, and
philosophy--those go a good way towards the production of a novel."
"It had always been a vague dream of mine," she says, "that sometime
or other I might write a novel ... but I never went further toward
the actual writing than an introductory chapter, describing a
Staffordshire village, and the life of the neighboring farm-houses;
and as the years passed on I lost any hope that. I should ever be
able to write a novel, just as I desponded about everything else in my
future life. I always thought I was deficient in dramatic power, both
of construction and dialogue, but I felt I should be at my ease in the
After she had written a portion of _Amos Barton_ in her _Scenes of
Clerical Life_, she read it to Mr. Lewes, who told her that now he
was sure she could write good dialogue, but not as yet sure about her
pathos. One evening, in his absence, she wrote the scene describing
Milly's death, and read it to Mr. Lewes, on his return. "We both cried
over it," she says, "and then he came up to me and kissed me, saying,
'I think your pathos is better than your fun!'"
Mr. Lewes sent the story to Blackwood, with the signature of "George
Eliot,"--the first name chosen because it was his own name, and the
last because it pleased her fancy. Mr. Lewes wrote that this story
by a friend of his, showed, according to his judgment, "such humor,
pathos, vivid presentation, and nice observation as have not been
exhibited, in this style, since the _Vicar of Wakefield_."
Mr. John Blackwood accepted the story, but made some comments which
discouraged the author from trying another. Mr. Lewes wrote him the
effects of his words, which he hastened to withdraw, as there was so
much to be said in praise that he really desired more stories from the
same pen, and sent her a check for two hundred and fifty dollars.
This was evidently soothing, as _Mr. Gilfil's Love Story_ and _Janet's
Repentance_ were at once written. Much interest began to be expressed
about the author. Some said Bulwer wrote the sketches. Thackeray
praised them, and Arthur Helps said, "He is a great writer." Copies of
the stories bound together, with the title _Scenes of Clerical
Life_, were sent to Froude, Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, Ruskin, and
Faraday. Dickens praised the humor and the pathos, and thought the
author was a woman.
Jane Welch Carlyle thought it "a _human_ book, written out of the
heart of a live man, not merely out of the brain of an author, full
of tenderness and pathos, without a scrap of sentimentality, of sense
without dogmatism, of earnestness without twaddle--a book that makes
one feel friends at once and for always with the man or woman who
wrote it." She guessed the author was "a man of middle age, with a
wife, from whom he has got those beautiful _feminine_ touches in his
book, a good many children, and a dog that he has as much fondness for
as I have for my little Nero."
Mr. Lewes was delighted, and said, "Her fame is beginning." George
Eliot was growing happier, for her nature had been somewhat
despondent. She used to say, "Expecting disappointments is the only
form of hope with which I am familiar." She said, "I feel a deep
satisfaction in having done a bit of faithful work that will perhaps
remain, like a primrose-root in the hedgerow, and gladden and chasten
human hearts in years to come." "'Conscience goes to the hammering
in of nails' is my gospel," she would say. "Writing is part of my
religion, and I can write no word that is not prompted from within.
At the same time I believe that almost all the best books in the world
have been written with the hope of getting money for them."
"My life has deepened unspeakably during the last year: I feel a
greater capacity for moral and intellectual enjoyment, a more acute
sense of my deficiencies in the past, a more solemn desire to be
faithful to coming duties."
For _Scenes of Clerical Life_ she received six hundred dollars for the
first edition, and much more after her other books appeared.
And now another work, a longer one, was growing in her mind, _Adam
Bede_, the germ of which, she says, was an anecdote told her by her
aunt, Elizabeth Evans, the Dinah Morris of the book. A very ignorant
girl had murdered her child, and refused to confess it. Mrs. Evans,
who was a Methodist preacher, stayed with her all night, praying with
her, and at last she burst into tears and confessed her crime.
Mrs. Evans went with her in the cart to the place of execution, and
ministered to the unhappy girl till death came.
When the first pages of _Adam Bede_ were shown to Mr. Blackwood,
he said, "That will do." George Eliot and Mr. Lewes went to Munich,
Dresden, and Vienna for rest and change, and she prepared much of the
book in this time. When it was finished, she wrote on the manuscript,
_Jubilate_. "To my dear husband, George Henry Lewes, I give the Ms. of
a work which would never have been written but for the happiness which
his love has conferred on my life."
For this novel she received four thousand dollars for the copyright
for four years. Fame had actually come. All the literary world were
talking about it. John Murray said there had never been such a book.
Charles Reade said, putting his finger on Lisbeth's account of her
coming home with her husband from their marriage, "the finest thing
since Shakespeare." A workingman wrote: "Forgive me, dear sir, my
boldness in asking you to give us a cheap edition. You would confer on
us a great boon. I can get plenty of trash for a few pence, but I am
sick of it." Mr. Charles Buxton said, in the House of Commons: "As the
farmer's wife says in _Adam Bede_, 'It wants to be hatched over again
and hatched different.'" This of course greatly helped to popularize
To George Eliot all this was cause for the deepest gratitude. They
were able now to rent a home at Wandworth, and move to it at once.
The poverty and the drudgery of life seemed over. She said: "I sing my
magnificat in a quiet way, and have a great deal of deep, silent joy;
but few authors, I suppose, who have had a real success, have known
less of the flush and the sensations of triumph that are talked of as
the accompaniments of success. I often think of my dreams when I was
four or five and twenty. I thought then how happy fame would make
me.... I am assured now that _Adam Bede_ was worth writing,--worth
living through those long years to write. But now it seems impossible
that I shall ever write anything so good and true again." Up to this
time the world did not know who George Eliot was; but as a man by
the name of Liggins laid claim to the authorship, and tried to borrow
money for his needs because Blackwood would not pay him, the real name
of the author had to be divulged.
Five thousand copies of _Adam Bede_ were sold the first two weeks, and
sixteen thousand the first year. So excellent was the sale that Mr.
Blackwood sent her four thousand dollars in addition to the first
four. The work was soon translated into French, German, and Hungarian.
Mr. Lewes' _Physiology of Common Life_ was now published, but it
brought little pecuniary return.
The reading was carried on as usual by the two students. The _Life
of George Stephenson_; the _Electra_ of Sophocles; the _Agamemnon_ of