from Wilke Collins, Le Fanu and Others by S. M Ellis (Constable: London,
[The footnotes used by Ellis have been converted to endnotes for this digitized text]
MRS. J. H. RIDDELL: THE NOVELIST OF
THE CITY AND OF MIDDLESEX
THE HAUNTED RIVER
Cover design of Routledge's
Christmas Annual 1877
CHARLOTTE RIDDELL was truly what is called a born story-teller. In the course of half a century she produced over fifty books, novels and tales, and there are probably many short stories from her pen still hidden away and unidentified in the pages of forgotten magazines. She lost all count of her works, possessed very few copies of them herself, and often forgot where certain stories had appeared or what had happened to her rights in them. Thus, on one occasion, I wrote to ask her where I could find what I consider her best tale, in its special category, and one extremely rare from a bibliographical point of view—The Haunted River. She answered:
‘In reply to your kind note, I think The Haunted River was sold with several other stories to a company who bought the right of reproduction. I never saw this story amongst others in volume form, but will endeavour to ascertain. . . . I have made inquiries, but am sorry to say so far without success. When any information reaches me (or rather if any should), I will write at once. Meanwhile, will you accept the accompanying little booklet in which there is one story, So Near, or the Pity of It, that has been liked a little. Kindest wishes. I am still far from strong.’
She died in the following year, 1906, and she never traced the whereabouts of The Haunted River, though she wrote to several editors and friends in the endeavour to help me. I mention this little incident at the outset, as it illuminates her charming character—her kindness, her alacrity to assist others: though ever she was carelessly indifferent to her own rights or would not trouble to claim them by reason of her Irish insouciance. For fifty years she wrote stories of three distinctly different categories—stories of commerce and City life; most impressive stories of the supernatural, with the authentic thrill of the inexplicable, without which such tales are vain and tiresome; and, above all, clever and observant but sad stories of real life, sad because any story that truly reflects human life must possess that quality at times and not omit pictures of terror and death: our happiest paths are all over-shadowed by the inevitable End. Charlotte Riddell was pre-eminently equipped by Fate to present with personal knowledge the sadness of human things in literary form, for her own life was one of sorrow and sacrifice, hard work with but passing monetary reward, and at the last many lonely years terminated by a terrible and painful disease.
Charlotte Elizabeth [her second Christian name was actually Eliza –ed.] Lawson Cowan was the youngest daughter of James Cowan, of Carrickfergus, High Sheriff for the county of Antrim, but her mother, Ellen Kilshaw, was English. Her paternal grandfather was in the Navy, and a great-grandfather fought at Culloden on the right side, so she mixed the blood of the three kingdoms. From her father, Mrs. Riddell said,1 ‘I think I got the few brains I possess. Undoubtedly he was a very clever man, but I never knew him at his best, for as far as my memory goes back he was always more or less a sufferer, blessed with the most tender and devoted wife man ever had. . . . On most subjects people have two opinions, but I never heard a second opinion about my mother. Even amongst those who only knew her in later life, when stricken with disease, and changed by long years of sorrow, she stands out a distinct personality, as one of those possessed of the manners, appearance, and ideas that we associate with the highest bred women of the past. And she was good as she was beautiful.’
Charlotte Cowan was born on September the 30th, 1832, at The Barn, Carrickfergus, a long, low house—somewhat in the Italian style as was often the case with houses in Ireland built early in the nineteenth century. It was set in lovely gardens, with terraces, conservatories, and vineries. As I have said, she was a born tale-teller, for she has related: ‘I never remember the time when I did not compose. Before I was old enough to hold a pen I used to get my mother to write down my childish ideas. . . . In my very early days I read everything I could lay my hands on, The Koran included, when about eight years old. I thought it most interesting.’ By the time she was fifteen she had written a full-length novel— ‘It was on a bright moonlight night—I can see it now flooding the gardens—that I began, and I wrote week after week, never ceasing until it was finished.’ It was never published: but success was lurking many years ahead.
The happy home life at Carrickfergus all too soon came to an end. Mr. Cowan died when his daughter was scarcely of age, and, owing to reasons connected with the family estate which have not transpired, Charlotte and her mother were at once reduced from comfort, if not affluence, to very limited means—in fact, merely the amount of Mrs. Cowan’s jointure. They had to depart from the pleasant house and gardens, and went to live at Dundonald, in the adjoining county of Down. It was a charming village, and thirty years later Mrs. Riddell fully described it as the setting for her story, Berna Boyle (1884), which also presents some account of Belfast.
It is curious that Mrs. Riddell only occasionally returned to her native Ireland for the scenes of her many books. In Maxwell Drewitt (1865) she gives an excellent picture of life in Connemara, including all the excitements of an election and an unforgettable glimpse of how the sombre interior scenery of the country suddenly changes to all the emerald loveliness of the islands in the bays:
‘Connernara, where, beside lonely lakes, the plover whistles, and the bittern cries, where desolation reigns supreme, where there is a solitude which may be heard, a silence which has a voice. . . . Away to the left were hills without end; to the right the blue conical mountains reared their heads towards heaven . . . far as the valley extended, nothing met the eye save lonely lakes and swiftly-flowing streams, thousands of acres of bog land, thousands more of moor. . . .when suddenly, the road taking a sharp curve, the view changed—the bogs and the lakes and the mountains were left behind, and the sea burst upon the view. How shall words ever give even the faintest idea of the exquisite beauty and peace of that summer’s evening scene? How can pen and ink ever tell how green looked the grassy knolls that lay down by the shore; how fair were the islands in Duranmore Bay; how soft, and rich, and mellow the golden light that lay on wood and water, that steeped the trees and fell in great patches on the bill-sides? With what a glad sound of welcome the “sweet chimes of the waves” sung their low song in the stranger’s ear. . . .’
The book is full of scenes of Irish life and character and amusing stories, such as that of the drunken wife of the squireen of Castle Cronac. He went to the doctor to ask for a remedy to cure the lady of her failing. Could not Mr. Murphy mix her up something?
‘If we could mix up anything to cure that disorder,’ says Murphy, ‘we should be made men: but I tell you what, take home a gallon of whisky, and let her drink as much as she likes, and I will be round with you before night.’
It was in the summer-time, but not moon-light, and when the woman was thoroughly drunk, Murphy and the husband carried her down into the vaults of that old castle and laid her down on some boards till she should come to. . . . When she woke about twelve o’clock she began calling out and asking where she was, ‘Well, you are in the vaults underneath Eversbeg Abbey, ma’am,’ Murphy says. ‘And how long have I been here? ‘she inquired. ‘A matter of ten or twelve months,’ he answered. ‘Then I’m dead, in course?’ she says. ‘As a door-nail,’ wound up Murphy. ‘And are you dead too?’ ‘Yes, m’am.’ ‘And how long have you been here?’ Somewhere about five years,’ he said. ‘Then we are all dead?’ ‘Yes.’
She sat down on the floor and thought the matter out a bit. Murphy said he could not imagine what she would say next, when she began: ‘You must know the ways of this country a good deal better than me. Where can you get a drop of good whisky now, reasonable?’ ‘That floored me,’ Murphy finished, ‘Squire,’ said he, ‘you’d better take your wife home; if she thinks there are whisky-shops in Hades, it is of no use trying to frighten her with death. Take her home and let her live.’ And he let her live; but she ruined him and died a beggar in Spanish Place, Galway.’
Again, in The Nun’s Curse (1888) Mrs. Riddell paints the wild beauty of far Donegal, when with a few broad touches this gifted author conjures up all the mystery of Irish scenery so interlocked, as it is, with the mentality of the race—as exemplified at its best in the work of J.M. Synge. Thus Mrs. Riddell conveys the spirit of a night of storm:
‘Given a wild winter’s night, when the storm spirits are abroad, howling among the hills and shrieking out at sea, the land seems one abandoned by its Maker, and given over to utter desolation and destruction. . . . Walking along a boreen, over which distant but ubiquitous Muckish frowned heavily, was a man who paused from time to time, and looked around as if in search of some landmark or dwelling where he might make inquiry. Not even a glimmer of light rewarded his scrutiny. . . . There was not a sign—the roaring of the wind over the waste of rock and turf, the dash of water not far distant, were the only sounds that met his ear—and he was about to make the best of a bad business, when he caught the faint echo of footsteps coming down the old coach-road. At times they were lost, swept inland by the wind, but in the lulls of the gale he could hear them approaching nearer and nearer. . ..’
How skilfully is here created a Le Fanuesque atmosphere of mystery and the stage picturesquely set for a romantic tale. Mrs. Riddell again reminds one of Le Fanu in a short story entitled The Last of Squire Ennismore (in Idle Tales, 1888), a legend of the supernatural and satanic possession with a setting on the coast of Antrim. The Earl’s Promise (1873) is a full-length Irish story, of Ulster, and in several of her shorter tales, such as The Rusty Sword (1893) and those which form the volumes entitled The Banshee’s Warning (1894) and Handsome Phil (1899), Mrs. Riddell dealt with various aspects and traditions of her native land.
But, for the greater part of her work, Charlotte Cowan was destined by Fate to be the pre-eminent novelist of far-distant and entirely different scenes—the City of London and its nearer suburbs, and to find her inspiration in old City mansions and courts and the melancholy but attractive scenery of Middlesex and the Thames Valley. In after years Mrs. Riddell realised that it was all for the best, in the sense of her future literary career, that she had removed, when still a young girl, with her mother from Ireland, though it was with grief at the time that the decision was made to leave Dundonald. She has stated:
‘I have often wished we never had so decided, yet in that case I do not think I ever should have achieved the smallest success, and even before we left, with bitter tears, a place where we had the kindest friends, and knew much happiness, my mother’s death was—though neither of us then knew the fact—a certainty. The illness of which she died had then taken hold of her. Coming as strangers to a strange land, in all London we did not know a single creature. During the first fortnight, indeed, 1 really thought I should break my heart. I had never taken kindly to new places, and, remembering the sweet hamlet and the loving friends we had left behind, London seemed to me horrible. I could not eat; I could not sleep; I could only walk over the “stony-hearted streets” and offer my manuscripts to publisher after publisher.’
Thus it was, she arrived in London—the City she was to learn to love and interpret with that rare sympathy which is only acquired by personal sorrow leading to understanding—friendless and unknown, conscious of literary gifts she did not know how to utilise, but burning with anxiety to earn sufficient to keep a mother, dying from cancer, in necessary comfort. Her manuscripts, unsupported by any recommendation or introduction, were rejected again and again by unperceptive publishers—as will be the case with future famous authors and other publishers until the end of Time. The desolation and pain and devastation of this period were deeply etched on Mrs. Riddell’s sensitive nature, and were the cause of much of the sadness that found a wistful echo in her books. So the weary trail to publishers’ offices went on ‘o’er moor and fen’ of the stony book-world—little wonder that she called one of her earliest books The Moors and the Fens, for it was written amid ‘encircling gloom’ when she was about to lose a face she had loved long since.’ But the publishers, though they would not at this date accept her books, were nice to her. ‘Looking back,’ she observed, ‘I must say they were all very kind to me. I was too ignorant and heartsore to understand how gracious they were to my simplicity, even more than to my youth. Yet I shall never forget how charming Mr. George Bentley’s manner seemed the first day I saw him. His father—the kindest, most impulsive, most sympathetic of men1—was alive then, and for many a year afterwards; but it so happened that Mr. George Bentley was the partner whom I saw, and, though he, like every one else, refused my work, still I left his office not unhappy, but thinking much more about how courteous and nice he was than of how entirely the wrong person in the wrong place I seemed to be. . . . I have now known three generations of Bentleys.’
At long last, a publisher was found willing to risk a little money in the production of a story by Miss Cowan, and the credit for perceiving her future promise as an author attaches to Thomas Cautley Newby, of 30, Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, an old-fashioned publisher, who for some years back had issued the voluminous works of the King of Best Sellers, G. P. R. James. Mr. Newby had a cosy office and house, and if he was old-fashioned, in another direction he was a pioneer, for he employed a female factotum or manager of his business, Miss Springett, and a woman in such a capacity in those days of publishing was, I imagine, unique. The winter when the Cowans arrived in London was a terribly severe one—the Black Winter of January, 1855, which decimated our troops fighting in the Crimean War. In London, Charlotte Cowan was shivering in bonnet and shawl as she tramped the cold streets and courts in vain visits to publishers, and she was truly glad to reach this friendly haven. ‘I could always,’ she says, ‘when the day was frightfully cold—and what a winter that was when I first came to London—turn into Mr. Newby’s snug and warm office in Welbeck Street, and have a talk with him and his “woman of business,” Miss Springett. She was a lady, always kind, nice, and capable; she remained with him until her death, I believe.’ The book by Miss Cowan which Newby published was entitled Zuriel’s Grandchild (1855-6) and in this form, should any copies survive, it is the rarest item in her bibliography: years later, when the author was famous, it was reprinted with the title Joy After Sorrow (1873). The scene is Stor Court, Lancashire.
More lasting success was at hand when, in 1856, The Moors and the Fens was accepted by a leading firm, Smith, Elder, the publishers of Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë. Following the example of the Brontë sisters and that of another popular author whose works were published by this firm, Harriet Parr— ‘Holme Lee’—Charlotte Cowan adopted the nom-de-plume of ‘F. G. Trafford.’ By a cruel blow of Fate, Mrs. Cowan died at Christmastide, 1856, long before The Moors and the Fens appeared in 1857-8, and the sorrowing daughter devoted the first cheque, £20, she received from this work to a memorial for the mother she had loved so dearly. She recorded thirty-six years after:
‘As for me, the grief of her death seems sharp and present as on that sixteenth of December when she left me. . . . She had always a great horror of pain, mental and physical; she was keenly sensitive, and mercifully before the agonising period of her complaint arrived, the nerves of sensation were paralysed; first or last, she never lost a night’s sleep the whole of the ten weeks during which I fought with Death for her— and was beaten.’
Charlotte Cowan was now alone and, after the struggle, was on the threshold of fame. Much of the story of these sad days she afterwards told in A Struggle for Fame (1883). She was not destined, happily, to be alone for long, for in 1857, at the age of twenty-five, she married Joseph Hadley Riddell, of Winsor Green house, Staffordshire, but he, being professionally a civil engineer, was generally resident in London. Mrs. Riddell’s first home as a wife was in the City, in Scott’s Court, Cannon Street, demolished when the railway station and hotel of the latter name were built in 1866. It was a typical bit of old London—a sombre Court containing a few trees, a few houses where of yore had dwelt prosperous citizens, and a melancholy burial ground—probably the grave-yard of the now demolished church of All Hallows the Great—where, mouldering, they occupied their final home. Without doubt, Mrs. Riddell’s plastic and imaginative mind thus early took the impression of the grim fascination of such a spot, for again and again in her books she returned to picture a scene of this kind—a great gloomy house o’er-hung by trees, and the relentless rain falling alike on the quick and the dead—
‘Shuddering from far away,
Like dead, white fingers tapping on a tomb,
The pitiless song of the cold Autumn rain.’
And in later years she always chose to live in somewhat melancholy houses, tree-shadowed, and with sluggish water near. This old house in Scott’s Court had a hall ‘paved with diamond-shaped blocks of black and white marble.’ Many years later when Mrs. Riddell came to write The Haunted River, the hall of the Mill House was paved with blocks of black and white marble, and the dismal reason why one of them was cracked across can be read in that macabre tale. Scott’s Court and her house there she fully described in Austin Friars (1870):
‘She looked out into the night, a wild, dreary night, with the rain pelting down in torrents, and the wind howling among the bare branches of the churchyard trees. . . . There were but few houses in Scott’s Yard; the last one, on the right hand side, as a person entered the Court from Bush Lane was only No.5, but this was a large dwelling, with two windows on each side of the hall door and one very wide window at the gable end, which last over-looked the graveyard . . . the kitchens were awful places below the level of the graveyard, and probably, indeed, built over a portion of it, where the moisture from the rank, foul earth outside makes its way within, and drips slowly down the walls—places where meat will not keep, where silver gets dulled, where myriads of small black flies—flies belonging to no honest and healthy breed— cover the dressers. . . . Where the bones of the citizens crumbled into dust, cinders from innumerable engines now strew the ground. Where men and women had their homes, other men now crowd the railway platform. The Quaker Boarding-house, the lawyer’s office, the whilom Lord Mayor’s chambers with their entrance in Turnwheel Lane, the few trees growing in the graveyard, the blackened, unregarded monuments, the high iron railings, the parish ladders hung against the wall, the wretched patch of grass, the whole of Turnwheel Lane, are gone. . .’
Here, and in many another passage from her books, Mrs. Riddell has topographical value by preserving the aspect of long vanished portions of London. It was owing to her residence in Scott’s Court that she acquired that peculiar knowledge of the City of London and City life which brought her success and fame when presented in her City novels, We Too Alone, [Ellis must mean Too Much Alone – ed.] City and Suburb, George Geith of Fen Court, The Race for Wealth, The Senior Partner, Mitre Court, The Head of the Firm, and others, despite the fact that at first her publishers did not at all like this choice of subject by a young Irish writer. With the topography of the City she became intimately acquainted, and knew every court, winding lane, and historical building, when much remained as rebuilt after the Great Fire and before ‘progress’ had transformed the ancient parts of London into Americanised mammoth blocks of buildings. The City offices she knew so well were in the old residential houses of the merchants. ‘In all the old City churches and graveyards,’ Mrs. Riddell said, ‘you could take no better guide than myself; but alas! many of the old landmarks are now pulled down. All the pathos of the City, the pathos in the lives of struggling men, entered into my soul, and I felt I must write, strongly as my publisher objected to my choice of subject, which he said was one no woman could handle well.’
This publisher was Charles J. Skeet, of 10, King William Street, Strand, and his objections proved to be ill-founded. His portrait can be found in A Struggle for Fame under the guise of Mr. P. Vassett, antiquarian publisher, of Craven Street, Strand:
‘Mr. Vassett’s ideas were modest, his notions perhaps a little old-fashioned, his views somewhat circumscribed. He was doing a very safe trade, and stood very well. If he could not claim to be a Murray, no one could speak of him as a disciple of the Minerva Press.’
Skeet had published Miss Cowan’s third story, The Rich Husband (a title of his own choosing), which probably appeared anonymously early in 1858, and it is doubtful if the author received any financial profit from the book. After she became famous it was reprinted in 1867 with the same title and with her name given as the author. The Rich Husband is apparently the earliest of Mrs. Riddell’s literary efforts that survives [one copy of Zuriel’s Grandchild has now been located – ed.], for it was commenced soon after her arrival in London. The scenes in Wales she saw in the course of the journey from Ireland, while in the character of Alice Crepton she depicted her own painful struggles in London to get her stories accepted and how she wrote through the night hours with Death about to summon her mother:
‘The clock had just chimed one quarter to eleven, but still the young aspirant for literary honours was sitting writing; she never dreamt of weariness. Night was the time when phantoms born half of reality and half of ideality in that mysterious world lying dimly in the brain of poets, authors, musicians, and painters came forth from their hiding-places, walked across the narrow apartment, talked, looked, moved, and felt as they might have done had they been natural persons, and not the mere dream-like memories of experience, the spectres of fancy, or the ghastly forms of that awful shadowy train lengthening at every step, which we all bear after us—the innumerable but never-forgotten departed.’
It was curious that Smith, Elder, did not arrange to publish Mrs. Riddell’s novels succeeding The Moors and the Fens, which presumably was successful (though the author had never seen the sombre fens of Lincolnshire she described in her story), because these publishers issued other editions, that of 1876 being illustrated by Walter Crane, However, the author’s fourth book (the second written under the name of ‘F. G. Trafford’) was also accepted by Skeet. This was Too Much Alone (1860), which has for its setting an old City mansion near Eastcheap and the wastes of Bow. The story was much talked about, although only four copies had been sent out for review; Shirley Brooks, in Punch, ventured the opinion that it was written by a man; while Mr. Riddell was highly amused when a City acquaintance mentioned the book and said he knew Trafford, ‘who was a good sort of fellow.’ City and Suburb (1861), a story of engineering, the suburb being West Green, Tottenham, was followed by The World in the Church (1862), a tale laid in Staffordshire—Swarston Royal being evidently intended for Winsor Green, the family home of Mr. Riddell and where his ancestors had long been established. Both these works were also issued by Mr. Skeet. As I have indicated, he was old-fashioned and more a seller of old books than a publisher of new ones. Consequently he did not respond to Mrs. Riddell’s suggestion that she ought to receive better terms than he had hitherto paid her, so she, in view of the attention and praise lately bestowed upon Too Much Alone, resolved to offer elsewhere the manuscript of her new novel, George Geith of Fen Court. She decided to go to the Tinsley Brothers, who were publishing many of the wonderful sensational novels of the Sixties by Miss Braddon and other famous authors. In after years Mrs. Riddell used to tell the story how, towards the end of 1863, she arrived at No.18, Catherine Street, hard by the old Gaiety Theatre, or, rather, the Strand Music Hall as it was in those days. She found one of the publishing brethren, Edward Tinsley, in his shirt-sleeves, behind the counter of his shop, and duly introduced herself as ‘F. G. Trafford.’
‘What? ‘shouted the publisher. ‘Here! Bill!’ He bawled to his brother in the back sanctum; ‘here’s Too Much Alone! by God! I have been wanting to find her.’ Immediately a conclave of three took place, and within a couple of hours ‘the charming young Irish lady,’ as William Tinsley describes her in his Recollections, had in her hand a contract for £800 for George Geith of Fen Court, together with £50 on account, very much to her surprise. The terms were exceedingly liberal for that period, and Mr. Skeet, when he heard the unpleasant news that he had lost his rising author, said the Tinsleys would never get their money back: but, in the words of William, ‘the book was a success, though we had given the clever lady quite five times as much money as she had received for any work up to that time.’ George Geith of Fen Court (1864), indeed, was the most famous and successful novel ever written by Mrs. Riddell, and in after years she was always described as its author by way of definition, in the same way as one of her celebrated contemporaries, George Lawrence, was described as ‘The Author of Guy Livingstone.’ Some of its success was probably owing to the fact that Lady Geith of the story in certain respects reminded readers of the protagonist of Lady Audley’s Secret, the most popular romance of the day; but apart from the Braddonesque flavour George Geith has very distinctive merits of its own, for it is an engrossing and moving tale, and Beryl is a very real creation of a lovable if capricious girl, an earlier Clara Middleton. The country scenes of the story are laid in Hertfordshire, some seven miles from St. Albans, while Fen Court, of course, still exists, though entirely changed in aspect, between Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street, for it was originally the graveyard of the church of St. Gabriel Fenchurch, which until the Great Fire of London had stood in the swamp and fen of what is now Fenchurch Street. For those who have read this powerful story of sacrifice, sorrow, and death, the figure of poor Beryl must ever rise in memory as they pass Fen Court and Austin Friars.
George Geith of Fen Court most deservedly and definitely established Mrs. Riddell in her peculiar position as the novelist who could present with pathos the lives and aspirations of City men and make interesting the details and hectic excitements of business affairs, stocks and shares, and Company promoting, and for this quality she was equipped with a personal liking for men and a sympathetic understanding of the masculine mind. As she expressed it to Raymond Blathwayt2: ‘I fancy I must have a certain sympathy with City men, their lives and hopes and struggles, for they have always spoken freely to me about their affairs, and so, to a great extent, I have learned a great deal from them. . . . I understand men well, I have much in sympathy with them, and I always find them easier to describe than women. Men, especially young men, doctors and others, come and talk to me about their work and their life. I am more in harmony in describing City people . . . or amongst clergymen, who to me are a well-known class. Of the grandees of the West End I know but little and with whom I have the smallest sympathy. . . . I always find that when a City man once begins my novels he reads the whole of them, and many business people in the country write to me about them. . .. I have known a good deal about City Companies. . . . I usually take up one phase of City life for each novel.’ Many of her details of Company promoting, engineering, and business ways were supplied by Mr. Riddell, who in these days was prosperous and full of hope. He was of an inventive turn of mind, and a student of literature, medicine, science, and mathematics. It was well for him and his wife that the latter continued her literary work assiduously after marriage, for otherwise the future would only have held complete ruin for both. It was her unusual choice of the subject of commerce and the lives of City people that brought her success in the first place—for the theme was new for popular novels in England, though Balzac had employed it to a certain extent in France—but she was to suffer the nemesis of financial ruin and wearing trouble arising from City affairs and speculation in the coming years. The City was both her blessing and her bane.
But now, in 1864, and for several years to come all was well, and she could command good terms for her books. There was even a market now for her early and forgotten stories, and finding a publisher willing to reissue Zuriel’s Grandchild (under a new title, Joy After Sorrow) she resolved to go to Mr. Newby for a copy of her old tale, for she no longer possessed one herself. Newby had only known her as Miss Cowan when he published this and another story, and, as I have said, being old-fashioned he did not keep up much with the history of modern fiction. And, further, after her marriage, Mrs. Riddell no longer found her way passing by Welbeck Street with its warm welcome and cheerful fire which she had so much appreciated in earlier days. Mrs. Riddell used to tell the tale of how she returned, at a time of financial anxiety, to Newby’s office in pursuit of Zuriel’s Grandchild thus:
‘Nothing looked much changed, and no one seemed much older, except myself, who had lived many lives in the interval. Of course both Mr. Newby and Miss Springett had a vague memory of me, when I reminded the former that he had published Zuriel’s Grandchild. What I wanted was a copy of the book. He feared he had not one, but promised to ascertain. I can see them both now in that warm, comfortable back room, into which, as a girl, I had often gone shivering. He took a seat on one side of a large table, she on the other. I sat facing Mr. Newby—a most anxious woman, yet amused. “have you,” he said delicately, “gone on at all with literature?” “Oh, yes! “ I answered. “Have you—published anything?”—with great caution, so as not to hurt my feelings. “Several books,” I replied. “Indeed!!!”—amazed. “Might I ask the names?”—tentatively. “Well, amongst others, George Geith.” A dead silence ensued, during which I had the comfort of feeling that they both felt sure I was saying what was not true. I sat quite quiet, and so did they. If I had not been so burdened with care I must have laughed out loud. As it happened, I comported myself, as I have often done since in many difficult and humorous positions, with decent gravity, and then this came from Mr. Newby, the while the ribbons on Miss Springett’s cap were tremulous: “If you really wrote George Geith—then indeed you have achieved a Success.”3
Following the publication of Phemie Keller (1866), a story of sacrifice, with scenes laid in the Cumberland hills, Norfolk, and Hastings, and Maxwell Drewitt, the author resolved to write under her own name. Accordingly The Race for Wealth, after a serial appearance in Once a Week, was issued in 1866 as by Mrs. J. H. Riddell, for as a true Victorian woman she was willing to merge her identity with that of her husband, and this description she nearly always used as an author on her title-pages rather than her own Christian names of Charlotte Elizabeth [Eliza – ed.], despite the clouds that overwhelmed Mr. Riddell in his closing years, when his name could be of no possible service, but entirely the reverse, at the launching of a book. It had proved difficult to find the right title for The Race for Wea1th; many suggestions had been made, when Mrs. Riddell said to Edward Walford, the editor of Once a Week, ‘I am not particular about the name of the book so long as it gives a notion of a race for wealth,’—and so the title was found. The scenes of the story are laid in Stepney and Grays, Essex. The Rich Husband was reissued in the following year, 1867.
Some years before this date the Riddells had removed from the City to St. John’s Lodge,4 Hanger Lane, Tottenham, a large house with extensive and well-wooded grounds situated in a district then really countrified. But the growth of London began to threaten its rural charms; by 1872 Hanger Lane had been rechristened St. Ann’s Road, and its hanging woods destroyed, and in the following year Mrs. Riddell fled before the devastating advance of the speculative builder. How delightful Tottenham, West Green, and Harringay had been a few years earlier she has pictured in many of her books of this period. Thus in Above Suspicion, writing in 1874, she says:
‘Sixteen years ago no more rural village could have been found within five miles of the General Post Office than West Green. It was as utterly in the country as though situated a hundred miles from London, and by a natural consequence it was country in its ways, habits, and manners. The various lanes leading to it from Stamford Hill, Tottenham, Hornsey, and Southgate were rural, which they certainly are not now…As for Hanger Lane, no one had yet dreamed of the evil days to come, when mushroom villas should be built upon the ground that not long before was regarded as an irreclaimable morass—when at first a tavern and then a church (the two invariable pioneers of that which, for some unknown reason, we call civilisation) appeared on the scene, and brought London following at their heels . . . when, in a word, Hanger Lane should be improved off the face of the earth and in the interest of speculative builders . . called, as it is at present, St. Ann’s Road, it has only taken sixteen years to change West Green from an extremely pretty village to an eminently undesirable suburb.’
Like all imaginative writers, she was strongly imbued with the sense of topography, historical association, and scenic beauty; consequently such writers, if they be also of a romantic and sentimental turn of mind, must always regret the spoliation of rural beauty and quiet, and the destruction of old houses, by the growth of a neighbouring city or large town. Owing to the happy associations of her married life and the pinnacle of her literary fame with this district of Middlesex, with the famous Seven Sisters trees for its centre, Mrs. Riddell again and again in her books looked back regretfully to the deep, winding lanes and spreading sylvan prospects she had known and loved in Tottenham, Enfield, Southgate, and by the quiet beauty of Izaac Walton’s river Lea as it flowed to the marshland. Thus in Far Above Rubies (1867), in the main a story of the Northaw and South Mimms (here called South Kemms) district, she wrote:
‘To the north of London there is still a perfect tangle of narrow country lanes, in some of which Lamb assured Barton he “made most of his tragic-comedy.” There are several not far from the churchyard where he sleeps so well. Close to his old home they wander away from Chase Side, up hill and down dale; they strike out of the Southgate Road, they wind in and out from Angel Lane to Bury Street, and thence by devious routes to Winchmore Hill and Enfield. Some of the loveliest lanes on earth, perhaps, are those on the opposite side of the Lea, leading from Higham Hill to Chingford and Woodford. Utterly still, utterly quiet. There the bee hums, and the wild roses bloom, and there is no sound heard, no din or sound of that great city which lies so near at hand’
Alas! for the spoliation is now at hand of Winchmore Hill and Southgate, as earlier disappeared the charms of Tottenham, Acton, Chiswick, Willesden, Twickenham, Greenford, Heston, Kingsbury, and many another once pretty rural suburb. It is indeed amazing to reflect what changes a few years now bring to the country near London. To make a brief personal digression, I purchased for twopence, not long ago, at a bookseller’s stall, a presentation copy of the Poetical Works (once praised by Tennyson) of Edmund Peel (1817-1885), Colonel of the 11th Hussars, a nephew of Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister. His youth had been passed at Southgate, and in a letter to a friend, inserted in this volume, he says of one of his poems:
‘The scenery of The Return is in the neighbourhood of Southgate, Middlesex, between Southgate and Hornsea, a grass country, well-timbered, watered only by the New River and a Brook; what the sneerers might call Cockney; yet, I trust, not described in a Cockney manner, whatever that may be. Keats was born in Moor Fields, at the Livery Stables where my Father’s horses were put up when he came into the City, about four days in the week. Well, Keats resided, mostly, either in London or the neighbourhood: yet I am not acquainted with any poetry more graphic and picturesque.’
The Return is a long piece of forty-one printed pages, and I will only quote a few lines to give an idea of what the scenery between Southgate and ‘Hornsea’ was like a hundred years ago:
‘Once more the river windeth into view,
‘Mid fields of verdure flowing to the west,
Till checked by pastoral hills of gentle slope
The waters turn to the meridian beam
Between our path and that Hesperian hill
Dark-browed, with bosom open to the south.
The wavy lawn and level ground alike
Are rich in herbage, grazed of goodlier kine ...
Dear unto me the landscape early lost
And long lamented, redolent of May
New-blown, ‘mid flowering hedge-rows interspersed,
And elms wide-branching, whence the village smoke
Emerging, curleth round the grey Church tower.
Peace, smiling, filleth all the land with light .
Blithe voices warble round the village-green,
And Echo . . . sings of love and joy. . .
Mrs. Riddell knew the same scenes, still little changed, seventy years ago, and though she was successful and happy during this brief period, I think she read in the gentle yet melancholy beauty of the Middlesex landscape some wistful presentiment of the changes and sorrow and financial ruin that, storm cloud-like, were already massing on the horizon of her life. Else why should she write:
‘Through the meadows the rivulet of her life had flowed peacefully and monotonously. Vaguely she understood that there were different existences, that there were other lands, through which swept rivers, broad and deep and dark, in the depths whereof lay wrecked hopes and terrible memories; she had heard of existences lost on those great streams, of corpses which the currents carried down to the vast ocean; she vaguely comprehended that there were rapids and pools, contrary currents, cruel storms, to be encountered by some human ships, but it was all vague to her.’
This was in 1867. In April of the following year she became editor and part-proprietor of The St. James’s Magazine, and the Struggle for Fame (but not wealth and happiness) was won. For she was now a power and influence in the literary world, and humble aspirants to that realm of mingled joy and bitterness sought entrance to her salon at St. John’s Lodge, Tottenham, and at Leyton, where it would seem she was living in 1873-1875. It was then a charming rural district in the midst of cornfields, for though, to the south, lay the dreary wastes of Stratford and to the west the great expanse of Hackney Marsh, so impressive as the sun sets and the mists rise to veil the last angry gleams of a brick-red sky, to the north and east stretched the lovely woodlands of Epping Forest. Mrs. Riddell described the scenery of this district again and again in her books. Particularly in her powerful story of a murder case, A Life’s Assize, did she picture the Essex marshes; and in Essex she found the right drear setting for the haunted house of Fairy Water, so admirably depicted by Randolph Caldecott’s sombre drawing, when late on an autumn day ‘the eyes of man never beheld a picture of more utter desolation,’ where beyond the fated house and ruined garden lay the belt of pine trees and ‘the lake of the dismal swamp, which had furnished Crow Hall with no less than two tragedies.’ Best of all of her Essex stories is Alaric Spenceley (1881), which again has topographical value, for she described Poplar, West Ham, Bromley Marsh and Abbey Marsh (now Canning Town) as she saw them when she first came to London:
‘There were foot-paths in all directions—foot-paths across greens where the children could gather daisies and dandelions, and their elders, walking out from Shadwell and Limehouse and Stepney, take the air on Sundays. . . . Taking the locality as a whole, it was quite in the country, and the houses . . . were set in flower and kitchen gardens, full of fruit trees, on the borders of the wide-spreading marsh. . . . Between banks of brightest green the steely blue waters of the Lea flowed gently onward. There were sheep feeding on the marsh beyond. The birds were twittering and flying on swift wings hither and thither ere seeking their accustomed haunts for the night. There was a great peace and a great loneliness all around.’
Among the literary or artistic aspirants who sought the help of Mrs. Riddell when she was a power in the world of letters was the subsequently successful cartoonist, Harry Furniss, when he arrived from his native Ireland at the age of nineteen and his fortune to seek. He has left an amusing account of his visit, partly contained in a letter dated August 11th, 1873, and partly in later comments:
‘I like London very much indeed. . . . Having an introduction to a Mrs. Riddell, an authoress. . . . I called on her, and had the honour and real pleasure of her company for several hours. I took lunch with her at her rural seat at Leyton, Essex, and came away with a note of introduction to Mrs. Ross Church,5 Editor of London Society. . . . Mrs. Riddell is not a pretty woman. She is a “fine “woman, and not altogether young, but her “get—up” is thoroughly authoressish. [In those Victorian days most of the poetesses and authoresses affected the long flowing black velvet gown, low cut bodices, lace and jewellery. Even such a practical authoress as Mrs. J. H. Riddell was so attired. On her writing-table an ordinary cup and saucer answered the purpose of an ink-stand, the cup was half full of ink and half a dozen feather pens lay diagonally across the saucer these little affectations were a survival of the literary lady Thackeray described so well a generation before in his Character Sketches as “The Fashionable Authoress.”]
‘Mrs. Riddell gave me several “tips”—woman’s “tips” I ought to add—about literary circles. She is to ask me to some of their Bohemian parties, and take me with her to be introduced to all the “big-wigs.” As you might expect, she is very severe on her sex’s endeavours in writing. Mrs. Henry Wood “is simply a brute, she throws in bits of religion to slip her fodder down the public throat.” She says there is not a magazine in London paying, the libraries destroy the sale. Riddell had made a great reputation with her “prize novel,” George Geith, but she was unhappily married, at least, I believe her husband through some queer way in business was resting somewhere at his country’s expense. This led Mrs. Riddell to work desperately hard. . .’
Mr. Furniss’s mischievous suggestion that Mr. Riddell was in prison was entirely indefensible and, I am assured by those who knew Mrs. Riddell, false. It is true that at this date Mr. Riddell was involved in grave financial difficulties, with which, by temperament, he was quite unfit to cope. But that he committed any malfeasance leading to imprisonment seems highly improbable, for Mr. Arthur Hamilton Norway, C.B., who was Mrs. Riddell’s most intimate friend, has stated to me:
‘I did not ever hear from her, or any of the numerous friends of hers who were kind to me in my youth, a single word that could suggest such a thing. I do not think she knew that Furniss had said this, for she would have resented it fiercely:6 yet she always spoke of Furniss with friendship, though she saw little of him. The suggestion does not square at all with what she used to tell me of her husband, of whom she certainly was very fond, though she made no secret of the fact that his great abilities—as she regarded them—were not of a practical kind. And I think she regarded him as ill-fitted to struggle with the world. But she spoke of him often to me, without hesitation or reluctance, and always as a man of high character. Had it been otherwise, I think I must have had reason to suspect it.’
Mrs. Riddell regarded her husband as one who was very early in life overborne by a weight of business cares too heavy for his nervous nature to sustain: ‘Courageous and hopeful, gifted with indomitable energy, endowed with marvellous persistence and perseverance; modestly conscious of talents which ought to have made their mark he, when a mere lad, began his long quest after fortune, one single favour from whom he was never destined to receive’; and in her story, Mortomley’s Estate (1874), she added, she ‘but told the simple story of what, when in ill-health and broken in spirit, he had to encounter before ruin, total and complete, overtook him. In spite of harassing trouble and continuous misfortune, our twenty-three years of married life were happy as few lives are, simply by reason of his sweet, patient temper, and his child-like faith.’7 Mr. Riddell died in 1880 [he actually died in 1881 – ed.] — ‘Suddenly and unexpectedly, the end came, and the crowning sorrow of a much-tried life was laid upon the devoted wife when death claimed her gifted husband.’ It was a sorrow which was ever keen in her remembrance. Her financial troubles only increased with the death of Mr. Riddell, for quixotically and without any legal obligation, she took upon herself to pay off liabilities due to her late husband’s relatives. For many years she struggled valiantly to cancel the debt of honour, and succeeded—by crippling herself financially, for she paid away money necessary for ordinary comfort in her later years when her books were no longer highly remunerative. As Mr. Norway so truly says: ‘Her embarrassments were not of her own creating—in no degree—for she was simple in her mode of life and generous only to others. She grew poorer and poorer, but lived to discharge fully and honourably the liabilities assumed to her husband’s people. She was always brave, humorous and cheerful, contemptuous of parade or insincerity, a very warm true friend, wiser for others than for herself, since she would have counselled any other person, out of her rich experience, to reject the burdens which she assumed and which crushed her.’
After the financial crash, when great retrenchments became necessary, Mrs. Riddell resolved to leave the pleasant northern suburbs, where she had held a literary court since the success of George Geith ten years earlier, and settle in quite another district. She decided upon the then quiet and remote village of Addlestone, near Weybridge, in Surrey. She took, in 1875, an old-fashioned house, Raglan House,8 whose surroundings, rather melancholy and most remarkably aquatic, were exactly what she liked. Through the heavily-wooded garden ran, or more correctly crept, a sombre stream called the Bourne, which a little lower down joined the Wey, as the latter river flowed through the Ham Haw Meads on its way to mingle with the near-by Thames. From the Bourne, past the main front of the house, ran a tributary little stream, crossed by a rustic, rose-covered bridge leading to another part of the garden, and this rivulet went under the high road to the New River Wey (a continuation of the Basingstoke Canal). Here, immediately in view of Mrs. Riddell’s house, on the bank of the canal stood a ruinous old water-mill belonging to the timber-yard of the Liberty family, owners of most of the adjoining property. To the left, the canal was crossed by one of the little high, round bridges, peculiar to canals, which led to a picturesque old red-brick and red-tiled farm-house and to the rich, lush water meadows, bounded by the rising woodland heights of Chobham and Pyrford. The view is impressive even to-day, when the water-mill has disappeared and ugly modern buildings have taken its place. It is one of the curiosities of coincidental nomenclature that the little canal bridge opposite to Mrs. Riddell’s house at Addlestone was called Black Boy Bridge and that her house at Tottenham, St. John’s Lodge, stood opposite to Black Boy Lane.
Raglan House, Addlestone, had, in fact, an island situation, and in its almost sinister setting (for there is always something sinister about dark trees shadowing slow moving water, and mill-pools and weirs—perhaps because we remember the deaths of Eustacia and Wildeve) and the prospect of the water-mill and deep canal Mrs. Riddell found the inspiration for her most impressive story of The Haunted River, though, of course, with a novelist’s licence she changed or enlarged some of the aspects of the sombre scene. But in the main her descriptions are exact. Thus, the setting of her house:
‘A square edifice only two stories high, with a broad verandah shading the lower rooms upon two sides. . . Water, water everywhere—gardens sloping down to a clear glassy river—lawns reflected in the limpid mirror. Roses hanging over the stream. . . . Willow trees dipping their branches in the flood. . . As for the mill, it was closed; falling to decay, in parts roofless—in all places rotten—silent, neglected. Still and useless was the broken wheel . . . an uprooted willow-tree lay across the stream, and from the opposite bank some solitary pines, their crests twisted northward with the force of the south winds, looked sombrely upon the desolation which had been wrought.’
It is not possible to give a lengthy quotation here illustrating the supernatural element of this best of ghost stories, but a brief scene by Black Boy Bridge may be cited. Ike, a bargeman, is taking his horses over the little bridge on the last night of the year. It is a mild winter with no snow or frost, that night, when suddenly he hears the sound of ice cracking:
‘There was no frost; it was a dull, heavy winter’s night, with but a glimmer of starlight . . . he listened, and then he heard another tremendous crack and splashing and struggling under the yew-trees at the back of the Mill House. . . Then all in a minute, as he tore on, the moon shone out—mind this, there was no moon at all that night!—and he saw the river lying before him one sheet of ice, white and glittering—all white and glittering, except just in one place, where there was a hole, and the water looked dark and threatening. . . . “I came out all over in a sweat,” he said, “for I knew there was no ice nor no moon; and while I was standing, too frightened to move, I see a hand and arm rise out of the water where the hole was—a hand with a gold ring on one of the fingers which clutched hold of the ice, and then the ice gave and broke with the weight, and I heard a great cry, and the ice closed all over the hole again, and the moon disappeared: and I fell on my knees and prayed”…’
Despite the simplicity of the language, the episode is strangely vivid and appropriate to the actual spot, where the canal flows so silently and sinuously under the picturesque little bridge:
‘…the white stars a-shiver.
“Here is your resting-place, here by my side
For ever, for ever,
And they shall forget that you lived or died.”
Thus sang the river.’
But The Haunted River is not all ghosts and gloom. Mrs. Riddell’s sense of humour would always peep out, as in the olfactory description of the young railway porter from Addlestone station: ‘Jim, shod in very heavy boots, tramping on in front, and leaving behind for our benefit a number of odours in which those of an ill-kept farmyard, corduroy, tobacco, and mortar were most prominent.’
In addition to The Haunted River, Mrs. Riddell wrote two other ghostly tales in similar vein at Raglan House— The Uninhabited House (1875) and The Disappearance of Mr. Jeremiah Redworth (1878)—which also depict her sinister surroundings at Addlestone: ‘The sombre pines, the dark canal, the murmuring reeds, the rustling rushes, the stunted oak trees, the sorrowful sobbing of the water as it oozed through some broken lock-gates higher up the disused canal.’
Mrs. Riddell did not reside many years at Addlestone, for by the time The Haunted River was published (1877-9) she had removed to Kingston Hill. The story was dedicated to her friends and late neighbours, the Misses Liberty, of Ham Moor, Addlestone, ‘in recollection of much kindness and many pleasant days.’ A few years later Mrs. Riddell wrote a novel, Daisies and Buttercups (1882), which fully preserved her memories of the district, for Weybridge is described under the name of ‘Reedbourne,’ and Addlestone as ‘Hampsfield.’ She delighted in picturing all the rich, green beauty of the Surrey country-side, with its wealth of flowers and foliage in May, and then by way of vivid contrast the same scene when the winter floods are out:
‘When the Thames is four miles wide at Chertsey, it is something to look out on that waste of waters, and listen to the lonely soughing of the spreading flood, which is like unto no other sound that ever falls on the ear of man. . . . Choose a gloomy winter’s afternoon, with a pallid sun going down behind the Egham hills, the blackness of night travelling fast from the east, casting darksome shadows before it—no man or woman, no dog, or horse, or animal of any description to bestow one touch of life on the desolate landscape—and the spectator sees before him a scene he will remember when he has forgotten many a fair outlook, many a brighter view.”
Such a prospect, indeed, was after the very heart of Mrs. Riddell, and if the lurid winter’s sunset, fading behind the wooded heights of St. Ann’s Hill and Chobham Heath, was succeeded by the advancing cohorts of storm and rain clouds she was the better pleased, for one of her personal characteristics was that she liked walking in the rain and the wind, and through the wet woods, a trait she shared with George Meredith, who often was moved by similar wondrous experiences in Surrey:
‘For lo, beneath those ragged clouds
That skirt the opening west, a stream
Of yellow light and windy flame
Spreads lengthening southward, and the sky
Begins to gloom, and o’er the ground
A moan of coming blasts creeps low.
A crow flies from the yellow hill,
And in its wake
A baffled line of labouring rooks:
Steel-surfaced to the light the river looks…
Pale the rain—rutted roadways shine
In the green light
Behind the cedar and the pine;
Come, thundering night!’
George Meredith had lived at Weybridge, and described the Chertsey and Shcpperton reaches of the Thames in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel. In that story, Raynham Abbey is Woburn Park, near Addlestone, and Farmer Blaize’s Farm is Ham Haw Farm; and the old lock at Shepperton and its meadows inspired the famous passage, ‘Golden lie the meadows; golden run the streams.’
Despite the winter floods, Mrs. Riddell pronounced Weybridge to be a wonderfully healthy place—‘worthy to compete with that Yankee town where they had to kill a man to start a new cemetery.’ Daisies and Buttercups is one of the most entertaining of the author’s tales, and probably many of the characters were drawn from local inhabitants of that time. Thus, in a passing reference, the Reverend Thomas Spyers, D.D., Headmaster of Weybridge Grammar School, who had an interrogative trick when preaching of saying ‘What saith St. John ?’, and so on, was not forgotten:
‘Walk over and listen to the clergyman there trying to prove that two and two made five, and enlivening his discourse at intervals with the remark, which lie really put in the form of a conundrum—“What saith St. Paul?” . . . There is one benefit, however, I derive from all these discourses. Were I inclined to turn infidel, I could not do it. Nothing which was not true could ever survive the sermons that are preached about it.’
And there was a dissenting preacher who was in doubt what name to give his house:
‘Poor dear, he were going to call it “The Retreat,” but he feared the name might be regarded as Papistical. He were always so careful not to give offence; and though he had no ill-will to the priests and such like, remembering they could not help their ignorance, still he could not abear anything like following of the Pope.’
And there was a tactful local doctor:
‘ “What is your name, sir?” “Smith.” “Oh, indeed,” said the doctor, as if pleased to make the acquaintance of any gentleman possessed of so distinctive a cognomen.’
About 1879 or 1880 Mrs. Riddell went to live in London for a few years. She took an old-fashioned house, No. 75, on the west side of South Lambeth Road. The house was demolished long ago, but, as always the case with this author, her books of the date reflect her surroundings, for no novelist was ever more personally topographical or more strongly influenced by the Spirit of Place. So it is, in Mrs. Riddell’s Weird Stories (1884) [actually 1882 – ed.] will be found descriptions of certain old mansions then still standing in the locality. One gives the title to the story, The Old House in Vauxhall Walk, and another, in Walnut-Tree House, is presented with all the sombre suggestiveness of Le Fanu:
‘Many years ago there stood at the corner of a street leading out of Upper Kennington Lane a great red-brick house, covering a goodly area of ground, and surrounded by gardens magnificent in their proportions. . . . One very wet evening, in an autumn the leaves of which have been dead and gone this many a year, Walnut-Tree House, standing grim and lonely in the mournful twilight, looked more than ordinarily desolate and deserted. There was not a sign of life about it; the shutters were closed—the rusty iron gates were fast locked—the approach was choked up with grass and weeds—through no chink did the light of a single candle flicker. For seven years it had been given over to rats and mice and blackbeetles for seven years no one had been found to live in it; for seven years it had remained empty, while its owner wore out existence in fits of moody dejection or of wild frenzy in the madhouse close at hand. . .
Weird Stories comprise some of the best ghost tales ever written. There is real terror in The Open Door, while Nut Bush Farm achieves the difficult success of a supernatural appearance in the open air, for the usual misc en scene of a ghost requires an oak-panelled chamber, or tapestry, long corridor, or wide staircase with oriel window. As may be supposed, Mrs. Riddell was an admirable verbal raconteur of ghostly tales around the fireside, for she told such stories with all the added wealth of her Irish imaginativeness and sense of drama and humour. She loved the Christmas season, and there is a passage in George Geith lyrical of Christmas joys that rivals Dickens in the same vein—picturing one of those good, comfortable, Leech-ian Yule-tides of the Mid-Victorian time:
‘In the year of grace of which I am writing, Christmas came to every home in Britain in the garb which all Christmasses, if they were properly minded, would don for the gratification of Englishmen and Englishwomen. Crowned with holly, from amidst the polished leaves thereof shone scarlet berries; arrayed in frosted snow, which glittered and glistened in the light of the winter’s sun; with icicles for his jewels, with white and glorious robes of state, Christmas, surrounded by his minstrels and singers, by his bards and story-tellers, by fair girls and happy children, by grey-beards, and stalwart men and smiling women, came sweeping through the City streets and along country lanes, flinging largesse as he travelled—alms to the poor, rest to the weary, mirth to the young, contentment to the old, comfort to the broken-hearted, hope to the desponding. “In remembrance,” Christmas fed the hungry, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless, visited the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and beautified with his beneficent hand careworn and suffering faces. Free from earthly mists, with the glories of his radiant apparel undimmed by rain, unobscured by gloom, Christmas arrived, bringing with it enchantment to George Geith. . . . Walking through the City streets, he seemed as though treading on air; he could have greeted every man he met like a brother; he entertained no contempt for the groups who were holding endless arguments as to what it would be best for them to buy for the to-morrow’s dinner. There was a beauty to him in the prize-meat, in the laurels and hollies that decorated the butchers’ shops, in the decorations of the grocers’ windows, in the long lines of turkeys, in the parti-coloured ribands that were tied round the necks of the sucking-pigs. There was a life in the scene he had never noticed before, a meaning in the merriment and excitement that pervades the streets of London on a Christmas Eve which he had never previously grasped ... the happiest day in all the year. . . . What a beauty he found likewise in the white country roads; what refreshment in the cold, crisp air; what quietness in the eyes of the bright shining stars what exquisite loveliness in the laurels laden with frosted snow, in the great black trees, whose branches were half-clothed with white. how picturesque Wattisbridge Church looked as he passed it by, lighted up, doubtless, for the finishing touches to he put to the decorations for the morrow; what a Christmas look the earth wore. . .’
During the years in South Lambeth Road, Mrs. Riddell wrote many excellent stories— The Mystery in Palace Gardens (1882), which she liked best of her many books; The Senior Partner (1881); Daisies and Buttercups (1882); Three Wizards and a Witch (1883) [published in novel form as Susan Drummond (1884) – ed.]; A Struggle for Fame (1883); Berna Boyle (1884) and Mitre Court (1885). She had disagreed with Tinsley and the books of this period were mainly published by the famous house of Bentley, which had by now long repented former refusals of her work. Time brings its revenges. Mr. Richard Bentley, the second, has told me of Mrs. Riddell’s curious method of writing a novel. On one occasion he asked her how she was progressing with a story his firm was to publish. ‘It is finished,’ she replied. ‘Good,’ said Mr. Bentley, ‘then may we have the manuscript to-morrow?’ ‘Oh, NO!’ returned Mrs. Riddell; what I meant was that the tale is completed in my head, to the last conversation; but I have now to write it down on paper, and that will take a considerable time.’ So great was Mrs. Riddell’s power of concentration and memory, and control of her material, that she invariably composed the end of her stories first. The situations and characters of her books were, as I have demonstrated, often drawn direct from actual places and people. At other times the influences were unconscious. She ever observed things closely; then later on, when between the border land of sleeping and waking, scenes, people, words, that she had noticed seemed to be photographed on her brain; sentences formed themselves, together with vivid episodes, and in the morning she was able to reproduce and detail them in her narratives. According to another of her publishers, Mr. Edmund Downey, she wrote very slowly, and said that she would like to take two years over a book. Her motto was slow but sure, and her stories were written with infinite care. So were the books of her contemporaries, the women novelists of her school, Miss Braddon, Rhoda Broughton, ‘Holme Lee,’ Mrs. Alexander, Mrs. Hungerford, Florence Marryat, and many others, for all were ladies of culture and knowledge, with the result that novels of this class were of far higher merit and interest than those of the present day which are often the product of young misses ignorant alike of the world and literature, but who can turn out a serial of a typist’s love idyll for The Daily Shock in less than six weeks.
After her husband’s death in 1880 [1881 – ed.], Mrs. Riddell’s life was a sad and lonely one, and none too prosperous, for though her books were still selling well, she did not find writing lucrative despite, or owing to, the fact, in her own words, that ‘I must put as much good as I have in me into my books’; and as already related, there was a quixotic and heavy drain on her financial resources. Things were more cheerful for her when, in 1883, a family friend, Mr. Arthur Hamilton Norway, then a young man of twenty-three, occupied rooms in her house after he came to London to take up an appointment in the Secretariat of the Post Office.9 She always had a profound sympathy with young men alone in London and with their way to make in the world. Mr. Norway remained with her for three years; in 1884, at a time when Mrs. Riddell was badly over-worked and worried, and sadly in need of a change, he persuaded her to go off with him on a sudden trip to Germany and through the Black Forest. Their adventures abroad she fully and amusingly described in a book entitled A Mad Tour, or a Journey undertaken in an insane moment through Central Europe on foot (1891), wherein it may safely be concluded Mr. Norway figures as ‘Bobby.’ He also went with Mrs. Riddell to Ireland in 1885, when they visited Londonderry, and on to Donegal and Horn Head—scenes she described in The Nun’s Curse (1888). At Dunfanaghy, Mrs. Riddell ‘went Irish’ again, for seeing some hens of her native country she promptly fell in love with them, bought them, and conveyed them in a crate for the rest of her tour as an item of her luggage, thereby causing much confusion and profanity of language at hotels and among ‘bootses’ and railway porters until home was reached. There, fortunately, she was now living in the country, for it was in this year, 1885, that Mrs. Riddell, with Mr. Norway, removed from South Lambeth Road to The Cottage (now known as Old Farm Cottage) at Upper Halliford, near Shepperton, for she had resolved to return to the Middlesex river scenery that she loved better than the most magnificent prospects other parts of the world could offer. Here, from the upper windows of the cottage, she looked across her large meadow to a wide expanse of flat green country bounded by the distant heights of the enchanted land of Windsor Forest. The Cottage, covered with trellis work, clustering white roses and clematis, was a delightful old-fashioned place with low-ceiled rooms leading one from the other, quaint cupboards, and odd little steps cropping up in the most unexpected situations. Mrs. Riddell wrote in the pleasant bow-windowed room to the right, from which a glass door led into the really beautiful garden—bounded by a great holly hedge, originally thirty-two feet in height. It was this old-world garden with its roses, japonica, lavender, rue and other herbs, which was Mrs. Riddell’s particular joy, for as Helen Black related in her pen-portrait of Mrs. Riddell at the age of sixty:
‘It was chiefly the tranquillity and privacy of this delightful garden with its grand old hedge of holly, now bright with red berries, which attracted Mrs. Riddell, and decided her to settle down, away from the world, after long and fierce buffeting with the stormy seas of sorrow, disappointment, losses, and bereavement, of which she has had so large a share. The gentle, quiet face tells its tale of early struggles, heavy burdens, severe trials; yet time has not laid its ruthless hand over-harshly on the author. Not a silver hair is visible on the soft brown hair, which is simply rolled into a neat coil, high on the back of her head, and fastened by a large tortoiseshell comb. The deep grey eyes are undimmed, and wear a look of peace and resignation, nobly won; while “ever and anon of griefs subdued, there comes a token” which recalls the past. But Mrs. Riddell can still smile sweetly, and when she smiles, two— yes two—absolutely girlish dimples light up the expressive countenance. She is tall, has a good carriage, and is dressed in black; she has worn no colours for over ten years.
‘The little room is very simply but prettily furnished. Soft white rugs lie here and there on the dark red carpet, and an old-fashioned bookcase contains the works of her favourite authors. There are no particular curiosities or decorations to be seen, save one valuable bit of old Dresden china, two or three plates of ancient Crown Derby, together with a couple of quaint Delhi-work salvers, and a few pictures hanging on the walls. Of these last, two are particularly attractive, One is the head of Christ crowned with thorns, beautifully painted on copper; the other, over the fire-place, represents the Castle of Carrickfergus which, though built nearly a thousand years ago, is still strong enough to hold a troop of soldiers.
‘In the garden, a turn round the last walk leads to the poultry yard, which is a great delight to Mrs. Riddell. She has several fine breeds of fowls and geese, amongst which last are two handsome but noisy specimens from Japan. One little peculiarity of interest must be noticed. The wall which supports the granary steps is pierced by two holes for dog kennels, an arrangement of great antiquity.’
Mrs. Riddell had an old gardener who was quite a character. When she took possession of The Cottage, she found a cupboard full of decaying medical stores, medicines, pills, and lotions, left by some former tenant. She instructed her old gardener to wheel the lot away in his barrow and burn them. Some weeks later, on her asking the old man how he was in health, he replied, ‘Well, mum, better, I hope, since I’ve been taking all them things you gave me.’ ‘What things, Richards?’ ‘Why, all them lotions and medicines and pills, mum. I’ve been taking some of ‘em in turn every day. They done me a rare lot of good, though some of them stings me up, and no mistake.’ This old Adam of eighty must have been eager to utilise a strange article of furniture he had in his cottage, a legacy from his predecessor in the situation of gardener. This other old man, taking Death by the forelock, so to speak, desired to make his own coffin, so a friendly neighbour gave him enough elm for his purpose. The grim shell was duly finished, but Death still tarried, so the future tenant, getting tired of waiting and finding his coffin much in the way, converted it into a useful upright corner cupboard.
Mrs. Riddell always liked walking, so by choice she attended Littleton Church some two miles away, a quaint building filling one side of the village Square. Littleton Park once possessed a great Wren mansion, long the seat of the Wood family. Mrs. Riddell described Littleton in For Dick’s Sake (1886). At that date, as she said, the village had ‘stood still for over two hundred years. There is no resident rector or squire, or doctor, or lawyer, or farrier, but it is a sweetly peaceful spot, and the woods in primrose time are a sight to behold; whilst at Sunbury, to show you how little change may take place, in one hundred years there have been only two vicars, and one of them is alive now.’ Shepperton and Lower Halliford form the setting of her story, A Terrible Vengeance.
It is a pity that Mrs. Riddell was not, apparently, acquainted with her not very distant literary neighbour at Teddington, R. D. Blackmore, for he fully shared her love for the quiet West Middlesex scenery, so lovely in spring-time with its wealth of orchard blossom; and he, too, described the Sunbury and Halliford district in his Kit and Kitty (1890). Mrs. Riddell had several friends in her neighbourhood, however, and one she valued very much indeed, Miss Victoria Matthews, of 21, Manchester Square, who, with her parents, had a country place, Lawn Cottage (now called ‘Frith Grange’), Upper Halliford, where they spent part of each year from 1886 to 1890. They were kind neighbours to Mrs. Riddell, who corresponded with Miss Matthews when the latter was in London. These letters tell much of the author’s life at this period and her views on contemporary books. By the courtesy of Miss Matthews, I give the following extracts, by which it will be seen that even the quiet annals of village life were related with Mrs. Riddell’s characteristic humour:
‘Here is Little Lord Fauntleroy with many thanks. I am very glad indeed to have read it. The story is pretty, but I quite fail to see the reason, for such a fuss as has been made about it. In every respect, Mrs. Ewing’s books are better. I have been reading the Bishop of Ripon’s extraordinary utterances about novels. It seems a little hard that in order to be popular a Bishop must say or do something foolish. Nowadays one feels quite thankful to those Church dignitaries who have sense enough to hold their tongues. Never was there a time when silence seemed so golden as now, and surely never was there a time when we had so little of it. . . . A testimonial is being got up by the Secretary of the “Incorporated Society of Authors—whatever that may be—for Mrs. Burnett. Subscription limited to £2 2s.
It is so much easier to praise than to blame: one need give no reason for praising, that I cannot wonder at the reluctance people seem to have to express an adverse opinion. Besides it is more amiable to praise, and one doesn’t like to seem unamiable: but yet, when a book is lauded as Lord Fauntleroy has been, it is only natural to enquire why the Public are so taken with the story. I have no hesitation in saying it is because the book is a cross between a tract and a play. It appeals to mothers, and the sentiments are those which “bring down the galleries.” Long, long ago, one of the first small band which made The Saturday Review such a brilliant success told me that every author ought to test his plot to see if it would act. I thought then he was wrong; I am sure now that he was, because the very best novels that have ever been written won’t act at all: but Lord Fauntleroy would act,10 and the very qualities in it which would make a good play spoil it to my notion as a story. Further, I do think an author ought to avoid poaching on another’s manor, if you have Jackanapes 11 by you, re-read it and you will see what I mean. In Nancy 12 also, when her lover asks her what she would wish for if she were rich, she tells him all the good things she would like to have for others. It is possible Mrs. Burnett may not have read her Broughton or Ewing, but if she has not, the “jumping of wits” is very extraordinary.
In a play we do not enquire too closely into probability, but in a story we have a right to demand it. Now Lord Fauntleroy is not a probable—indeed—I may go further and say he is not a possible—child. The reformed old Earl isn’t a possible old Earl out of a tract, and the whole episode of the false heir is as clumsy as it can well be. I know we ought not to judge little things by a big standard, but the public has elected to make so big a thing of Lord Fauntleroy that one is compelled to criticise it seriously.
What is needed now in literature is a GREAT writer. When I look back and consider the authors there were even in my time, and think of those who immediately preceded them, I feel the century is getting so old as to be doting, and I can only hope that in some public place—looking with bright young eyes in the stream of London life, or taking a lesson from the mountains and the silent moors and the lovely lakes—there are lads who will arise as prophets in 1900,13 teaching the world that money is not all and success is not all, that to an author his Art ought to be as near and dear to him as his God. It is strange to think that somewhere there are boys growing up who will do all this, for it is impossible Literature can go on sinking as it has been doing within the last twenty years and especially within the last ten. Forgive this lengthy protest.
It is my own fault that you misunderstand me a little, for I was so busy with my brief against the poor boy Lord that I omitted to say how good in many respects I think the story is. The dialogue is often capital, the tale moves on rapidly and easily, the contrast suggested between the real old Earl and the boy’s imaginary nobleman is very humorous, and Lord Fauntleroy is altogether a good wholesome book, but I cannot see anything to—as the lower orders of Irish say—“make such a song about,” as has been sung. The worst of everything nowadays is that people go to such extremes. Think of how they raved over Called Back 14 and in that case not a soul could have given a reason for the faith that was in him. Think how long it was on the other hand before Lorna Doone made the smallest impression, and then it was not on its merits but because it got mixed up in the stupid public mind with the Marquis of Lorne.15 There ought to be “sense in the roasting of eggs,” and there is no sense in the way a book gets praised at present. You are right. We do not resent weakness in our friends because “we but love them whatever they are,” and we do not resent weakness in our acquaintance either if they do not request us to admire them as something very extraordinary. But we are asked to look upon Lord Fauntleroy as a creature really too beautiful, and that provokes criticism and so—you must forgive me.
I do not fancy I know enough of modern American authors to pass an opinion on their works. Howells I do know a little, and think a book of his might be held up to any young writer as an example of what mere command of words can do. Give him a pat of good butter, and I think he could spread it over miles of bread. But then we must remember that making much out of little is a tendency of the time. On the principle that “an empty cask when tipped over makes the most noise,” so people make up for paucity of original thought by talking a great deal about thoughts which are not original. When I take up one of the old authors I can but be struck by the “grip” of his subject he displays in even the shortest sentence. It is as when a master lays his hand upon the piano.
This would be a weary world if the children were not generous and loving, if they had not big thoughts in their little bodies for benefitting those dear to them. There is many a ragged Lord Fauntleroy running over the London pavements, giving out of his poverty, in fact as well as in imagination, as much as any millionaire. I will send you a true story of one of these.
You are most good to me in every way, and help me more than I can tell you. The little words of pleasantness you forget, perhaps, as soon as they are spoken. Your hundred kindnesses have fallen on my heart like the seeds of sweet flowers borne by the wind. And they are growing in my heart where some day you may find them again, as Longfellow did his song.
I won’t come up to-day, for I am “taking care” of my cold, and am moreover hard at work on my novel,16 which is great happiness. I found a verse the other day which just describes what I am doing:
“I often think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea,
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me.
“And a verse of a Lapland song
Is haunting my memory still:
‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’ ”
If you could send me a few autumn flowers I should be so grateful. Only a few—marigolds and mignonette.
CHARLOTTE E. L. RIDDELL.’
‘ December 8th, 1886.
I went up to the Mission, and it may gratify you to know the attendance was good, the music so awful the schoolmaster had to change the chant for the Gloria, after which Mr. Langworthy told us he had arrived at the conclusion that the Day of Judgment would be a great surprise to many people.”
‘June 24th, 1887.
I wish I felt stronger, so as to be of more use, but I find it hard to fight against a constant weariness, which is as great when I rise as when I go to bed.’
‘December 6th, 1888.
Hitherto there have been two books which I shall always think of with the same sort of horror as I should of a bad nightmare—one, Forster’s Life of Dickens, the other Froude’s Carlyle. To these I fear I must now add Besant’s Eulogy,17 which indeed I have only skimmed, but which I mean to procure hereafter and read very carefully, because I want to obtain a closer knowledge of Jefferies18 as a man. As an author, I think I took his measure long ago pretty accurately after reading The Gamekeeper at Home. It seems to me a great pity that revelations of a man’s mistakes and sorrows should be published even to help his widow and children (I hope and believe Besant means to give them the proceeds of his Eulogy). Even in the hardest and most unsuccessful literary experiences, there are compensations the world wots not of, and if any author fails to find them I say quite unhesitatingly the fault is in himself. I imagine the fault was in Jefferies’s nature, but also I think the mischief lay deeper than in any suggestion made by Besant—viz., that he quite over-rated his own capacity. Before receiving Besant I had begun a letter to you concerning quince jam which perhaps I may send on to you some day when my spirits have a little recovered from the depressing effect of Jefferies Eulogy.’
‘January 11th, 1889.
It was not because I desired to make the fowls tipplers that I bought the beer, though I do think the spectacle of fifty hens going up to The Goat for half a pint of ale each evening would be irresistibly funny. The fact is I lost so many last year that when I found this year promised to be as disastrous unless I could combat roup, I was forced to consider why it happened I never formerly proved so unfortunate. I tried everything to stop the plague, but still the creatures went on dying; then suddenly I remembered I had been in the habit of having a pail-full of the thick beer grounds from Chambers at a nominal cost, say once a fortnight or so. All last year I could not get any, and my consequent loss has been at least £10 in stock, to say nothing of the deprivation of profit. They were all very tipsy the other day—sleepily drunk, but woke up next morning quite ready to begin again like hardened old topers. I think they will be all right now if they have a dose of beer and bran once a week. In former days I have seen a hen so tipsy she has stood in a corner to support herself; this is a favourite device with animals.
Have you read Rogers’s Life-—the “Hang Theology” man? I am delighted with it.’
‘February 27th, 1889.
Did you read Sala’s delightful letter to-day in the Telegraph about Piggott?19 I roared over it, my only sorrow being I had nobody to roar with. I consider Piggott charming. In my own acquaintance, however, I know two who could successfully enter into competition with him—both being as great liars, quite as impecunious and much more humorous. One is from north of the Tweed and one, alas Irish. . . . Am I not a foolish woman? Perhaps as a matter of courtesy you may think it right to say “No.” All I can say is that whether foolish or wise, busy or idle, I am yours affectionately,
CHARLOTTE E. L. RIDDELL.’
‘March 8th, 1889.
In a fable, which no doubt you read when a good little girl, we are told how a traveller wrapped his cloak closer around him and strode on in the teeth of a bitter wind (I should imagine the East when at its worst on the way back from Shepperton station). The fable goes on to tell, however, that when the sun shone and milder airs prevailed the same gentleman cast aside his wraps and succumbed to the heat. It is a long time since that fable was written, but history repeats itself. History has repeated itself in my person at Upper Halliford. Save for a small ailment which I mentioned to you as having at once grappled with and defeated, I got splendidly through a wrestle with the cold which tried most people severely, but the very first morning of the thaw I woke with as many pains as Caliban. By the way, was it Caliban or somebody or everybody else who had pains? Perhaps Mr. Irving will inform you if you feel curious on the point. Anyhow, I had pains bad enough to have ensued from all the curses of all the people on Prospero’s isle. Just as some folks have an eruption of spots or boils or blains, so I had a rash of aches. When I opened my eyes the conviction came to me that my bed had been made on rocky hillocks and that I had been sleeping on one, but when I felt the surface, behold, it was flat as a pancake. In addition to the aches I had a sore throat, and I literally exhausted conjecture in wondering what sort of a sore throat it might be. Not being able to come to any satisfactory conclusion, I remembered the friend in need—Turpentine, and used it so generously I felt afraid to go near the fire lest I should ignite. Putting all the foregoing into moderate and sensible language, I have not been well, but now to quote the phrase of a simple and kindly Irishman of my acquaintance, I am “on the mend.”
Do you know that Mrs. Henry Wood is to have a tomb erected to her in Highgate Cemetery after the model of Scipio Africanus bearing the text, “The Lord Giveth Wisdom.” Can you explain the conundrum? It can’t be a joke, for it appeared in The Rock, which never was guilty of such a thing.’20
‘April 16th, 1889.
My loss is your gain, as religious people say when some one for whom they do not care in the least shuffles off this mortal coil. The parallel does not quite hold, as I care for you very much indeed, but Upper Halliford at present, I am bound to confess, is looking its very worst. Even a partial eye—mine for instance—finds it difficult to trace those beauties we both wot of, and so, as I before remarked, you will be better at St. Leonards—a place I humbly hope I may never see again.
I want to send you an Easter Egg in the shape of one of my books it is unlikely you have read, and which I hope you may like. And so God bless you and give you many a happy Easter time in the future with those you love.
I should like to see A Glorified Spinster, though I have some misgivings that she would closely resemble any other bore. It is a beautiful name. Did you ever——apropos of nothing— read Mother Rigby’s Pipe? I send it with this. It is rather grimy, having during the past fourteen years been much read by all sorts and conditions. If you see Mrs. Hancock, do apologise to her for my stupidity in sending her a goose’s egg to-clay with nothing to cover its nakedness, not even a fig-leaf.
No, I think I must not read James’s novel21 now. I must stick to my own, such as it is. If you ever meet with Jerrold’s (Douglas) St. Giles’s and St. James’s, read it. I have not seen the book for years and years. Somehow one rarely comes across the good old books, yet they must be somewhere.
There is nothing of which I feel more sure than that every village and parish ought to have its own playground. I hear the cricket field at Shepperton is now fenced in and kept solely for ladies and gentlemen. If this be so, I can imagine nothing so likely to engender bad blood between the classes. Baal22 has been amusing himself with rubbing his nose against my pen while I have been writing, which will not make this note easier to read.
You must have thought me very ungrateful for not answering your letter before this, but I have been running about from editor to printer and publisher till quite fagged out. I had to go to bed the other night at 8, and am not rested yet. It is impossible for me not to understand your most kind suggestion and equally impossible to help thanking you for it with all my heart. But I am not short of money now. I have had this week £136. 17. 1.—to be quite precise, and shall have more I expect before Christmas. I earn enough to supply all my own wants if I wanted twice as much as I do. But I must spend nothing it is possible to help spending if I am to pay what I have to pay and do what I have to do, Probably also I am the slowest author in England, and I certainly believe there is no other author of any standing who gets so little for her or his work. Please understand I am not complaining in the least only I have never hit the popular taste, being behind the age instead of abreast of it. Then I am as much burdened as if I had a family of my own to keep (more), and so to cut a long story short, I feel it is right for me to stop at home and attend to my business, and that it would be wrong for me to go gadding just now. You see what a rigmarole you have brought on yourself. Do not propose a kindness to any one again. Emily’s mother is here to-day doing a great scrub, and I am very miserable, as I always am when a great cleaning is going on.’
‘April 24th, 1889.
The name of Rackstraw seemed so familiar to me that I used it in a story I wrote for an Editor (Cassell’s Saturday Journal). The story has come back to go through the “cutting down” process with which I am so painfully familiar, and I shall alter the name, as it would be nasty to put the future tenant of Lawn Cottage in a cheap periodical. I can use it at some future period if the negotiations fall through.”23
‘February 7th, 1891.
There is in to-day’s issue of The Lady’s Pictorial an interview with Miss Edna Lyall, which is really very nice. Interviews generally are detestable, but I do think you will say Miss Bayly makes a very pleasant picture…24 Have you seen what Rudyard Kipling says about the American twang? viz., that when the Yankees stole English books their snort of triumph is fixed for ever in their nostrils by a just Providence. This, however, strikes as a case of the pot calling the kettle black, for surely we are not so honest in the matter of copyright as to be able to throw stones across the Atlantic. . . . Did I tell you how delighted I was with Froude’s Two Chiefs of Dunboy, and have you read Pax Vobiscum? I don’t like it quite so well as The Greatest Thing in the World... .’25
‘September 14th, 1891.
My thoughts are continually with you in your trouble, and you were so close to me in my dreams last night that I cannot help just a line saying how heavy the great sorrow you are enduring lies on my heart. Sometimes it almost seems to me that though so far apart you must feel me sometimes press your hand and bid you be of good courage. May He who knows all the human heart can suffer give you strength to bear this sore trial.’
‘February 22nd, 1890.
Herewith the “Interview,”26 which is supposed to have taken place here—wherefore the “low-ceilinged room” the “charming” Mr. Blathwayt evolved out of his own “internal consciousness.” The editorial scissors have I fancy been used so freely that my statements have got a little mixed, and the result reminds me of Frank Lincoln’s story about the American child who told his mother he had met a young man on the stairs of the Langham, “and he said Washington’s father would rather George had told a hundred lies than cut down one cherry-tree.” However, it was very good of The P.M.G. to put it in at all when their paper is so full, and I am greatly obliged to Mr. Blathwayt for taking so much trouble in writing so kindly about me.’
‘April 20th, 1890.
Is it not strange the impression joy makes on us. Have we so little of it in our pilgrimage? I do not think so. Perhaps it is only a merciful provision that we remember happiness longer than sorrow.’
‘July 16th, 1890.
I fancy the wrench from Lawn Cottage must have caused a great difference in your life….Indeed I shall be very glad to know you have found some compensating interest and that your memory of the dear old place is growing a little hazy. Upper Halliford has never looked better than it does this season—everything is so rich, so luxuriant. I could but think as I walked to church last Sunday evening what a peaceful quiet place it is to be so near London. I shall never walk with you to Littleton Church again I suppose. . . . The Allens are gone from Charlton Court. Poor Mr. Vigne!27 Roman Catholics at Sunbury Court, Wesleyans at Lawn Cottage, and Jews at Charlton. It only needs Agnostics at The Lodge to complete the charm.’
‘July 23rd, 1890.
Like you, I never care to see a remembered house in a new dress. Better to leave it now and for ever keeping the memory of the dear old place as it was. . . . If the Suffolk air be anything like the Norfolk air you ought to get well, . . . I was ailing when I went down to Stansfield Rectory in the bygone days, but the first night I slept there I felt better and soon got strong again. . . . My five cats are thinning the rodents.’
‘August 9th, 1890.
With all my heart I wish I could go to you, but I must not. I have done so little work for the last two years that my only hope is now to let nothing come between me and my writing. You know how I should like to go to you, and may imagine what it costs me to refuse. Halliford has been a noisy, noisy place this summer with the pea pickers. I shall be thankful when the quiet autumn time comes. Talk of Missions to the Heathen! If some clergyman would kindly walk into the field behind The Goat orchard he would find plenty of work without the trouble of crossing the ocean!’
‘August 21st, 1890.
You will be interested to hear that at this present time of writing the School Treat for the Upper Halliford Chapel children is in full swing on the opposite side of the road, so for the first time during my tenancy the meadow wears an attractive not to say rakish appearance. I confess I am amazed at the amount of dissenting festivity. Before breakfast was over, a “deputation,” consisting of one member, came to ask whether a clothes line might be attached to a nail in Palmer’s attic, as they wanted to pass it across the road. We tied this cord to the balusters, and from it many flags now hang—an unusual spectacle which a few minutes ago caused one of the brisk cart horses to think it might be a nice thing to run away.
By nine A.M. the youth of Upper Halliford had assembled in great force and lined the fence. It was exactly like a scene from one of the Christmas papers. There were children of all sizes, and frocks of all colours, the wearers being dirty enough for perfect happiness—playing at “ Lemons and Oranges,” pretty children most of them, and so tattered and torn as to be quite artistic. One might have thought we lived in a country where needle and thread were never so much as seen, to say nothing of soap and water. A stout individual, by name Day, who seemed to direct the proceedings, told Sarah the Upper Halliford children much shocked him. He had belonged to the Church of England, but went over (or back) to the Wesleyans, and is reputed to be the part author of a little book in which it is stated a clergyman could not take his “flowing robes” into Heaven with him. This seemed to stagger Sarah a little till I said, “But neither can Mr. Day take his Sunday trowsers.” She then, full of her new learning, proceeded to inform me he meant there “would be no sects in Heaven.” “But he need not think they will all be Wesleyans,” I thought it only right to observe, which statement produced such an effect that she has arrived at the conclusion if the givers of the feast were properly minded they would allow the whole tag, rag, and bob-tail of Upper Halliford to join in the games, which they won’t (as I think very properly), so we have tried to solace the Church outcasts by giving them apples.
I have just been asked to distribute the prizes, but declined on the ground of “being unaccustomed to public speaking.” Mrs. Pease is to be asked therefore to oblige the company. I wonder if she will. They have hired a piano-organ and two strong-armed youths who grind by turns, but the field is wide and the noise not so great as might be imagined. Flags of all nations are floating in the breeze. There is a swing in the oak tree. Races and football have been proceeding, but the greatest success of the entertainment has been provided quite accidentally by the newly-mown hay (Mrs. Strean rented the field from me for early grazing). After their mid-day meal, the children who were not invited, or wanted, appeared on the scene clean and clothed, with shoes and stockings on, and with hair combed and made beautiful. They stood like Peris at the Gates of Paradise till on Sarah’s earnest intercession they were allowed inside, though expected to keep at a respectful distance. I could not help wondering whether Mr. Day was not thinking it was all like the final Judgment Day, the sheep being gathered under the oak tree and the goats straying wild near the palings. By degrees, however, the goats edged up and up till all distinction was temporarily lost and the whole of the children tossed the hay alike and were covered with it. Christianity went even so far as this, that when the Wesleyans had finished their tea, the Church sinners had quite a little feast and a real good time.
I wish I could say the brickfield lads and the field girls showed themselves grateful, but they—the bigger sinners—behaved simply abominably, till Day said next time they, the Wesleyans, must have a policeman to protect them. Indeed, when the youth of Upper Halliford get together their manners lamentably lack repose. They do not in the least resemble those of Vere de Vere. After all, I distributed the prizes, value say 10/. When it was growing dark a deputation, again of one, attended, saying there was no other person to be found, Mrs. Pease having presumably declined, with great sense, to oblige. I did not see then and I do not see now why Mr. Day could not have performed this function himself. We all gathered under the oak tree—the Saints, those who were not Saints, the badly-behaved boys and girls, a gipsy carrying a baby, and many camp-followers with great difficulty. Mr. Drinkwater made his little speech, which was well-nigh drowned by the noise made by the “brickers.” He referred to me as “this good lady,” and requested three cheers, which as the cheers meant an unearthly row pleased the naughty boys vastly, but they laughed more than they cheered—alas!
Then the prizes were given, and the neighbourhood has resounded with the “hoot-tooting” of tin trumpets ever since. We then had three more cheers and “again,” after which I enquired if they would not sing a hymn before they separated. The question arose what they could sing, but at last we had three verses of the Evening Hymn. Standing almost in the dark—such a singular collection of human beings—the hymn struck me, badly as it was sung, as very curious and plaintive.
Mr. Day was good enough to see me “across the road,” but I had immediately to retrace my steps as the “Sinners” began to pitch the hay out of the field. Sarah dispersed them gallantly, all her Christian feelings towards the outcasts being by that time scattered to the winds, and we stood guard till the hurdles were replaced. Some of the lads had stolen the bolts. Peace and Silence reigned once more. I would not write all this to any one else, but I feel sure it won’t bore you. I know how that kind heart of yours yearns over Upper Halliford.’
I think it will be granted that seldom have the simple incidents of a village school treat been presented with such reality and sense of humour as in the above letter and it is of interest to observe how the imagination of the practised story-teller seized on the picturesque touches of the gipsy with a baby and the singing of the hymn in the dusk under the oak tree (which still stands though the meadow is now a cultivated garden).
In October, 1889, Mrs. Riddell paid her final visit to Ireland, when, she said, ‘such of our old friends as were left I found as kind as ever.’ During 1891 she was writing The Head of the Firm, published by Heinemann in the following year, which had some of its scenes laid at Teddington. Always by choice a slow writer, she was no longer able to produce books regularly, for she was now suffering from bodily weariness and weakness, and about this date she had an unpleasant experience over a story to which she had devoted a good deal of labour. It was entitled Grays Point (and presumably depicted the Essex reaches of the Thames). It was commissioned by Edmund Downey, who was to pay her £400, and the tale was announced in the publisher’s list of forthcoming works. Mrs. Riddell wrote the story in batches which she would bring to the office and receive a cheque on account in return. After about £300 had been paid, Mr. Downey’s partner was dissatisfied with the arrangement and thought the terms were too high. Mrs. Riddell on hearing of this at once resigned her contract, took back her manuscript, and with her usual quixotic sense of honour paid back the £300 she had received, though of course there was no legal obligation for her to act in this manner. She was left with the novel on her hands, and apparently it was never published. In telling me this account, Mr. Downey concluded: ‘I could never find whether the novel was published or not. I lost touch with Mrs. Riddell for some time then. I think she was fed-up with novel writing and she was not getting younger. She used to call to see me when I was managing T.P.’s Weekly. She was obviously ageing then. I have nothing but pleasant memories of Mrs. Riddell.’
It was probably in 1892 that Mrs. Riddell became aware that she was the victim of the same terrible disease, cancer, which had killed her mother in the far back years of her early literary struggle. Henceforth she was a sad and lonely woman, for with the acute sensitiveness of her imaginative temperament she shrank from any observation or discussion of the malady that threatened her. The symptoms were kept in check for some years by means of drugs, but the gloom and depression of the future made her restless and unable to settle long in any one place. So it was she decided to bring to a close the pleasant years in Halliford, a period which had certainly been one of the happiest of her not too happy life. Ere the old landmarks were torn up and she left Halliford for ever, her thoughts must have recalled that poignant passage she had written in George Geith:
‘Who does not grieve, who does not sorrow, for that passing away which is, after all, the misery of life? Friends, youth, beauty, fame, happiness—hours when the sun is streaming on us, moments when in the moonlight we look at faces which we love, days which are full of such happiness that they seem scarcely to have been spent on earth; all these we touch, to feel they are but part of a procession which is ever moving from us, ever passing away. Why should we grieve? Good heavens! how could we do otherwise, when we know so well that after the sunshine comes gloom—after the day, night? Is it marvellous that, feeling the darkness creeping on, we should linger to the last in the light? that, feeling the waves of the cruel ocean we have breasted licking our feet, we should stretch out our hands after the groups that are walking away over the pleasant sands we shall never tread more? Life’s days are so gloomy when the summer is gone, its streets are so deserted when the gallant cavalcade is past, its ways are so stony when we have to tread them alone, that it is no wonder we grieve when the hour comes for parting, and the sad good-byes are spoken.’
During the winter of 1892-1893, while she was looking out for another country house, Mrs. Riddell stayed at 135, St. Mark’s Road, Notting Hill, a district she depicted in a later story, A Rich Man’s Daughter (1897). From here she wrote to Miss Matthews on December 22nd, 1892:
‘You have it no doubt remarked that authors are rarely able to judge of the effect their work produces on others. For instance, an actor can see at once how he affects an audience, and in like manner singers and musicians may be said to feel the pulse of their hearers. An artist hangs his picture, and sees hundreds fascinated by its beauty, but it is not so as a rule with us. We think our thoughts and write down our ideas in silence and solitude, and it is only now and then, after years may be, some voice comes across the stillness to bid us be of good cheer because words spoken long before have touched another heart and awakened an echo in it. You were that voice to me about Alaric Spenceley,29 and I thank you for its loving message with all my heart.’
In February, 1893, she moved to her new home, The Elms, at Harlington, in her favourite county of Middlesex of course. It was a pleasant, trim, low house such as the builders in the early part of the nineteenth century so often put up, with French windows opening on to a wide verandah, such a trim villa and garden, in fact, as Mr. Pickwick retired to at Dulwich. Harlington is a scattered village lying on both sides of the Bath Road, and set in a wide stretch of flat country planted with fruit orchards which made it lovely in blossom time: I say ‘made,’ because the advent of by-pass roads with consequent building developments are fast ruining what was, less than forty years ago, a lonely and remarkable bit of country though so near London. The great plain of absolutely flat meadows and orchards reaching from Southall to Staines, and Old Windsor, intersected by the river Colne, the Old River, the King’s River, with numerous tributary streams and canals, is much like portions of the flat water-lands of Lincolnshire, and like Lincolnshire it has magnificent sunsets. As at Addlestone and Upper Halliford Mrs. Riddell’s distant views were bounded by the heights of Egham and the enchanted ranges of Windsor Forest and Herne the Hunter, so also were they at Harlington, with the added glory of seeing the sun set behind the magic Castle rising high on its hill. Given a misty eve of autumn, and the setting sun bursting through dark clouds and lighting up the noble towers as with torches of blood-crimson light, Windsor is a veritable Gnomes’ Castle such as Wagner dreamed of and conceived with strains of immortal melody. Here indeed is visible Romance, here indeed
‘The splendour falls on castle walls…
O hark, O hear…
O sweet and far, from cliff and scar,
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing.’
And yet how few people seem to have seen at their own doors what they rush to see on the Rhine and in Touraine. However, it is quite certain that the beauty of this English scene was perceived by one sad and lonely and doomed woman who had come to Harlington for a space, accompanied only by one old servant and the last survivors of the cinque-company of cats at Halliford, and these, like their mistress, were growing old. Mrs. Riddell, writing on October 4th, 1893, to Miss Matthews when sending her a present of quinces gathered from the garden of The Elms, related of her life at this time, so quiet and changed from that she had led a quarter of a century earlier, when, as a leading author and editor of a popular magazine, she had been a forceful influence in the World of Letters:
‘When, dear friend, did you ever not give to me since the happy day when I first knew you. And what have you not given me? Love, encouragement, strength. If ever I forget your kindness, I shall have forgotten most things—all worth remembering certainly. Often—often I think of you all and wish—vain things. My poor black cat, The Baroness, is dead; picked up some poison, no doubt, and came back to die—at home. The other old cat is the last animal I have left from the Halliford days, and since The Baroness’s death he is so changed I don’t think he will last over the winter. I have a few hens, a few ducks and a kid the tamest and greediest creature that ever drew breath. There are some nice old Churches round about, which I hope one day to say something concerning in print. I think I told you the Rectory people are Irish and very kind.’
The three churches in question, Harlington, Harmondsworth, and West Drayton, are all remarkably interesting buildings, and similar in style, being of the Gothic Perpendicular period. All three Manors, too, had originally been held by the Pagets, Earls of Uxbridge, now the subsidiary title of the Marquises of Anglesey. Harlington churchyard is remarkable also for an ancient yew tree (said to be over seven hundred years old, and whose annual clipping, until the year 1825, was attended by jocund festivities such as took place at the Scouring of the White Horse in Berkshire), and a magnificent cedar. Mrs. Riddell was very fond of the quiet beauties of Harlington both in summer and winter. In a sketch entitled A Personal Experience, she wrote:
‘Even on that February afternoon, how lovely the country looked, how fresh the wind, how pure the air .. . our pretty village had quite a spring-like appearance. Sunshine glinted across the pond still half-sheeted with ice, rested tenderly on the grassy mound clustered around the old church of St. Peter and St. Paul, touched the great cedars with shafts of gold…an enormous wood bon-fire kindled in the orchard.’
She was getting poorer and poorer as her health declined, for though the remuneration for her books became less and less, her voluntary payments in settlement of claims against her late husband’s estate continued with quixotic regularity until the debt of honour was wiped out. But she was now often suffering pain, ever to a greater extent, as her terrible malady gained ground. In October, 1893, she was grateful to accept some temporary assistance from Miss Matthews, to whom she writes:
‘Thank you again and again for your kind note and enclosure which I should have acknowledged at once had I not been in the agonies of finishing a story30 which was promised to go by the last post. It is quite impossible for me to say how grateful I feel or to tell you the relief your kindness is to me. The money will be a great help, but in one way I think your note is even more of assistance. If you knew how I hesitated about writing and how after my request was posted I longed to recall it. For the first time almost I omitted to insert a clause in my agreements for this year that I should receive some money as the work progressed, with the consequence that I have had to neglect bigger and really profitable work in order to write short things that the pressing claims might be met. I could pay all I have to pay without much difficulty at the end, say, of six months or a year, but my worry is that I have to send cash each month so that I never really seem to get my breath. But I don’t want to grumble when I only feel grateful….
I never forget my dear friends who made Upper Halliford “blossom like the rose.” How far away that time seems when I used to see you so often. This has been a year of trouble, loss, and anxiety to most people, I think. Publishers, at all events, have not known so bad a time for many a long day, but no doubt the reaction will set in ere long. . . .’
In 1895 Mrs. Riddell moved to another house in Harlington, for what reason is not apparent except that her increasing illness made her more and more restless and that the change of home diverted her mind for a time. The Cedars, however, a comfortable white house on the other side of the Bath Road, was also a secluded house, screened from observation by trees and clumps of thick shrubberies, a melancholy house such as she had ever delighted in for the setting of her stories and which now was attune with her own mournful condition. Though she led a retired life here, she kept in touch with a few friends and preserved an interest in their affairs. Thus she wrote to the Rev. Richard Free, then a clergyman working in North Kensington and desirous of publishing a novel he had recently written
September 20th, 1895.
Indeed I should be sorry if you ever could think of me save as your friend. Your joys and sorrows must always interest me, and till life’s tale is told I should love to hear of your happiness and success, and to be allowed to sympathise with you when trouble comes, as it is sure to do even in the most prosperous career. Since I wrote I have been trying to find some letters from a literary man who was kind enough to take an interest in my future—long, long ago. He was dying at the time, but though ill with a mortal disease he gave me advice which I never profited by as I ought. I wanted to find his letters because I thought they might contain some hint useful to you, but it was impossible for me when moving from The Elms to see to the packing, and I have never been able to arrange my papers since, so I have failed. There is one suggestion he made, however, which I venture to repeat “Do not put any restraint on your pen while writing, but blot freely afterwards.” Now this seems to me a weighty piece of advice, because it is so easy to blot, and so hard to write in.’
She advised Mr. Free to write a novel dealing with the lives and mentality of the clergy, and proceeded:
‘Often when listening to a sermon I cannot help wondering how matters stand between the preacher and his God. I have marvelled and longed to know what was troubling him. I have exhausted myself in fact wondering about the mortal who felt himself privileged to speak of immortality.’
And later she continued:
‘See Downey himself. He is a nice little fellow who will I believe help you if in his power. My novel is approaching completion. Wish me good luck with it, for indeed I sorely want a little “clapping”.’
The novel mentioned was presumably The Ruling Passion, published in 1896 by Hutchinson. Mrs. Riddell’s literary career was now nearing the end. Did He Deserve It and A Rich Man’s Daughter both appeared in 1897; in The Footfall of Fate, 1900, she once again described the Thames scenery near Chertsey; and her last book was Poor Fellow, published in 1902. By this date she had removed to her last home, Elmdale, Witham Road, in Spring Grove, that very pleasant part of Isleworth. It was merely a small and quite new red-brick villa, such a house as one could never picture as congenial to Mrs. Riddell. Here were no haunted rooms whose dark, leaded panes were touched, as with shuddering fingers, by the over-shadowing branches of elm and cedar tree, here no dank ivy and screening hedge of yew, here no creeping water and sinister mill-stream. But the windows of the house looked west over open land to the sunset, and still on the horizon lay the enchanted realm of Windsor. Mrs. Riddell was still in Middlesex and in the midst of orchards, lovely in blossom time. Spring Grove at that date led to a really charming stretch of placid, green country near Wyke Farm: but now all is ruined and destroyed by the Great West Road, along which rushes a never-ceasing Juggernaut of noise and fume, while small suburban villas now press upon and overlook the once secluded and High Aristocratic Privy Privileges of Osterley Park. Shade of Sarah Countess of Jersey….
I will not dwell on Mrs. Riddell’s last years, so sad a record it would be of ‘genteel’ poverty, loneliness, depression, and terrible pain, though at times the old Irish humour and somewhat impatient wit would break through the gathering shadows. But release was at hand from both bodily and spiritual weariness. In her own words, written in the long, long ago, in George Geith:
‘She had come, at last, to that page of human existence at the bottom whereof Finis is written, and for her there was to be nothing more, whether of joy or of sorrow, added to the volume for ever. The short day was drawing to its close— that day which had been lived so fully; the book was written, the tale told, the story ended.’
The end came on September 24th, 1906, a few days before her seventy-fourth birthday. She was buried on the west side of the churchyard of Heston, which was then still a village church, filled with the monuments of the Jersey family of Osterley Park. The service was taken by Mrs. Riddell’s friend, the Rev. Richard Free (now Vicar of St. Clement’s, Fulham). Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar was read at the graveside. The simple stone bears the words ‘Charlotte, widow of J. H. Riddell, Esq., Born 30th Sept. 1832. Died 24th Sept. 1906. Author of George Geith, The Senior Partner, and many other novels.’ It will be observed that there is no text. As she was a woman who had a deep sense of religion, knew her Bible exceedingly well, and went to church frequently, if not regularly, the omission cannot have been due to indifference or accident. It may be concluded that in a moment of wracking pain and extreme weariness towards the end, realising the futility and falsity of words proclaiming peace and comfort and joy, she impatiently gave the direction, ‘Let there be no texts above my grave.’ There was no occasion to proclaim publicly what her beliefs or future hopes might be, and that she was one who had sorrowed and suffered very pitifully was, and is, well known to her friends. She would be satisfied to be remembered just for her books, and it is fitting that the resting place for her body should lie in the Middlesex she loved so well and so admirably described.
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1. To Helen C. Black for her excellent sketch of Mrs. Riddell in Notable Women Authors of the Day, 1893.
2. Richard Bentley (1794-1871) was originally in partnership with Henry Colburn. In 1832 he became a publisher on his own account. The firm flourished for over sixty years and was eventually amalgamated with that of Macmillan. Bentley was associated with the early work of Dickens and Ainsworth, and these impatient, hot-blooded authors have conveyed the impression that their publisher was a hard man to deal with: Mrs. Riddell’s pleasant tribute to Bentley perhaps restores the balance of fair judgment.
3. Interview in The Pall Mall Gazette, 18th February, 1890.
4. The success of George Geith was long and lasting. Thirteen years after the publication of the book, the story was dramatised as a play in four acts and a tableau by Wybert Reeve, a provincial actor-manager, he played the part of George Geith when the drama was produced at the Theatre Royal, Scarborough, on August 6th, 1877, with Ada Lester as Beryl Molozane ; William Blakeley as Tillett, the lawyer; J. Bannister as Bemmidge ; and Jane Coveney as Mrs. Bemmidge Wybert Reeve and Ada Lester continued their success in this play when they took it to Australia. Like the modern film version of a successful novel, the dramatic version of George Geith was very different from the original, for Beryl, instead of dying, was provided with a new lease of life as wife and mother. George Geith, or Romance of a City Life was revived at the Crystal Palace on October 30th, 1883, with F. H. Macklin as the hero, supported by Mrs. Macklin, Albert Chevalier, E. W. Gardiner, and Miss Coveney.
5. St. John’s Lodge, which was long ago demolished, stood exactly opposite to Black Boy Lane on a site which now forms part of the extensive premises and grounds of the North Eastern Fever Hospital. Fortunately the grounds of another old mansion called The Chestnuts still survive in the form of a public park bearing that name, adjoining Black Boy Lane.
6. Florence Marryat (1838-1899), novelist and spiritualist, daughter of Captain Marryat, the naval novelist.
7. Mrs. Riddell had been dead seventeen years when Mr. Furniss first printed his assertion in 1923, in his Some Victorian Women.
8. In Mortomley’s Estate she said of her husband’s prototype ‘Mortomley was an experimenter. When ruin has marked a family for her own, she usually endows the last of the race with some such form of genius, which clings about and lends a certain picturesque grace to his decay, as ivy climbing around an almost lifeless tree clothes it with a freshness and a beauty it lacked in the day of its strength. And the form of genius of the first Mortomley who engaged in trade had, with every condition of existence altered, reappeared in this later, weaker, and more sensitive descendant. Even in his father’s time he had introduced processes and combinations into their laboratory hitherto unthought of. . ..’
9. Raglan house is now divided into two houses known as ‘Bourneside,’
10. Mr. Norway in later years became Secretary to G.P.O., Ireland. He is the author of A History of the Post Office Packet Service, 1793-1815 (1895); Byeways in Devon and Cornwall (1897); Highways and Byeways in Yorkshire (1899); and Naples, Past and Present (1901).
11. Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Mrs. Hodgson Burnett, had just been published this year, 1886. When dramatised the story brought to the author over £20,000.
12. Jackanapes by Juliana Horatia Ewing (1841-1885) was published in 1883.
13. Nancy, by Rhoda Broughton (1840-1920) had appeared in 1873.
14. ‘The boys of 1886 whom Mrs. Riddell envisaged as prophets in 1900 do not seem to have materialised. Messrs. Shaw and Wells though writing of course, thirty years ago, were of the previous generation and already well known in 1900.
15. Called Back, by Hugh Conway (whose real name was Frederick John Fargus), had a tremendous success in 1883. The story originally appeared in Arrowsmith’s Christmas Annual. Conway also wrote Dark Days of which there were several burlesques, such as Andrew Lang’s Much Darker Days, by A. Huge Longway, Author of Scrawled Black, The Mystery of Paul Targus,’ etc. (Longmans, 1884); and in Punch, November 22nd, 1884, appeared Bright Nights, by the Author of Hauled Forward.
16. See page 125. [ie of Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu & Others by S.M. Ellis].
17. This book was Miss Gascoigne (1887), which seems to describe Carrickfergus, Mrs. Riddell’s early home, for it pictures a town by the sea. Mr. Edmund Downey, who published the novel, stated to me ‘I always felt that she was the heroine of Miss Gascoigne, She hinted at something of the kind.’ It is the story of the love of an older woman for a young man. Mr. Downey added ‘She was a very attractive woman, notwithstanding her strong (somewhat masculine) voice. She was not a blue-stocking.’
18. The Eulogy of Richard Jefferies, by Walter Besant, 1888.
19. Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), naturalist and novelist. The son of a farmer, his The Gamekeeper at Home first appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette in 1877, and Wild Life in a Southern County, in 1879. Wood Magic was published in 1881, and The Story of my Heart in 1883.
20. The Special Judicial Commission to investigate Richard Piggott’s allegations made in his Parnellism and Crime had been held the previous year, 1888, when he broke down under cross-examination, and fled to Madrid, where he committed suicide in 1889.
21. Mrs. Henry Wood had died in 1887. It is not clear why Mrs. Riddell disliked her work so much.
22. A London Life.
23. One of her five cats.
24. The name was changed to Backstraw when the story was published on July 6th, 1889, as Bertie Evering’s Experience.
25. Ada Ellen Bayly (1857-1903) had already written her most successful novels, Donovan, We Two, and In The Golden Days.
26. Pax Vobiscum and The Greatest Thing in the World were both written by Professor Henry Drummond, F.R.S.E., and appeared in 1890.
27. In The Pall Mall Gazette,February 18th, 1890, wherein Raymond Blathwayt describes Mrs. Riddell at the age of fifty-eight as a cheery and pleasant lady, light-haired and middle-aged.
28. The Reverend H. Vigne had been Vicar of Sunbury since 1842.
29. Alaric Spenceley, or a High Ideal, was published in 1881.
30. Presumably The Rusty Sword (1893).
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