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from Argosy, vol. XLIII, 1887-apr, pp. 251-70
THE pen may well fall from the hand in attempting its task, though only a few pages can be given to this present record. If a longer Biography should be written, it must come when Time has softened the first keenness of the blow; though the loss, the sorrow, the silence, and the vacant chair can only grow more real and more vivid in the coming years.
But it is meet that a few words, whatever the effort, should be given at once in memory of one whose name has been so long a household word in the pages of this magazine, and has contributedso greatly to its remarkable success.
It is not only a painful but a difficult task to write the following pages. To describe the personal charm of Mrs. Henry Wood isalmost as impossible and hopeless as it would be to attempt to embody the perfume of the rose, or to give form and expression to the scent of the violet.
Her inner life was so beautiful that it can only be a record of praise upon praise; and it might have seemed more graceful and appropriate had the tribute come from some other hand. Unfortunately none other exists. Mrs. Henry Wood's life was so self-contained that only those connected with her by the closest bonds of relationship knew her intimately. Even with these there was ever a certain reticence which made them feel that in some sense her life was lived apart from them and from the whole world. There was within her a yet higher and deeper life into which none were permitted to intrude.
In presence of the solemn Mystery of Death, also, all other thoughts and considerations must yield. The ordinary rules and conventionalities of life have no place. In the most sacred of all earthly ties--that existing between mother and son--scope may be allowed and indulgence given, and praise that might have come better from others must be looked upon as Sorrow's tribute placed reverently upon the tomb of the sacred departed; making that natural and becoming which might not be quite so under other circumstances.
I can only affirm that the following pages are a most unworthy, most unexaggerated record of a singularly perfect life, to which it is as impossible to render justice as it is impossible, in mere words, to describe the influence of everything that is lovely and of good report.
MRS. HENRY WOOD was born when the present century was still young. It has gone forth to the world--I know not how--that she was born in the year 1820. This is a mistake. She was born on the 17th of January, 1814, and consequently, at the time of her death, was seventy-three years of age. Yet no one ever thought or spoke of her as being old. She had the rare gift of perpetual youth. Her eye was as bright, her face as young, her complexion as fair and brilliant, her mind as sparkling, and her heart as green, as they had been fifty years ago.
She was christened Ellen, and was the daughter of Mr. Thomas Price, one of the largest glove manufacturers in the city of Worcester; as his father had been before him.
Mr. Thomas Price, an only child, inherited considerable property from his father, who died at the early age of forty-seven, and had been known as the finest and handsomest man in the Faithful City. His son Thomas had received what would have been very advanced education even in these days, and was a very exceptional one in those. He was a man of remarkable intellect, of great refinement and taste.
I once saw him, and only once, when my parents came over to England on a short visit, and brought me with them. I was very young at the time, and can just remember the effect made upon me by a venerable gentleman, with calm and dignified manners and a subdued voice; with an abundance of white hair and a face beautiful in age. Perhaps what most impressed me were the large frills he always wore to his shirts, and about which he was very fastidious, even after they had gone out of fashion. His hands were white and delicate as a woman's.
Child as I was--I could not have been more than five years old--the impression made upon me by this vision of age and dignity, the certain awe and veneration it created in a childhood that was peculiarly impressionable, never passed away. Yet the interviews, as far as I was concerned, were few and short, and had taken place in London. He had come up to town to visit his daughter, as she was unable, on that occasion, to go down into Worcestershire
UP to the age of seven, Mrs. Henry Wood was brought up in the house of her grandmother, a lady who adorned her home, but took no part in its arrangement. This was relegated to the care of a housekeeper, who managed everything, and was responsible for the duties of the other servants of the household. She was called Mrs. Tipton, was a very original character, and was never seen in anything but black silk. She had been with her mistress from the time of her marriage and remained with her until her death.
The little child was Mrs. Tipton's especial charge, though she also had her own particular attendant to wait upon her. She also had her own special rooms, and though so great a favourite with her grandmother, was only allowed to be with her at stated times. Children in those days, it is needless to say, were brought up far more strictly and severely than they are in these.
It was the housekeeper, Mrs. Tipton, who generally accompanied the little child in her morning walks, whilst in the afternoons she was always expected to drive out with her grandmother. Her place in the carriage was never filled. The housekeeper, when no one else was present, generally accompanied them in these drives, in attendance upon her little charge. It was on such an occasion that she gave expression to one of her quaint sayings, which was ever afterwards remembered against her.
They were passing a churchyard at some distance from Worcester, when Mrs. Tipton, looking up, suddenly exclaimed: "Oh, ma'am! what a healthy, bracing spot for a churchyard How I should like to be buried there when my time comes!"
She was promised that her wish should be regarded, but whether it was ever carried out in the end, I do not remember to have heard.
It was in one of their morning walks that the housekeeper, whilst probably saving the life of her charge, also very possibly laid the foundation for much future delicacy.
They were passing through a field, when suddenly an infuriated bull, attracted by a red dress or hood that the child was wearing, made a rush, and charged at them across the field.
Mrs. Tipton, paralyzed with fear, took the child in her arms, and fled for her life. She gained the hedge, but no point of exit. The bull was upon them; and scarcely knowing what she did, she threw the little girl high over the hedge into an adjoining field.
How she eventually escaped herself, she never could quite tell afterwards; but she did escape. On reaching the next field, she found her charge lying where she had fallen; pale, but apparently unhurt.
Genius, in childhood, is said to be either very awakened or very backward. In my mother's case it was the former. At seven years old she had gone through, without effort, the studies of girls twice her age. She could repeat, rapidly and correctly, whole poems, such as Gray's "Elegy" and the "Deserted Village;" and at ten years old she had read a great part of Shakespeare. At all times her memory was marvellous, almost miraculous. It was only last year that one of her children having asked a question with regard to Sterne's "Maria," she immediately and fluently repeated two whole pages bearing upon the question. Yet she had never opened the book since she was thirteen: an interval of sixty years.
With regard to her lessons, her daily tasks, she never had to read them through more than once, after which she could repeat them fluently. History was her favourite and beloved study; geography she disliked. All her wishes in her early home were regarded. She was indulged in every possible way, but could not be spoilt. It may be said, with all truth and with all , reverence, that the Hand of God was upon her, and that she was ever in His keeping. "Thou wilt hide me under the shadow of Thy wings, and I shall be safe from fear of evil." I have never beard this verse read in church without thinking of my mother.
Her grandmother supplied her with unlimited pocket-money; but where in most cases it would have been exchanged for dolls, toys, and bonbons, in my mother's case it was invariably spent in books. When she was seven years old, Mr. William Price died after a few months' illness; an illness which had baffled the skill of all physicians, who could not even guess at the nature of his malady. He suffered no pain; yet no relief could be obtained; no food could be digested. He gradually faded and passed away.
After death, when lying in his coffin, it was thought right to take in his little grand-daughter--of whom he had been so fond, and who had returned all his affection- -for one look before the last sad office was performed and the face was for ever closed to mortal eyes.
The act was, no doubt, prompted by a good and kindly feeling, but it was a mistake. The child, peculiarly imaginative, sensitive and impressionable to the last degree, was so terrified and affected by the sight that she fell into violent hysterics, and for many hours they feared for the result. In time she calmed down, and the effect disappeared; but the impression remained, and was never forgotten by herself in after years.
AFTER the death of her grandfather, changes were made in the household, and it was decided that the little girl should return to her own home. She had only beet; lent for a time.
For her, this meant the commencement of a new life. At her grandmother's she had been made the first consideration ; had been indulged in every way; her every wish bad been studied, as much as it was possible to do so in those days of discipline; but her sweet nature, as I have said, could not be spoilt.
She now became the companion of her father, whose cultivated mind greatly guided her from that hour, and, no doubt, had considerable influence in directing the growth of her intellect over and above her governess, he superintended her studies and indicated her reading; and she ever looked up to him with the deepest reverence and affection.
I have remarked that he was a man of great mental power; a refined and polished gentleman, as well as one of the most accomplished scholars of his day; looked up to by all, respected by high and low, ever known as the friend and protector of the poor and suffering.
Singularly calm in the ordinary ways and walks of life, nothing roused him so much as the tyranny and oppression of those who had power to help themselves. And it was almost a proverb in Worcester that, whoever might be present at any public meeting, however important, Mr. Price's opinion would carry the day; and the poor--if they happened to be in question--would certainly get their rights. He was a man of few words, and spoke in the quietest tones; but all he said was pointed by such sound sense and judgment that he was seldom known to fail in carrying his point.
It must also be remembered that we are now writing of some sixty or seventy years ago and more, when the world was very different from what it is now: and, as regards the poor, they had only the rich to trust to for their privileges.
It was with such a man that my mother's earlier life was passed exactly the man and mind to strengthen and nourish the good seed abounding in her heart. The home was a quiet one of abundance, with more life and movement about it than had been the case in the home of her grandmother. Mr. Price was a great classical scholar, and some of the learned dignitaries of the cathedral would not infrequently consult him upon abstruse points, and accept his opinion in preference to theirs. He was intimate with many, and was, indeed, more fitted to, be a dignitary himself than to be the head, of a manufactory. , He was an especial favourite of one of the bishops, who lamented to him on his death-bed that he had not a son in the Church whose interest he might have advanced.
He was also an accomplished musician, of which art he was passionately fond; and his sketches in water colours were far above the average of amateur productions. Landscapes, interiors, men and women, he did all equally well; but he could not draw an animal, with which he was as unsuccessful as was Turner with his figures. He was a great chess player, moved with extreme rapidity, and rarely lost a game. Everything he undertook, he mastered.
There is no doubt that Mrs. Henry Wood inherited much of her literary talent from her father. He read deeply, and although he never wrote, he was of an original and thorough turn of mind. Whatever he attempted was carried out with an earnestness of intention which equally characterised his daughter all through life.
She, also, was very artistic in mind, and in earlier years painted charmingly in water colours. Her subjects were chiefly flowers, and she delighted in arranging and forming her own groups..
Probably no one ever lived with greater taste for preparing flowers wherewith to decorate a table or a room ; and her drawing-rooms in France were at all times made beautiful by a profusion of exotics arranged as no one else could do them. The result in her case was almost magical. It cost her neither time nor trouble. When the flowers had been sorted and placed in vases by a servant, she would go round the rooms, and in a moment, as it were, completely transform the whole effect, giving beauty and grace where before all had been commonplace and ordinary.
But her painting she soon put aside, and when she took up her pen, her pencil was laid down for ever.
Whilst Mrs. Henry Wood was greatly indebted to her father, there is no doubt she also owed much to her mother. Two more opposite characters than Mr. and Mrs. Price could scarcely have existed, and therefore they blended into a perfect whole.
Mr. Price, thoughtful and scholarly, rarely spoke merely for the sake of saying something. His wife was a small, very pretty woman, with dark, flashing eyes, light, graceful movements, and sparkling wit and conversation. She was as animated and talkative as her husband was the opposite.
She lived to a very advanced age, and when I was fifteen and she was eighty-one, I paid a short visit to Malvern, and as we went together about the hills, she scarcely seemed the elder of the two. To the last she possessed all the life and freshness of youth.
Our conversation naturally often turned upon my mother's works. She was very proud other daughter and took the liveliest and most intense interest in all she wrote.
"It is my delight," she would say over and over again, "to shut myself into a sitting- room, perfectly alone, with her books. I then feel that I am in the company of a great crowd of living, breathing friends. I see them and know them as much as if they actually existed ; and I feel as if they all knew me. If I were suddenly transplanted to the midst of a desert with her books, I should never be lonely or depressed."
Depressed she could never have been under any circumstances. She was then a perfect picture of an old lady, and always wore her hair in the fashion of her younger days : beautifully arranged in small curls one above another on her forehead and temples. It was very picturesque, and added distinction to a face that had always been charming. Before her marriage, she and her sister had been known as "the beautiful Miss Evanses." A generation later, my mother and her sister were universally known as "the beautiful Miss Prices." Worcester had always been famous for its beauties, but the two Miss Prices were said to excel them all.
One of her great friends was Mrs. Benson, wife of the then Master of the Temple, and one of the Canons of Worcester Cathedral; and I have in my possession an ancient copy of Milton, given to my grandmother by Mrs. Benson, and which she passed on to me as one of her greatest treasures on the occasion of the visit to Malvern to which I have just alluded. Milton was one of her favourite poets, and she never tired of the grandeur and solemnity of his themes.
THE mention of Canon Benson brings to my mind the frequency with which I have heard my mother say how much she liked him, both as a girl and a young woman. And it was only last year that my old friend Mr. Whitefoord, the Rector of Whitton, who had also been a friend of Canon Benson's in his earlier days, gave my mother great pleasure by sending her an old and lengthy letter of the Canon's, which he had unearthed from treasures long buried. Though she had not seen his writing for so many years, she at once recognised both it and the familiar style of the writer.
I have often heard her remark that when Canon Benson was in residence, people flocked from far and near to hear him preach People of all sects and denominations; Dissenters, and even Quakers who would not have ventured at any other time within the cathedra walls, scarcely have dared to do so. His preaching was remarkable: the quietest, calmest, most earnest that could be conceived. And it was only such calm, quiet preaching that ever impressed my mother. To ranting she could never listen. A loud voice or much action had an effect upon her nervous system and delicate organisation that she was unable to bear, and she would be almost made ill by it.
Such a voice, also, as Canon Benson's was rarely found. It was perfect harmony and music. With all its quietness, every syllable he uttered was distinctly heard by the whole congregation. On the days that he preached, long before service began, there was not standing room to be had; and. the pulpit stairs were crowded up to the very door with people, who had to come down and make way for the Canon as he ascended to his place.
I have so far mentioned him because he was a great feature in my mother's life, standing out with distinct influence upon the canvas of her early days. His name was frequently upon her lips, and to her he was ever the beau-idéal and perfection of all that a preacher and a light in the Church should be. He had one affliction: in his late life he became so deaf that he could not even hear the organ, and when reading the Commandments a sign had always to be made when the organ ceased and it was time for him to go on. It was difficult to say which was the more musical of the two: his pure,_ distinct voice, or the soft flute stops of the instrument.
It was amongst such people that my mother's early life was passed, and it is this atmosphere which she introduces into so many of her works. Nowhere, perhaps, is it more conspicuous than in her present story, "Lady Grace." One feels that it is taken from life; that the people are real, and actually have an existence; that nothing is invented, except plot, situations and incidents; and even some of the latter actually occurred. Cathedral atmosphere, cathedral people, cathedral prejudices, these were a part of her life and nature, her very being, and threw their influence over the whole tone and cast of her mind. With these she was identified. She delighted in the smallest details of this life as much as in its broad outlines. In all matters ecclesiastical she was an authority.
TE years went on until at the age of thirteen a delicacy began to show itself. Something was wrong with the spine. No doubt in these more advanced days all might have been put right: but sixty years ago the science of medicine--which, even as it is, has made less progress than any other science--was in a very elementary condition. All was done that could be done: but it seemed certain that henceforth a life of more or less suffering and weakness was to be her lot. And now the quiet, thoughtful girl had to become still quieter and more thoughtful. The doctors did their utmost, but it was little. Her days had to be passed on a reclining board or couch, from which she seldom moved. Reading and study, always her great pleasure and passion, now became her chief resource. Surrounded by her books she was always happy.
Her mind grew and expanded rapidly, but this was probably at the expense of the frail body. As its delicacy increased, so did the singular beauty of her face.
This beauty was something quite out of the common order. It possessed a quality that cannot be described, because it was, so to say, intangible. It was something quite apart from the mere perfection of feature, which she also possessed. Perhaps the word ethereal will best give the reader an idea of its character.
The face was a pure oval, of the most refined description : that perfection of form that is so rarely seen. A small, straight, very delicate and refined nose; teeth of dazzling whiteness, entire to the day of her death ; a perfect mouth, revealing at once the sensitiveness and tender sympathy of her nature and the steadfastness of her disposition. Her eyes were unusually large, dark and flashing, with a penetrating gaze that seemed to read your inmost thoughts. One felt that everything before her had to, be outspoken: for if you uttered only half your thoughts, she would certainly divine the rest. Nothing escaped her powers of observation. She seemed to learn things by intuition, so that she often surprised one by uttering what seemed like a revelation or the disclosures of an Oracle. She herself was aware of this, and was frequently amused by the result and the astonishment created. At the same time hers were the softest and sweetest eyes imaginable, and one marvelled over and over again, how this singular combination of intellect, penetration, and sweetness, could exist--as exist it undoubtedly did.
With it all, her prevailing expression was a look of absolute repose. I remember Lady Lush once saying to me--one of the best women that ever lived: whose life was devoted to good works--that she would give anything to possess my mother's calm expression. But Lady Lush's life was passed in activity, and in the bustle of the world my mother's to a great extent in the retirement of her study. Her health never permitted of anything else and even after a quiet but animated evening with friends, she would sometimes suffer from a fit of nervous exhaustion, which would feel to her almost like death itself.
This calmness and serenity came from within. It seemed as if her whole life, with all its cares, responsibilities and joys, was taken to a higher Power and Refuge than any on earth, and there reposed in the security of perfect faith. This was, indeed, the case. She never spoke of these matters, but she was the living, breathing embodiment of the verse: "Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."
The head was well set upon the shoulders: a head perfect in form, small, except where the intellectual faculties were developed. Her complexion was dazzling, the most lovely bloom at all times contrasting with the brilliant whiteness of her skin. In hours of animation I have watched the delicate flush come and go a hundred times in as many minutes across her wonderful countenance; and, to record the simile once used by a friend in speaking to me of this peculiar beauty, "chasing each other like the rosy clouds of sunrise sweeping across a summer sky." She had a very keen sense of wit and humour.
This strange beauty remained with her to the end! Even in hours of illness and suffering it never forsook her. Her face never lost its look of youth. It was absolutely without line or wrinkle or any mark or sign of age. She kept to the last the complexion and freshness of a young girl: that strange radiancy which seemed the reflection of some unseen glory. This was so great that to the last we were unable to realise that death could come to her.
I fear this may sound very like exaggeration, but many living friends will bear witness that it only falls short of the facts. I have said that these simple records would have come more appropriately from some other hand than mine; but as mine is the task, I can only do it to the best of my ability, and with absolute truth. I cannot do less than justice to her who for so many years was unto us as a fortress firm and sure; whose wisdom was unfailing; whose love was boundless; who would never at any moment have hesitated to lay down her life for those she loved, had the trial been demanded of her whose loss is as the withdrawing of the sun from our sky, the life and beauty of all that was to us most sacred and most dear.
The description lately given of her by an unknown writer,: who yet must have met her, is as true as anything that could be written of her: "You can almost see the spirit itself of Mrs. Henry Wood shining through the frail, I had almost said diaphanous, body and exquisite face; and the sight only rivets and charms one more and more; for she possesses a sparkling intellect and a heart of gold."
IT is said of most literary people that they are not domesticated. My mother was eminently so. Her household was perfectly ruled; the most complete order and system reigned. Her servants were expected to do their duties without any interference. It was the rarest thing for any servant to leave her. She never omitted, morning by morning, to have an interview with her housekeeper; when the orders were given for the day, down to the smallest item concerning luncheon or dinner. Punctuality was a strict rule of the house: everything was ready to the moment ordered. There was no effort, no jarring, no ruling except by quiet, firm influence. The complaints about domestics so often heard in these days were never heard in my mother's house, and never existed.
She was a very early riser. Punctually at seven o'clock, summer and winter, her maid went into her room, drew up the blinds, and she rose immediately after. A few minutes after eight, she went into her study, where she invariably breakfasted alone, never coming down, except upon very special occasions, until one o'clock, when her work was over for the day.
Of her benevolence, perhaps a few words may be recorded. Her, charity was unbounded. It might be said of her: "She stretcheth out her hands to the poor; yea she reacheth forth her hand to the needy." Her pensioners were many. No one ever applied to her in vain if they were found worthy. She gave away many hundred's a year, yet always with discretion. Very much was done in secret, and all was done, as all else in her life, unobtrusively. Her sympathy with suffering and sorrow was profound.
But we have not quite done with her girlhood.
From the age of thirteen to seventeen my mother's life may be said to have been spent on her reclining board and couch. No doubt this greatly tended to bend her mind in the direction it took; just as Scott's long illness about the same age strengthened and developed all his own powers of romance. No doubt, also, it gave her that matured habit of thought and calm, sound judgment for which in after life she was distinguished. Her imagination grew with her growth and her reading, but so did her good sense. Considering the occupation of her life, and her constant exercise of the gift of ideality, the common sense she exercised on all possible occasions was, as singular as it was remarkable.
At the age of seventeen the curvature of the spine became confirmed and settled. She was pronounced cured. That is to say, she ceased to suffer. Nothing more could be done. It was no longer necessary to be always reclining. In earlier life very little amiss was, to be seen with the figure, except that she remained small and short, her height not exceeding five feet two. But, the spine excepted, she was so perfectly formed that her movements were at all times full of grace and dignity. Her constitution was remarkably sound, but the body henceforth was to be frail, delicate, absolutely without muscular power. She could at no time raise an ordinary weight, or ever carry anything heavier than a small book or a parasol.
Whether this weakness of the spine had anything to do with the fall when she was thrown over the hedge by Mrs. Tipton, the house-keeper: or whether it was a certain weakness born with her, and which had to develop itself in any case: or whether the strength and activity of the brain overpowered the weaker body: this can never be known. In any case it was to be.
I think it was probably due to the latter cause, for many writers have suffered in a similar manner. It was once said to me by one who knew all three, that if you followed Miss Mitford, Mrs. Barrett Browning, and Mrs. Henry Wood down a street, walking side by side, you could scarcely tell one from the other, so much were their figures alike.
Another, who at this moment occurs to me, was Julia Kavanagh. She has told me that in early life she suffered exactly as my mother had suffered; but she was even smaller and shorter, and the mischief in her case was more evident. She, too, had large, beautiful brown eyes, with a singular softness and sweetness about them, through which one saw shining the spirit of purity and devotion.
There is no doubt that the cultivation of the intellect is often purchased at the expense of muscular power. The constitution may remain vigorous, but whatever is done or accomplished in life has to be done through the brain. Bodily toil or exertion becomes impossible.
With my mother the frailty of the body was so pronounced that every word of "East Lynne" was written in a reclining chair with her manuscript paper upon her knees.
WHEN about twenty years of age, trouble came to her home. Trouble not from within but from without. Not the overwhelming disasters that overtook many households, but sufficient to make a marked change in her life.
It was about this time that Huskisson, with the desire for "Free Trade" which has since characterised a certain number of English statesmen, opened the British ports for the introduction of foreign goods.
The immediate effect upon the English glove manufacturers was disastrous. Men of limited works and means were ruined and disappeared for ever. Those who could weather the storm did so at immense sacrifices.
Amongst these was Mr. Price. Ever thoughtful and considerate for others, and especially so for those beneath him or dependent upon him, though he employed a very large number of workpeople. he would not discharge one of them. For long the remained absolutely idle. It was generally supposed that when the evil wrought came to be realised, the ports would he closed again. For years manufacturers went on hoping against hope. In this and other ways for many weeks, week after week, and week by week, Mr. Price lost each week what to many would have been a large fortune.
Matters were growing serious. Thousands of working men and women were thrown out of work; thousands were starving. Huskisson saw the mistake he had made when it was too late. The mischief was done; the evil had fallen. Ruined masters could not be reinstated : the thousands of operatives had scattered over the land: or had found other occupation: or had died of want and despair.
Mr. Price felt the blow equally with others, but, thanks to private resources, he was by no means ruined. Had he retired at once, he might have done so with wealth and honour. Probably, he too, thought that when those who had done this mischief saw the evil they had brought upon the land, they would do their best to correct it. It is in human nature to go on hoping against hope. It was a very forlorn hope in this instance. The Bill had passed, the deed was done. The evil came to the few, as was predicted by the very men who wrought it; but it came to the many also; whilst the benefits. that were to follow to the millions were never traced.
Chiefly for his workpeople Mr. Price had kept on. He saw misery and ruin, distress and famine around him; as far as he was able, his own people should be spared. But he paid a great price for all this upright dealing and noble conduct. Though even now it was not absolutely necessary, yet he thought it right to diminish his household and his expenditure, and to continue life in a much simpler manner than that to which he had been born and bred.
Probably very few living remember the devastation and ruin worked at this time in many of the manufacturing towns of England. But, as in "Mrs. Halliburton's Troubles," Mrs. Henry Wood has given a detailed description of the manufactories, their ways, and works; so in "Mildred Arkell," and especially in the chapter headed A City's Desolation, she has recorded the misery and despair that fell upon so many parts of England on this opening of the British ports.
The wealth Mr. Price then lost he never recovered. All had not gone. He was fortunately a man of sufficient property, and enjoyed an easy competence to the last; but this was all very different from what it once had been.
THE next change in my mother's life was her marriage with Mr. Henry Wood, who was at the head of a large shipping and banking firm abroad. He was also for some time in the consular service, and it was said by Lord Palmerston in his later days that he had never, in all his experience, received such clear and satisfactory documents and reports as those invariably sent in by Mr. Henry Wood. He retired early into private life, and died, comparatively speaking, a young man.
It was a singular coincidence that he was somewhat nearly related to one who bore his name, and was for many years Canon of Worcester Cathedral, and who died only last year full of age and honour.
Another coincidence was, that in marrying Miss Price he was. marrying into an old family name, though they were in no way, related. He was heir to a considerable property left to the family, by an ancestor named Price, who in 1741 went out as Governor of Surat. He died in 1780, leaving property, which, unclaimed by his family, remained in the hands of the East India Company until it passed over to the Government. There it still remains, to enable my father's descendants to indulge in Aladdin-like visions of wealth and airy castles, from which perhaps they derive as much pleasure as if they possessed them in reality.
My father, though a man of great intellectual power, possessed a very different cast of mind from that of his wife. He was almost devoid of imagination. Novels he scarcely ever read; poetry he would not look at; but abstruse books of science were his delight. Yet in social life he was the gayest of the gay.
He had a great gift for languages, and those he had mastered he spoke fluently. No Frenchman hearing him speak French for the first time would believe that he was English. This, in the most delicate and therefore difficult of European tongues, was a great test. To his children it came naturally, as their mother tongue; with him it was acquired, and therefore the greater merit. He was a first- rate public speaker, and a great politician on the Conservative side.
He possessed another gift also-that of Medicine; loving it for its own sake. Out of pure admiration for the work and science, he walked the hospitals of London, performed operations, went through the whole curriculum. And this not with any idea of practising--he never did practise, and never intended to do so--but from absolute devotion to the art. He was a great friend of the late Sir William Lawrence; who, indeed, in the only illness he was ever known to have until his last and fatal illness, saved his life. He had the strength of a man with the tenderness of a woman.
I have said that he never practised, but I ought to make one exception, As long as he lived, we never needed a doctor, never had one. He was all-sufficient; and through all the illnesses to which childhood is heir, he brought us to safe and speedy convalescence. This was twice fortunate for us, who were living abroad, and must otherwise have been at the mercy of foreign physicians. These as often kill as cure. It is only the French surgeons who excel in skill.
It was, indeed, the fatal treatment of a French doctor which determined him to take matters henceforth into his own hands.
At that time two children had been born to him: his eldest son, Henry, named after himself, and a daughter, Ellen, named after her, mother. The little girl was seized with scarlet fever, and my father, then a young man, feared to take so much responsibility upon himself. He was devoted to his children, but especially so to his little daughter. I have heard her described as a very sweet child, and people frequently said she was too good to live. Their prophecies proved only too true.
The doctors treated her as they always treated the malady in those days. They first of all starved her, and when she was sinking from exhaustion applied leeches to the throat. The faithful nurse, who was then a member of the household, has ever since belonged to us, and been looked upon as a firm friend of the family, protested in vain.
"Monsieur," she cried to her master, distractedly raising her hands in agonies of despair, "do not allow it. If this thing is done and the leeches are applied, I tell you the child will die."
They were applied; the little throat closed up, and the child died. For long the sorrow of the father was such, it was feared that he would die also. The faithful nurse was almost equally affected. She was one of those strong and determined characters who will have their own way in everything; the under nurses had to obey her every look, and even the mother's authority in her nursery was not absolute.
She was as tenacious in her affections as she was strong in character. None but herself was allowed to perform the last sad offices for the pure and beautiful little creature who had gone to a better world. With her own hands she placed her in her little coffin, watched over it night and day, until the little body was consigned to the earth, and hidden away for ever from mortal eyes.
But my father had had enough of French doctors. The day his little girl died, his son was taken ill with the fever. "This," he said, sadly, "shall now be my care; come what may I will have no more French doctors in the house." And in a fortnight the little fellow was well again and running about.
Years afterwards, when another little daughter was bom to them, my father--who regarded his wife as a woman far above rubies; and who thought to the end of his life the world contained none like her--again insisted that the name Ellen should be repeated.
His wife, whose vivid imagination perhaps inclined her to be slightly superstitious, hesitated: a compromise was eventually agreed upon by the addition of the name of Mary: and Ellen Mary she was accordingly christened. Had he been blessed with twelve daughters instead of two, I believe that every one of them, amongst other names, would have borne that of Ellen.
The name exactly suited my mother: soft, liquid, flowing easily. It expressed her own gentle, quiet nature. So much gentle softness was perhaps never before united to so much vigour of mind.
Amongst the many charms that characterised her was a very rare one. She had little ear for music, 110 voice whatever for singing; but in speaking her voice was music itself. Sweet and low, clear and distinct, it was like a silver bell in the house, like the softest flute. Those who heard it once, never forgot it. By reason of its beauty, it rang in your ears long after you had passed out of her presence. It rings in mine as I write, where it will ring for ever. No music in heaven will be sweeter: no face will he fairer.
"The sound of a voice that is still," can scarcely be applied in this instance. Her voice and her presence do not seem to be withdrawn. It is impossible to pass her room and believe that she is no longer there. Such presence and influence as hers do not cease with death. It was sufficient if she were only in the house: a subtle, impalpable something told you that it was so, even though unseen: and it was light and life to those about her. With her amongst us we were lifted at once far above the ordinary conditions of everyday existence.
AFTER her marriage, Mrs. Henry Wood went abroad, and England for many years ceased to be her home. It was a great change of life and atmosphere for the young girl, who, until now, had known only the quiet and retirement of a Cathedral city, had consorted with its grave clergy: years of which life, moreover, had been passed on a reclining board and a couch, from which she was seldom permitted to stir.
At first, I have heard her say, she did not like the change, though he went to a beautiful home, and was surrounded by all that wealth could supply or affection dictate. But her mind was unusually faithful to old impressions, singularly tenacious, and many elements dear to her in the old life were wanting in the new.
She mixed in a different social atmosphere. The gravity and dignity of a cathedral city were exchanged for the gaiety and sparkle that distinguish so many French towns. The language, too, was foreign. Though she had studied French, she could not speak it. In time she came to do so as fluently as English, but that was only in after years.
The cathedral itself was a very great loss to her. She missed the beautiful services; the quiet dignity and solemnity with which everything was done there; the chanting of the prayers, the influence of the building itself, and the beauty of the great east window, so often alluded to in her works.
To the end she delighted in rich colours, and it was ever her pleasure to blend them about her in her sitting-rooms. For hours she would sit in her drawing-room watching the prismatic reflections thrown from a crystal upon an opposite wall, whilst plots and ideas for her works would flash through her brain with strange ease and fertility.
But as time went on she grew reconciled to the change, and in the end very much liked her Continental life, and looked back upon it as upon very happy days.
She had another great source of pleasure. She always slept well, but she dreamed constantly, and it was ever the greatest delight to her to recall her dreams. The remembrance of them did not pass away, as they do with most people. She would dream whole con- secutive histories; she was ever wandering in the loveliest realms, amongst the sweetest flowers. These dreams never forsook her throughout life. In her very last days when waking out of sleep, she would say to those about her how beautiful her dreams had been.
No wonder. Her imagination was continually exercised. Her spirit was pure and lovely above any we ever knew; her face was the reflection of every beauty and every virtue; her waking thoughts were, ever full of compassion and consideration for others. An unkindly thought never entered her heart; an unkindly or uncharitable word was never heard upon her lips.
Whilst very rarely giving expression to her emotions--she was, indeed, in these matters, singularly reticent and self-contained--love and compassion were the key-notes of her life. It is a fact that she was never known to make an enemy. Every one who knew her agreed in loving and praising her. It could not have been otherwise. Her very sweetness disarmed all antagonism. The weaknesses of her sex seemed to have passed her by. Faithful friend, charming and intellectual companion, she yet never for a moment indulged in frivolous chatter and gossip; and such was her unconscious influence that scandal was never mentioned before her.
There was of course one great reason for all this personal influence and beauty of living. She was, in a quiet, unostentatious way, one of the most religious and devout women that ever lived. She had a firm, unwavering faith. Her heart at all times seemed fixed upon the things unseen rather than upon the things of earth. Her whole life was one long, silent sermon, one unbroken example of the strength and truth of religion. Her unspoken text in life was: "In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths." She absolutely lived up to it. And in response came the promise ever fulfilled in her case: "Them that honour Me, I will honour."
But it was all done in the most unobtrusive manner; not with the desire of reading a lesson to others, or of being a pattern. Nothing was ever farther from her mind. It was part of her nature; it was hersel She had one model before her; one Master to serve; and she ever looked upwards.
Only in this manner can such a life as hers be lived. Otherwise, all the disturbing elements of earth would inevitably come in and trouble the harmony of the whole, and constant failure would be the result. Human nature is at best imperfect; but as far as it was possible, hers was a perfect life.
It was all lived in the quietest, calmest, most gentle manner. I have said that she never preached to others. Religion was never mentioned by her. It was far too sacred a thing to be made a topic of conversation. On rare occasions, when it became her absolute duty to speak, her words were few, but impressive with the rare power of earnestness and conviction. She never wearied even her children with lengthened sittings and difficult tasks: but she never omitted to have them with her morning after morning; and if the beautiful face and voice, and the earnest tone and manner, failed in their mission, it must be that there could be no power in any earthly influence.
It seems to me right to insist upon this, the highest and best of all her gifts, because it has been too often the case that where great powers of the imagination have existed, the higher spiritual gifts have been absent from their possessors.
It was also the unobtrusiveness of my mother's spiritual life that gave it so much power. She persuaded and conquered: by the force of example alone. She was followed, yet she never commanded or dictated.
Her unswerving faith never failed her to the last. It was not likely to do so. She bore many weeks of great suffering without a murmur, never losing her serenity, her brightness; that calm, trusting glance, which ever spoke of a Peace not of this world; and she saw the last dread hour approaching with a heroism that cannot be told, a full, firm faith and reliance upon Him in whom she had trusted. Whilst those about her, and near and dear to her, had sometimes to hasten from the room to conceal the emotion it was not always possible to control, her eye remained undimmed, her calmness never forsook her.
TO go back for a moment to the earlier days of her married life.
I have said that the change from a cathedral city to a Continental town was a great one. Many old influences dear to her disappeared for ever. Above all, the companionship of her father, his culti- vated mind. and constant influence. They had been everything to each other. The Times, in reviewing "East Lynne," said they had never yet met with any female author possessing her exceptional power for depicting men, especially noble men; and there is no doubt the great model she frequently set before her was the father with whom her most impressionable years had been passed.
One other man had great influence upon her life: Dr. Murray, who was then Dean of Worcester and at the same time Bishop of Rochester. He was perhaps the handsomest and most dignified man who ever wore bishop's robes, and he was dignified and influential in all his domestic relations.
From all this she was transferred to France, with its blue skies and balmy atmosphere. But the climate did not always suit her. Her delicate frame could never bear great heat, which affected her nervous system in a very peculiar manner.
Depression of mind was unknown to her: but in the extreme heat of summer, she could only sit or recline, clad in thin gauze or muslin, and there was ever upon her a weight of some great impending evil or calamity. Had it been her fate to go out to such a climate as that of India, for instance, there is no doubt that she would soon have died.
Once, in the South of France, she was nearly overtaken by a great misfortune.
She was much tormented by gnats, and these troublesome insects, one summer, so affected her left hand, that fears were entertained for the result. A consultation of surgeons ended in a divided opinion as to the necessity for taking the hand off, and for some time it seemed that she must lose it. One of the doctors, however, held out, and in the end it was saved, and she perfectly recovered. She had the most perfect hands and arms almost ever seen: the whitest, most delicate, most fragile, and most beautiful.
In her married life, my mother, like everyone else in this world, had many troubles and trials. Some of them, indeed, were singularly great and overwhelming: and it may be said that her character was made perfect through suffering.
My father, an intellectual and talented man, might have risen to any distinction in the world, and ought to have died the possessor of great wealth. His income at the time of his marriage, numbered many thousands a year. Everyone fell under the charm of his manner and conversation. In every assembly he was the leading spirit. But he had one fault. He wanted the solidity of character and earnest steadfastness of purpose which so eminently distinguished his wife.
Up to the time of his retirement he had been a man of the rarest activity and energy. He was ever ready to do everything for everyone, but, alas, seldom thought of himself. One or two of the great railways in France owed their final consolidation to his wonderful financial and organising powers, and his singular conviction of success in all he undertook. He possessed a temperament sanguine to a fault, but it sometimes enabled him to triumph where others would have failed.
Whilst my mother was a great reader of countenance, my father was absolutely devoid of the faculty. He believed in everyone. The simplest tale would impose upon him. He was generous to recklessness, and whether a friend came to him to borrow twenty pounds or two thousand, it is simply a fact that he had only to ask and to have the larger sum just as readily as the smaller.
The consequence was that no one was so popular, and no one's goodness was so much abused.
This is rather a fatal gift for going through life, and my father's wealth rapidly diminished. Before very many years were over he saw that, in spite of his undoubted powers, he was really unfit for active life; he retired, and, in 1866, died, comparatively speaking, a young man.
Shortly before this they had returned to England. For some years my mother had taken up her pen, and, month after month, had contributed stories to Bentley's Miscellany, and Colburn's New Monthly Magazine. These magazines were then the property of William Harrison Ainsworth. My mother's stories appeared anonymously, but attracted much attention; and there is no doubt that they, in conjunction with the charming and admirable essays of William Francis Ainsworth, kept the magazines from extinction--a fate, I believe, they eventually suffered.
One anecdote may here be given in reference to these stories. My father and mother had come over to England for a short visit, and were staying at a private hotel in Dover Street, Piccadilly, where they happened to make the acquaintance of some charming people--a lady and gentleman who were staying there at the same time.
At this period my mother was writing a series of letters supposed to be written by a young officer out in the Crimea. They were called "Ensign Tom Pepper's Letters from the Seat of War."
One morning the lady in question mentioned to my mother that her husband had gone out for a magazine. "He is deeply interested in some letters that are appearing in Colburn's New Monthly," she said, "and can scarcely wait patiently from one month to another. We are both certain they are genuine," she added, emphatically.
My mother, who seldom spoke of her writing to her most intimate, friends, and never at all to strange could not help laughing at the singular situation; and great was their astonishment at finding that the author of those masculine and realistic letters was none other than the calm, gentle, refined lady whose acquaintance they had so recently made.
BUT my pen has carried me beyond its limits, and I cannot here enter upon my mother's new life, which began with her literary career. This must be reserved for another paper, and for next month.
I have very rapidly sketched some of the events of her earlier life. Later on, and not for these pages, the picture may be filled in more elaborately.
It is certain that the beauty of her life ought to be known, and could never be too widely circulated. Faithfully depicted, it could only have a lasting influence for good upon everyone who read it; for the faithful record of one good life is above the power of all the sermons that ever were written.
It may seem that I have exaggerated her charms and virtues; have made her too perfect a character. It is, indeed, difficult to write calmly and dispassionately about her. I repeat, again, how much I feel that the task should have been placed in other hands, had they existed. But they do not exist. I have nothing but praise to record; nothing else was possible in all the days of her life. I can only appeal to the "great cloud of witnesses" who knew her to bear me testimony that I have stayed my hand where I might have said much more.
I have letters by me from great men, who declare that her influence upon them will follow them through life, and I feel that they have uttered no exaggeration; no mere form of words.
A few weeks before the end, she was, and had been for long, in better health than usual. It has been stated that she was crippled with infirmities. Nothing could be more incorrect. She had scarcely left the house for two years, but she had kept perfectly well at home, bright and quietly animated as ever. She felt that she was growing weaker, and would sometimes say so, but there was no difference in her to reveal the hidden mischief.
It was the curvature of the spine, dating back sixty years, that was to prove fatal now. This for two years had been getting worse, though none knew it. It was an inward curvature; and as it increased, it pressed upon the heart, and gradually prevented it from exercising its functions.
On Christmas Day, 1886, she caught cold, and came down for the last time. No one dreamed of a fatal termination to her illness. But from that day until the end--February 10th--she suffered the intense agony of inability to breathe, and ever-growing weakness and weariness. This arose from the heart pressure.
It was only at the beginning of February that those around her became seriously alarmed; and even then a consultation of doctors led to the hope that her life might still be spared.
It was not to be. On the 10th of February, 1887, at about half-past three in the morning, with her hand in that of the writer she passed away: so gently, that none knew the exact moment when the summons came.
Such is the loss to those who are left. If the whole universe were laid at their feet, it could in nothing fill the void created by a sorrow never to pass away, a silence never to be broken. For her, it may indeed be said with Jacob, "They, will go down mourning to the grave;" but that she was, and for what she was, they can only sing an everlasting song of thanksgiving. The 31st chapter of Proverbs in its description of a good woman is true to her throughout: and in Solomon's words--and I would that they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever--"HER CHILDREN ARISE UP, AND CALL HER BLESSED."
CHARLES W. WOOD.
(To be continued.)