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from Argosy, vol. XLIII, 1887-may, pp. 334-53
IF last month my task was delicate and painful, it is almost more so in the present instance.
Then I had to speak of one who had passed away from all earthly scenes and influence. If I had to praise, it could no longer affect her. If I had to declare the beauty of her perfect and spotless life, it could not reach her. We may call upon her name but she will not answer. The last sigh has been breathed, the last heart-beat is over, the beautiful eyes will be no more seen. For her, Death is swallowed up in Victory. The Cross has been borne, and the Crown is won. She has kept the Faith, she has finished her course, and henceforth there is laid up for her a treasure in the Heavens. But for those that remain, the path of life is darkened and made desolate.
But to-day I have to speak also of her works, which exist as a legacy to her country, a memorial of herself. In referring to them, it will be impossible to do so without a certain praise, where praise is due. Again it would seem more appropriate to have come from some other hand, but again no other hand exists. Her works were so much a part of her life, she is so personally interwoven with her writings, that, in a memoir, the one cannot be separated from the other: allusion to the books brings constant reference to the writer.
I trust, therefore, it may be felt that where I have praised, it is from no spirit of egotism. If in her works, my mother had risen to heights never before attained by man or woman, we should still have felt that she was herself immeasurably above all earthly fame and success. This, compared with her, was as nothing. Our pride and happiness was in herself. She sanctified the home she adorned. In her withdrawal a bright and shining light has gone out, leaving only the greater darkness for those who mourn. The silence and sorrow are deeper now than when the blow first fell, but this must ever be.
As regards the writer, her presence to him is more real, her voice that soft and silvery voice-more audible than ever. The indescribable loveliness of her face is ever visible, with that earnest, intent gaze, that riveted and even dazzled by its charm. In the dark hours of the night, it is there; underlying life's daily work, it is there also. If withdrawn for a season by ordinary cares and responsibilities, by the passing influence of companionship, or the converse of a dose friend, it is only to flash back again more vividly than ever, on each return to solitude.
Yet it must not be imagined that he would restore her again from the Crown she has won to the Cross of earth. King David said of his child: "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me:" and in this lies all consolation. As a poet has lately written of her in words that are so true:
"Work done, toil over, sounds the curfew's knell,
Comes Home and Welcome, folded hands and rest;
Sweet through the silence throbs the 'All is well:'
And GOD'S OWN SLEEP has hushed the peaceful breast."
From that Sleep and Rest, who would bring her back to earth? "Life is perfected by Death."
An intimate friend and one of the most learned of divines, was wont to say: "Whatever of greatness or beauty or charm there is in Mrs. Henry Wood's heroines, she herself infinitely surpasses them all." And again he would add: "She had persuaded him into the belief that as there had been religious inspiration in the past, so there was secular inspiration also in the present." This was the opinion of one who had spent his life amongst princes, and had seen more of the world and human nature than most of his kind.
It was all too true. And therefore I wish it to be realised that infinitely before and above all other considerations, we place HERSELF; her loveliness; the beauty of her life and character: that beauty of holiness which was pre-eminently hers: which remain as the one hope and consolation. If I seem occasionally to repeat myself, or to allude over and over again to certain of her distinguishing traits and virtues, it is that I wish to impress them upon the reader, and bring them vividly before him. Only by reiteration can this be done. We have to read a lesson ten times over before we know it by heart. Only thus can the reader be enabled, even in a slight degree, to see and know her as she was. If the rare beauty of her life is insisted upon, it is that it may be the more realised, for to some one or to some other it may perchance be a: help and an encouragement. There is so little to be seen of this perfect and unfailing CONSISTENCY. It is so rarely that we come upon one for whose sake we will hold the world GOOD. She is indeed of those who being dead yet speak. In the words of King Lemuel: "Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all." And again with St. Paul to Philemon:, "Thou wilt also do more than I say." For she rose far above all earthly limitations of what we call DUTY.
These few words have seemed to me necessary. I think it may now be understood that any praise occurring in the following pages arises from the necessity of the case, a rendering of justice. At the present moment, to a spirit seeking rest and finding none, from a sense of a loss which neither time nor change can ever fill again, all praise, even the very highest, falls cold and lifeless under the pen. It can bring no relief except as fulfilling a part of its task; a rendering of honour to whom honour is due; the accomplishment of the work in hand.
IT was said of Mrs. Henry Wood, as it was once said of Lord Byron, that she awoke one morning to find herself famous. This was to a great extent true. Though East Lynne had been out some little time, had been unusually well reviewed, and was already popular, it was only the review in the Times that set the whole world talking and reading about it. This review also created such a demand for the book that Messrs. Spottiswoode set to work night and day to reprint it for Mr. Bentley, and one edition after another was quickly exhausted.
Though only a young boy at the time, I remember that morning well. We were then in England, and my father, who, as already remarked, was a great politician, could scarcely have taken his breakfast without the help of his beloved Times. True, Parliament had not yet assembled, but it was about to do so, and the bugle notes were already sounding for battle.
The paper happened to be a little late that morning, and we were already seated at the table when it was brought in. On taking it up, on the outer column of the page, the first thing that struck his eye was the heading "EAST LYNNE," followed by a long and glowing notice.
"East Lynne," he remarked quietly, looking across at my mother. "The Times gives it a long review, this morning."
I remember jumping up in wild excitement, and leaning over his shoulder whilst he read it through, not aloud, but silently. The calmest of the three present was the one most interested: the author of the book. I had looked at her when the circumstance was mentioned, and saw the flush of sudden emotion pass and repass, wavelike, over her beautiful face. She had been wondering whether the Times would review it; hoping it would do so; so much depended upon it. Yet, when it came, she received it, as she did all other things in life, whether for good or for ill, calmly and quietly: the calmness of very deep feeling. Though her anxiety to know what was said was as intense as her interest, she remained seated and asked no question, until my father, having read to the end, rose and handed the paper to her.
"Forgive me," he then said. "I felt compelled to finish it, and fear I forgot that your interest in it must be even greater than mine."
She took the paper from his hand with her very rare smile and glance, and read the review without remark: and no one could tell what was passing in her mind.
In those days reviews were very different from reviews in these, and were much more powerful in their effect. A great review in the Times then made the fortune of a book and established the fame of its writer. This was no doubt chiefly due to the fact that the Times only gave exceptional reviews in very rare instances.
It would not do so to-day: there are too many writers and too many books to be noticed.
From a literary point of view, as well as from many other points, I think it may be said that the age is a little out of joint. Where one person wrote when East Lynne appeared, probably two or three hundred write now. In those days, and before them, writing was chiefly confined to those who felt within them "the sacred fire;" now it seems to be taken up as a profession, like Law, Physic, or the Church. This wholesale production, for some good reason we need not enter into here, seems generally rather fatal to the literature of a country.
I have heard it said that the two great reviews of the latter half of the present century--great in the effects they produced—have been those of Adam Bede and East Lynne; causing these works to stand out above all others that have appeared.
In the instance of East Lynne, the success has certainly been permanent. It is in greater demand now than when it first came out, and is even more popular. As a proof of this, it will not, I hope, seem invidious to record that, though the work has never been published under the price of six shillings, an edition never consists of less than ten thousand copies, and in most years the book has to be reprinted.
I think there could scarcely be a greater test than this to lasting popularity, after a lapse of more than twenty-five years. Some two or three years ago, Mr. Bentley remarked to me that no book of modern times bad met with the success of East Lynne.
It was my mother's first long work, but she had written much before it appeared.
FOR some years, whilst living abroad, she had every month, and month by month, contributed short stories to two of the leading periodicals of the day: Bentley's Miscellany and Colburn's New Monthly Magazine.
At that time, Mr. Harrison Ainsworth was the proprietor of these magazines. For long my mother wrote without any remuneration: wrote out of love for her work, as Mr. Ainsworth made no return for the stories that were really keeping up his periodicals. At length, she declared her unwillingness to continue to send these contributions to him month after month and year after year, unless he made her some acknowledgment for them.
Mr. Ainsworth then agreed to the payment of a small yearly sum: so small indeed that the original arrangement could scarcely be said to have been disturbed.
His cousin, William Francis Ainsworth, was then part editor of these magazines, and to him all my mother's MSS. were forwarded, and most of the correspondence was carried on between them. This correspondence was ever of the most pleasant and cordial description. Mr. Francis Ainsworth was a traveller, a gentleman, a man of large sympathies, and was altogether possessed of a very different tone of mind from his cousin, Harrison Ainsworth. His acquaintance with my mother was almost limited to letters, for she was living abroad, and Francis Ainsworth had ceased to travel. But on the rare visits, my mother paid to England, she never failed to spend an afternoon or evening with Mr. and Mrs. Ainsworth at Hammersmith: visits which always left behind them a very agreeable recollection. On these occasions, Harrison Ainsworth was sometimes also a guest.
In my previous paper, I have mentioned Mr. Francis Ainsworth's contributions to these magazines, in the form of essays and miscellaneous articles. On referring to them, I am surprised at their interest; the powers of memory and research they betrayed. They were too good to be buried in the pages of a magazine and thrown aside from month to month. These papers ought to have been republished in book form and given a permanent place on one's bookshelves; but I do not think this was ever done.
On looking over some of Francis Ainsworth's old letters, I come upon the following passage in one of them. My mother had then been writing for some years for both magazines. The passage begins the letter:
"MY DEAR MRS. WOOD,--Whence comes this deep well of the imagination, that, the more you draw from it, the fresher and more sparkling becomes the pure water?"
Nevertheless, this constant drawing of pure and sparkling water was a very great strain even upon the deepest well and the most fertile imagination, and my mother more than once wrote to Mr. Harrison Ainsworth and told him so. She felt that it was a waste of good material. Many of these short stories contained the germ of what, elaborated and worked out, would have made a long novel.
She several times wrote to Harrison Ainsworth, begging him to allow her to write a novel in place of these monthly stories; but he would not consent to the change.
Let the reader conceive the tax and drain upon mind and imagination, of having to write, year after year, twenty-four short stories, each complete in itself, and of doing this for ten years before East Lynne was written. Then let him think of all the work that has followed East Lynne; the acknowledged work; the anonymous stories under the name of JOHNNY LUDLOW; the immense amount of anonymous literary work written in addition for the ARGOSY, that was never known and never will be known. When all this is considered, I think it will be admitted that a more fertile brain never existed; that she had more ideality, a far greater creative power for plot and dramatic situations than any other writer of her sex.
The marvel is that the frail body was not worn out long before its time. But the intense activity and energy of mind, the fire of genius, which all true writers possess, triumphed over all weaknesses, and burnt on to the end with undiminished vigour. In her case, the flame was suddenly extinguished in its full light; it did not flicker and die out.
Let us take "JOHNNY LUDLOW" as an example of her power and energy.
For nearly twenty years, she has written these stories in rapid succession. The same thread runs through all. The same characters appear, disappear, and reappear upon the scene. The field was therefore limited to certain restrictions. Yet, to the very last, there was no falling off in vigour or interest, or in dramatic action. "Caramel Cottage," one of the very last, is also one of the best. The stories form a great crowd and company of people, each endowed with life, each standing out, separately and distinctly, from the other.
Three long books, three series, have been republished from the ARGOSY; and enough material remains, published, or to be published, for three more series. Six series; equal to six long novels. Yet, much as she loved JOHNNY LUDLOW, and delighted in him; lived in the midst of this crowd of friends she had gathered about her, until their existence seemed to her a positive reality; she yet ever considered the writing of these papers as apart from her ordinary occupation--a rest and recreation from her other work.
The brain never failed or grew exhausted. It was the body that at last conquered, and caused the pen to fall from the hand. The last time she ever took it up was to sign a cheque which another hand had been obliged to fill in. It was only two days before the end. She did it with her accustomed firmness and determination never to give in, never to yield. Nevertheless the hand was failing; and when the cheque was presented to the clerk at Herries' Bank, he remarked, after looking at it for some moments: Mrs. Henry Wood must indeed be very ill!"
As a proof of her unfailing powers, I remember her saying to me, one day last year, with that sad intonation of the voice we all give to things departed and departing:
"I could now sit down and compose a hundred plots, if I only had the strength to work them out."
If she had had ten right hands in place of one, her brain would have found sufficient work for all. It has occasionally been said that she was helped in her work--even as it was said of Dumas, that he dictated his novels four or five at a time, and also adapted the work of young aspirants and brought it out as his own, openly and candidly. It is, perhaps, beneath one's dignity to allude to such an assertion or rumour in connection with Mrs. Henry Wood. After the record in last month's ARGOSY, if it has not quite missed its mark, it will be realised that she was incapable of anything but the strictest uprightness and integrity, carried out all through life, not only in the spirit but in the letter; in the very smallest actions as well as the greatest and most important. That a single line should ever have appeared under her name that was not absolutely her own work, would have been as impossible to her nature as for the sun to stand still in his course.
She occasionally received offers of plots and materials from strangers, but these were ever politely declined; a refusal which sometimes created indignant surprise in those who had made the proposal. One applicant, I remember, wrote, in reply, her persuasion that Mrs. Henry Wood was the most jealous of living authors; with other remarks too insolent to be brought under Mrs. Henry Wood's notice. The letter fulfilled its destiny in the flames. But how far was such an assertion from the truth! No one ever rejoiced so much in the evidence of new and real talent. No one ever gave more encouragement to young writers, where she thought she discerned evidence of promise in the future. She was as destitute of jealousy as her pure and noble mind was free from all the meaner passions of mankind.
Perhaps, therefore, I may here affirm that everything that ever appeared under Mrs. Henry Wood's name was her own; and, moreover, that every line of hers that ever appeared in print was written by her own untiring hand. That hand was so delicate that anything but the gentlest clasp would cause her pain for hours afterwards; yet no hand has ever been more industrious and indefatigable, and few hands have done as much work. She never in her life dictated a single word, and never employed an amanuensis even for the most ordinary note.
For the rest, there is the internal evidence of her own books. Every writer of genius possesses a marked individuality impossible to reproduce; and I think the world might safely be challenged to write a single page of JOHNNY LUDLOW, for example, without the imitation being at once detected.
MANY persons have passed themselves off as Mrs. Henry Wood in private life, and occasionally the fact has been brought under my mother's notice. I remember, about five years ago, a lady, Mrs. C., coming up to her in great excitement and distress. She was an old friend, who had for my mother the greatest regard.
The previous day, an acquaintance of Mrs. C.'s, not knowing that she was Mrs. Henry Wood's friend, declared to her that she wrote every word of Mrs. Henry Wood's books.
Mrs. C. came up full of trouble. "Of course I knew it was a very wicked story, and an impossibility, but I was obliged to come and tell you," she exclaimed, speaking in the italics ladies are so fond of; and thereupon burst into tears. My mother, on the contrary, only met it with her usual calm smile, and assured Mrs. C. that such assertions could do harm to none but those who uttered them.
On another occasion, an acquaintance--this time a person we knew well--was taking a mutual friend into dinner at a country-house in Shropshire. Unaware that the lady upon his arm was also a friend of ours, he boldly declared that he did most of the editing of the ARGOSY, and wrote quite half Mrs. Henry Wood's works. This gentleman is now in Holy Orders, and a country vicar, and one may charitably hope that he has repented of the error of his ways.
On a third occasion, my sister was at a ball at Sir William Walker's, when her host brought up and introduced to her a gentleman for the next dance. At the same time, he made some playful allusion to her being Mrs. Henry Wood's daughter.
When the dance was over, the young man went up very gravely to Sir William, and said: "That young lady cannot be genuine. She is not Mrs. Henry Wood's daughter at all. I know Mrs. Henry Wood, the author of East Lynne, quite well. She lives near my home in the country, and I often meet her. This young lady lives in London, and I can see plainly knows nothing about the real Mrs. Henry Wood."
Sir William, a little annoyed, but also entertained, replied:
"I can only assure you, sir, that whoever your Mrs. Henry Wood may be, she is not Mrs. Henry Wood, the author of East Lynne. I can further assure you, that the young lady with whom you have just been dancing is not here as my guest to-night under fictitious circumstances."
Then leaving the young man in a state of confusion worse confounded, he went up to my sister, and with humour narrated the incident, laughingly advising her to enter an action against her late partner for defamation of character.
One other occasion of misrepresentation m4y be recorded, but it was of a more serious nature.
Some years ago, in the course of a trial at Scarborough, a witness under examination, and, therefore, under oath, declared that he was the author of the papers signed JOHNNY LUDLOW in the ARGOSY.
This could not be passed over as the mere idle declarations of dishonourable men and women in private life. The lawyers conducting the case were advised that, unless the declaration so publicly made were as publicly denied, further steps would be taken.
It was at once done. The author of the assertion wrote to the papers declaring that what he had stated was untrue, and that he had never written one word Of "JOHNNY LUDLOW." At the same time, he privately wrote a letter begging for mercy, which, I need not say, he received.
My mother, during her lifetime, never troubled about such matters as these, but passed them over with her usual calmness as of no importance. Nor, indeed, were they. As I have already remarked, she ever seemed to dwell above and beyond the world, to possess an unseen source of strength, from which she gained absolute repose. Her life was never free from singular cares and troubles, but they never deprived her of her serenity; never for a moment disturbed her faith in the Divine love, the Divine ordering of all things for the best: a faith that grew with her years and bore so much fruit Trouble never hardened her heart, but opened it to Paradise. Whenever the hand of affliction was heaviest upon her, it only seemed the occasion for rising to greater heights of heroism. For a heroine she was, in the highest sense of the word.
WHILST perfectly aware of her own power, she was always very modest about her writings, and very retiring. In the years, when contributing to Bentley's and Colburn's Magazines, not under her own name, the subject was never mentioned by her. Her intimate friends knew that she wrote, but she never talked of her writings to them; whilst ordinary acquaintances perhaps found it out by accident, after a long period--often never found it out at all. And, in spite of the singularly bright face, sparkling with intellect; her calm and retiring manner was so full of repose, so little self-asserting; there was something so gentle in her clear voice and beautiful eyes, that you never guessed at the truth;, and the remark has often been made: "Mrs. Henry Wood is the last person I should have suspected of being a writer." She was indeed like the rose in appearance, but like the violet in nature : full of rare and hidden modesty and sweetness.
And in all things, the opposite to a blue stocking. An acquaintance, who had never seen her, once remarked to me that they pictured her as a tall and severe woman, wearing blue spectacles. How different from the reality! Only this morning--April 2nd--I received a letter from one of her old friends in Paris, from which I translate the following passage:--
"I cannot believe that she is gone. It seems an impossibility. I see no change from twenty-five years ago, except in the widow's cap, and the style of dressing her hair. She appears to me to have remained as lovely to the end as when I first knew her. I have before me, as I write, those large, soft, beautiful brown eyes, ever so full of intelligence and frankness, ever beaming with kindly feeling. And now--all gone! Can it be true? What is to become of those who are left to mourn her?"
In the earlier years of her married life, her shyness in this one matter of writing was so great, that though she wrote to please herself, she kept her secret even from her husband, and when she heard his footstep approaching, would hastily put away all signs of her work into her desk.
Most of what was then written, she unfortunately destroyed. As the first juice of the grape is said to be sweetest, it is possible that those earlier writings might have contained at least the germs of excellent material for future use. One of these earlier productions, I have heard her say, was an historical five-act drama in blank verse. Every line of it was consigned to the flames in her shyness; and this she ever afterwards regretted.
I HAVE frequently been asked as to my mother's manner of writing her novels.
She first composed her plot. Having decided upon the main idea, she would next divide it into the requisite number of chapters. Each chapter was then elaborated. Every incident in every chapter was thought out and recorded, from the first chapter to the last. She never changed her plots or incidents. Once thought out; her purpose became fixed, and was never turned aside for any fresh departure or emergency that might arise in the development of the story. The drama had then become to her as real as if it had actually existed. Every minute detail of the plot was written out before a line of the story was begun. All was so elaborately sketched that anyone with sufficient power would have had no difficulty in writing the story with the plot in possession. The only difference would have been the evidence of another hand.
The plot of each novel occupied a good many pages of close, though not small, writing. It would take her, generally speaking, about three weeks to think it out from beginning to end. During those times, she could not bear the slightest interruption. But I have occasionally gone into her study, though never without being startled, almost awed, by the look upon her face. She would be at all times in a reclining chair, her paper upon her knees; and the expression of her eyes, large, wide-opened, was so intense and absorbed, so far away, it seemed as if the spirit had wandered into some distant realm and had to be brought back to its tenement before the matter suddenly placed before her could be attended to. It, indeed, took many moments to recall her attention, elsewhere concentrated.
Only on rare or important occasions was such an intrusion even permitted; for the thread of her ideas once broken could very, seldom be resumed the same day; and, as she never wrote a line of anything when composing a plot, she would consider that her day had been partly lost or wasted.
Yet her sweet face never showed sign of vexation, and her sweet voice gave no word of regret or reproof.
The ability to draw out her plots so minutely and elaborately gave her immense power in writing. Morning after morning, when she had begun upon the story itself, she had only to consult her papers to see what her work for the day must be. The whole subject was at once grasped, and stood visibly before her, as if she were actually looking upon a diorama.
It also enabled her to see clearly the end of her story from the beginning. It prevented her from making any contradictions, or omissions, or mistakes. It avoided all unnecessary crowding or hurrying at the end. Everything was gradually led up to; every incident, main or secondary, received its appointed place and space. No character was left forgotten or undeveloped. Yet in her novels it is impossible to say that there is anything mechanical in the manner in which they are worked out. The story, on the contrary, flows onward like a drama of real life; and one incident leads up to another as naturally as if all were the result of accident and not design.
It also enabled her to take the greatest interest in her story and in her characters. She believed in them, realised them, looked upon them as living people. To her they had as much an existence as her own friends. They were her friends. She lived an ideal life amongst them. Nothing was more real to her than her work--the people, histories and realms she created. In this lay one great secret of her power. Nothing gave her greater delight than writing.
A friend, who lunched with her not many months ago--almost her greatest and oldest friend--remarked as they met:
"How fresh and bright you look! And yet you have been writing since half-past eight o'clock! How weary you must be!"
"Weary!" returned my mother. "I am never weary of writing. If you only knew the intense delight it is to me!"
Another friend--in this instance a celebrated writer--one day remarked to her:
"I shall be very glad when my work is done. There will be no writing of books in Heaven--at least, I hope not."
"I cannot enter into your feeling," returned my mother. "If I thought that writing books would be one of my occupations in Heaven, it would give me nothing but the most intense pleasure."
For if anyone has genius for a particular work, it cannot be exercised without a rare pleasure. This is especially true of those who create. The intense delight of feeling that but for you the world would have been poorer than it is: that you have given rise to and filled a distinct need. Perhaps this is one reason why genius is almost always modest. It recognises its high end and calling, and reverences the power it feels within itself.
As a child, my mother would write and compose stories, though no one else ever saw a line of them. When finished they were consigned to the flames. Like all youthful efforts probably this was the best place for them. I believe she would almost as readily have died as have shown one of them even to her father--for she inherited not only the modesty of genius but its shyness. Even as a young girl, they were a great delight to her, and no doubt a great resource. When reclining upon her couch, day after day, and year after year, they must have brightened many an hour that might otherwise have proved long and weary. There was a hidden spring within her that none knew of: far beyond and above reading and study; for the advanced mind must even then have felt its gift and power. Even her governess, whom she ever liked and valued, and who took the greatest pride and interest in those works which had appeared before she died, was never admitted into the secret of this inexhaustible well: there was no familiar council as to what should be the destiny of this knight or that heroine. Self reliance, which served her in such stead in after life, seemed to have begun even in those early days.
I have heard my mother say that she never hesitated but once in composing any plot: that was when writing out East Lynne. I now forget which she told me was the point in question, but it was a leading situation in the story. It caused her a great deal of deliberation. "And in the end," she added, "I decided rightly." It is certainly difficult to see , how the plot of East Lynne could be improved or altered for the better. It overflows with dramatic action; everything indeed fits into its place as exactly as the different sections of a puzzle; and the slightest alteration would seem to interfere with the thread and flow of the narrative.
A gentleman told me not long ago that a friend of his in America was complaining of blunted feelings. "Nothing moves me," he said, "as it once did. I can neither cry nor laugh when others do, or get up any sort of excitement."
"Come with me," said his friend; and he took him to see East Lynne, with which, like the rest of the audience, he was much affected.
"I don't quite see your excessive insensibility," remarked his friend, as they left the theatre together.
"You have given me great relief," he returned. "I thought my feelings were dead, but to-night I have found them as much alive as ever."
MRS. HENRY WOOD was a very rapid writer. She hardly ever paused or hesitated for a word or an idea. Her thoughts flashed more quickly than the pen could record them. Up to the time of writing East Lynne she had been in the habit of copying everything she wrote. But East Lynne, partly on account of severe illness, was sent off to press as it was written: and from that time she never copied again.
Her manuscripts were exceedingly legible, clear as print; there was scarcely ever a correction or an erasure from beginning to end; until quite the last years of her life, when she began to find that she was writing less quickly and fluently than of old. Printers were delighted to have her copy, and declared that none other was so good. To the workmen who have to decipher MS., and who are paid by the amount of work they get through and not by time, they must have been still more acceptable.
I have mentioned her remarkable memory. She could recall every line and every expression she had written; and if, in correcting a number of the ARGOSY for press, a single word or expression of her own had been altered, perhaps to get in a line at the end, she never failed to discover it, and to ask a reason for the change. This was so invariably the case, that the printers never ventured upon the alteration even of an evident oversight, the change of a word or a comma, without first submitting it to her as a query.
When George Canterbury's Will was coming out--one of the best and most powerful of her works--after the MS. had gone in, she wished a slight change made in it. Time pressed, and it was necessary that some one should call at the printers'. I undertook to do this, if the rest could be managed. She indicated the nature of the passage, the very number of the page on which it would be found, and on what part of the page. Then writing out the fresh matter, which amounted to fifteen or twenty lines, she gave it to me.
All was found exactly as described, the new matter was substituted for the old, and the thing was done. But I thought then, as I do now, that it was a singular proof of the power of memory. That same morning, I called upon the publishers, and mentioned the circumstance to them. I remember their surprise and remark. "Here," they said, "is not only the test of a remarkable memory, but also of a true writer: one who evidently takes the deepest interest in her work."
It was about this time that we discovered one of the boldest frauds of its kind perhaps ever attempted.
Messrs. Savill and Edwards--who were blameless in the matter--were printing a penny weekly paper, which was being issued from some House in the Strand. A writer, whose name was well known, conceived the idea of taking East Lynne, and bringing it out in this penny paper. The proprietors and editors of course knew of the fraud; the printers, no doubt, did not. The title of the book was changed and the name of every character; but, with that exception, it was word for word East Lynne.
My mother's solicitors, Messrs. Ashurst and Morris, at once wrote to Messrs. Savill and Edwards, stating that if it were not at once stopped, and the story discontinued, an injunction would be applied for.
Messrs. Savill and Edwards replied that they had no idea of what had been going on, and much regretted the circumstance. Not only was the story discontinued, but another number of the paper itself never afterwards appeared.
The circumstance might never have been discovered--for the paper was not one at all likely to be brought under notice--but for the kindness of a young journeyman printer, who wrote to the author through Messrs. Bentley, disclosing what was going on.
By some strange mischance, his letter was accidentally mislaid or destroyed; we lost all clue to his name and address, and were never able to thank him for the service he had rendered. I fear he must have thought us less grateful than we were. If these lines should ever come under his eye, I should be glad if he would write to me, that I might return him very late but very sincere thanks for his goodness. He cannot have forgotten the circumstance. The thrilling title chosen to replace East Lynne, was How could she do it? by the author of The Black Angel. I fear the author of The Black Angel had not very far to seek for a type of his hero. The story was arrested at, I think, the fourth chapter.
I HAVE remarked how intensely my mother enjoyed writing her own stories: and she would read and re-read them every few years, with as much pleasure as when they first appeared. In a letter received only this morning--April 2nd--from my friend Canon McCormick, he begs me to do justice to her sense of humour: "not only as seen in her books, but as manifested in life: the keenness and quickness with which she saw the point of a good joke."
In writing her novels, there were days when she could scarcely do so for laughter. Over and over again her pen had to be laid down, until the fit had passed, only very shortly to give place to another. As a boy, I have often watched the tears of merriment--which so often were also tears of sorrow--raining from her beautiful eyes as she wrote. I alone was privileged to be with her on those occasions, for I happened to be a quiet lad and never disturbed her; with a favourite book, I would sit for hours without moving. Others, still in the nursery, were too loud and restless with the high spirits that are so good and so much more natural to childhood and youth, to be admitted into this sanctum of thought and work. I was scarcely ever absent from her: and can never forget those tears of mirth and of sorrow, that gentle flow of wonderfully sweet and silvery laughter, which so often set my childish mind wondering.
The extremes of mirth and sorrow are often united, and he who is keenly sensible to the one will be as easily moved by the other.
It was so in my mother's case; and it shows itself in her books: in none more so, perhaps, than in the alternate fun and pathos underlying her JOHNNY LUDLOW stories. In these, you are as quickly moved to tears as to laughter: and as quickly to laughter as to tears. And sometimes the two emotions are so mingled that you scarcely know which preponderates, or which to give way to.
It was so in life. No one entered more keenly into a good story of fun and humour. Her eyes would sparkle, her sweet laughter would I be long and low and clear, her face would overflow with the flushes of animation. Then, when all was over, her countenance would settle down again into that look of repose which was so seldom absent; which was neither apathy nor indifference nor want of energy, but simply, suggestive of absolute rest.
IT was not often that my mother took tip any social topic of the day, but, if she did so, her keen insight into the hidden motives of human nature, her common sense, the clearness of her judgment, and her vigorous mind went straight to the root of the matter. Often there came to her a proof of this, and, on two occasions, they were nearly parallel cases.
The first was in connection with Colburn's New Monthly Magazine. Mrs. Henry Wood at that time was writing stories that touched upon certain religious topics, and a danger that seemed threatening to England. The stories were written with great force, and went to the root of the evil, pointing out all its subtlety and danger. After a time, a deputation, interested in the dangers exposed, waited upon Mr. Francis Ainsworth and demanded the name of the author. If this were withheld, all sorts of penalties and punishments were to ensue, beginning with the blowing up of the Houses of Parliament, and ending with death and destruction to Mr. Ainsworth himself.
The name, of course, was withheld. And the Houses of Parliament are still standing and Mr. Francis Ainsworth, I am happy to say, is still alive.
The incident caused him and my mother much amusement at the time, and some lively correspondence passed between them. It occurred in the days when she was still abroad.
The second occasion happened when A Life's Secret was passing through one of the magazines of the Religious Tract Society. This work touches upon the evils of Strikes and Trade Unions. They were then very far from being the power they are now, but my mother clearly divined the evil they would become to the country if not checked. She foresaw that the greatest trouble would fall upon the working-men, who could not see this for themselves; whose minds, like their lives, dated only from day to day.
The subject was vividly handled, the dangers were exposed in the course of the story: a far more effectual way of bringing anything home to people's minds than by the mere writing of essays or pamphlets, which seldom have any lasting result. Any subject dramatically placed before people; worked out in the lives of men and women, with a realism which suggests fact rather than fiction; reads a lesson that can only be set aside or ignored.
It was so with A Life's Secret. Those most concerned in Strikes and Trade Unions, most active in fanning the rising flame and spreading it over the country, demanded the name of this writer, who thus exposed hidden and interested motives, and prophesied evils to come. The House in Paternoster Row was mobbed, and the windows were threatened with destruction if the name were not given.
But it was not given; and the mob no doubt thought better of their threat, and spared the windows.
That was many years ago now, and the evils prophesied in A Life's Secret have not tarried.
IT has been said that nearly all Mrs. Henry Wood's works were written with a purpose. Yet nothing can be more mistaken. Her purpose was to interest and amuse her readers. At the same time, she always endeavoured, as far as possible, to elevate them; to raise the standard of morality; to set forth the doctrine of good and evil; to point out the two paths in life, and the consequences that must follow the adoption of either.
No other mode of writing would have been possible in one who herself so strictly and undeviatingly followed the right path; who would never have turned aside one hair's breadth, whatever the temptation; who acknowledged the guidance of a Divine Hand in her own life, day by day and year by year: in her case, indeed, so apparent, that there ever seemed about her a certain power and presence especially vouchsafed. The Divine Hand, in the ordering of her life, can be as distinctly traced as if it were visible. Not otherwise could so perfect a character have existed through shadow and sunshine, and storm and tempest, and all the troublesome waves of life by which she was frequently buffeted. Not otherwise could no mistakes have been made, as they never were made. Not otherwise could every great incident of her life have arisen at the very moment it was needed for some especial purpose, making the whole life fit in as a perfect piece of mosaic.
Very much of her private life was of too personal and intimate a nature to be made public. If this could be done, it would be found more wonderful and romantic, and fuller of dramatic situations, than any of the plots of her own books. It all could be disclosed, it would be seen that amongst the great women of the world, she was one of the very greatest, most heroic, and most enduring.
"We see with a sentiment of deep sympathy," writes Mary Howitt, from Meran, in Austrian Tyrol, "that your dear mother has just now passed to the Higher Life. A happiness for her, but a sorrow to all who loved and esteemed her; and they were many. The Divine mercy still spares me on earth; but one by one my old friends and co-labourers in the fields of literature pass on to receive their reward. In this case, it will be great, for she always had a high and noble end in view."
"How valuable must be the record of such a life as Mrs. Henry Wood's," writes another successful author, who, unlike Mary Howitt, is still in the height of her work. "I cannot help telling you that I derive personal and spiritual help from the memory of such a life. It is something to believe in and to cling to. It has strengthened my faith, and shown me clearly those sacred 'footprints on the sands of time.'"
And yet a third writes this moming--April 3rd--one who has done. much literary work in his day, and still works untiringly: "I read your Memoir in the April number shut up alone in my room, because my tears would come. What a loss is yours! and not yours alone; but still yours in a pre-eminent degree. Thousands, who never had the privilege of seeing or speaking with Mrs. Henry Wood, will feel as if they had lost a personal friend. To me, one of the chief attractions of her writings was the spirit of charming personality which pervaded them. You felt as if you actually knew the writer, and that to know her was to reverence her and, to love her."
It follows that such a life and character could only declare themselves in the works that were to follow her, and be left as a legacy to her country. Her motive was to amuse and interest, but to do good at the same time, It is our happiest thought and consolation that not one line or word of anything she ever wrote we could wish blotted out.
But this is altogether different from writing books with "a purpose." Her purpose only revealed itself dramatically in the conduct and actions of her characters; it was never made unduly prominent to the reader, never put forward by personal reflections. No writer ever brought herself so little into her own books: she almost invariably remains out of sight. Her characters play their own parts; live, move and act for themselves.
THE two works written with a distinct purpose are A Life's Secret and Danesbury House.
The former we have touched upon. The history of the latter is as follows.
The Scottish Temperance League had advertised a prize for a story showing the evils of intemperance. An old and much valued friend of my mother's, who had once been Vicar of Great Malvern, had been intimate with Queen Adelaide, had held great appointments in the Church, one day came to her, newspaper in hand.
"My dear madam," he said, "here is work that you can do and that you must do. No one could write it with your force and vigour; no one could preach so eloquent a sermon."
"You are paying me a great compliment," laughed my mother, for almost the greatest preacher in the Church stood before her.
"I assure you that I mean what I say," returned her friend. "What think you of my suggestion?"
"I do not much like the idea of competing for a prize," was the reply. "It seems to me that there is always a slight want of dignity in this sort of thing."
"I fancied so, too, at the first moment," returned the Vicar. "But I now think you might dismiss that idea, for the sake of the good you would do."
"You are taking too much for granted," laughed my mother once more. "I might not gain the prize."
"My dear lady," was the emphatic retort, "if you don't win the prize, never believe in me again. I would stake my reputation upon your success."
"There is another difficulty in the way," said Mrs. Henry Wood, after a moment's reflection. "This advertisement has been out some time. Scarcely a month remains of the date on which MSS. must be sent in; I could not do it."
"I am quite sure that you could," persisted the Vicar. "You have the pen of a ready writer, and, if you begin at once, you will accomplish your task." Then turning to her husband, whose greatest friend he was, he added: "Won't you add your persuasions to mine in this matter?"
My father laughed his usual quiet laugh.
"I never influence my wife in her writings," he replied. "She knows what to do so much better than I can tell her. If she competes for this prize, I have no doubt she will succeed; but if she feels disinclined for the attempt, I would not urge it."
The difference between my father and the Vicar was this: the one, though a learned divine, was also full of imagination, and delighted in works of that description; whilst the other believed that politics and abstruse books of science were the levers on which the world should move.
But the Vicar won the argument. He so persuaded my mother, that she agreed to make the trial. She began the work at once, threw her whole heart and mind into a subject of which she recognised the importance. In twenty-eight days, the work was completed and sent off: and, considering the strength and thought of the book, it is an example of inconceivably rapid writing: for a portion of that twenty-eight days was devoted to composing the plot.
In due time, the award came; and Mrs. Henry Wood, as the Vicar had predicted, was successful. But from a pecuniary point of view, it would have been far better had she failed. She received the sum of one hundred pounds for a work which has sold by hundreds of thousands. And when some time ago this same friend wrote to the Scottish Temperance League, unknown to Mrs. Henry Wood, and said he considered that a further and much larger honorarium was due to the author of a success they could never have dreamed of in their utmost imaginations, and out of which they must have made many thousands, the Directors of the League replied in a brief note of three lines that: "They must decline making any further acknowledgment whatever to the author of Danesbury House, as it would be establishing a precedent."
The circumstance was afterwards related to my mother, and caused her some pain: a little from this proof of the not very liberal tendency of the League, but more that the request should have been made at all.
No one in this world was ever more unselfish and more generous in all her thoughts and dealings with others. What is vulgarly called "a bargain," she could never think of or attempt. She shrank from the very word. She was ever contented with what she received. No one ever cared less for the intrinsic merit of wealth. The love of money was never hers. Even when she felt that she had met with less than justice at the hands of others, she would greet them as gently and quietly as ever, and all was forgiven and forgotten.
Occasionally, I have ventured to remonstrate upon her too great goodness and leniency, but was ever met with the calm, beautiful smile and earnest gaze, and the remark: "It will all come right in the end."
I remember, when East Lynne had appeared and taken the world by storm, Harrison Ainsworth wrote and said: "I suppose, now, I shall never have another work from your pen."
With that unvarying generosity and nobleness of feeling; that singleness of purpose, which was part of her very self; my mother replied: "Yes, I will write you one more book." And she wrote him The Shadow of Ashlydyat; really, it may be said, making him a present of it for his magazine. For a shorter book, for the same right--the right of appearing in the magazine only, after which every right reverted to the author--she received about that same time the sum of a thousand pounds: and not only on that occasion but on many other occasions also.
I think it was greater generosity than Harrison Ainsworth deserved. But my pure and perfect mother was never of the world worldly. She was ever lovely and unselfish: a nature such as we have never found. I, her constant companion from my earliest years; who knew her more intimately than any one else on earth; her fellow worker in all but her own writings; I, in whom she confided, and to whom I ever went for counsel; affirm that I have never met her equal in beauty of face and of character; the impersonation of all that is loveliest and best on earth. This thought is the one consolation of her children in their loss, and it is their greatest heritage.
I MUST here pause, though I have left much unsaid that I had wished to record, and fear I shall yet have to tax the leniency of the reader in a further paper, for I have already exceeded the limits of this one.
But before closing this article, I should like to reply to innumerable questions as to whether or not "Lady Grace" was completed.
Yes; every line of it. In this, as in all the events of her life, my mother made no mistakes. When the pen was laid down for the last time, there was nothing to be ended.
Apart from "Lady Grace," she has left much finished work behind her. A long serial story that will go through the whole of next year's ARGOSY. A long "Johnny Ludlow" story that will go through very many months of 1889. Another long "Johnny Ludlow" that will go through many months of 1890. Various short "Johnny Ludlow" stories that will appear in 1891.
Every word of all these stories is absolutely completed and ready for the printers.
And, if I mistake not: but of this I am not certain, for I have not yet had courage to look into a secretaire that was never opened by anyone but herself, and on whose contents her own beautiful eyes last rested: there are also one or two other completed works of considerable length to add to the number.
Thus, for some years to come, her hand will be almost as visible as ever in the pages of the ARGOSY. Whilst the hand that has long been at the helm, in conjunction with her own, will still be there. But the wise counsellor; the voice, with its sweet and silver tones; the beautiful eyes that ever gazed with such serene affection--all this is gone. Silence remains, and unspeakable sorrow, and a task that has become lonely and must inevitably remain so.
It is singular that the title of the very last "Johnny Ludlow" story she ever wrote was "SILENT FOR EVER." I was present as she ended the last word, and, putting it aside, she said with a wistful look in the large, earnest eyes that went as a knife to the heart:
"My work is almost done. It is certain that I shall never write much more."
She never wrote another line.
Ay; Silent for ever in this world. But as her pure and lovely spirit entered the Celestial realms for which it was so meet, I can only imagine the whole Company of Heaven hastening to receive her, with songs of praise, and harps attuned, and voices, ten thousand times ten thousand, ringing the raptures of welcome.
Silent for ever here, but through Heaven's eternal spaces and through the Eternity of Heaven, rejoicing for evermore.
CHARLES W. WOOD.
(To be continued.)