Project Canterbury

Charlotte Mary Yonge: An Appreciation

By Ethel Romanes

London: Mowbray, 1908.


Chapter VI. Life at Elderfield--'The Young Stepmother'--'The Trial,' and Other Books

ANOTHER change came into Miss Yonge's life in 1858. Her brother, Julian Yonge, married, and delighted as Charlotte was to have a sister, and, in time, nephews and nieces, Mrs. Yonge and Charlotte wisely determined to move from Otterbourne House and take up their abode at a cottage very near their old home--Elderfleld Cottage, as it then was. In this long, low house with a pleasant garden, both mother and daughter lived for the rest of their respective lives.

In a perfectly charming letter to Miss Barnett, Miss Yonge describes her brother's wedding--how pretty the bride was, how joyous she herself felt: 'I am sure I felt all the time as if I were being married to her just as much as Julian.'

No sister could have been found more loyal and true and unselfish than was Charlotte Yonge. She was childlike in her gladness; she was one of those people whose best and noblest qualities are seen best in their relations with their nearest and dearest.

In this letter there is an amusing quotation from a review, which says:

'Miss Sewell upheld baptismal regeneration in Amy Herbert, and mild stupidity in Ursula, and Miss Yonge has turned from the contemplation of the corporal works of mercy to that of the virtues of a hereditary aristocracy' (we suppose in Dynevor Terrace).

Elderfield is almost on the road between Winchester and Southampton, but this was no drawback, quite the contrary, in those thrice-blessed years before motor-cars destroyed country life and gardens, and peace and quiet for simple people whose chief desire is to stay in pleasant places when they get to them. Mercifully, Miss Yonge never saw the change which motors have produced, and Otterbourne was in her time the quiet, peaceful little hamlet it had always been, with fields and dells where daffodils and cowslips grew. She had an intense pleasure in common everyday sights, to which her books bear witness; she loved botany, and the little book reprinted from the Magazine for the Young testified to her knowledge. Then she had the great pleasure of her school-children. Every day she went up to the school and gave a lesson in Scripture to boys or girls, and on other subjects at times.

Writing from Puslinch in September, 1859, she speaks of her home in that place:

'It is nine years since I had been here. . . . All is much the same, and the ways of the house, sounds and sights, walks and church-going, are all unaltered. And there is all the exceeding pleasure of the old terms, the playful half teasing and scolding, and being set down for nonsense, and, oh, above all, Uncle Yonge--having more of the father to me than any one could have, though very, very different--but to him Papa looked up, and of him I used to be more afraid than anyone; and this makes it the most pleasant thing to be with him, and get the kind, merry words that are more to "William's daughter "than to anything else, not at all to the authoress, for it [her fame?] is rather a joke here. He has some elements of Humfrey [The Squire in Hopes and Fears] in him, chiefly the kindly common sense, and the sense of duty which is indeed a good heritage. But it is the first time I ever saw his grey head here without the other silver head that used to be inseparable from it. I have often been here without Mamma, but never without Papa, and you know how to him Devon was like a schoolboy's home, and we used to be so very happy together. . . .

'I have left all work behind, and feel as if I were living my own life instead of that of my people, and being the old original Charlotte instead of Miss Yonge.'

And on her return home she writes:

'That visit was on the whole so delicious, and leaves such a sunny impression on my mind, that it is strange to remember the spots of yearning recollection and the great pang of going away. Not that I was not glad to get back . . . but when one looked back to the last time of parting in the full hope of being together the next year, and remembered that nine such years passed before the next visit, and that it was with two such gaps, one's heart could not but sink. But it was a happy time and a reassuring one, for I set out with a sense that "winds had rent my sheltering bowers," knowing that my uncle had had a good deal of illness . . . but when I got there it was so like old times, and Uncle Yonge so bright and well and exactly like his old self, that it was quite a happy surprise, and, whatever happens, the recollection of that visit will have been a gain.'

Miss Yonge went sometimes to London, and she was beginning to form friendships with a younger generation of girls, of whom the most distinguished was Miss Christabel Coleridge, her future biographer, herself the author, in later years, of many delightful stories.

Sir John Taylor Coleridge's elder daughter, Mary, was one of Charlotte Yonge's most intimate friends (all the letters to her from Miss Yonge have been destroyed), and it occurred to Miss Coleridge that a number of clever and eager girls were growing up who needed some intellectual stimulus. It was agreed to form a sort of society, and that 'Cousin Charlotte' should be the head. She chose the name 'Mother Goose to her Goslings.' Four questions were set every month, and the best set of answers travelled round; and there was also a manuscript magazine, The Barnacle. Miss Coleridge's account of this is delightful to those who realize what they would have given to be among those Goslings. Not only Miss Coleridge, but Miss Peard and Miss Florence Wilford, who both became writers of stories, were among the Goslings, and many another whose name became known in other connections. In time the society became merged in 'Arachne and her Spiders' in the Monthly Packet.

Miss Coleridge tells us of a meeting of the Goslings and Mother Goose in Sir John Duke Coleridge's house in 1862. Miss Yonge at that time must have been strikingly handsome with her dark sparkling eyes and beautiful white hair. The portrait of her in the Life, from a photograph by Bassano, shows a face at once strong and sweet, with a good deal of resemblance to her father's.

Hopes and Fears came out in 1860. We think Miss Yonge must have grown fond of the family of Fulmorts, who are the heroes and heroines of what one might call the subsidiary plot of the story. The Fulmorts reappear more than once. There are really two stories in this novel, which cross and intercross, and there is an evident moral intended--the evils of idolatry in affection. The heroine who is supposed to illustrate this story is so sweet and lovable a creature in her youth that it is difficult to conceive her growing into the rather tiresome spinster she undoubtedly became. The naughty girl of the tale, Lucilla, is an illustration of the change which has come over our manners. One of Lucy's worst offences is a tour in company with a cousin--a girl verging on the thirties--in Ireland. The impropriety of what would nowadays be a perfectly commonplace journey is much insisted on. Lucy loses her lover, Robert Fulmort, and he devotes himself and his fortune to the building of church, schools, clergy-house, and choir-school in a slum which the distillery owned by Ms father and elder brother had not improved. Perhaps the newly-built S. Barnabas', Pimlico, suggested this idea; or All Saints', Margaret Street: for there were springing up in London at that time those wonderful churches which did so much, and are doing so much, to spread the Faith whole and undefiled. S. Barnabas', Pimlico; All Saints', Margaret Street; S. Peter's, London Docks; S. Alban's, Holborn; Christ Church, Albany Street; S. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square--all these were comparatively new in these early sixties, and more than once we find them mentioned in the Monthly Packet, or allusions to them in Miss Yonge's stories. The great Sisterhoods were in their very early beginnings, and we shall see how the idea of the Religious Life was welcomed by her. Accounts of their work, and allusions to them, are found in the same way.

To return to Hopes and Fears, which is perhaps the least attractive of those stories of modern life which we should group in a second class. To the first belong The Heir of Redclyffe, Heartsease, and The Daisy Chain. In the second we should put Dynevor Terrace, Hopes and Fears, The Young Stepmother, and The Clever Woman of the Family. The Young Stepmother is to our thinking a far better story than Hopes and Fears. No less a person than Tennyson read it with pleasure, and the Guizot family liked it much.

Tennyson is described by Mr. Palgrave as reading in bed one of Miss Yonge's deservedly popular tales, wherein a leading element is the deferred Confirmation of a grown-up person. 'On Tennyson read till I heard him cry with satisfaction, "I see land! Mr.-----is just going to be confirmed," after which darkness and slumber.'

The Confirmation was not really one of the chief events of the story,but evidently Miss Yonge thought it might provoke comment. She writes to Miss Barnett: 'Tell me what people say to Mr. Kendal's Confirmation. I want to know how it strikes the world.'

Albinia Kendal, the stepmother, is one of the most absolutely delightful women of all Miss Yonge's heroines, and although her stepchildren are each in his or her different way most horrid little specimens, they are very cleverly drawn and developed. The Crimean War comes into this story, and the description of the death of Gilbert, Albinia's only stepson, is as pathetic and vivid a bit of writing as Miss Yonge ever produced.

Albinia's own child, Maurice, is as natural and naughty as could be wished, and there are pleasant sketches of slighter characters, and some rather good and satirical descriptions of the humours of a country town.

Another charming story reprinted from the Magazine for the Young appeared in book form in 1861--The Stokesley Secret. The family described therein, the Merrifields, reappears very often, and Hal, the very naughty boy of the story, conies to a bad end, as is set forth in a later book, where he is made almost to marry the scapegrace girl of The Pillars of the House. She just escapes this fate.

The Merrifields are excellently described, and come out as photographic representations of the generally worthy and nearly always dull English county family. It is really quite sad that the Merrifields were allowed to fall off as they grew old. Those of them who are respectable--and there is only one who is not--become so dull, so limited and Philistine, that we wish Miss Yonge had left them where they were at the end of The Stokesley Secret.

Miss Yonge's letters are full of allusion to the books she was reading; in one she writes:

'We have just finished Dr. Livingstone, noble man that he is; all that one can wish is that he knew what the Church meant. The grand simplicity of his courage and endurance is most magnificent. I am sure England has not come to degeneracy yet.'

The Trial ran through the Monthly Packet of 1863 and 1864, and came out in book form at once. The manuscript relating to Leonard Ward's prison life was the last Miss Yonge ever submitted to Mr. Keble, and she tells us how he made her soften the details of the effect on the mind of prison life.

Of this book Mr. Henry Sidgwick says, in a letter to Mr. Roden Noel:

'There is a new story by the authoress of The Heir of Redclyffe which I have read with all my old enthusiasm. I thought it was quite gone off, but I can't get The Trial out of my head. Did you ever read Madame Bovary, a French novel by Flaubert? It is very powerful, and Miss Yonge reminds me of it by force of contrast. It describes how the terrible ennui of mean French rural domestic life drags down the soul of an ambitious woman, whereas Miss Yonge makes one feel how full of interest the narrowest sphere of life is.

'I think her religion is charming, and it mellows with age; the √Ępre Puseyism wears off.'

Certainly, Dr. May and 'le docteur Bovary' have not a great deal in common.

One wonders where '√Ępre Puseyism' comes out. Perhaps in The Two Guardians, where one guardian of a youthful owner of an estate disputes with his co-trustee as to the possibility of letting a farm to a Dissenter; or perhaps in the earliest of all the stories, where we saw that attendance at a Mechanics' Institute was esteemed a gross impropriety.

The Trial brings before us most of our old friends of The Daisy Chain. Dr. May is as admirable as ever, mellowed of course, but just as charming and headlong, and the little jars between him and Tom, and their gradual drawing together, are very clever bits of character study.

The tragedy is well conceived, and Leonard is very living; we are most thankful he is allowed to go on his way in peace and become a missionary in the South Sea Islands, and is not sent home again in a later book. He is just mentioned in The Pillars of the House, and he does appear for a moment in her last book. It is in The Trial, we think, Miss Yonge first mentions Sisters of Mercy; two come to the rescue of Stoneborough during a scarlet fever epidemic. They were brought by Dr. May's dear friend, Dr. Spencer, another admirably described physician, quite distinct from, and absolutely unlike, Dr. May, just a little bit ahead of him in Church views and scientific knowledge alike.

Some of the readers of the story seem to have been very odd people. Miss Yonge writes:

'I find most people grumble at Leonard's not being hung' [most of us would never have forgiven her if she had allowed him to be executed], 'but I mean to make much more of him.'

Ethel is our Ethel, only at twenty-nine she seems very much the middle-aged spinster, which she would not be now. There is a very pretty, delicately-told romance concerning Ethel: Leonard Ward has an adoration for her, absolutely of the chivalrous kind. What she teaches him in the many readings and discussions which she, her young brother Aubrey, and Leonard shared in the course of a long summer holiday which they spent together, was his stay during the awful time of his trial and three years' imprisonment.

It is to her that he owes his missionary aspirations, which are strangely fulfilled when he comes out, his innocence established and all his life before him, for he was only eighteen when his life seemed to be wrecked. The boys and Ethel have read Marmion together in that holiday, and on his return to freedom Ethel could not help repeating the long-treasured lines: 'And, Leonard,

'". . . grieve not for thy woes,
Disgrace and trouble;
For He who honour best bestows
Shall give thee double."'

'"I've never ceased to be glad you read Marmion with me," he hastily said, as they turned into church on hearing a clattering of choristers behind him.

'Clara might have had such sensations when she bound the spurs on her knight's heels; yet even she could hardly have had so pure, unselfish, and exquisite a joy as Ethel's, in receiving the pupil who had been in a far different school from hers.

'The grey dawn through the bloom, the depths of shadow in the twilight church, softening and rendering all more solemn and mysterious, were more in accordance than bright and beamy sunshine with her subdued, grave thankfulness; and there was something suitable in the fewness of the congregation that had gathered in the Lady Chapel--so few that there was no room for shyness either in or for him who was again taking his place there, with steady, composed demeanour, its stillness concealing so much.

'Ethel had reckoned on the verse, "That He might hear the mournings of such as are in captivity, and deliver the children appointed unto death." But she had not reckoned on its falling on her ears in the deep, full-toned, melodious bass that came in, giving body to the young notes of the choristers--a voice so altered and mellowed since she last had heard it, that it made her look across in doubt, and recognize, in the uplifted face, that here indeed the freed captive was at home and lifted above himself.

'When the clause, in the Litany, for all prisoners captives brought to her the thrill that she had only to look up to see the fulfilment of many and many a prayer for one captive, for once she did not hear the response, only saw the bent head, as though there were thoughts that went too deep to find voice."

Miss Yonge writes to a daughter of Dean Butler:

'A sort of notion of locating a story at Market Stoneborough had made us look up the Mays and find out what they are doing now.

'Blanche and Hector are just married, and Aubrey, having proved too delicate for Eton, is Ethel's faithful pupil still, and Flora's house is very well managed, but so stupid, and Mary is married to a clergyman.

'I have changed the cart accident into Dickie tumbling off the Minster tower on the roof, when he slid down on a skylight and stuck, till Leonard got him down and stopped the bleeding from a terrible cut in the leg.'

Later on, when Leonard's plans are matured, and they are speaking of Dickie, Norman May's boy, whose life Leonard has saved, Ethel says:

'"Ah, papa is always telling him that they can't get on in New Zealand for want of a small archdeacon, and that, I really think, abashes him more than anything else."

'"He is not forward--he is only sensible," said Leonard, on whose heart Dickie had far too fast a hold for even this slight disparagement not to be rebutted. "I had forgotten what a child could be till I was with him; I felt like a stock or a stone among you all."

'Ethel smiled. "I was nearly giving you Marmion, in remembrance of old times on the night of the Christmas-tree," she said; "but I did not feel as if the 'giving double 'for all your care and trouble had begun."

'"The heart to feel it so was not come," said Leonard. "Now, since I have grasped this hope of making known to others the way to that grace that held me up"--he paused with excess of feeling--'all has been joy, even in the recollection of the darkest days. Mr. Wilmot's words come back now, that it may all have been training for my Master's work. Even the manual labour may have been my preparation." His eyes brightened, and he was, indeed, more like the eager, hopeful youth she remembered than she had ever hoped to see him; but this brightness was the flash of steel, tried, strengthened, and refined in the fire--a brightness that might well be trusted.

'"One knew it must be so," was all she could say.

'"Yes, yes," he said eagerly. "You sent me words of greeting that held up my faith; and, above all, when we read those books at Coombe, you put the key of comfort in my hand, and I never quite lost it. Miss May," he added, as Dr. May's latchkey was heard in the front door, "if ever I come to any good, I owe it to you."

'And that was the result of the boy's romance.'

The Trial, which many of us love with a good deal of the love we gave to the Heir and to The Daisy Chain, brings out how ideal, how beautiful, are the relations between Dr. May and Ethel. Nowhere in fiction is that relation of widowed father and the special home daughter more winningly described. We know Dr. May must be with his wife and Margaret now, and we can only hope Ethelred has joined them, for we cannot picture her without her father.

The Clever Woman of the Family came out in 1865 as a book; it did not run through the Packet. This is, in our judgment, almost Miss Yonge's cleverest book; not the most charming by any means, but distinctly able and amusing. She betrays more humour in this than in any other book. The poor clever woman, Rachel, is not at all clever in reality, in some ways extraordinarily stupid, and Miss Yonge has been quite merciless in showing up all her follies and her abrupt, disagreeable manner. Side by side is the charming, the really gifted woman Ermine; in fact, the book is not an attack on clever women or writing women, or women who do anything at all worth doing, but on presumption, overmuch talk, and silly contempt for authority. The story is not at all an attempt to prove that women were never to venture out of the beaten tracks.

Lady Temple, the youthful widow and mother of seven unruly children, at the mature age of twenty-five was supposed to be absolutely helpless, and her cousin Rachel determines to be her good angel and manage her boys for her. The boys are perfectly docile and obedient with their mother, and hopelessly naughty with Rachel; then the Clever Woman falls in with one Mauleverer, who leads her to believe he has been prevented by intellectual scruples from taking Orders. The way in which Rachel flies to conclusions, and the way Mauleverer leads her on, are most cleverly shown up. Rachel, who is an heiress, is much harassed by the evils of lace-making, and is led into setting up a home for some orphans in an adjacent town, where, instead of lace-making, they are taught wood-engraving; they are put under the charge of a widow whom Mauleverer introduces to Rachel, and in due time produce two woodcuts.

'They were entitled "The Free Maids that weave their Thread with Bones," and one called "The Ideal" represented a latticed cottage window, with roses, honeysuckles, cat, beehives, and all conventional rural delights, around a pretty maiden singing at her lace pillow; while the other, yclept "The Real," showed a den of thin, wizened, half-starved girls, cramped over their cushions in a lace school. The design was Mr. Mauleverer's, the execution the children's; and, neatly mounted on cards, the performance did them great credit."

When Rachel shows the woodcuts to some friends, a certain Captain Keith throws doubt on their being woodcuts at all, and promises, if he cannot prove his words, to subscribe to the enterprise. A few days later he succeeds.

Lady Temple, who is supposed to be so timid and helpless, makes a raid on the home, and finds that the children, whom she contrives to see alone, are starved and beaten and made to work at lace-making 'more than ever we did at home, day and night; and if we don't she takes the stick.'

Lady Temple carries off the two children; one is sickening with diphtheria, which she communicates to the Temple boys and to Rachel.

Mauleverer and the widow are both tried at the assizes, but poor Rachel, as a friend remarks,' has managed so sweetly that they might just as well try her as him for obtaining money on false pretences; and the man seems to have been "wonderfully sharp in avoiding committing himself.'

The widow, who turns out to be no widow at all, and whose child is Mauleverer's, is sentenced to three years' imprisonment, but Mauleverer has to be acquitted. Fortunately, he has been recognized as one Maddox, who has committed frauds, the story of which is another part of this history, so he does not escape; and Rachel, after suffering intensely in body and mind, marries, to the unbounded astonishment of everyone, Captain Keith, whom in early days she had taken to task for lack of a belief in heroism, and to whom she had narrated his own exploit at the siege of Delhi, as it had been told her without any name being given. She adds that the hero was killed. She does not discover her mistake for a long time.

There is much more in the book which is most delightful: the story of the faithful love of Colonel Keith and the real Clever Woman, Ermine Williams. There is another of Miss Yonge's worldly women, Bessie Keith, Captain Keith's sister. She is much more convincing than most of these unworthy persons, and much more deserving of blame; in fact, she is very ably described. For absolute cleverness, for variety of character and clever talk, the book stands out among all Miss Yonge's tales, and is far ahead of any, except perhaps the stories we have named as belonging to the first class.

There is an allusion to it in one of her letters to Miss Barnett:

'I have been entreated to send Dr. May to cure her [Ermine, the lame heroine], but I think that would be past even his capacities!

'There is no heart-breaking about him [the Colonel]; with Rachel, she had made up her mind to immolate her affections at the shrine of her asylum before she found out that she was in no danger. Now I believe in her.'


Project Canterbury