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J.STUART, Athenaeum, 14 July 1894

J.STUART, Athenaeum, 14 July 1894

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THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



for acquiescence, be it vague or be it intelligent, is even further away.

After one has been stung with a whip, or battered on the brain with a

quarterstaff, it is not the pretty wrist-play nor the artful bludgeoning that

gets the praise; before praise is mentioned there is something to say of

the smarting wales, of the aching bumps on the skull. Mr Meredith

provokes a thousand issues whose relation to the story is not easy of

detection; his arguments clamour for debate or answer; the search light

is turned upon the principles that have worked upon his characters, and

less upon their actions than upon the motive which he saw in their

actions. He has been compared to Zeus—a rather flippant Zeus, hurling

thunderbolts with his right hand and letting off squibs with the left.1It

is not flowers and not confetti that he hurls the while his car rolls on

majestically; fireworks suit his purpose better. At the end of it one seems

to have lived and tried to think in a whirling atmosphere of catherinewheels and Chinese crackers, not walking ‘with the tender and growing

night’, but beneath a heaven of shooting stars. It is for this reason that

there is something to be said for the method of serial publication Mr

Meredith so often adopts. He is not difficult of piecemeal digestion, but

he makes you difficult mouthfuls to gulp whole. Let the minor arguments

be settled every four weeks; let his phrasing and his imagery be a matter

of monthly reflection, and the ground is thus cleared of its tanglewood

and undergrowth, the mind can turn to a whole and steady vision of the

novel. The only other possible means of appreciation (which is more

than comprehension) is in repeated reading, whereby new beauties are

seen and still increasing light. But our preference inclines to the more

gradual method of assimilation.

Having assimilated, one is entitled to ask if the novel be a good novel,

and if it be a novel good enough for Mr Meredith to have signed. After

The Tragic Comedians we should never say that Mr Meredith cannot

write a bad novel; but nowadays he is more likely to fail, if he is to fail,

as he failed in One of our Conquerors. That is, a quaint, perverse

vocabulary may unite with a cryptic system of metaphor to produce

confusion where the intellect should be illuminated. Stimulants (and Mr

Meredith is a perpetual stimulant) are well enough when they clarify the

brain, but they fail of their end by too much potency. In Lord Ormont

and His Aminta Mr Meredith is less of a puzzle than his last novel made

us fear that he might be. Certain chapters of The Egoist—notably the

discussion of ‘a great and an ancient wine’ and the storm scene—

show a more concise significance of language, but the remainder

1 That is, by Henley; see above, No. 57.



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of The Egoist and all that Mr Meredith has since written are mere

fogginess beside Lord Ormont, a fact which goes to show that increasing

years and frequent service have not dulled the edge of the weapon he has

fashioned for himself. You may see an ungraceful stroke frequently, and

a clumsy stroke now and again. For instance, here is a sentence whose

analysis we can leave to the reader, and confidently wish him joy of it:

The looking forward turned them to the looking back at the point they had

flown from, and yielded a momentary pleasure, enough to stamp some section

of a picture on their memories, which was not the burning now Love lives for,

in the clasp, if but hands.



It has a meaning, a dimly descried meaning. But why would plain

English not have done as well? Mr Meredith has restrained his largesse

of epigrams, also. His conclusiveness is less instant than it used to be,

and its expression is the surer without the help of the treasuries of earth

and heaven. Nothing could be better than this, in its way:

Whether a woman loves a man or not, he is her lover if he dare tell her he

loves her, and is heard with attention.



Or this:

In dealing with a woman, a man commonly prudent—put aside chivalry,

justice, and the rest—should bind himself to disbelieve what he can’t prove.

Otherwise let him expect his whipping, with or without ornament.



In defence of our view that this novel is ‘good Meredith’, and before

we examine it as a piece of fiction, let us quote a passage of sane

philosophy, a passage which possesses dignity of thought and sound

expression that can hardly be matched, even from ‘Lord Ormont’s’

greatest predecessors:

[Quotes ii, from ‘Tender is not a word’ to ‘Some do’.]

On Lady Charlotte Eglett and her views of the proper way to do

things the fortunes of the heroine and of the two heroes of this story

depended, in so far as human fortunes can depend on any one person.

She was sister to Lord Ormont, and Lord Ormont had been a very

famous general of cavalry in India, who had made the mistake of doing

his duty in a fashion that did not commend itself to the English middle

classes. He had ridden

at the head of two hundred horsemen across a stretch of country, including hill

and forest, to fall like a bolt from the blue on the suspected Prince in the midst



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of his gathering warriors…and the high-handed treatment of the Prince was held

by his admirers to be justified by the provocation and the result.



But the popular mind was sorely divided. ‘These are the deeds that win

empires! the argument in his favour ran. Are they of a character to

maintain empires? the counter-question was urged’. In the end Lord

Ormont was left by the graceless ingratitude of his country to kick his

heels in sullen discontent. But he had fervent, faithful admirers. Among

these were ‘Matey’ Weyburn, a schoolboy, and Aminta Farrell, a

schoolgirl, whose ‘crocodiles’, if we may use the slang word for a twoby-two procession, used to pass one another every Sunday. Here is the

portrait of Aminta—or Browny, as the schoolboys called her:—

[Quotes i, from ‘She had a nice mouth’ to ‘she could not much help

herself’.]

It was not for years that Aminta could go over the world with Matey.

We regret to say that there was the natural and reprehensible clandestine

correspondence; but soon the boy and girl went on alien ways. They met

again when Matey had become tutor to Lady Charlotte Eglett’s son, at

a time when she was alarmed at Lord Ormont’s writing testy, truculent

letters to the press, and at a rumour that he had married some young

woman in Spain. That Lord Ormont should ‘form an attachment’ was

possible, but Lady Charlotte could not bring herself to believe that he

would drag the family name so low in the dust as to marry a person

whom she could not receive. The further report that the hero was writing

his memoirs—and perhaps to please ‘that woman’ —made her send

Matey to play the private secretary. And ‘the woman —lady—calling

herself Lady Ormont—poor woman, I should do the same in her place’

—is of course Aminta, who was legally married to the idol of her youth.

But he refused to recognize her, to take her to the family seat, or to have

her presented at Court. Thus you have two stories on convergent lines.

For while Aminta was doing her utmost to fortify herself as Lord

Ormont’s wife, she was also falling in love with the real idol of her

youth. She would have won her way with her husband, but an accident

gave the victory to Lady Charlotte, who had been in silent, ceaseless

opposition to her. The last scenes are conceived and written in Mr

Meredith’s gayest and most romantic style. They are ‘probable, but not

possible’, radiant with humour—at moments with ironical humour—and

of a gallant, persuasive vitality. The swim seawards, when the lovers

become for moments the boy and girl they had known at school, is an

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audacity that is audacious even from him; but it comes well out of the

hardest criticism—except, perhaps, that criticism which observes how

wet and weedy the sea must have made Aminta’s hair, unless she had

covered it with an ugly india-rubber cap, and how Matey’s sodden duck

trousers must have been void of comeliness and form. We feel as Lady

Charlotte felt, and as Lord Ormont felt in the end, that this twain was

for one another from the first, and came to one another at the last by

an inevitable law.

Matey Weyburn is the least interesting of the chief characters, and

Aminta—sister as she is, and as she shows that she is, to so many

heroines of untold charm—sometimes lacks colour. Lord Ormont could

not have been bettered, nor could Lady Charlotte. They are drawn in

Mr Meredith’s finest and most dignified manner; they ring true at every

touch, and the luck of their lives, the changes and chances of their fates,

hold the reader. Indeed, the story leaves one feeling that, despite

Aminta’s natural nobility, she was never quite good enough for Lord

Ormont: possibly because it was after she knew him that she was

stretched on the rack of this tough world. One cannot help taking sides

in reading the book, because all the characters are bristling with life and

the humours of life. In fact, the story reconstructs the masques and

triumphs and pageantries of the world’s show, in this world’s

atmosphere, to the tune that the world’s pulse beats. We know no better

commendation of a novel than that it should thus own the essentials of

romantic sanity and health.



99. Unsigned review, Pall Mall Gazette

lix, 20 July 1894



Though much may be achieved by the attention of devoted imitators, by

the mimicry of rancorous enemies, a man’s best parodist is himself. He

understands involuntarily the kicks and antics of his own expression; he has

but to force an effect, and straightaway he commits that form of literary

suicide, caricature of self. When the brain is tired, style slips insensibly into

manner, and what else is manner than style parodied? No writer has been



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more industrious in the exaggerated mimicry of himself than Mr George

Meredith. The Tragi-Comedians [sic] might already have been the invention

of a malicious humour, and The Egoist, despite the eulogy of Mr Stevenson,

remains for us a tour de force and the memory of a headache. But in Lord

Ormont and his Aminta Mr Meredith has surpassed all previous efforts in

the art of caricature. From beginning to end the book is a tirade; the jaded

reader gets not an instant’s respite. The characters declaim, and declaim,

and declaim, ever in the same tone, and ever with the same phrase. There

is no attempt to suit the style to the character. Men and women, ladies and

hoydens speak all the same language, which is not English but Meredith.

The many dialogues between Lord Ormont and his sister, Lady Charlotte,

are always puzzling, sometimes unintelligible, because Mr Meredith,

speaking through each mask, makes no attempt to differentiate the spirit and

temper of his puppets. The style is so tortured and elaborated that scarcely

for half-a-page are you unconscious of the means; and though we are all

for artifice, we recognize that variety of tone and occasional relief are the

essentials of art. But Mr Meredith allows you no rest; he bids you dance

to his staccato measure, until you are compelled to cry him mercy from

sheer exhaustion.

And as is inevitable when the phrase is sought and sought for a

weary seven hundred pages, the phrase is not always found, or is often

discovered a phrase with no corresponding idea. ‘A heavy trifle of

suspicion’ —could there be a more hapless ‘derangement of epithets’?

Who can endure in patience this jumble of nouns and adjectives: ‘his

parasitic thrasyieon apeing coxcomb’? The passage here following

might be set in a general paper along with a verse of Browning’s, to

test the limits of undergraduate understanding. ‘He boasted it to a sister

sharing the pride—exultant in the cry of a hawk, scornful of ambitious

poultry; a passed finger-post to the plucked, and really regretful that

no woman had been created fit for him’. Thus it is that everywhere

you encounter words too large for their effect, and fumble at

obscurities which, when pierced, are found to conceal platitudes. The

images, moreover, wherein Mr Meredith delights, are too seldom

characteristic, they too seldom have that simplicity and rightness which

distinguish the great masters of simile. ‘He was as fond’, says Mr

Meredith of the usher at Cuper’s, ‘of giving out the name of Murat

as you see in old engravings of tobacco-shops men enjoying the

emission of their whiff of smoke’. The simile is completely inapposite,

or rather, it would seem just as apposite to any other conceivable

utterance. Yet now and again we delight in Mr Meredith’s ancient habit

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MEREDITH



of eloquent expression, his dainty use of the right word and the

convincing image. This description of Amy May, the wife of the

famous fighting captain, could not be bettered: ‘Her hair was radiant

in a shady street; her eyelids tenderly closed round the almond

enclosure of blue pebbles bright as if shining from the seawash’. Do

you not henceforth know her for a beautiful woman? But these jewels

of speech glitter rarely in the book, and you wish that Mr Meredith

had taken counsel with his own Lord Ormont. ‘It’s like what you call

good writing’, said my lord of fencing, ‘the simple way does the

business, and that’s the most difficult to learn, because you must give

your head to it’. How far is the novelist’s practice divorced from this

excellent theory!

This much for the manner; and what of the matter of the book? Here

also you mark a decline. In vain you seek the lyrical quality of Richard

Feverel, the tempered merriment of Evan Harrington, the bubbling

champagne of Harry Richmond, the fierce conviction of Rhoda Fleming,

the middle-class romance of Sandro [sic] Belloni. Instead you have a

set of characters, who are never held in hand. Up and down the book

they wander, aimless and indistinct, and the reader can hardly hope to

understand what the author himself has imperfectly grasped. Lord

Ormont himself appears a monument of inconsequence. In one sense he

is a negation of Steadism, a living outrage upon the Non-conformist

conscience. 1 But you feel that the suppression of Aminta, the

masquerading of his wife as a mistress, are entirely without motive.

Aminta, in spite of Lady Charlotte’s denunciation, is pictured a lady, and

can you conceive an ancient roué putting a slight upon the woman he

loves out of pique to an ungrateful country? This contrariety is a

hopeless impoverishment of Lord Ormont, whose action should have

been either less logical or more precise. But Lady Charlotte, who

stands for the honour of the family, is an admirable invention. If only

she had spoken with an accent of her own, she would have been a

masterpiece: even as it is, Mr Meredith says a hundred good things

through her mask. Her zealous championship of her brother, the sound

brutality of her views, her contempt for the neighbours and the parish

priest are excellently set forth, and so long as she is on the stage you

catch a breath of the old Meredith. The fight for the family jewels (for

example) is rendered with amazing vigour and rapidity, while the

1

William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) used his influence as a powerful journalist

and newspaper proprietor in favour of the peace movement started by Tsar Nicholas

II in 1898.



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quarrel over the family pew compels you to sympathy. But my lady is

not always before the audience, and Aminta’s aunt is a poor substitute—

though once upon a time Mr Meredith had a rare genius for the

portraiture of aunts. The others are neither very real nor very amusing.

Matthew Weyburn, being a bundle of excellencies, is a sorry prig, and

the career of a schoolmaster is the best that could have been offered him.

How well we know the type! The muscular undergraduate, bent upon

the regeneration of his college and hungry for the golden opinion of his

tutors! Most often he grows into a healthy, athletic don, and remains to

the end of his days the overgrown, intelligent schoolboy he was at the

beginning. Now, Mr Meredith does not send his Matthew to college, but

he seems to have studied the type, and neither the schoolmaster’s

international aspiration nor his attachment for Aminta is sufficient to

humanize him. Far better understood is Lord Ormont’s Aminta. And if

generally she be but a shadowy outline, there are moments when she

appears a living and a courageous woman. The villains are of the

approved Adelphi type, and the bully Cumnock has been kept so long

in the novelist’s stock of puppets that we are astonished that Mr

Meredith should have trotted him upon the scene again. As is ever the

case, the small irrelevancies of the picture are suggested with a light and

pretty touch, which reinforces the opinion that elaboration was the death

of Lord Ormont. Once or twice also you think yourself on the brink of

a great situation, as when the characters, all at loggerheads, meet at

Steignton. Here might have been an occasion for a flood of epigram and

repartee, but no sooner are the ill-matched personages confronted than

they slink away, leaving Lady Charlotte triumphant, and you with a bitter

sense of disappointment. However, the ‘marine duet’ is brilliant in the

ancient manner. Who, save Mr Meredith, would have permitted Matthew

Weyburn, with no other covering than a pair of white ducks, to encounter

his Aminta in the rolling billows? And who, save Mr Meredith, having

set his characters in so unexpected a situation, would have gifted them

with so keen an enjoyment of life and fun, and have brought them to

land so happily uncompromised? That, in truth, is the one great passage

of the book. For the rest, once more let us quote the General against

his Creator: ‘If a story had to be told, Lord Ormont liked it plain, without

jerks and evolutions’. And Lord Ormont could not, with a clear

conscience, have smiled approval upon his biographer.



397



100. J.A.Noble, in Spectator

lxxiii, 4 August 1894



For J.A.Noble see above, No. 92, headnote.



We do not think that we are afraid of superlatives in criticism and we

certainly do not wish to reduce eulogistic appraisement to the level of

damnation by faint praise. It is, however, our deliberate opinion that

we have barely a dozen works of imagination in the English language

which would justify the piled-up epithets of panegyric applied during

the past five or six years to the novels of Mr George Meredith, and

that among such dozen no single work from Mr Meredith’s pen can

justly be numbered. No candid or right-feeling critic can find it

pleasant to speak in terms which might seem depreciatory of books

written by a man of unquestionable ability, who in an age of selfadvertisement has never raised a finger to advance his just claims; who

through years of comparative neglect worked on in quiet dignity; and

who has abandoned nothing of that dignity while the late chorus of

excited, undiscriminating laudation has been ringing in his ears. It is

nevertheless the fact that, so far as Mr Meredith is concerned, English

critical opinion has passed from one extreme to the other; and as the

sudden push of the pendulum has, at any rate, rectified an injustice,

we should not regret the swing, were it not for the thought of the

inevitable return. Readers of discriminating judgment and sane temper

may, in their irritation at extravagance, ignore the measure of truth

which the extravagance holds in solution; and even those who are now

held in bondage by an artificially imposed vogue may, as the fetters

gradually fall away, indulge in insolent licence of revolt. In both

alternatives Mr Meredith’s reputation is, in the long-run, bound to

suffer.

Our own impression of him—the impression which we believe will

finally survive—is of a poet, a phrase-maker, and an intuitive rather than

consecutive thinker, who has been made by accident a novelist. His

novels abound in imagination and in wit, and they are rich in gleams

of a certain kind of insight; but, on the other hand, they lack that organic

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integrity, that complete command of a series of vitally related incidents

or situations, which is the sine quâ non not merely of great, but of really

competent fiction. It may have been noticed that Mr Meredith’s most

extravagant eulogists are wont to justify their eulogy almost exclusively

by reference to certain admired passages— the beautiful ‘Ferdinand and

Miranda’ chapter in Richard Feverel being perhaps the one most recently

cited: it hardly ever occurs to them to dwell upon the entire conception

of a novel, except indeed in the case of such a book as The Egoist, where

that conception is exhausted by the presentation of a single individuality.

It seems to us that Mr Meredith has just missed his true work in

literature. He is deficient in some of the essential qualifications of a

novelist; he has many of the essential qualities of a poet, and his poetical

reputation—save with the elect—has been damaged not by defect, but

by a fine bewildering excess. As an essayist, we believe he would have

been all but wholly successful; and as a delineator of ‘characters’ after

the fashion of Theophrastus, La Bruyère, and William Law (whose fine

work in this kind should never be ignored),1 his triumph would have

been indubitable; it would not have been a triumph to be profaned by

an ‘all but’. This judgment is certainly supported by Lord Ormont and

his Aminta, a fairly representative book. It is less good than Richard

Feverel and Diana of the Crossways; it is indefinitely better than that

dreary, unreadable One of Our Conquerors. It exhibits with a fine

impartiality all that we can possibly wish to see of the author’s

weakness, and enough to delight us of his peculiar strength. His style

in various passages has that exasperating quality, which if not

affectation must be an almost unique natural perversity; the mere

story is so unnatural and incredible that we should do injustice to it

by a summary; the moral—that love may ignore marriage, and in

ignoring it, look the world in the face with no glance of apology—

will be regarded by the best readers as not a moral but the reverse.

On the other hand, when Mr Meredith is at his best, his literary

manner has a wonderful charm of word and phrase and image and

general form. The sentences sparkle oftener than they glow, but when

they glow—as in the chapter in the third volume, ‘Lovers Mated’ —

we can warm ourselves in the radiance. In single ingenuities of

metaphor, Mr Meredith is as happy as ever; witness the sentence

in which he remarks that ‘passionate devotion to an object strikes

a vein through circumstances, as a travelling run of flame darts the

1

William Law belongs in this list by virtue of the character sketches scattered through

his A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1729).



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seeming haphazard zigzags to catch at the dry of dead wood amid the

damp’, or the beautiful simile, ‘absent or present, she was round him,

like the hills of a valley’. It is, however, in two or three of his men and

women, seen in simple prose rather than in dramatic activity, that Mr

Meredith shows his power. He is not a master of character, exhibiting

itself in action, and therefore he is not a novelist to the manner born;

but Lord Ormont, as the disappointed soldier, Aminta, as the

disillusionised woman, and Lady Charlotte Eglett all through, are

admirable ‘characters’, in the sense of that word familiar to the three

masters already mentioned. Mr Meredith has, in short, a singularly fine

literary instinct, but more than this is needed for the production of

permanently satisfying fiction; and the ‘more’ is what he lacks….



101. Review, Bookman

vii, August 1894; signed ‘G-Y’



Has Mr Meredith ever been adequately studied as a Briton? I think not;

though one of his most recent critics has insisted on his patriotism, and

seems to have no doubt about his brains as well as his limbs being

made in England. It is true one has only to read from The Ordeal of

Richard Feverel and Harry Richmond onwards, to feel convinced of

his intense enjoyment of many phases of English life and manners, an

enjoyment quite as great as Fielding’s, but differing as much in kind

as in expression; and what more can one say? The attitude of Mr

Meredith to things English has never been a simple one, but it partly

explains itself in his newest novel. It is the attitude of admiration, but

the admiration, of an outsider, with a far better understanding of the

game than all save a very few of the insiders. Lord Ormont and His

Aminta compels an inquiry into the nationality of Mr Meredith’s

mind—though it gives no very definite answer. Read in one light, the

book is a glorification of English boys, English schoolboy honour,

English pluck and daring, an eloquent tolerance of, an artistic esteem

for, English defects. This kind of sentiment used to be embodied in



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stories by Mr Thomas Hughes. Nowadays an excellent interpreter of

the Anglo-Saxon temper in its tougher moods has been found in Mr

Rudyard Kipling. (Was Mr Meredith ever brought into such

incongruous company? —but the incongruity is just the point). They

take English superiority for granted calmly, or hoist the flag

aggressively, ignore the faults they do not wish to see, or berate their

country for others, and mainly for not being English enough. Mr

Meredith’s lyrical enthusiasm for his country, and his intellectual

enjoyment of her limitations, are something entirely different. With his

cosmopolitan sympathies, his personal freedom from insular

prejudices, he is exactly the type of man whom you expect to look on

John Bull as a barbarian, and hold all Philistines in horror as unclean,

or not conversible-with fellow-citizens. But he does nothing of the

kind. In the first place, perhaps, he has too much humour, but,

secondly, he comes with such fresh, untired eyes to look at the

Philistines that he finds them most amusing fellows, and thereupon sits

down, not to laugh at them, but to describe their points of view till

you are persuaded he is bringing you into a company of distinction.

He is like a foreigner turned Anglophile, and there is nothing sincerer

and heartier than the admiration of such. Just as the descendants of

the English of the pale became more Irish than the Irish, so Mr

Meredith, with a mind that one does not at all recognize as native, is

in certain moods more British than the British. I am not going to try

and put a label on the nationality of his mind; perhaps there is no

nationality ready to admit it on the score of very near kinship. But it

is something swifter than English, and not only more agile, but more

delighting in agility; not more emotional or imaginative, but with a

keener intellectual sense of the value of emotions and of the part

imagination plays in ordinary life. What reconciles his style to those

who are not admirers of it per se, is that it is convincingly the sign

of a difference of vision between him and the world that uses a

different English; and the difference lies mainly in rate of speed.

Speech is too slow and sluggish and unwieldy a thing for the gait of

his thought; he wrestles with it, rushes through it, makes unheard of

demands on it, passes half of it by, setting at nought all its habits in

making it serve his hurried purposes.

With his agility he sees most of the game. More than there is to see,

say breathless readers, who cannot run with him. And it is not only a

swift but a double vision he would have those employ who follow his

guidance, one that shall mark the motive and final meaning in the

401



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