A Monkey Among Crocodiles: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of Mrs Georgina Weldon – a disastrous Victorian [Text only] Brian Thompson This Edition does not include illustrations.A hilariously funny history of a bizarre 19th-century life of the woman who was a proto-type Pankhurst. The non-fiction debut of one of the most talented comic historians of social manners.Georgina Weldon was born in 1837 and, although almost no one will have heard of her, the only talent she really had was for self-advertisement. She is one of the great undiscovered and unsung eccentrics of the 19th-century.Her ego was monstrous and manifested itself in the 6-volume record of her life which she sold through a spiritualistic medium. Her garrulous work was composed in a convent cell in Gisors where she lived with her pet monkey Titilehee. She was born to parents on the margins of aristocracy and spent her early life in Florence. After a string of liaisons which ‘ruined her reputation’ she had an affair with a penniless Hussar officer called Harry Weldon and eloped with him to a two-bedroom cottage in Beaumaris. She opened a singing academy in a house formerly owned by Dickens but, with things going characteristically awry, she met the composer Gounod, who came to live with them. The singing ladies were dumped in favour of orphans who drove around the West End of London in a converted milk float advertising their weekly concerts at the Langham Hotel. With her husband trying to commit her for lunacy, Georgina fled to France, only to flee back again when Harry threatened divorce. It was at this point that she discovered her metier – dragging people through courts. She published pamphlets, embraced spirtualism, had a lesbian affair with a French lady and eventually lived out her days in Gisors surrounded by 37 tea chests and many trunks filled with paper.Brian Thompson’s gift is as a narrative historian. He excels at writing human-interest stories which embrace both his love of social history and his warm embrace of the eccentric, original, bizarre aspects of human nature.There was no other Victorian woman like Georgina Weldon. With this book Brian Thompson will establish himself as a new original and utterly sublime commercial and hilariously funny historian. A Monkey Among Crocodiles THE LIFE, LOVES AND LAWSUITS OF MRS GEORGINA WELDON BRIAN THOMPSON DEDICATION (#ulink_5e4e24f2-219f-558a-9c3c-eada74bdf7b1) FOR WALTER EPIGRAPH (#ulink_0fff77f5-f4d9-5a25-b71b-cb2cd4a2b718) I don’t think there’s ever been a human being put down on this earth afflicted by a temperament as shy and reclusive as mine. A shyness pushed to the point of suffering by a nervousness nothing could overcome. There’s nothing more marvellous, nothing’s ever happened that’s more singular that I, among all the women in the world, find myself so to speak engulfed by the stormy existence that has been my lot since 1868. My Orphanage, 1877 Look at Sarah Bernhardt – does she have my beauty, my voice, my worth, etc? So from where does she get her fortune? Fame! Georgina to her mother, 1877 Quand on tombe, on tombe jamais bien. Dumas fils CONTENTS Cover (#u27abb3f6-d1fc-5391-b219-479c135013cd) Title Page (#u562c9ecd-188d-5e57-884b-737dd282de19) Dedication (#u213fb3eb-ed93-5341-8c38-d0379b31301c) Epigraph (#ue229a24e-8584-5556-9d34-65e635300301) Prologue (#ufb9c4732-53df-595f-85ad-6fd93bfc9821) 1. Thomas (#u8c93209a-4688-5502-ae56-0613a8aecf9f) 2. Florence (#u6f17dc56-6dc9-5108-a850-0da05a57c7a0) 3. Going Home (#ub93212a4-83a5-5a05-9262-086176b16ece) 4. Treherne (#u1770cb34-8e85-517a-b848-9f3411b8cf83) 5. Weldon (#litres_trial_promo) 6. Gounod (#litres_trial_promo) 7. Tavistock (#litres_trial_promo) 8. Menier (#litres_trial_promo) 9. Argeuil – Paris (#litres_trial_promo) 10. The Mad-Doctors (#litres_trial_promo) 11. Rivière (#litres_trial_promo) 12. The Courts (#litres_trial_promo) 13 Finale (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo) Select Bibliography (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) PROLOGUE (#ulink_ff72c3f5-6346-53e0-a59a-5c9b942a1fbc) One rainy evening in September 1889 the nuns of a small hospice in Gisors on the north bank of the Seine answered the night bell to find on their doorstep an Englishwoman called Mrs Georgina Weldon. The luggage at her feet was modest – two pugs, some aged birds and, peering from his wicker basket, a bedraggled monkey called Titileehee. Mrs Weldon, who spoke rapid and idiomatic French, was not a woman to be argued with and she was soon inside and shaking out her cape. The lateness of the hour was quickly explained. She had come hotfoot from London, her house stolen from under her by an accursed Frenchwoman she had considered to be a lifetime partner. In the background of the story was an estranged husband connected to the College of Arms, a man who was a friend to princes. As she rattled on in her guileless, headlong fashion the startled nuns learned how the less proximate cause of her ruin was the cowardice and ingratitude twenty years earlier of the composer Gounod. Here at least was a name they could identify. Gounod was a revered national figure in his seventies, as much noted for his piety these days as for the operas he had composed in his golden years. Over the next few days, the garrulous Mrs Weldon continued her catalogue of misfortunes. In her time, she had been falsely accused of lunacy, fought vigorous actions in the English courts in defence of her married rights, run an orphanage and several choirs. She had served a prison sentence in Newgate for publishing ‘a false and scandalous libel’, only to be driven through the streets by her adoring public on her release. She served a second term in Holloway for an identical offence and this time on her release her followers unshipped the horses from their shafts and dragged her carriage to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, from where she addressed a crowd estimated at 17,000. The nuns grew nervous. This was many more than the population of Gisors. Ah yes, Mrs Weldon went on, but it didn’t end there – she was famous in so many ways! Her face had appeared in advertisements for Pear’s soap on Clapham omnibuses and, as well as singing at the Paris Opera, she had in more needy circumstances trod the boards of the London music halls. Nor was she in Gisors by chance. Twelve years ago she had found this selfsame hospice a haven and a blessing for a few months, as some of the older nuns might remember. And now here she was again at the mercy of the good sisters, seeking only calm and repose. A thought crossed her mind: had she mentioned she was once accused of going to look for Gounod with a loaded revolver? The nuns admitted her out of charity and she stayed for twelve years, remaining more or less within the walls of the hospice all that time and seldom venturing outside. It was soon clear she was not there from considerations of piety. She was not a Catholic, nor was she very devout in any other direction, unless an alarming and scandalising enthusiasm for summoning the spirits of the departed could be counted as such. Though her bills were paid more or less on time there was much that was vexing about her behaviour. She insisted on adopting the working dress of the hospice, which she wore with a theatrical dash quite contrary to the spirit of humility it signified. Her French was salted with Parisian slang and she used it to command all those little things that were to her the necessities of life: stamps and writing paper, food for her pets. She played no part in the religious observances of the establishment but was not above criticising its management. (It was a matter of awe to some of the nuns that shortly after she arrived the cesspit was emptied at her insistence for the first time in thirty years.) She was fond of gardening and threw herself into the reorganisation of the herb and vegetable plots, as well as designing and having built a better sort of cold greenhouse. She developed a passion for beekeeping and corresponded vigorously with local experts. Her peas, she asserted, were the admiration of all who saw them. You might travel by train to Paris without seeing better. Georgina Weldon was fifty-two when she first entered the Hospice Orphelinat de Saint Thomas de Villeneuve. She was given rooms on the third floor and one of her earliest acts was to hire a maid, a local girl called Charlotte. Since the other occupants of the building were elderly and alcoholic paupers, this caused a stir, but an even greater surprise came when the rest of her luggage arrived from England. Very quickly, two walls of her salle de séjour were lined from floor to ceiling with deed boxes. They accounted for only a fraction of the twenty-eight trunks of written and printed materials this strange Englishwoman had lugged across the Channel. The record of her life – if that was what all this paper indicated – was of staggering minuteness. As the French themselves say, God was in the detail. It became clear to the nuns that Mme Weldon’s principal obsession was with herself. As well as the whiff of sulphur that seemed to rise from not one but dozens of court actions she had undertaken, there were in these papers the lighter fragrances of earlier and better times. The materials for an autobiography had never been more assiduously gathered and, in addition to this massive chronofile, which included menus and theatre programmes, cartes de visite, letters, sheet music, legal transcripts and yellowing telegrams, were the handsomely bound diaries and journals she had commenced as a child, and a splendid visitor’s book from a house in Tavistock Square that had once belonged to Dickens. Georgina Weldon, she insisted to anyone who was foolish enough to listen, had a story to tell. She, who had once published her own newspaper, was setting up in Gisors with the intention of putting all this material into shape, not merely for her own pleasure but as a lesson for future generations. She was there to write her memoirs. There was something artless about Mrs Weldon, for all her protestations of genius. Gounod came into the story because, like him, she was a musician of the first rank, a singer and music educator such as the world had never before seen. His good opinion of her, which she freely embroidered now, had not prevented her in the past from demanding that her husband horsewhip him on the steps of the Opéra. The more perceptive of the Sisters of St Thomas came to realise there was serious folly in her. She was more like a thwarted and disappointed child than the biblical Jeremiah she often invoked. However, if she was a fool, she was a holy one. And there was one manner in her that was unchanging. Not very tall and no longer in possession of the beauty it was easy to see she had once owned, she nevertheless exuded a kind of upper-class English arrogance, a certainty that seemed to come from an aristocratic background only to be guessed at by the simple and pious folk of Gisors. This was the most cherished part of her persona. The nuns, with their blunt nails and chilblained feet, were left in no doubt that they were dealing with a lady. I was part of the fashionable world which in truth fashionably ignores everything except the meetings and soirées devoted to who is who, or who is going to marry who; why Lady A. found herself uninvited to the ball given by Lady B.; or by what means Mrs C. dresses herself so magnificently; or how vexing it has been for poor Lady D. to lose one of her footmen, the one who made such an ornament of the other. The latest book, the winning horse, parliamentary gossip – arguing of course for what is best for the Party and not the country … it never occurred to me to dissent, nor to reflect. I flowed with the current, chatted well, listened attentively – and I was, which I am certainly not now, an excessively popular person. The memoirs she set about writing were to be a vindication of all she had attempted in the name of art and love. She wrote in French, partly because she wished to address the work to her host nation, but much more plainly because any attempt to publish in English would most assuredly bring her before the courts again. The memoirs were a forest of libels directed against anyone who had ever dared to cross her will. She had already chosen this invocation, from Lamentations: ‘O vos omnes qui transitis per viam: attendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus.’ Unlike Jeremiah she had not the slightest intention of taking it lying down. That had never been her way. Smoking cigarettes with a furious intensity, breaking off only to scold her maid or bully the gardeners, she roamed back over the turbulent events of her life. Gounod, who figures large in the story, died in 1893, four years after she came to the hospice. Once the formalities of a State funeral had been got out of the way, he started to appear at seances she held, saying teasing and affectionate things he had not said to her face for twenty years or more. It was quite remarkable good luck that Charlotte, the maid, had turned out to be such a gifted medium, though it may not have pleased the nuns to have her summon Gounod’s lumbering shade. But then, when Charlotte left, the composer left with her. Mrs Weldon bore the loss with equanimity. She wrote on steadily and patiently, while the pugs snored in the basket at her feet and Titileehee the monkey chattered in his cage above her head. They grew to like her at Gisors. M. Robine, the lay administrator, felt he understood her. The narrow purpose of her efforts to expose the English system of justice was soon overwhelmed by her passion for digression. Robine knew enough about how the world wagged to see that she was storing up trouble for herself with every page she wrote. One day she waved a letter in his face. London society ladies were preparing a tribute to Victoria on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Mrs Craigie had written: ‘No representative gathering of the women of England would be complete without Mrs Weldon.’ That might have been a good time to publish. Better still, it might have signalled peace and sent her home to England with her reputation restored. Instead, the galley proofs piled up in the offices of her long-suffering printers in Dijon while she hunted down letters she had sent a quarter of a century earlier. The Dreyfus affair captured her attention for a while. Was she not the English Dreyfus, she asked her readers? A nephew met Oscar Wilde in Paris and she wrote to him, sympathising with his plight but deploring his crime. Wilde replied with courage and wit. She was much preoccupied with the legend of Louis XVI’s son and his escape by substitution from the revolutionary terror. These matters and her peas and honey delayed completion of the great task she had set herself. In the end the Mémoires were not finally delivered from the printer until the new century. The work ran to 1500 pages, bound up by the firm of Darantière in six volumes. Even in French the Mémoires shriek. Georgina finally went back to England in 1901 to publicise them and those few friends who remained in London persuaded her how dangerous and unwise she had been to have them printed at all. One of her principal targets in the work was her husband Harry, who was not only still alive but Acting Garter King-of-Arms. As such, he had stage-managed the funeral of Victoria and was now charged with the salvage of Edward’s Coronation, postponed by the King’s illness. Even Mrs Weldon’s most loyal supporters – and they were mostly women – were scandalised by the work. It was no good her telling them that the Mémoires were in print and on sale in France (though in fact she held most of the stock in boxes under her bed). Nothing good could come of promoting them in England, least of all their principal objective, her life vindicated at the bar of public opinion. In France itself they were not the sensation she had hoped and longed for over all those years of scribbling. She sent out presentation copies, sold a few sets of the work to unsuspecting customers, received no reviews. It was the bitterest blow. The whole enterprise sank like a stone into a lake. Was this to be the fate of what the medium Desbarolles had once assured her would be the most useful memoirs of her day and likely to last a century? In 1996, a copy of the Mémoires bobbed to the surface in a French bookseller’s catalogue. I read them with mounting incredulity in the garden of a house near Cognac, trying to fit a face to the name. Who was this engaging, maddening, self-deceiving Victorian? The work has little or no literary merit and is muddled, contradictory, and sometimes incoherent. The French in which it is written was a matter of wonder to my neighbours. The things it describes were far from their own concerns as small farmers and wine growers. ‘Why are you bothering your head with this good woman?’ the sardonic Mme Ayraud asked me over dinner one evening. A short distance from where we ate, there is a village called Chez Audebert. At some time in the nineteen forties, in the garden of a house right on the main road, a simple man began making three-quarter size statues in cement. He started with angels and children but gradually broadened his interests to include de Gaulle, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe. There is a man who might or might not be Jean Gabin and another who resembles Danny Kaye. The sculptor of Audebert made dogs – most of them with impudent, knowing grins – birds, owls and lions. There are nudes of young girls with their arms held out in innocent welcome, knock-kneed schoolchildren, and peasants like himself lurching home along a dusty track. Some of the people depicted carry briefcases and smoke jaunty pipes. Gradually his garden filled up with maybe a hundred statues, all arranged higgledy-piggledy. When he died, his widow left the gate open for anyone to visit and so it stands today. Whenever two or more people are in the garden, the living are quickly trapped in the arms and legs, breasts and buttocks of this mysterious sculpture park. If they are motionless for a moment, it is sometimes difficult to separate them from the statues all around. We don’t know why the Audebert villager made these sculptures and they are regarded with an embarrassed condescension by his neighbours. Mme Ayraud’s comment is typical: ‘Pouf! He was not an artist, he was a poor man who had big ideas. That sort of thing never works.’ It is true that one Audebert figure on its own would be disappointing. A hundred are a different matter. The great attraction of the Mémoires Weldon is a similar plenty. Georgina wrote as she spoke, pell-mell. The pages are crowded, noisy, exuberant and give a view of the nineteenth century that is not often recorded. As to her purpose in writing, one of the striking things about Georgina Weldon’s search for justice is the degree to which she incriminates herself. Many of the things that can be held against her – her high-handedness, her occasional cruelties, the want of a sense of humour which might have protected her from some of her disasters – come direct from her own narrative errors. The more she struggles, the deeper she sinks. There is nevertheless great beauty in her story. ‘It’s the faith in what is good, what is beautiful and just that has armed my natural convictions,’ she wrote. ‘Gounod always called me his Jeanne d’Arc – others have called me Madame Don Quixote, a visionary, a utopian.’ After all the flim-flam and absurdity that dogged her has been discounted, these are the words that stick in the mind. How true they are is the subject of the present book. I should like to thank some people for their help and wise comments. Mrs Wendy Hill followed the London end of the story with a sharp eye for topographical detail. In Paris, Kay Dumas plunged into the Bibliothèque Nationale shortly after its removal to new premises and survived to tell the tale. I am grateful to the staff of the Bodleian Library; Trinity College Cambridge Library; East Sussex County Records Office and the Staff of the Brighton Central Library. Elizabeth North gave me support and a novelist’s insights into the central character and suffered her presence in the life we share with unfailing good humour. As every author knows, some works are happier to see through to a conclusion than others. This has been a happy book, for which I am indebted to David Miller and Rebecca Wilson, more than I can say here. Finally – and to adapt a useful phrase from the screenwriter William Goldman – the energy and enthusiasm of a brilliant editor, Arabella Pike, ensured that when the thing was fixed, it was fix-fixed. BRIAN THOMPSON February 1999 1 THOMAS (#ulink_08fdfbf3-92fa-5fdf-a84f-37fa7cb407fe) Georgina Weldon was never quite the performer and entertainer nor the grand lady or talked about social lioness she so fondly invented for her readers. Her story starts with parents and a childhood of such a cranky nature that they must be examined with the care she gave to later episodes of her life. Her troubles started the day she was born, when she was presented with a mask fashioned for her by parents who were the kind that could not distinguish easily between the truth and a lie. She came into the world on 24 May 1837. All day long the London streets were filled with people, running to see the Life Guards pass by or hanging on the Hyde Park railings to gawp or jeer at the rich. The greatest aristocratic houses in England were represented by the comings and goings of their lumbering and oversprung coaches, issuing from the squares about Mayfair and Belgravia. In the tens of thousands that milled about on foot there was that strange unvoiced sense of the exceptional that sometimes characterises how mobs behave. Londoners normally turned out in such numbers only to riot or exhibit their feral curiosity – a fortnight earlier, for example, 20,000 had gathered at Newgate to watch the murderer Greenacre hanged. Today the mood was different. The word sightseer was a brand new coinage and exactly suited the occasion. Placid and orderly citizens of all classes wandered down the Mall to inspect the newly completed but untenanted Buckingham Palace, where it was said few of the thousand windows would open and many of the doors were jammed in their frames by green timber and shoddy workmanship. Directly in front of the place squatted the enormous and foreign-looking Marble Arch, on top of which was to have stood an equestrian statue of George IV, a piece of triumphalism only averted by his death and the colossal overspend on the whole project. There were many such examples of the new and the bold to gaze on. London, in its West End, was being almost entirely remodelled. Ancient lanes and houses had been pulled down and greenfield sites opened. Behind Buckingham Palace, the ingenious Mr Cubitt was bringing soil from his excavation of St Katherine’s Dock at Tower Bridge along a canal that cut up from the Thames to the site of the present Victoria station. His purpose was to fill the marshy land round about and complete the building of Belgravia for his client, Lord Grosvenor. It was the showpiece of property development in the entire city. Filling marshes, levelling huge tracts was becoming a commonplace in that part of London. Thomas Cubitt’s plans for neighbouring Pimlico involved the wholesale tearing up of ancient market gardens: farms, even rivers were not to stand in his way. Though it was true the speculation in property was running into something of a slump, the check was only temporary. The scale of new building in the capital was greater than anything seen before. For a brief moment this sunny Wednesday, London stood still and took stock of itself. For the nobility it was an important working day and most of those who peered from their coaches were in court dress. They were summoned in celebration of Princess Victoria’s eighteenth birthday, which began with the formalities of an audience in the Drawing Room at Kensington Palace. It was an occasion of the greatest significance, for under the constitutional arrangements made for her, the Princess at last burst free from the clutches of her mother the Regent. Those people of rank who attended the young Victoria that morning witnessed a telling little piece of theatre. One of the many visitors she received was the Lord Chamberlain, who had ridden from Windsor with a letter from the King. The Duchess of Kent held out her hand to receive it on behalf of her daughter. Lord Conyngsby ignored the gesture and very pointedly gave the letter direct to the Princess. What was long promised had now become fact: the next monarch would be this almost unknown, unmarried young woman. As everyone understood, her accession was not far off. George IV had been fifty-eight when at last he became king and his brother William IV succeeded him aged sixty-five. The taint of madness and scandal hung over both reigns. If God should spare Victoria, Britain could anticipate a profoundly different future. As soon as she was old enough to understand, Georgina’s father harped on the connection between these great events and her own birth. There was nothing particularly teasing about it either. Both parents made so much of the coincidence that she confessed later, ‘It filled my childish fancy with a vague idea of superiority and relationship with the Royal Family.’ Such ideas, which are normally no more than a harmless family joke, are supposed to wane with the passing of time: unfortunately, this one stuck. Georgina was to live her whole life with the unquantifiable feeling of superiority derived from that day. Encouraged by her manically snobbish parents, she was, she believed, blessed by greatness in some way; at the very least born to a rank in society which furnished its own recommendations and which needed no apology or explanation. She was a full part of the old aristocratic supremacy and the same gentle zephyrs that blew on Victoria’s reign would also fill her sails. When things turned out rather differently – and it would be hard to imagine two less compatible Victorian histories than those of the Monarch and her subject – then the fault lay not in her but other people. It was certainly a wonderful day on which to be born. All England was en fête. The King lay at Windsor, unloved and unregarded, while at Kensington Palace his niece received twenty-two loyal addresses delivered by hand from every part of the country. In the evening hundreds of noble guests attended a State ball where there was much quizzing of the short and excitable Victoria, who showed her gums rather a lot when she laughed. Once again, the King was conspicuous by his absence. Wellington had attended George IV in his last days and with his usual brutal candour let it be known round the room that the brother was in even worse plight. Lit by hundreds of candles, the noblest in the land gossiped on the white and gilt chairs set for their comfort. The sole topic of conversation was the future Queen. Morgan Thomas and his heavily pregnant wife Louisa rode round London in their carriage that balmy May day, soaking up the atmosphere. Far from being at the centre of things, they had no part to play and were not invited indoors to any great house: they were faces in the crowd. True, Morgan had a stare that could shatter glass and a coat in the old fashioned colour described as ‘King’s blue’. His wife wore a bonnet in which a plume danced as proudly as any other lady’s, but their carriage would have given them away. There was a useful phrase in vogue to describe the aristocratic predominance: men and women of rank spoke of themselves as The Upper Ten Thousand. Morgan and his wife liked to believe they too were in that number – not angling to be admitted but already there and secure in their tenure. It was the deepest and most cherished of their fantasies. As evening approached, they crossed the river and rattled home to rural Clapham, where Georgina was born at a quarter to ten in the last of the summer light. For a few days and weeks there was anxiety in the nursery, for the Thomases already had a child, the sickly infant Cordelia. She died thirteen weeks later and was buried in Clapham Parish. Georgina was destined to bear three surnames, but the first of these, Thomas, under which she was registered, is tied to a childhood that resolutely failed to budge from its anchorage in less progressive times. Her father was a William IV man, a Tory of the old stripe. At the time of Georgina’s birth, Morgan Thomas was thirty-five years old and as reactionary as any man in England. His wife was a hapless woman who liked to protest that she was not made for children and the family hearth. They were a strange couple, she by temperament as indecisive as her husband was truculent and hotheaded. Morgan’s position in society was a commonplace of the times: he was a lawyer never intending to practise law. His gentlemanly status had been expressed to his own satisfaction in a book published in 1834 by a writer called Medwin. ‘Judges of the Exchequer were designated thus: one as a gentleman and a lawyer; another as a lawyer and no gentleman.’ Morgan was always ready to insist he was of the first kind. He had found and married his rather plain wife in Naples three years earlier, and if the venue was romantic, the circumstances were not. Both bride and groom were in their thirties and whatever hand life had dealt them it did not include friends and confidants. One unhappy and solitary human being was joined with another. Much later, at the time of his death, Morgan’s younger brother George wrote an enigmatic letter to Louisa. I ignore for the moment that I have treated you and yours with the greatest kindness, without mentioning the way I plugged the gap when you got married, without which it would not have taken place. I have always come to your aid when the means permitted and it was only after Morgan’s gross and insulting letters that I broke off relations, necessarily. The help that was given the newlyweds was almost certainly financial, but may have included moral support for an unwelcome or overhasty union. These Thomases were turbulent and aggressive opportunists when it came to marriage and Morgan may have been thought to have chosen his wife unwisely. It was a family fiction that he had courted her for ten long years – it seems more likely that he met her in Italy by chance. Louisa was once described by Count D’Orsay, the supreme arbiter of London taste and fashion, as ‘the offspring of Punch and Venus’. The poor woman interpreted this as a compliment. To marry so late and in such a venue as the British Embassy, where otherwise only naval officers spliced the knot, might indicate to the sharp-witted or malicious observer a sudden inheritance on the part of the parentless bride. In this at least Morgan was his father’s child. The marriage was much more favourable to him than to the luckless Louisa, and she was to pay a very heavy price. The belief that he was a person of importance went very deep with this strutting, vexatious man. It was a matter of pride that his family had some mention in Burke’s Landed Gentry, the second edition of which was brought out in the same year of 1837, for he was descended from those ancient Thomases who owned considerable land near Llanelli. The Lletymawr estates had been in the possession of his family since an honoured forebear Sir Hugh Trehearn followed the Black Prince to Poitiers. Morgan liked to emphasise this glorious ancestry. Perhaps, as the five hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Poitiers approached, he was inclined to make too much of it, yet it was easy to see why. For the first and last time in history, a French king had been taken in battle; more to the point, the entire chivalry of France had either been slain or surrendered. It was a huge payday for the Prince’s army. The lowliest archer had three or four prisoners to ransom and Sir Hugh and his little contingent went back to Wales far richer men than when they left. And there they languished. Morgan’s great-grandfather gave the family its English connection. In 1745 he married an heiress of the Goring family of Frodley in Staffordshire. Through the female line, the Gorings traced their ancestry back to Edward III, bringing Morgan to the point where he could assure his impressionable daughter that her family ‘would become entitled to the throne of England if anything should happen to the ruling family.’ She believed him. The more recent past was much less romantic. At the turn of the century, Morgan’s father, Rees Goring Thomas, married Sarah Hovel of Cambridge. This was almost certainly an undergraduate romance, spiked with a hard-headed opportunism, the like of which Georgina was one day to demonstrate herself. Hovel was a name well known in Cambridge, but not for its aristocratic connections. Thomas Hovel was a haberdasher and his brother John a saddler. These two had by diligence and hard work acquired property in the market area of town, as well as a parcel of fenland on the road to London on which the Leys School now stands. Rees Goring Thomas, of the illustrious Welsh ancestry, made himself comfortably secure by marrying the haberdasher’s daughter – the last parcel of Cambridge land he acquired through marriage was sold out of the family in 1878. Rees took his bride out of Cambridge and into Surrey, where the family had bought the title to a small manor called Tooting Graveney, in the middle of which was erected a property called Tooting Lodge. It was in this house that Georgina was born. There was just one small problem: the property did not belong to Morgan. He lived there as his elder brother’s house guest. To be a gentleman under these circumstances was a difficult part to carry off. There was already a nephew bounding about Tooting Lodge, a thirteen-year-old called Rees destined one day to return the family to Wales. Worse yet: only a few months after the birth of Georgina, Morgan’s brother, late in life, was given another boy. This finally slammed the door in the face of any hope he himself might have had of the Lletymawr properties and their rents. It was true he did not have to work but neither was he rich in the way his heart desired. Riches were not quite the central issue – what he longed for was pre-eminence. He was a man who could not bear to be in another’s shadow. This was a feeling he gifted in full to his daughter. Georgina’s mother had an equally illustrious family history. She was born Louisa Frances Dalrymple, of Mayfield in Sussex. The Dalrymples were an ancient family and claimed descent from the Earls of Stair. Her grandfather was General Sir Hew Whitefoord Dalrymple, the soldier who had signed the Convention of Cintra in 1808, which provided for his enemy the French to evacuate Portugal in British ships with all their impedimenta and a mountain of loot besides. The terms of the Convention were considered so scandalous that Sir Hew never again commanded in the field. He was instead made a baronet and died in 1830. Of his two sons, the elder, who was also a soldier, sat in Parliament for Brighton. The younger was John Apsley Dalrymple, Colonel of the 15th Hussars and Lord of the Manors of Cortesly and Hamerdon near Ticehurst in Sussex. He died in 1833. This man was Louisa’s father. There were problems with this lofty background too. Insecurity and disappointment made both Georgina’s parents tremendous snobs. The careful and faintly comical allusions to an ancestry not half as grand as they pretended was second nature to these two, and was a form of vanity that ran – increasingly as the Early Victorian period developed – against the tide. Georgina grew up in a meritocratic age. This same Victoria, who seemed so light and biddable when she became Queen, came to preside over the greatest shift in social structure the country had ever experienced, calling for the wholesale redefinition of words like art, and culture, industry and progress and, most significantly of all, family. This change in style and substance had no effect whatever on Georgina’s parents. In 1837, Mr Pickwick’s friend Sam Weller had a characteristically sardonic way of expressing the essence of the old order: ‘Wotever is, is right, as the young nobleman sweetly remarked wen they put him down in the pension list ’cos his mother’s uncle’s wife’s grandfather vunce lit the King’s pipe with a portable tinderbox.’ This was also Morgan’s view of the world. He never mastered the new epoch. You had to look quite a long way down the descending orders of rank to arrive at his actual position in society – though of course his contemporaries could place him after only a few idle questions. This was a second son, educated at Cheam, entered under Mr Wilding at Trinity College, Cambridge, with men who would far outshine him. He was hardly highborn: his great-uncle’s saddlery overlooked the college gates. Later on, in supplying biographical details to year books and the like, he lightly removed his mother from a haberdashery in Cambridge and described the Hovels and all his numerous cousins as ‘of Norfolk’. In the same vein, he once claimed to have been presented at all the Courts in Europe, which was – to put it mildly – stretching the point. This mania for improving the bare facts – and in him it became an actual mania – was passed on to Georgina. There was something very wrong with Morgan Thomas and it seems to have been a wilful attempt to make time stand still or even run backwards. In this he was not alone and there was in his generation a writer only too likely to understand him and his kind. Thackeray went to Trinity at about the same time as Morgan; and, like him, read law at the Inner Temple. In 1837, he came back from a three-year sojourn in Paris and in that year he too was presented with a daughter, born in London a fortnight after Georgina in much less auspicious circumstances. What distinguished Thackeray from Morgan Thomas and his kind was his energy and, above all, his talent. It was enough for Morgan to be a gentleman of independent means, however shaky those means were. But Thackeray had nothing on which he could fall back: what little he did inherit, he lost at cards in a disastrous evening or two when a student at the Inner Temple. Necessity sharpened his wits. In satirising the likes of Morgan and his foolish wife, he showed himself a man very much in the spirit of the times. The world was moving forward and the gifted man looked outwards and opened his mind and his senses to the new. Part of the hack work Thackeray did for Frazer’s Magazine was to write the highly popular ‘Christmas Books’, the last of which was published in 1850. He was by now famous through having written Vanity Fair, which some of his contemporaries placed higher than anything by Dickens. At the end of the book the plot is triumphantly resolved when the major surviving characters find themselves thrown together at a Rhineland spa. In the Christmas Book of 1850 Thackeray returns us to the Rhine in the company of a fatuous family called Kicklebury. His satirical portrait of them drew a reproof from The Times. The review, which was written to order by a friend of Thackeray’s called Charles Lamb Kenney, greatly amused its target, enough for him to reprint it in the second edition of the work, with commentary. The one unanswerable point Thackeray had to make about the savaging of the Kickleburys was that the work had sold out. Kenny had written: From the moment his eye lights on a luckless family group embarked on the same steamer with himself, the sight of his accustomed quarry – vulgarity, imbecility and affectation – reanimates his relaxed sinews, and, playfully fastening his satiric fangs upon the familiar prey, he dallies with it in mimic ferocity like a satiated mouser. Yes, Thackeray rejoins: and the public loves it. Something is moving, something is in the air: there is no pity for vulgarity, imbecility and affectation. The Times, he indicates with an unruffled assurance, has missed the joke. Georgina’s arrival did nothing to settle her parents’ position. In the short term, it greatly worsened it. The Thomas family had always found Morgan’s violent temper hard to stomach. Clearly he could not expect to go on living at Tooting Lodge for ever and the question had already been broached more than once as to when he would shift for himself. Georgina’s birth made an issue of it. As soon as it was clear she would not follow her sister into an infant grave, Morgan and Louisa came under pressure to leave. There may have been a second impetus. The family banked with their neighbour William Esdaile, who lay dying in Clapham. For two years Esdaile, who was a very old man but nevertheless the presiding genius of the bank he had built up, had done no business following malarial fever contracted in Italy. At the beginning of 1837 the bank failed. Whether or not the Thomas fortunes went down with it, Morgan was left with just enough unearned income to continue as a gentleman: the challenge was to find a house and a style that would reflect his high opinion of himself. Putting it another way, in the long gallery of snobs, what kind of a snob was he going to be? Late in life, when the mood of retribution was upon her, Georgina published a letter from her brother Dalrymple. It read in part: ‘If you think to alarm me by threatening to unveil the fact that our grandfather Thomas was a drunken and dissolute lawyer and that Mother was a bastard you enormously mistake yourself.’ Dal was by then a Colonel of Militia straight from the pages of a Thackeray novel. His exasperation was well merited. No one more than his sister had cultivated the legend of glorious Welsh and Scottish ancestry. But he also knew there was truth in at least the second allegation. John Apsley Dalrymple died unmarried. This clashes painfully with the entry in the cherished family copy of Burke’s Landed Gentry, where Louisa is shown as wife to Morgan and ‘only child of John Apsley Dalrymple, Esq., of Gate House in the parish of Mayfield, Sussex.’ The discrepancy is only interesting to us because for Georgina to have learned about it must have been as a consequence of some bitter family accusations. We do not have to look very far for the major culprit. All the cruel candour in the family came from Morgan. As she grew up, it was a style very much to his daughter’s taste. Both parents made her lofty, but she learned her recklessness from him. In her Mémoires, which were a settling of all the scores, Georgina went out of her way to explain to the world how her fearsome and aloof father ended his days in Dr Blandford’s asylum in Long Ditton, restrained night and day by four burly attendants. Without her testimony, this was a secret that might have followed the poor man into the grave. All in all, when the parents gazed down into the crib that first May evening, they were looking unknowingly at a wild child. Imagine her hand lax and pink against the linen of the crib. Who she is, what she will be is written there in that moist palm as plainly as in any book. Many years later, one sultry afternoon in Paris, the palm reader and psychic Desbarolles, who said so many interesting things to her, was the first to interpret a very pronounced line which ran from her lifeline and ended in a fork or trident under the little finger. ‘Madame,’ the palmist explained, ‘you will write the most celebrated memoirs of the century: and at the same time, useful.’ He repeated this word to her several times, an instance, if any were needed, of his amazing powers. For had she not already begun these memoirs? The word useful rang like a gong in the stuffy room. It was exactly the adjective she herself would have chosen. The nineteenth century had done her wrong, not because she was a ninny, but because she was a woman of genius in a man’s world. There was a vital subtext. The very people who ought to have championed her, her parents, the aristocracy to which she believed she belonged, had cast her aside. Her class had betrayed her. Another palmist, Madame de Thèbes, had also studied the curious branchings and forkings and came up with a different reading, but one which brought the story nearer to home. It was clear to her, she said, before giving Georgina back her mitten, that what the hand indicated was that she would most assuredly be divested of her £27,000 inheritance – if that had not already happened. The glorious thing about palmistry was that both statements were true, one not less than the other. Until Georgina came along, Morgan was a man who cherished political ambitions. After leaving Cambridge he had gone on a journey through Persia with a friend and this at least showed some enterprise (or was an example of his famous bloody-mindedness) since that country was then at war with Russia. In 1830, with this slight claim to fame and sponsored by his uncle, he stood as a Whig at the Cambridge parliamentary election, where he made an utter fool of himself and was soundly trounced at the hustings. Two years later he went up to Coventry with his mind a little clearer to stand as a Tory in elections to the first Reformed Parliament. His campaign throws great light on his character and helps explain the man he was to his children. The task before him was a daunting one. Coventry was an uncommonly prosperous borough returning two Members. One of these had enjoyed the confidence of the town for many years. Edward Ellice was a fifty-one-year-old politician of great distinction who had held office under the outgoing Grey administration and was a Whig whip. His son – also of Trinity – was a rising young star in the diplomatic service. Ellice’s running mate was Henry Lytton Bulwer (briefly of Trinity), a man the same age as Morgan, but already infinitely more experienced. Bulwer had that maddening aristocratic languor his opponent so much envied. As a twenty-three-year-old idler, he had been entrusted with £80,000 in gold by the Greek Committee, which he carried across Europe to the insurgents. As a special agent of the Foreign Office in Belgium in the Revolution of 1830, he had an amusing story to tell of how the doorman of the hotel he was staying in was shot dead at his side by a stray bullet while he, Bulwer, was politely enquiring directions. He was hugely rich, apparently completely indolent, and already a very highly regarded diplomat. Morgan arrived in Coventry on 8 December and made his way to the King’s Head. The Tory favours were light blue and as he peered over the balcony at the mob he could see at a glance they were greatly outnumbered by the dark blue and yellow ribbons of the Whigs. He and his fellow Tory had hired some balladeers who sang, hopefully: Morgan Thomas and Fyler are two honest men They are not like Ellice and that East India grappler: I hope Ellice and Bulwer may ne’er sit again, But let’s return Fyler and young Morgan Rattler. Unfortunately, the Rattler was no great speechmaker and his manifesto made dull reading. It began: ‘I shall strenuously support the most rigid Economy and Retrenchment, the Reformation of every Abuse in Church and State, and all such Measures as may tend to promote the Happiness and alleviate the Burdens of the People.’ His one piece of acumen was to declare himself for the retention of tariffs on foreign imports. This was an important and popular point to make in Coventry for the town was getting rich on the manufacture of ribbons and watches, and free trade would flood the market with French goods. Overall, however, it was a lacklustre candidature. Then, quite suddenly, he was illuminated by the sort of forked lightning his daughter was one day to draw down. Making his way from the King’s Head to the hustings, he was attacked by the mob. This wasn’t an unexpected turn of events; in fact it was the norm. A contemporary Coventry innkeeper with experience of these matters has left his unfailing recipe for election days: ‘To thirty-six gallons of ale and four gallons of gin, add two ounces of ginger and three grated nutmegs. Boil the liquid warm in a copper; place in tubs or buckets and serve in half-pints; with a large cigar for each voter.’ The army pensioners recruited by the magistrates to keep order were soon swept aside, or were perhaps themselves victims of this nutmeg surprise. However, Morgan was not quite so green as he looked. On his way to Coventry he had noticed 600 Irish navvies digging the Oxford Canal near Brinklow, and these he now recruited to his cause. To give some generalship to his forces, he sent to Birmingham for half a dozen prize fighters. The Whigs responded by alerting their own local pugilist, a man called Bob Randall who ran a pub in Well Street. Randall massed his forces. His orders were perfectly simple. He was not to murder anyone, but leave as many as possible hardly alive. Inflamed by drink and religious bigotry, the riots Morgan Thomas managed to incite were remembered in Coventry for fifty years. His Irishmen suffered a terrible defeat. The local paper reported: Many, thoroughly stripped, were knocked down like sheep, or escaped into the King’s Head for their lives, in a wretchedly maimed condition, and the yard of the hotel presented the appearance of a great slaughter house, but the gates were closed and the place secured, whilst doctors were sent for to attend those injured. When the dust settled and the vote was finally taken, in a booth festooned with his supporters’ trousers, the Rattler found himself bottom of the poll, bested even by his running mate Fyler. Then as now, there was no disgrace in failing at your first attempts to enter Parliament. What marked out the Coventry election of 1832 was not just the scale of the rioting, but its aftermath. To the disgust of the Whig Ministry and the outrage of the battered townsfolk, Morgan at once petitioned the House of Commons, contesting the result on the grounds that the electors had been intimidated. This was particularly rich coming from him. In the following year, after the case had been thrown out in Committee, Halcomb, the member for Dover and a fellow lawyer of the Inner Temple, raised the issue on the floor of the House. When they found they could not silence him, the Ministry departed en masse to watch the Boat Race. As he left the Chamber, Ellice was heard to remark of Morgan with awful prescience: ‘That man will never represent Coventry as long as I draw breath.’ The Rattler’s humiliation was complete, but the victors had failed to identify something it would be his daughter’s misfortune to emulate. No shame was too great for a man possessed of manic powers. Morgan Thomas contested Coventry another four times in his life, finally being elected in 1863. His stubbornness was comical, but it was also touching. The Tory interest in Coventry took early pity on him, and he made a second attempt at the seat in the year of Georgina’s birth. Perhaps this time there was slightly more urgent reason to do well and in one sense he was to be admired for putting his head in the lion’s mouth. The Whigs were waiting for him. One of the broadsheets read: ‘And they went to the man Morgan, who is commonly called Tommy the Truckler, because he weareth two faces – one for Cambridge which looketh blue, and one for Coventry which is an orange yellow …’ Again he came bottom of the poll. His supporters softened the blow by presenting him with a Warwickshire watch. He wore it like a campaign medal. Just before the opening of the new Parliament in 1838, Peel invited more than 300 jubilant new Tory members to his London house. Some of them had been Morgan’s contemporaries at Trinity, some he had met through the Inner Temple. Counselled by Peel in small meetings, cajoled, flattered, cosseted and inspired, the new Members were in no doubt they were the breaking wave of an almighty sea change. Three hundred of them fresh from the hustings, shoulder to shoulder in Peel’s house at Whitehall Gardens and surely soon to be the government of the country! Morgan was left on the outside looking in. His participation in the age was to be more or less confined to such disastrous outings. When the entail on her father’s estate was settled, Louisa’s inheritance would give her husband that small portion of England – a few acres of East Sussex – sufficient to allow him to describe himself as a landed proprietor. Wanting to be the Member for Coventry was a personal and not a political goal: he wanted it because it had been denied to him. His Toryism was of the old-fashioned and reactive kind. What he saw of what was happening around him he did not like and would not join. Yet, behind the hauteur and exasperated bad temper was another more small-minded calculation – for all his disappointments, this was a world in which he did not absolutely have to compete. He was – but only just – a private gentleman. He could not fall; he need not rise. Even as early as 1837, there was a kind of redundancy about his position. He had no friends, the fashionable world outraged him and in his own family he had been made to look a fool, not once but several times. The search for a place in England appropriate to his idea of himself was too much for him to contemplate. In 1840, he took himself and his wife off to Florence, along with Georgina and a new child, a solemn boy called Morgan Dalrymple. The ostensible reason for their flight was the state of Louisa’s health. In fact, they stayed off and on in Florence for twelve years, and the consequences to Georgina were to be enormous. Nothing blossomed in Florence: a dangerously narrow man took his bitterness with him and, as his children grew up, inflicted it upon them. 2 FLORENCE (#ulink_6f6f7083-e1bf-50a6-b8f0-d8b10386b071) The Thomas family arrived in Florence in the type of commercial coach called a diligence on the last leg of a series of dusty and bone-shaking misadventures that dogged them all the way across Europe from Boulogne. They were set down outside the Hôtel du Nord in a state of complete exhaustion after a transit lasting nearly three weeks. Every flea-ridden inn, every insolent customs post had provoked a quarrel. The diligence seated as many as fifteen passengers, inside and out, none of them worthy of Morgan’s attention and on the contrary sweaty, vulgar and for the most part disgustingly foreign. No concession was made to the sun – the Thomases arrived wearing much the same kind of clothing they had worn in England, Georgina in a crushed and dusty miniature of her mother’s crinoline, the newly born infant Morgan Dalrymple swathed in flannel and half-dead with heat. They knew no one in the city. Those who watched them enter the lobby of the hotel saw that they had little luggage and no servants. Though Florence was much more easy-going and welcoming than Rome, the Thomases made no great impression, either at first glance or on later acquaintance. It was not in their nature to be friendly – Morgan could hardly force himself to be civil – and they brought no news of any consequence. As for the little girl running about the lobby of the hotel, though she was plump as a pigeon she evidently gave her parents no pleasure. The days passed; the family still had not visited the Uffizi, the father continued his supercilious silence over dinner: at last they were dismissed as dull. They were Kickleburys. Morgan came to Florence for a very good reason. It was far from the scenes of his electoral nightmares, but much more to the point the city was one of the cheapest places to live in Europe. A man with a high sense of his own importance but no money could hardly have chosen better. We can get some idea of the attractions from the affairs of another expatriate in much the same boat, Captain Fleetwood Wilson of the 8th Hussars. He happened to be there on a year-long honeymoon when news reached him that he had been utterly ruined by his older brother, to whom he had lent all his money. The Wilsons were in a fix: they already had one child and another was on the way. Abused, betrayed, the gallant Captain (considered by his generation to be one of the greatest horsemen in England) was at his wits’ end. These straitened circumstances, however, did not prevent him from renting the Villa Strozzino. Built by a Strozzi 300 years earlier, the villa, with its elaborate arcaded front and two floors above, sat on a hill overlooking the city. Fine trees decorated its lawns and gardens and cypresses swayed ecstatically in the background. The internal arrangements were such that fifty years later Victoria herself occupied it on her visit to Florence. As Captain Wilson swiftly discovered, penury in Tuscany was a relative affair. Morgan Thomas, the secretive and unclubbable newcomer, likewise chose his accommodation well. He rented the Villa Capponi, a short carriage drive from the city on its southern side. At one stroke, he entered into the kind of life so emphatically denied him in England. Like Strozzi, Capponi was a famous name in the history of the Republic. Indeed, when Morgan rode into the city through the Porta S. Giorgio, he could see the proud boast set up by Niccolo Capponi above the portals of the Town Hall in 1528: JESVS CHRISTVS REX FLORENTINI POPULI SP DECRETO ELECTVS. Christ might have been the only king the Florentines could accept – the inscription had been a jibe at the departing Charles V – but things were somewhat different now. The Austrians were in occupation, and the greatest man in Florence was not a Medici but the Russian millionaire Demidov, who maintained his new bride, Bonaparte’s niece, in the sumptuously appointed San Donato palace. The nominal ruler of the city and all the lands round about was the Grand Duke of Tuscany, cheerfully dismissed by his subjects as The Grand Ass. At the lower levels of society, the city was festering with every kind of adventurer and charlatan to be found in Europe. Morgan had been put in the unusual position – for him – of being monarch of all he surveyed, but what he saw he did not like very much. The youthful Lady Dorothy Orford, a member of the Walpole family which had deep roots in Florence, had recently made a much more dashing entrance into the expatriate community, having ridden the son of the 1835 Derby winner, a seventeen-hand horse called Testina, all the way from Antwerp. This was more to the taste of the locals. She later commented. ‘At that time, society in Florence was somewhat mixed: indeed, there were a great many people of shady character, in addition to others of none at all – so much so was this the case that the town had come to be designated “le paradis des femmes galantes”.’ A paradise for whores was superimposed on and undoubtedly drew some of its custom from the well-established British colony. Many before Morgan had the same idea as he, some of them much more romantically motivated. Dante made the city a place of literary pilgrimage and the Brownings were by no means alone in wishing to live and write there. There were many painters and sculptors in residence and a long tradition of amateur theatricals. All the same, the atmosphere inclined to the raffish. Thomas Trollope, brother to Anthony, settled in Florence in 1843 and has left a snapshot of how the Grand Duke’s hospitality was abused at the Pitti Palace. At balls the English would ‘seize the plates of bonbons and empty the contents bodily into their coat pockets. The ladies would do the same with their pocket handkerchiefs.’ The Italian guests went further, wrapping up hams, chickens and portions of fish in newspapers. Trollope saw an Italian countess smuggle a jelly into her purse. Behind the walls of the Villa Capponi, where he could direct a household with more servants in it than he had ever dreamed possible, Morgan Thomas played out his fantasies of being a rich and indolent aristocrat. He was living in rooms with high ceilings. The trouble was elsewhere. When he looked further abroad – when he looked outside his gates in fact – it was Florence itself that he reprehended – not any bit of it, but all of it. Though the British colony was various, it contained more scribblers and painters than he was accustomed to meeting and was headed by a man he quickly learned to fear and detest. Her Majesty’s Minister Plenipotentiary for Tuscany was Henry Edward Fox, soon to be fourth Baron Holland. Fox’s wife was the attractive and flirtatious Augusta – ‘decidedly under three feet’, the diarist Creevey once reported, ‘and the very nicest little doll or plaything I ever saw’. It would be difficult to invent two people less likely to entrance the prickly and suspicious Thomas, who knew very well that Fox had learned of him and his political disasters through Ellice. The author and socialite Lady Blessington drew a brief sketch of Fox as he was in those days. ‘Mr Henry Fox possesses the talent for society in an eminent degree. He is intelligent, lively, and très spirituel; seizes the point of ridicule in all whom he encounters at a glance and draws them out with a tact that is very amusing to the lookers-on.’ At any such meeting, Morgan was much more likely to be the butt of the conversation than an amused onlooker. Though he wore his hair in a dandified centre parting and clung loyally to the blue and yellow favoured by the Regency period, he was too short, too pugnacious and far too provincial to be of any interest to such great men as Fox. Lady Blessington, who was really rather a good journalist, had noticed some years earlier the fascination the British had for the Florentine portrait sculptor, Bartolini. Every Lord and Commoner who has passed through Florence during the last few years has left here a memorial of his visit; and every lady who has ever heard that she had a good profile (and Heaven knows how seldom the assertion was true) has left a model of it on the dusty shelves of Bartolini … Elderly gentlemen with double chins resembling the breast of the pelican, requiring a double portion of marble in their representation … portly matrons too are ranged in rows with busts as exuberant as those that Rubens loved to lavish on his canvas … young ladies with compressed waists and drooping ringlets, looking all like sisters … and young gentlemen with formal faces and straight hair confront one at every step. Bartolini stored these effigies on shelves in his studios and they were inspected in much the same way as the work of Michelangelo. They were on the tourist list. Mr Thomas and his wife belonged much more to that world of nameless and dusty nonentities than anything suggested by the glamour of the great Palaces. Georgina later wrote of the Florence years: My father disliked Society – he loved his home; my mother on the contrary liked Society. My father did not like women to wear low necked dresses; my mother on the contrary wished to be like other people. My father’s opinion was that eleven o’clock at night was a respectable hour for leaving parties; this was the hour at which parties began. He obliged my mother to come home just at the time when she was beginning to amuse herself. My father would not call on this lady or that lady, or visit Madame A because she had a lover, or Madame B because she received Madame A. He would not even set foot at the English Embassy while Lord Holland was Ambassador, because gossip was afloat concerning Lady Holland. He seemed possessed with a passion for virtue, and he had been nicknamed at Florence ‘the policeman of Society’. This is as good a portrait of Morgan as can be found, but Georgina added another very telling sentence: ‘I had inherited to the full his mania to keep his reputation inviolate. I bristled with virtue.’ When she was six years old she had an early opportunity to support her father’s reproach of local morals. In 1843 a penniless young artist called George Frederick Watts arrived in the city. Quite by chance, he had met Edward Ellice’s brother on the boat from Marseilles, who at once effected an introduction to the Hollands. The policeman of society and his little sausage-curled lieutenant soon learned that Watts was the son of a man who had fallen so low as to be a piano tuner. To their complete amazement, Morgan and Georgina saw Watts being taken up by the Hollands, commissioned to paint portraits by the fabulously rich Demidovs; and the darling of all who met him. While this may have secretly impressed Georgina as a striking example of how fame worked, Morgan had not come to Florence to have anything to do with art. The adoration of Watts, who was not only thin but unutterably gloomy and, to many outsiders, effete in the extreme, left him speechless. Augusta Holland commissioned a portrait by the artist in which she wore a chapeau de paille – ‘some lady having in a joke put one of the country hats on her head’, as a smitten Edward Ellice reported to Lady Holland in London. On New Year’s Day, 1844, Augusta presented the gangly Watts with a gold watch, specially commissioned from Geneva, murmuring, as she placed the chain around his neck, ‘We not only bind you to us, we chain you.’ It was immediately interpreted as the sign of a liaison. Morgan fingered his own Warwickshire timepiece from Messrs Vale and Rotherham and reflected bitterly on the levels to which society had sunk. The reason her father gave for fleeing London – his wife’s ill health – was a common euphemism for poverty. If Georgina ever was worried about her mother, events were soon to calm her mind. At the Villa Capponi Louisa had another three children in quick succession – Emily, Florence, and the baby of the family, Apsley. Though the heat did not suit her and she never adapted successfully to having such a quiverful of children, she was as healthy as a horse. She lived to be eighty-three, and was on this earth longer than her husband or her eldest daughter. More sociable than Morgan in her timid haphazard way, Louisa made the best she could of Florence. When Georgina was old enough, she took the child with her to the Cascine Gardens, where every day the bon ton gathered to gossip while the more gallant and amorous gentlemen threaded through the mass of carriages bearing messages and making their salutes. This morning concourse was, Georgina learned, to be compared favourably to Rotten Row or the Bois de Boulogne. When the weather was douce enough for walking, Louisa might descend from her carriage and stroll with her daughter under the trees by the banks of the Arno. There she would point out, not without envious longing, the roofs of the great houses on the opposite bank. From May onwards the town would be refreshed by new faces, birds of passage making the Grand Tour. They were eagerly welcomed by the expatriates. What was happening in London? Was it true that rain and a hundred thousand special constables had turned back the revolutionary Chartist mob – and was Mr Gladstone truly one of those who was sworn in? Was it also true that railway speeds now regularly touched forty miles an hour, without hurt to the internal organs of the passengers? And plum – was that really a colour a lady of fashion might adopt? Sometimes the tedium of the daily corso would be broken by the distant sighting of some scandalous liaison in its early stages, or whispered news of ruination in some other form, like gambling. These intrigues Georgina dutifully reported to her father. She showed an aptitude for similar detective work all her life – not much given to self-analysis, she was a master of the dossier method of investigating others. It was exciting and she was seldom short of material. To a small girl groomed by her father to find outrage in everything, there was the additional frisson of the Austrian occupation. One afternoon an Italian lawyer absent-mindedly spat on the ground while a patrol passed. The Austrian officer at once dismounted and, having the culprit pinned to the wall, ordered his troopers to line up and, one by one, spit in the unfortunate man’s face. In 1851 there was an even more shocking case. Two young brothers called Mather were following an Austrian military band and darted across the road between it and the accompanying troop of horse. Two officers spurred their mounts and cut one of the brothers to the ground. This was the sort of story to set Morgan bristling with indignation. Yet there was a diminishing return in feeding her father such titbits. She gradually understood what it meant to be part of his police force. The fate of Charles Mather raised disgust and indignation all the way back to the floor of the House of Commons. However, Morgan’s contempt for other people was quite unspecific – he was not minded to like the unfortunate Mather any more than the man who had struck him. In his eyes, the whole world was out of step. When Georgina was very young, her father’s vanity reinforced her own childish sense of superiority. To be a Thomas was to be a thing apart, not different from but better than all the rest. As she grew up, the unwelcoming house and the lack of invitations from others gradually began to cast doubt in her. The possibility existed that there was something seriously wrong with them all. She was given tutors – a long roll call of them, not one of whom made any great impression or sowed the seeds of inspiration. Georgina learned to play the piano and completed a conventional and undemanding schooling in reading and writing. She once remarked, ‘I am sure if I had but studied Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing I should have made a great artist.’ There is not the slightest nod here to the treasure house of art Florence was. She was intelligent but unlearned. The one gift she did possess she had been born with – a quite remarkably clear soprano voice. It was said in later life that her mother took special interest in her singing. This may have indicated to some that Louisa herself was musical but this was not the case. Every girl child of that time was taught to sing, in the same way that she was taught to brush her hair, or show deference to her elders, or any of a hundred other little things. Singing was a way of moving from the schoolroom to the drawing room and a young girl’s voice was merely a further expression of the taste exhibited in the family’s choice of furniture, its display of pictures and china. The role a well-mannered girl had in a family was almost too obvious to mention. A boy might, within reason, do as he liked and go where he would. No one expected much sense from a boy. For that he was sent away to school. His sister was domesticated as soon as was practicable. Singing was an outward demonstration of her complicity in the affairs of the family. She was in that sense her mother’s child, an expression of her mother’s taste and sensibility. What is striking about Georgina’s childhood is its extraordinary tedium. The pleasures a young girl of her class might take for granted in an English setting simply did not exist for her – like picnics, visits to relatives, parties, river excursions or a trip to the seaside. She had some idiosyncrasies that stayed with her all her life. From her youngest days she exhibited a mild mania for collecting. She cut out armorial bearings from magazines and pasted them into books. She was among the earliest collectors of stamps. She made lists of Important Things. She kept a diary and recorded the uninspiring events of her day in scrupulous detail. This suggests a secretive and lonely child, but it is more likely that the Villa Capponi days were simply very long. We know from more famous Florence residents – from the Brownings, for example – that in the three summer months that began in June, the heat became enervating and a torpor settled over everything. Even a shaded garden became too hot to endure and those families who could afford it moved up into the hills for air and the chance of a breeze. Once there, improving sightseeing and visits to hilltop monasteries were scheduled for five in the morning. So, to be a child in the stiflingly hot summers, even with siblings, became a little like being the inmate of a prison. Morgan had nothing to say to any of his children – they in turn were terrified to open their mouths in his presence. The rooms of the villa were extensive, there were servants in plenty, but nothing much to do. The only outdoor pleasure Georgina shared with her father was his passion for gardening, which he undertook in the winter months. She showed early on a very un-Latin enthusiasm for pets, especially dogs, treating them as little people, more loyal and certainly more loving than the two-legged inhabitants of the Villa. Late in life she put this feeling into a letter: ‘I feel a horror for exaggerated love or friendship. It’s just too well demonstrated to me that when the moment comes that one asks for something, or has need of something, the response is not worth a biscuit.’ As she grew into womanhood, she became nothing like the submissive little miss of the conventional fashion plate. Nor was she modelled on the enigmatic girls who decorated Leech cartoons in Punch with their smooth wings of hair and ultra-straight noses. The air of obedient calm required of young mid-Victorian women was quite foreign to her and she had little chance to learn by emulation. Morgan saw to that. But if her upbringing had turned out rackety and unhappy great changes were in the offing. Though he had lingered there a very long time, her father had always seen Florence as a makeshift arrangement and its usefulness to him was as good as exhausted. The prime reason for moving on was right there under his nose. Georgina was no longer a child. In her adolescent form she was someone’s future bride. There was much to be accomplished before this could come about, not least the family’s reconciliation to society. Morgan would stir himself to exhibit his daughter to her best advantage and then she herself could crown the family’s fortunes by marrying well. The two things hung together. This realisation gave her power, perhaps more than she knew how to handle. The mystical writer Edward Maitland made a shrewd remark to Georgina when she was twenty. His opinion was coloured a little by two things, both of them romantic. To begin with, he had fled the family home in Brighton, where his father was perpetual curate of St James’s Chapel. His rebellion took him to the California gold rush, and thence to Australia, where he had married and buried his wife within a twelvemonth. Maitland saw something in Georgina that her father had failed to notice. I am but one of numbers who would be delighted to see your gifts and prowess winning success; and feel mystified at the waste of them, when we know that with better management it might have been otherwise. You yourself will see it some day, when your stormy youth is spent, and the boy – which you really are now – has developed into the woman which you are only in form. This insight struck at the heart of the Florence years. All the other Thomas children grew up to be models of dullness. Georgina’s brothers had upper lips as stiff as any in Victorian fiction. Her sisters were dutiful and long-suffering. That she was so different suggests a relationship to her father very far from the Victorian norm of duty and respect; or as was the case with her siblings, fear. It was as if she alone challenged Morgan, returning his systematic cruelties with some of her own. What was hoydenish in her as a child, running about the gardens of the Capponi in petticoats, changed as she grew only a little older into more dangerous forms of recklessness. If Morgan had hoped to crush her, things were turning out very differently. Not at all to his wishes in the matter, he had raised a rebel. A few years later, she explained her parents’ expectations of her: ‘[They] never wearied of indoctrinating me with the belief that an eldest daughter should marry to the advantage of her younger sisters, from the point of view that if the oldest sister married a rich old man with a title, her siblings would find matches that were rich, young, and titled.’ Many a diary hid the same thoughts. A beautiful young woman was, whether she liked it or not, a commodity; and a good marriage was one in which there was a significant amount of value added. Fifteen was not too young an age to start thinking of these things. Sooner or later she would have to come out in society – was that really to be at the edge of the crowd at the Casa Feroni, or mingling with the demi-mondaines at some sumptuously vulgar rout given by the Demidovs? Or was she instead to wait for a wandering Cambridge graduate or adventurous parson to turn up outside the Hôtel du Nord just as she had done, capture her in the street and carry her off back to England? Her father’s incorrigible vanity would never settle for that. Morgan’s thinking was way ahead of his daughter’s. Sitting in state in his study, aloof and remote, he had begun to ponder a quite spectacular coup. It came upon him slowly like a gathering religious conviction and once in place nothing would budge it. The details were perfectly simple and seemed to him to brook no abridgement. He would sell her to just that kind of man he most abhorred, and of a class from which he felt himself so bitterly excluded. It was his intention that Georgina should not marry for less than £10,000 a year. The first time he ever spoke these thoughts out loud there must have been a peal of nervous hilarity at the breakfast table, followed by a plea from Louisa not to repeat them outside the house. The sum involved was ridiculous – to have that much income a prospective suitor would need to be in possession of at least an Earldom. (The letter Lord Conyngsby delivered to Victoria on the day Georgina was born was in fact an offer from the dying King of exactly that amount). Louisa had grown used to her husband’s erratic behaviour. Should this new scheme ever get about among her friends at the Cascine Gardens, they would be ruined socially. Louisa was dutiful and submissive to a fault but even with her limited knowledge of the world she knew they were regarded as Florence’s nobodies. Ten years of Morgan’s disdain had done its work. A £10,000-a-year man for the plump and argumentative Georgina was going to be as easy to find and trap as the Emperor of All the Russias or the Bey of Algiers. It had of course occurred to both of them, ever since Georgina was a baby, that a shrewd marriage might greatly increase their own social position. That was the way the world was, and that was how what Bagehot called ‘the cousinhood of aristocracy’ came into existence in the first place. Unfortunately, neither Morgan nor Louisa had gifts to bestow on the world. They had no friends of any significance, corresponded with no one, engaged in none of the controversies then in vigorous debate. When he wasn’t gardening, Morgan kept up a desultory study of Dante, presumably for the pleasure of seeing sinners punished. Of the Victorian England he had deserted at its birth, he knew next to nothing. Yet the campaign to marry off Georgina to such advantage to them all had to be fought in London, at balls and soirées or wherever beautiful young women were set out in display. In Morgan’s day Almack’s Assembly Rooms had been the ground on which the greatest battles were fought. Controlled by the seven super-rich patronesses who managed the guest lists, it was said by the diarist Captain Gronow that in his time only five of the 300 officers of the Foot Guards were admitted. (He happened to be one of them, which was the point of the story.) Though Morgan believed persons of lesser rank were acceptable nowadays, the truth was he had no clear idea how to set about promoting his daughter. Twelve fatal years in Florence among the Waterloo veterans and hapless exiles had done nothing to educate him otherwise. A local example of the old school was a man called St John (‘a scion of a noble house’) who wagered an Austrian cavalry officer to follow him wherever he went through the city. After a hectic chase, St John put his pony at a parapet of a bridge and leaped forty feet into the dried-up river bed, killing the pony outright. The Austrian declined the invitation to follow. St John was the kind of man Morgan was looking for, only with money and in England. When Georgina was told of her father’s great scheme it probably left her in two minds. On the one hand, the plan was so outrageous, so impossible that it filled her with the same almighty ambition as his and flourished in her that old sense of being born to greatness. For her the Florence years had hardly been distinguished, but now that did not matter, or not as much as it might to a lesser soul. Her destiny beckoned: life in a country seat, with a fine town house, a rich man who loved her and in a circle of jealous and admiring friends. This was the fulfilment of all her wildest daydreams: novels were based on plots like this. The other possibility was that her father had set the bar so high exactly to deny her any kind of marriage at all. In some sombre fashion, it was his method of possessing her. In this way of looking at it she was his and would never be another’s. In 1852, Morgan and his family left Florence. In the informal history of the expatriate community, as recorded in memoirs and reminiscences, it is as though he had never been there. You did not have to be a poet or a peer to get something from Florence; nor did you have be a roué. But the policeman of society left no record. One of the sidelights cast on the city in those days was the vigorous efforts made by the more pious English to import Protestant bibles to Tuscany, a campaign that might seem close to Morgan’s heart. In 1851, Captain Wilson, who was hardly in the mould of an evangelical bigot, went to visit an Italian friend imprisoned by the Austrians for the possession of a smuggled bible. ‘In the afternoon I paid a visit to Guicciardini in the Bargello. It really makes one’s blood boil to think that even the abuse of justice should enable any Government, however despotic, to incarcerate a man merely for reading a bible and making free use of his conscience.’ This is a recognizably early-Victorian tone. Wilson was a gentleman, who believed like many of his kind – like Morgan Thomas himself – that an English gentleman was the greatest masterpiece ever created by man. But beneath the languid airs and graces, which the Hussar officer certainly had in full, there had to be some fire, some subterranean force. A man must have his demons. Morgan makes a poor comparison with the gallant and penniless Wilson. He had his demons, but there was something empty at the heart of him. A weaker man, or perhaps a poorer one, might have used the Tuscan years to seek preferment at home in England. A more intellectually curious one might have embraced the city for its own sake, or at any rate looked about him. From all that rich stew of society, the only thing Morgan Thomas took away with him from Florence was his butler, the secretive and sardonic Antonio. 3 GOING HOME (#ulink_f5c47c7c-44b4-57f5-a872-f548176dc776) The road is dusty, the coach unbearably stuffy. The landscape has very soon palled. One valley is much like another, one ridge reveals the next. She is sweating in her stays, her waist nipped in painful imitation of adult fashion, her legs in stockings, her feet crammed into dirty white silk shoes. Not a button is to be loosened from her bodice, not a hem raised of her skirts. Clothes, like the empty conversation, the conventional diet, are to be endured. She belongs to the kind of family where all the children are considered as miniature and largely ungrateful adults for whom the future has already been mapped out. Her brothers will never work, in the sense that engineers or doctors work. They will probably become soldiers. Though it might be privately comical to imagine these lumpy and unimaginative boys as standing in the breach at some future clash of arms, it is not so funny at all to consider her own position. Though hardly more than a child, her future has been even more ruthlessly dictated. What she sees in the mirror is what she is. She is a commodity. What she wants can have nothing in it that doesn’t correspond to what her parents want. Even before she has truly entered the world – as expressed by the mystery of other people – she is preparing to leave it. Time moves as slowly and maddeningly as the coach in which she sits, but even so in five or six years time, what little freedom of action she possesses now will have disappeared. Part of her commodity value is obedience to a man. It was her father, and all too soon it will be her husband. The sweat thickens in her hair and gathers behind her knees. The road unravels. At the end of it (in the child’s fantasy) might be a prince, a castle and rolling acres. The person not likely to be waiting is a poet or a dreamer, nor anyone who lives in a garret. Though there is much in the world – as for example the young Austrian officer who leans in through the carriage window to inspect the passports, or the distinguished-looking German scholar on his way to Rome, or any of a hundred interesting examples met along the way – most of the observable world is nothing more than idle scenery. About England, where she is going, she knows next to nothing: she knows the names of shops but not the names of cities. Victoria, whose star she felt she was to follow, has turned out to be distressingly family-minded and moralistic, besotted with her prim little husband. As for her own talents, her father speaks at least as good Italian as she, her voice is untrained, her reading patchy and inconsequential. She is already a little on the dumpy side. And she is sweating. It happened that Wilkie Collins and Dickens were travelling to Florence at exactly the same time as the Thomases set off in the opposite direction, and a letter by Collins to a friend has left us a snapshot picture of travel by diligence along those dangerous roads of northern Italy. He explains how strings were tied to the trunks and luggage riding on the roof and each passenger sat with the loose end in his hand. The intention – no matter that the coach was in motion – was to prevent theft. ‘It was like sitting in a shower bath and waiting to pull the string – or rather, like fishing in the sea, when one waits to feel a bite by the tug of the line round one’s finger.’ The tedium of the journey, the bad inns and low cunning of the peasants met along the way, the occasional interrogations by unpleasantly brusque Austrian patrols, all conspired to produce in Morgan the conviction that he was at last leaving the shadows and coming back into the light. Let others take what they could from Italy: he was free of it. He was not as rich as he would like and he was no longer young. However, Louisa’s inheritance was clear of entail at last: he could throw out the agriculturals who were now in disgraceful occupation of Gate House and set about making himself a landed proprietor. That had a ring to it. He had enough money to send both his sons to Eton, and sprawling next to Louisa as the coach rattled along, its canvas window coverings clattering, sat the petulant girl on which the last, and he hoped, best phase of his life depended. Somewhere, perhaps even on this very road, returning home to some noble house in a carriage emblazoned with arms, was the man to marry Georgina and by so doing, elevate the whole family. The politician and diarist Charles Greville, writing in 1843, summed up the potential rewards of an advantageous marriage as follows: This year is distinguished by many marriages in the great world, the last, and the one exciting the greatest sensation being that of March to my niece. A wonderful elevation for a girl without beauty, talents, accomplishments or charm of any kind, an enormous prize to draw in the lottery of life. All the mothers in London consider it a robbery as each loses her chance of such a prize. Morgan understood well enough that his stake in this market was slender. But he also knew, or thought he knew, that nobody got what they wanted by chance. There was a campaign to be fought. That was how it had been in his own day and that was how he imagined it to be now. His first-hand knowledge of English society was nearly fifteen years out of date yet he supposed that what went in the days of his youth, went on still. It had better, for he knew of nothing else. He was to be proved wrong. Even leaving aside his wife’s eccentric taste in clothes – her high colour and preference for red shawls led Georgina once to describe her mother as looking like a macaw – there was something fusty and old-fashioned about the whole family. Though they were English to the people they met along the way, there was an ignorance in them that surprised their fellow countrymen. A significant example of this was found whenever Louisa mentioned her daughter’s wonderfully clear soprano voice. Anyone who asked out of courtesy to whom they had sent her in Florence for lessons – to Signor Uberti perhaps? – was met with a studied silence. She had received no lessons. The same was true of the art and literature of the day. Morgan knew that his bête noire Watts was back in England but not that he was recently engaged on enormous historical and allegorical paintings in which his social conscience wrestled with the ills of society. (They were sometimes called muffin paintings, after Thackeray’s satirisation of a ‘George Rumbold’ painting in which Rumbold – his name for Watts – had painted such a huge canvas that a mere muffin had a diameter of two feet three inches.) Meanwhile, what was this absurd thing called the March of Intellect – from whence to where? The Great Exhibition had been and gone – what had been the attraction of looking at a lot of farm machinery and the like, displayed in a building made of glass by a man who was gardener to the Duke of Devonshire? For Georgina, going home was the adventure of her young life. She was about to rejoin what was the greatest nation on earth at its most prosperous. Everyone knew that Britain was best. Even her father believed that. Surreptitious study of fashion plates showed her that a ball gown was now worn off both shoulders, and that hair was curled only at the back to fall lightly on the neck. In calling on others, it was de rigueur to wear a long fringed shawl over a demure dress, the whole set off by a beaded reticule, dangled, it would seem, by the middle fingers of the left hand. There was much to ponder here, but the imaginative leap was to picture the man who would capture her. The year that Morgan left England, Thackeray wrote the potboiling FitzBoodle Papers. Its story begins farcically with the remark by his hero, ‘I have always been considered the third-best whist player in Europe …’ FitzBoodle, we discover, is the second son to a title stretching back to Henry II: his absurd opinions and brief adventures first entertained the readers of Frazer’s Magazine. To the modern taste the empty vanities of FitzBoodle and his redoubtable stepmother Lady Flintskinner are too easy a target. In the early Thackeray there is cleverness, but also a faintly studied quality. FitzBoodle and the other works like it were slight, not because they were too cruel, but too cautious. There were plenty of readers ready to discover in Thackeray a kind of social anxiety, an insecurity. They saw, or thought they saw, in his own phrase, the flunkey that hid behind the gentleman. But, unlike Morgan Thomas, Thackeray grew up with the new age and learned from it. His vision deepened and darkened. In a letter written when his eldest daughter was in the same situation as Georgina, young and beautiful and eligible, he strikes a much more sombre note. Speaking of a society to which he was now himself an adornment, he wrote: They never feel love, but directly it’s born they throttle it and fling it under the sewer as poor girls do their unlawful children – they make up money marriages and are content – then the father goes to the House of Commons or the Counting House, the mother to her balls and visits – the children lurk upstairs with their governess, and when their turn comes are bought and sold, as respectable and heartless as their parents before them. This was new and beyond the comprehension of a man like Morgan. Even more to the point, it was not a thing Georgina herself could understand. At the time she left Florence, an American girl her own age had come to Europe with the sole intention of being heard by Rossini. Genevieve Ward, young though she was, knew what she wanted and headed straight to Florence to get it. She had been told she had a good voice and was determined to make herself famous. Rossini was encouraging. He found her distinguished local teachers (one of whom was Uberti) and two years later she opened at La Scala. That kind of dedication was way beyond anything Georgina possessed, then or ever. She had the voice, but not the vision. Morgan was in no great hurry to face up to London. He wished the journey home to be a way of applying a little finish to his daughter. They broke their return first by the shores of Lake Constance, where his younger brother George was living in style with an invalid wife, the Baronne de Hildprant. For a sixteen-year-old girl with hardly any understanding of the wider world this was interesting enough. At Schloss Hard Georgina found the kind of company she had been warned against at the Villa Capponi: indolent, not in the slightest way intellectual, gossipy – and amorous. True to his character, Morgan did not like his brother any more than he did his Florence enemies. On the other hand, his daughter could not be sheltered from the importunities of other people forever. The days at Schloss Hard turned into weeks, the weeks into months while he watched Georgina try out her new freedoms. Her looks and personality were of great interest. In appearance she was judged to be perhaps a little too much on the short side, a little too full of figure to be the ideal of beauty. Her conversation was startingly direct and in one respect her aunt and uncle must have studied her with special doubt in their minds. She was already – and particularly among men of mature years – an accomplished sexual tease. Many of the scrapes she got into later in life came from this inability to treat men in a realistic way. She was arch in their company and sometimes irritatingly so. Weak men, or vain ones, might find her little-girl act provocative, but wiser heads found something missing in her, perhaps a commonsensical understanding of the limited choices life could afford, not just to her, but to anybody. She was not, in the way the French apply the word, a serious person. Even this early in her life it was easy to see that she had great energies, but many fewer talents than she supposed. She talked far too freely, scoffed and wheedled. She wrote on 21 June, at the end of a day of sunshine and persiflage: ‘I first experienced what Mama told me some time ago about young men making themselves agreeable to me.’ Young though she was, she had discovered the power sex could wield. This amorousness needed some explaining later on in life and she had a ready answer. She was scientifically amative: ‘I loved everyone who loved me and there were endless outcomes – lamentations, reproaches, tears on all sides. But there we are! I am a loving person. Phrenologists tell me that my bumps of love and friendship cover my entire head! One is not mistress of one’s temperament and of one’s skull, not at all.’ Even this early, her bumps dictated events in an unfortunate way. Among the party lounging and sketching, going out onto the lake in boats and exclaiming about the wonders of nature was a familiar family legend, the source of many an outrageous story. He was the fiery and voluble vicar of Llanelli, a man called Ebenezer Morris, whose living had been presented to him by Georgina’s grandfather. The Reverend Mr Morris was sixty-three and decidedly eccentric. His preaching was considered so entertaining that on one occasion the gallery of the church threatened to collapse from the press of people gathered to hear him. He was also a man of colossal and unforgiving temper, perfectly able to knock down a parishioner for some imagined insult. In his battles with neighbouring clergy, he composed scathingly brutal and quite scandalous letters and pamphlets. In Llanelli he was a notorious and much discussed figure. As well as flirting with the young men who ran after her and deriding the enthusiasm her uncle held for romantic scenery, Georgina romanced the Reverend Mr Morris, whom she dubbed Canonicus. She was successful enough to have him embrace her a little too freely and kiss her without the innocence usually employed towards a child. Emboldened, he wrote her a love letter. One can think of half a dozen reasons why he might instantly regret what he had done. This was the first test of her capacity to behave more like a young lady than a hoyden. Could the situation be defused by tact and commonsense? Was this the kind of letter that anyone else would have torn in a hundred pieces or hidden in the trunk of a tree? Was it an occasion for the young to moralise the old and bring the reckless philanderer to the error of his ways, as happened in fiction? She chose differently. She gave the letter to her mother. Louisa gave it to her husband. For all Morris’s long friendship with the family (which included being a lifelong drinking crony of his patron, Rees Goring Thomas) Morgan did not hesitate. The poor man was confronted with the evidence, humiliated, and shown the door. Georgina had done the right thing and learned a useful lesson: she might not be the cleverest girl in the world but she was certainly able to stir up passion in the opposite sex. Moreover, she had found a new way to make her father angry. Shortly after the incident, the Thomas family left Schloss Hard, still postponing London and heading towards Brussels. In the winter of 1853 they took a house in the Rue de Luxembourg. Morgan bought a carriage with a form of armorial bearing painted on the doors. ‘We went about in our carriage, and all our ancient admirers, on foot, stared at us as if we were risen from the grave,’ Georgina commented. Her father had managed to secure a letter of introduction to the Ambassador: he was positioning himself for the campaign that lay ahead. If he had gone abroad like a loser, he intended to come back with a different story to tell. Brussels, like Florence, sustained a large British colony, and for the same reason. It was cheap to live there and titled European families were ten a penny. A man might fill his mantelpiece with crested invitations and cartes de visite. Perhaps the very best people were in Paris, but there was enough going on in Brussels to replicate that older, frowstier form of society that was to Morgan’s taste. So, interspersed with the names of Dal’s fellow Etonians who came to stare and wonder, we find the Baron de Pfuel, Limmander de Nieuvehoven and – Louisa’s finest social acquisition – the Baronne de Goethals. There was war in the air and everyone was talking about Constantinople. Some of the insouciant young Englishmen Georgina saw lounging about at balls and parties she would never see again. One of her beaux was William Scarlett, whose uncle was to command the Heavy Brigade at Sebastopol. Brussels was intended by her parents to be a kind of finishing school. They stayed a season and Georgina sang before an audience for the first time at the British Embassy. The recital – which may not have been more than one song – was well received. For the first time in her life it was exciting to be a Thomas. Though she was by her own description ‘wild’, she was also also ‘irresistible’. Her triumphs came entirely as a consequence of her own efforts – to her surprise people liked this turbulent and impulsive girl from Florence. Now that the family was out in the world a little more, her father’s peculiarities became more obvious. It was the first chance she had to compare him with other fathers and she began to form the opinion expressed so forcibly in the years ahead. My father, who as a consequence of his proud and violent character had always been more or less mad at last became so, despite being gifted with rare and valuable qualities. His mother’s favourite, he had been spoiled as a child, and he reaped what all spoiled children reap. He inspired hate and terror in everybody. As for me, I never addressed a word to him in my life, and he only spoke to us to call us to table and to tell us we were damn fools. If my mother had only a little common sense or principle, she would not have endured such a hell, neither for herself nor for her children, and I blame her much more than my father for all that has happened. There is a characteristic element of exaggeration in this. At the time, darting about Brussels, discovering clothes, learning to waltz and reaping compliments wherever she went, life had taken an unexpected twist. It was fun. Evidently, some young women made their effect by hiding shyly behind their mothers’ skirts. That was not Georgina’s way. She was bold, careless even. A lifelong habit of bathing in cold water had been set in Florence. Now, much further north and in the depths of winter, she bounced from the bath pink and eager, hungry for breakfast and the chance to meet new people and shine in their company. Wherever she went she demonstrated a similar animal exuberance. She was happy. While retaining the lease on the house in the Rue de Luxembourg, Morgan finally took his family back to England in 1854. Dal was at Eton, but the other children had never seen England and only Georgina had been born there. It was exciting to be home, but it was also daunting. The country was more interested in cholera and the imminence of war than the arrival of the Thomas family. Georgina’s flirtatious experiments followed her across the Channel – no sooner had they set foot in England than Morgan intercepted a love letter to his daughter from a mysterious G. V. – presumably by stealing it or reading it surreptitiously. His reaction was illuminating. He summoned the butler Antonio and had him take it round to the bemused local police. Meanwhile, Gate House in Mayfield was prepared for the family as its permanent seat and Georgina’s first scattered impressions of her native country were gathered driving about Brighton and East Sussex to be introduced to the local gentry. She was not impressed. That vague sense of superiority so lavishly rekindled in Brussels was not to be squandered on mutton-eating squires and their sullen children. At first, England disappointed Georgina. Life at the Villa Capponi had been dull, but wonderful things had happened to her since. Though her father watched her like a hawk, she had already received two declarations of love and turned any number of heads. Neither of her sisters was of an age to be seen in a romantic light: she was the centre of attention in whatever drawing-room she found herself. She confirmed the earlier suspicion that she was far more forward and direct than her English contemporaries. In an age that placed so much importance on the niceties of address, how to behave with self-effacing quiet was something it was already too late for her to learn. Her father had been right about one thing; once you described yourself as of good family, the number of friends and acquaintances you might make in life was small indeed, at any rate in the Sussex hinterland. However, farming had never been so prosperous in living memory and Morgan and his family had come back to a golden decade for corn prices. The best of the country gentlemen had ‘no enemies but time and gout’ as one admiring foreign observer put it. That did not necessarily make them entrancing company. If Sussex was dull, London was a different matter. Though Morgan might find as much to deprecate there as anything he had found in Florence, his opinion counted for nothing. The London he came home to had almost doubled in size compared with the one he had left. Its sophistication and complexity was quite beyond him. There was more ‘dash’ to affairs than he remembered and a great deal more irreverence. Whole new classes had sprung up and with them manners which were beneath Morgan’s dignity to interest himself in. He was safe for as long as he stayed in the West End and kept himself away from anything approaching talent. The truth was that Morgan could not and never would find a niche in society. His time had passed. For Georgina, London was a city bathed in dangerous adventure. Rotten Row, of which she had heard much as a child, had been recently widened to accommodate the Sunday carriage rides of the rich and titled. She duly made her baptismal appearance there, stared at in what she considered an insolent way by any number of young men on horseback. She found them all distressingly tall. It was no use attempting a conversational finesse by comparing the scene disfavourably with the Cascine Gardens – this was the real thing. The carriage row in Hyde Park was a showcase of the aristocracy. The Prince Consort rode out there. As the elegant carriages ambled their way back and forth along the mile-and-a-half route round the edge of Hyde Park, on fine days – just out of sight but not out of earshot – as many as 12,000 bathers swam in the Serpentine. The scale of London and the juxtaposition of its classes was beyond anything she had ever seen. Like her father, she discovered much that she must learn. The greatest part of it was where and how to fit in. To be fashionable was to know far more – perhaps to discount far more – than the elementary education she had received in Florence. In 1855, Georgina went back to Brussels with her mother for Carnival, and on 17 February attended a ball at la Baronne de Goethal’s. It was the scene of one of the great moments in her life. Among the company was a Portuguese Baron called Pedro de Moncorvo. He was twenty-seven years old, the son of a former Ambassador to the Court of St James. Georgina was dressed in the costume of a Parisian grisette and the evening passed in a delirium of romantic enchantment. Here, with all the force of a novel, was the perfect situation – a beautiful girl heated by the dance, pursued by a dark and handsome stranger. Writing fifty years later Georgina claimed to have loved him with all her heart and when she was sixty-six she went all the way to Bemfica to visit his grave. Moncorvo was probably the first man to see her for what she was and not attempt to change her. They met no more than ten times, during which he alternately scolded and cajoled her. For the first but not the last time in her life she was, so to speak, living to the tune and lyrics of the best kind of song. Four days after her eighteenth birthday, her father intervened and she was banished from Brussels and sent into exile at Boulogne. On 18 June, racked by love, playing the piano with tragic abandon, she opened the door of her lodgings to find Moncorvo on the doorstep. Unchaperoned, they walked on the cliffs overlooking the town. He asked me if I had deceived myself in allowing that perhaps I loved him. I answered, ‘If I loved you, what would be the use?’ ‘Forgive me,’ he said. ‘If you loved me we could be married in that church,’ and he pointed to the church of Boulogne. I made no reply, his lips almost touched my cheek. I drew back gently. He did not kiss me. He departed that same afternoon – and I have never seen him since. It is a perfect vignette. As she grew older, she realised he may have loved her with a seriousness her youth and ignorance did not allow for on the day. For the rest of her life she wondered what might have happened if she had done as he asked and married him against the wishes of her parents. And though a year later he married a Portuguese comtessa, he continued to write her affectionate letters, enough for her to make that long sea journey when he died. What makes the story so poignant, in light of what was to come, is that the girl on the cliffs was still the girl from Florence, the wayward boy in the body of a woman, the original and untempered Georgina Thomas. She lost him out of inexperience. It is sad to see her later embroider the story, explaining that she could not marry him because of a devotion to a higher thing, her art. She was an eighteen-year-old girl who had for the first time in her life been faced with a real decision, touching real feelings. Moncorvo was asking a lot of her – he was very much older, he was poor and he was Catholic. But the truth was that – too early in her life for her to understand and profit from the experience – a man was prepared to take her exactly as she was. In this brief and shimmering image of them on the cliffs, we are watching a man who has seen something of the world and a girl who has not. Moncorvo was not saying, ‘Take me back to England so that I can sponge off your father.’ He was inviting her to come with him to Portugal. When he pointed with a sweep of his arm to ‘the church at Boulogne’, the gesture also took in the villa where Dickens and Wilkie Collins stayed with their families, and the place where Thackeray and his daughters had rested in the past. Perfectly visible was the massive embarkation camp from which the French Imperial Army had set sail to the Crimea. Even while they spoke, many of those who had marched down to the quays garlanded with flowers were being blown to pieces at the Malakov Redoubt. Georgina knew nothing of such things. Moncorvo was the first to lay bare her ignorance of the real world. She may have had practical misgivings and certainly the peculiar urgency and danger of his visit must have weighed with her. Watching the hazy sea, trying not to look into his eyes, she learned from Moncorvo that afternoon what love was, rather than what a well-arranged English marriage could confer. She chose the wrong option. 4 TREHERNE (#ulink_6869a0c9-2475-5835-aa50-9172bfee693a) In the autumn of 1857, Morgan and his brothers changed their name to Treherne. The battle of Poitiers was now 500 years old and the family was able to show that the two surnames had been interchangeable down the years that followed Sir Hugh’s adventures in France. They were merely reclaiming what was theirs by right and reverting to a more profoundly ancestral form of address. From Morgan’s point of view, there was an element of the ruse de guerre in the alteration. Like his forebear he had gone away one person and (he hoped) come home another. A change of name was a partial cancellation of all his earlier mistakes. While it might please his eldest brother to stand contemplating his Lletymawr estates as a Treherne, it did Morgan no harm either to lord it over his Sussex neighbours under the new title. In a way, it was as good as an elevation. There was more of a problem how to identify the new Trehernes when they came up from the country to London. They were not rich, nor were they well connected. Families – brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts – usually made a simple enough matrix for the giving and receiving of hospitality, as did work, or political allegiance. None of these helped describe the Sussex Trehernes. To go about at all in society meant they had to have some circle of acquaintance and it is probable that the greater part of it was provided by Georgina. When carriages were summoned and Georgina parted regretfully from her hosts after what she hoped was an irresistible contribution to the evening, the question arose: who was she? Parsed, this meant who were her parents? Mr Treherne himself had no cronies, political or otherwise, and belonged to no clubs. He was estranged from his own family. His wife was a dumpy and unfashionable lady happier when she was in the country. If it was asked what this family wanted, what advantage it was trying to seek (a perfectly understandable enquiry) no easy answer was forthcoming. The change of name might indicate that Morgan wished to be considered Welsh but he would have been bitterly disappointed to have given this impression. When Thackeray’s The Snobs of England was published ten years earlier it made the whole country anxious. Some of those who read the work in serial form wrote in to ask whether they could be accounted snobs and Thackeray cheerfully included the details of their lives in his next instalment. How far did a man like the new Mr Treherne come under the title? The word derives from Cambridge undergraduate slang in use during Morgan’s time at Trinity. In the narrow sense, the Welshman was indeed a ‘snob’ as much as he was a ‘tassell’ – his parentage bridged town and gown. Thackeray’s extension of the meaning to include anyone wishing to be something he was not was useful in principle but applied so indiscriminately by him that Morgan and many others might have wondered whether anyone at all in society could escape the term. One of the small miracles of literature is how Thackeray escaped the crude and gluey morass that was The Snobs of England to begin in the very next year his literary masterpiece, Vanity Fair. There he devoted a famous chapter to how to live well on nothing a year. The new tone is more realistic and generous: ‘The truth is, when we say of a gentleman that he lives elegantly on nothing a year, we use the word “nothing” to signify something unknown – meaning, simply, that we don’t know how the gentleman in question defrays the expenses of his establishment.’ This describes Morgan’s situation when seen about town in London or Brighton. His innate anxiety led him to claim more than he possessed, in wealth as well as rank, but he was not as fatuous as some of Thackeray’s more helpless victims. Nor was he in the slightest way ingratiating. He paid no man his loyalty. If the question turned on whether he was a gentleman at all, most Victorians would have concluded that he was. They might have gone on to say that he was not a very pleasant one, nor a very distinguished example of the breed. That was beside the point. Morgan’s desire was not so much to remake himself in a different image, but to consolidate what little rank he had. In that respect, he had gone away one person and come back as another. His daughter was the immediate beneficiary of the new surname and the first to give it lustre. In October of 1857, Miss Georgina Treherne was included in the cast list of a private musical extravaganza devised in honour of the Duchess of Cambridge, called endearingly Hearts and Tarts. The performance took place at Ashridge in Hertfordshire, the home of Lady Marion Alford, a widow in her forties who kept up a lively artistic and political salon. The Queen of Hearts was played by Princess Mary of Cambridge, whom Queen Victoria always found so wanting for her terrible size, her dirty ball gowns and the racy company she kept. The Princess had been childhood friends with Constance Villiers, which explained her presence in the cast, as well as that of Lady Villiers’s father, Lord Clarendon, who acted as stage manager. His fellow Minister, Lord Granville, played the Knave of Hearts and had as his father in the play the newly succeeded Duke of Manchester. In fact, only Georgina was without noble connection. Princess Mary, perhaps confused by the surname and the obscurity of her background, remembered her afterwards as a handsome young lady from Cornwall. How had Georgina come to be in such august company? It pleased her in later years to describe herself as racked by shyness but of all her fantasies this rings least true. She was certainly very pretty – the Pre-Raphaelite Frederick Sandys considered her one of the most beautiful women in England (though in this and practically every other area, his was a very unreliable opinion). It was her voice that gave her the entrée. There was a very long-established tradition of musical entertainment in great houses. If you were well-bred and could sing, you could do something very useful for your hostess and add to the charm of the occasion. It did not much matter if people talked through your rendition of some touching ballad – you were there to see and be seen. And it was a wonderful means of social introduction. At some of the grander functions, duchesses filled the first chairs and the audience were ranged back in strict order of precedence. Invitations to these evenings – when they took place in the London high season – might exceed a hundred. The better houses had music rooms, but in other places the company crammed into drawing-rooms and sat in bundles on the stairs. If there was not much glamour in it for the old, for the young it was exciting. For their mothers, it was a battleground. Constance Villiers liked and remembered Georgina for her performance on this particular evening at Ashridge. Hidden in the playbill is the clue to how she may have come to take part. The prompt for Georgina’s performance in Hearts and Tarts was a wonderful old piece of Regency flotsam, Freddy Byng. It may have been his sponsorship that got Georgina into such august company. Poodle Byng (who was given his nickname by the Prince Regent because of the tight blond curls he wore as a young man) flits in and out of Victorian memoirs like an elderly and homeless bat. It was the Poodle who so scandalised the Court in the first months of Victoria’s reign when she was still considered a green girl by playing cards and making eyes at her, until he was gently shown the door. The fifth son of Viscount Torrington, he was fond of very young women and is said to have married his mother’s chambermaid. He seems to have travelled light in Victorian society and been tolerated in the houses of the rich for his manners and gentle heart – because he knew everybody and was so very old. His only official duty anyone could remember had come in 1824 when he was given the job of escorting the King and Queen of the Sandwich Islands about London as a representative of the Crown. He did the best he could to amuse these two monarchs but could not stop them dying of influenza two months after they arrived. Acting with unusual decisiveness, he had them embalmed in brandy and shipped back to the South Pacific. Byng seems to have been genuinely besotted by Georgina. Three years on, Thackeray, who knew the Poodle rather better than he knew Georgina, surprised her buying a wedding ring in Cockspur Street. Later in the afternoon, he ran across the decrepit old man and broke his heart by saying, ‘Poodle, you have lost your singing bird. Miss Treherne has married some other fellow.’ Poodle Byng found her when she first came out and introduced her to those of his many friends who spent part of their time and wealth on private concerts and recitals. If he was amorous, he was also kindly: after blandishments from Georgina, he helped get her parents presented at court in 1858. Even Morgan could see the use of a sponsor like that, however old and decrepit he might be. Georgina at twenty possessed an enchanting and very idiosyncratic soprano voice (her diction was considered exceptionally clear and distinct) and what she lacked in manners and sophistication she made up for by being seen everywhere. If she was coquettish – and this could certainly be levelled against her – then it was all very artless and inconsequential. Suspicious mothers and society hostesses alike were quickly reassured that this was no Becky Sharp, no girl on the make. She was if anything naïve to a fault. Her dearest friends were the people she met last night. They were replaced without embarrassment by those to whom she was presently talking. So, for example, early on she spoke of Lord Lansdowne as a dear friend and ally. The fourth Marquis was an Under Secretary of State for foreign affairs and a political scalp worth having. Whether he could separate Georgina from any of half a hundred young women he might have met under similarly brief circumstances was quite another matter. Georgina was beginning to exhibit her father’s ability to improve the facts. She had only to be in a noble house once to affect a lifelong intimacy with its owners. The most casual kind word addressed to her was an affirmation of undying love. She was odd like this and had a number of other social faults, including a garrulity that sometimes led her into indiscretion. She was not a girl to keep a secret. Poodle Byng soon found her an appropriate milieu in which to shine. This was at Little Holland House, the former dower house of Lady Holland. After her death it had been purchased by Mr and Mrs Thoby Prinsep. Prinsep was an amiable and elderly retired official of the India Office and his wife Sara one of the famously beautiful, famously eccentric Pattle sisters. Georgina was specially delighted to discover there someone she could claim to know from the Florence years. The last time she had seen him was in the Casa Feroni, when she was six. The principal adornment of Little Holland House was her father’s most reviled artist, George Frederick Watts. Watts was now forty-one years old. He was the centrepiece of all Mrs Prinsep’s bustling social energies, a position he had more or less proposed for himself. ‘He came for three days; he stayed thirty years,’ his patroness observed dryly. The salon he helped her create included many of the Pre-Raphaelites, and figures such as Tennyson and Thackeray, Dickens and Caryle, but it was really given over to Watts’ enigmatic genius. George du Maurier left a description of Sara and her sisters – ‘Elgin marbles with dark eyes’ as Ruskin once called them – handing out tea to their guests with almost eastern obeisance: Watts, who is a grand fellow, is their painter in ordinary: the best part of the house has been turned into his studio and he lives there and is worshipped till his manliness hath almost departed, I should fancy … After the departure of the visitors we dined; without dress coats – anyhow, and it was jolly enough – Watts in red coat and slippers. After dinner, up in the music room Watts stretched himself at full length on the sofa, which none of the women take when he is there. People formed a circle, and I being in good voice sang to them the whole evening, the cream of Schubert and Gordigiani – c’était très drôle, the worship I got … This was a different kind of ambiance altogether from Ashridge and du Maurier’s breezy insouciance captures it exactly. The house itself was as good as in the country, removed by trees and meadows from the harsher, more unforgiving light that shone on soirées in Grosvenor Square or Belgravia. It was a low and sprawling building, the interiors decorated by Watts’s frescoes. Some rooms boasted wonderful blue ceilings and others were hung with Indian rugs and cloths. Behind a door covered in red baize lay the hallowed centre of the house, the source of its energies, Watts’s studio. For Georgina it was a perfect stage, non-political, gossipy and faintly loose. There was enough oddity already existing at Little Holland House for her to feel at home. Sara Prinsep swept about the rooms in her own version of Indian dress, coaxing and wheedling Watts and permitting in her other guests what seemed to stricter hostesses a dangerous bohemianism. Her husband’s library was kept out of the way and there were no books on display in the main rooms, forcing visitors and habitués into torrents of conversation and persiflage. As to Watts, nobody could quite make him out. He had an almost perfect mixture of worldly vanity and ethereal otherness. Tall and thin, very good-looking in youth, now with a hint of pain and suffering peering out from behind biblically long and straggling whiskers, the time he spent in Florence – and in particular the gift for portraiture he discovered there – had set him on the road to fame. If there was a question mark against his sexual appetites – or lack of them – and if men found him ridiculous, he was all the same a society portraitist of the highest rank. This was a label he hated, for Watts had it in mind to paint the large allegorical works with which he had started out, and which the fame of the Florence portraits had eclipsed. As soon as Georgina met him she made up to him unmercifully and was given the reward – the accolade – of a sitting. Watts had the reputation of making his subjects look younger and more beautiful than they were in life. In his Florence portrait of Augusta, Lady Holland, she looks out directly at the viewer under a slightly tilted head, her huge eyes shaded by the Italian straw hat she wears. Her lips are smiling and there are dimples in her cheeks: she wears the expression of someone sharing a pleasant secret with the artist, and so with us. It is the portrait of a clever, sensuous woman, well aware of the effect she is creating. Watts finished this painting in 1843. Fourteen years on, the portrait of Georgina makes a striking contrast. Shown in three-quarter profile, she wears a similarly wide-brimmed hat and her hand lightly supports her chin and cheek. She has highly arched and plucked eyebrows and looks out a little past the painter with unsmiling eyes. Although she is only twenty, her face is full and the neck plump. Augusta smiles out at the world with sardonic humour; Georgina’s expression is faintly suspicious. It is an unfinished woman that Watts has represented and not an entirely likeable one. He wrote at the time of the portrait: I must tell you, Bambina mia, that I miss you very much and the studio is very silent. The Bambina’s vivacity was pleasant enough to the dull Signor, who was affected by the exhilarating contagion; now, coming from Lincoln’s Inn weary and listless, I miss the vivacious little Bambina, and though Little H. H. is always charming and I am always made much of and spoiled, especially when I am tired, I miss the effervescent stimulant that was sparkling and overflowing all about the house, yet I was always in a fidget about the wild little girl, and very often not a little unhappy. There is the accent of a spinster aunt about this. What put him in a fidget and made him unhappy? Was it anything more than having his peace and routine disturbed? Or something deeper? In the next sentence he adds, enigmatically, ‘I depend upon her to be prudent and wise, not less merry I hope, God forbid she ever should be.’ The portrait, of which she was enormously proud, has nothing in it at all merry or skittish. At first blush he might have been writing about someone else altogether. Watts liked very young girls, as he was to prove in a disastrous marriage to the seventeen-year-old Ellen Terry, and he was also fond of moralising. But the artist in him was painfully honest. He had seen a gaucheness in Georgina that he put into words in another, later letter: I want you to be very wise in the choice of a husband, for everything will depend on the person or persons with whom you may live. If you are fortunate in this respect, you will be as you ought to be, an ornament and a delight to society; if the contrary, I dread more than I can say for the poor little Bambina. I do not think you could be happy as the wife of a poor man … In one way it is pretty obvious conventional advice. But Watts was writing to the girl who thought of herself as destined for a £10,000-a-year man, a story she must have told him. Fey though he was, however foolish he might act with the young, he was still the piano tuner’s son. His remarks seem to distinguish between a life spent in society and not. That was something he knew all about, but a thing too unpleasant for her to contemplate. And was there anyone truly rich, eligible and well-connected among the people who flocked to Little Holland House, drank its tea and admired its painter in ordinary? Not Watts himself, nor any of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Of the writers Mrs Prinsep cultivated, all were rich men, but their property was intellectual. Thackeray might gaze in amazement at a cheque for £2000 from his American tour and Dickens was by no means a poor man, yet theirs was a different kind of wealth. Carlyle had once explained this in a letter to Jane Welsh, the intelligent and ambitious girl he was trying to persuade to marry him – and it was a sentiment likely to have found favour at Little Holland House: Kings and Potentates are a gaudy folk that flaunt about with plumes & ribbons to decorate them, and catch the coarse admiration of the many headed monster for a brief season – and then sink into forgetfulness … but the Miltons, the de Staëls – these are the very salt of the earth; they derive their ‘patents of Nobility’ direct from Almighty God; and live in the bosoms of all true men to all ages. One of the occasional members of the coterie Georgina had now joined and who did belong to that rather less exalted nobility of plumes and ribbons was Lady Charlotte Schreiber. Charlotte Schreiber had strong Welsh connections. Her first husband was Josiah John Guest of the Dowlais Ironworks, the MP for Merthyr Tydfil for twenty years until his death. Guest practically owned the town and employed most of the people in it. His wife was a daughter of the ninth Earl of Lindsay and a Welsh scholar – she translated the Mabinogion into English when she was still in her twenties. After her husband’s death in 1852, she ran the iron and coal companies he left her under her own name. She had recently – and in some eyes shockingly – remarried Charles Schreiber of Trinity College, Cambridge, tutor to her eldest son. In Dorset the family kept up Canford Manor in all its magnificence, though (as the ever-vigilant Morgan discovered) under the terms of a trust, the house and Lady Charlotte’s personal share in the fortune were forfeited by reason of this second marriage. It was at about this time, when the eldest son Ivor came into his majority and Canford became his, that Georgina first met the Schreibers. In the winter of 1856, Lady Charlotte and nine of her ten children crowded into a house at Marine Parade, Brighton, while a search was made for suitable and more permanent accommodation in London. Not until April of the following year did they find Exeter House in Roehampton, standing in sixteen acres. During their stay in Brighton they became acquainted with the Trehernes, in the general sense of being present at the same ball or party and included on the same subscription lists for concerts. The fourth son of the family was a boy called Merthyr. He was a year younger than Georgina, a restless and under-achieving student at Trinity College, Cambridge (where his brother had taken a first). Very comfortingly and after only a few meetings, he declared himself infatuated with her. When the family moved to Exeter House, Georgina was soon invited there by Lady Charlotte. She also saw her from time to time at Little Holland House, where Merthyr’s mother was wont to engage Tennyson in conversations about the Arthurian legends. She had no knowledge of the depths of her son’s feeling for the pretty and amiable Miss Treherne. For the time being, Georgina said nothing to enlighten her. If coming out in society and making a mark in it was part of Morgan’s plan for his daughter, Georgina had already done a great deal to satisfy his ambition. Her voice had carried her into drawing-rooms that he would have difficulty in entering on his own merits. He had taken a house in Stratford Place, a small gated cul-de-sac off Oxford Street, from which to direct both her affairs and his own. In the country he was a magistrate and a ruthless persecutor of trespassers and poachers. On his own land he set spring-guns without the slightest qualm. He had by no means given up hope of a seat in the House of Commons. He was friendless and his relations with his brothers were as strained as ever but by his own lights the new Mr Treherne was making progress in the world. He was very deliberately old-fashioned and there were as a consequence huge gaps in what he knew about the age in which he lived. Style and the surface of things had always meant nothing to him. He was a reactionary and proud of it. In certain circles – say among military men – there was no harm in that. On brief acquaintance and with the addition of only a little humour, his position could even seem endearing. He polished a way of expressing himself that he was to use to the electors of Coventry in a famous speech: I have a thorough and hearty detestation of the Whigs … I have a parrot at home that cries Damn the Whigs! and although I should be very sorry to use such language myself – even if I do express myself strongly sometimes – I cannot say that my feelings towards the Whigs are more friendly than those of my parrot. Georgina was troublesome to him but no more than she had ever been. Although by now she was of an age where he might have expected her to be settled and not emptying his purse running about London as a young lady of fashion, there were some encouraging developments. It was never Morgan’s practice to give a compliment, yet Georgina’s impetuous charm had at least secured the interest of an eminently worthy family like the Schreibers and she had the friendship (or so she claimed) of Lady Constance Villiers, daughter of the Foreign Secretary. From such connections who knew what might follow? And then the roof fell in. In January of 1858, Lady Sudeley gave a ball in Brighton to which Louisa and her daughters were invited. The occasion was a happy one. Lord Sudeley, whose family owned large estates in the town, had just succeeded to the title. It was the first entertainment of the New Year and the 250 guests who assembled in the Pavilion Rooms had another lively topic of conversation, in addition to Lord Sudeley’s good fortune. A few days earlier, amid scenes of incredible pomp and attended by thirteen crowned heads of Europe, the Queen’s eldest daughter had married Frederick, Crown Prince of Prussia. She was seventeen years old. That very Saturday, there had been an immense press of people at a congratulatory Drawing Room, at which the young Princess stood by her mother to receive her guests. Victoria was amazed and delighted at the cordiality shown to the Royal Family on what was for her a watershed experience. (The Princess Royal left England the following Tuesday in a blizzard of snow, attended by immense crowds. At Buckingham Palace, the Queen had parted from her daughter in floods of tears and this mood was communicated to the entire household who sobbed and wailed as at a funeral. Lady Desart, a Lady-in-Waiting, said later it was the first time in her memory that Victoria completely lost control of herself.) There was much to discuss, then. Louisa might borrow a little from the glamour of the Royal Wedding by having boys at Eton, for the school had telegraphed the happy couple on the day of the wedding and asked permission to drag the honeymooners’ carriage through the streets of Windsor, which they accomplished most gallantly and inexpertly. And of course, since the subject of marriage in general was more than usually on everyone’s lips, did the company know that Georgina, etc., etc? Nothing had been fixed, no formal announcements had been made, but Merthyr Guest was such a prepossessing young man and seemed so enamoured of Miss Treherne, etc., etc. Of course he was very young and had first his career at Trinity to contemplate, but he was a dear, kind boy. People who knew the Schreibers rather better than Louisa herself might have been startled at this piece of wishful thinking. A really shrewd observer might have looked behind the understandable note of triumph and discovered an ancient doubt: the development of the plot was only as good as the steadiness of its principal character, which was to say Georgina. Was she going to do something stupid at this critical moment? She was. The officers of the 18th Hussars, who were in barracks at Preston Park, had been invited to the Sudeley Ball. The 18th was hardly a fashionable regiment: it had only recently been reconstituted and of the officers there was not a title among them. It was true that General Scarlett, the hero of Balaclava, had himself served as a cornet with the old 18th; one of the present cornets had the honour to have been born under a gun at Waterloo. But the regiment was originally raised in Yorkshire and re-formed there; and though it had taken part in the festivities surrounding the Royal Wedding, it was too new to have fought in the Crimea, or to have had any part in the putting down of the infamous Mutiny in India. Among those of the regiment who accepted for Lady Sudeley’s ball was a young lieutenant called Harry Weldon. While he cut a fine figure in patrol uniform and was reputed to ride well, his experience of soldiering was practically nil. Like many of his troopers, he came from Yorkshire. He had the languid manners appropriate to a junior officer and was good-looking in a stock sort of way, but he was shockingly provincial, and the past glittering month or so – in Brighton and London – had bewitched him. His expression was frank and open and he was altogether the sort of boy you might entrust at a ball to fetch an ice or search for a shawl, but one whose name you asked only to forget. He was twenty years old and in the present company, a spear-carrier, an extra. If Morgan Treherne had searched the Army List for a week he could not have come up with a less appealing candidate for Georgina’s attentions. To his stupefaction, therefore, a day or so after the ball this young man, this whippersnapper, this uniformed nothing rode out from Preston Barracks to Mayfield on his horse Multum. Flakes of snow fell romantically about his head: when the butler asked him his business, he explained he was there to see Georgina. Antonio (who may have been impressed at a wearisome journey undertaken in vile weather, but knew his master’s temper only too well) went off to see Morgan. Morgan sent back word that the gentleman was not to be admitted. The suitor – for that was the purpose of his visit – turned his horse’s head and set off on the long ride back to barracks. Georgina was summoned and closely questioned. A slow thrill of horror began to run through both parents. Lieutenant William Henry Weldon was the son of a coal merchant from the Sheffield area. According to Georgina, writing in later years, old Mr Weldon actually delivered coal in sacks on a horse and cart, a piece of spite that may or may not have been true. Harry’s father died when he was a child and his mother now lived in a two-bedroom cottage in Beaumaris. There was a grandmother still alive from whom he would inherit and he claimed to be coming into a trust fund two months hence when he reached his majority. In letters which he had the extreme impertinence to send to Morgan, he diminished the value of this fund’s income from the £2000 which he may have boasted of to others. In fact he halved it, perhaps out of prudence or maybe as a demonstration of his good faith. If he hoped to impress his prospective father-in-law by such honesty, the plan backfired badly. When he offered to have his solicitor write to clarify matters further, Morgan ordered the long-suffering Antonio to reply to the letter, not deigning to take up his own pen. Unfortunately, Harry Weldon was either having trouble reading these signals or had badly misjudged the fanatically snobbish Trehernes. Ten days after he had first been shown the door, Louisa burst in on her daughter while she was still in bed. ‘Here’s a letter from that blackguard Weldon. And look what he’s written! Oh the vile swindler! A thousand a year when he’s twenty-one on the 8th of April. Another £2000 when his 84-year-old grandmother dies and another two thousand when his mother dies. And she’s still young – what is it, hardly forty! Oh, I’m very happy he doesn’t have two thousand a year now – you’d be mad enough to want to marry him! Two thousand a year is beggary, but a thousand a year is starvation, it’s to die of hunger!’ If Louisa really spoke these words she stands accused of the same mania that afflicted her husband. Georgina may have recalled the conversation precisely because it threw a bad light on a snobbish and not very worldly woman. What alarmed and infuriated her mother, however, were the circumstances which had led to the letter. They took some explanation. It is unlikely (a crowded ballroom being what it is) that the two had passed more than twenty minutes in each other’s company unchaperoned. What, then, had been said? The question was not one of Harry’s income, but Georgina’s commonsense. He had met and been smitten by a pretty girl. Of all the things she may have told him about herself, it would seem the only thing she had not mentioned was the situation with regard to Merthyr Guest. Nor the volcanic temperament of her father. Or maybe she did – maybe riding over to Mayfield was for him the romantic equivalent of the forlorn hope, beloved of gallant (and suicidal) officers in every army of every epoch. Maybe she did tell him that her father would have him for breakfast and the sheer thrill of that was enough for him to volunteer himself. He knew next to nothing of society, had no connections of any kind, and in every sense nothing to lose: why not make his play for her in as gallant a way as he knew how? Proposing to pretty young women was not a crime and Georgina’s father was hardly likely to shoot him from an upstairs window. (Luckily for a great many people in the nineteenth century, Morgan and firearms seem to have been strangers. That is among his own kind. Poachers in Mayfield spoke darkly of his use of spring guns, aiming to blow the head off anyone daring to take a pheasant on Treherne land.) There was one further possibility. Maybe Harry saw her, was bowled over by her, and what Mr Treherne interpreted as confounded impudence was an advanced form of love sickness. He must have that girl or destroy himself in the attempt. Morgan invented a sobriquet for the unfortunate Hussar. He was swiftly known over the Gate House breakfast table as Ananias, the foolish man who lied to God and paid the penalty. The story comes from the Bible, Acts 5:1–6: But a certain man named Ananias with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession and kept back part of the price, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostle’s feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men but unto God.’ And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the ghost; and great fear came on all those who heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up and carried him out and buried him. In later life and in the full knowledge that Harry would read her words, Georgina declared the nickname well-merited. If she thought so at the time, it throws a lurid light on the whole Treherne family. Was Morgan really to be compared to the apostle Peter, or to God? And had it escaped all of them that a little while after, Sapphira followed her husband into the same grave? In the short term the problem resolved itself. The 18th Hussars were ordered away back to Yorkshire. If it had been a case of lovesickness, the traditional cure seems to have worked. Harry Weldon reflected without bitterness that though he had lost this particular skirmish, he had hardly lost the war. In April he came into his trust money, which had appreciated to £7,500. He was young and good-looking and the world was filled with more or less beautiful women. Were he to stay in the 18th, he might become at the very least a Major. If he exchanged into an Indian regiment, he might one day have his own command. Instead, according to Georgina, he went through the whole of his inheritance in eighteen months, which hardly bespeaks a broken heart. He was easy-going and venal in just the right proportions; a model of a certain kind of junior officer who might continue exactly as Georgina had discovered him: a supernumerary at balls and banquets, a cheerful card-player and a modest rake. But if he thought it was all over, he was wrong. Thackeray at his most cynical could not have dreamed up a better twist to the plot. In May, Merthyr Guest came to his mother and wished her permission to propose to Miss Treherne. Lady Charlotte was startled, for it seemed to her that Georgina was no more than a friend to him and a cruelly joshing one at that. Merthyr explained otherwise. He confessed that he had been seeing Georgina and corresponding with her for much longer than his mother suspected: in fact, since the winter of 1856. He could not now contemplate life without her. Charlotte Schreiber did everything she could to dissuade him. The first favourable impressions Georgina had made had begun to wear off and, while Lady Charlotte enjoyed her chats with Tennyson, the rest of the coterie at Little Holland House filled her with the deepest suspicions. However, her own second marriage placed her in a weak position. She grudgingly gave her consent to an engagement, on condition that it remain secret for a while and that Merthyr should not attempt to marry without her permission. Overjoyed, Merthyr went down to Mayfield to ask Morgan for his daughter’s hand. He was hardly greeted with open arms. As soon as he left, Morgan began bombarding the Schreibers with letters that did not waste time on felicitating the young couple. He wished to know the exact extent of the fortune involved. So far as Morgan was concerned this was the best offer he was going to get for his daughter and it merely remained to settle terms. The tone of these letters was deeply offensive to Lady Charlotte. It seemed her son had been trapped by an adventuress. At Exeter House there were tears and recriminations, Georgina first saying she must obey her father’s wishes and in the next breath saying she must marry Merthyr or perish. A good-hearted compromise was worked out, without Morgan’s knowledge. No decision of any kind would be made until Merthyr came of age in January of 1859. Then, if the two young people were still of the same mind, matters could be straightened out with the ogre of Mayfield. Meanwhile, they might continue under the tacit understanding of an engagement. This seemed to please Georgina and it delighted Merthyr. It was the Long Vacation and Ivor Guest invited his brother to accompany him to Scotland. Georgina was annoyed at this and tried to prevent Merthyr from going. They parted acrimoniously. Only a month after Merthyr’s interview at Mayfield and while he was still in Scotland with his brother, Lady Charlotte paid an afternoon visit to Little Holland House, probably to check up on one of her daughters, a young woman who had also been taken by the free and easy atmosphere of the house. Instead of her daughter, she discovered Georgina ‘closeted alone with Lord Ward in Watts’s studio, Watts being absent at Bowood’. The location was shocking in itself – nobody but the painter crossed the threshold of the red baize door, unless by invitation. The two might as well have been discovered in Mrs Prinsep’s bedroom, so great was the impropriety. The identity of the man found with Georgina was the second awful surprise. William Ward was twenty years older than her and an enormously rich widower. Whatever Lady Charlotte saw when she burst in on them – and it cannot have been innocent – it was enough to persuade her son to disengage himself at once from any undertaking to marry. Lady Schreiber dropped Georgina and all the Trehernes forthwith. Nothing was said, nothing needed to be said: Georgina made no attempt to defend herself. It was disaster. She had recklessly thrown away connections she and her parents had striven for over four years. Word of Georgina’s betrayal of her hospitality got back to Mrs Prinsep and she was dropped there too. Watts’s prophecy had come true: the Bambina had made the wrong choice and her wildness had gone beyond what was permissible even in the easy-going ambiance of Little Holland House. Perhaps it might have been seen differently if Georgina had had some offsetting talent, some serious application to an art or to a cause: that might have mended fences with Mrs Prinsep. But, stung, Georgina now began to make blustering and unpleasant remarks about her hostess. Watts knew which side his bread was buttered. She lost his friendship too. The end came on 28 June, as recounted in Lady Charlotte’s diary: I had thought it my duty last week to write and tell Merthyr how Miss Treherne was going on with Lord Ward, and how she went about telling everybody that her engagement to Merthyr was at an end. I, this morning, heard from Merthyr in reply, greatly grieved, poor fellow. He mentioned having written to her and to Mrs Prinsep for an explanation and I was anxious to hear from the latter what sort of reply she intended to make to him. I did not now find her at home … and so the next morning I went again to Little Holland House and had a long interview with Mrs Prinsep. Her opinion was that Miss Treherne cares nothing for Merthyr, but would gladly marry Lord Ward if she could accomplish it. Morgan must take some of the blame – his dealings with the Schreibers and with Mrs Prinsep had been peremptory in the extreme. In other circumstances, Charlotte Schreiber would perhaps have felt it her Christian duty to rescue Georgina from the clutches of such a monstrous father. Towards her own children she showed an almost supernatural solicitude. (When her fourth son Montague embarked with his regiment at Gravesend, en route for India, she left Wales, where she had been staying with the ironmaster Talbot, and travelled for eight hours by train, only to find the troop convoy had left. Distraught, she tried to persuade the Custom House to let her follow the fleet downstream, where she was convinced they would remain at anchor until dawn the following day. She was at last dissuaded and arrived home at Roehampton at one in the morning utterly exhausted.) Though she did not much like Georgina, she would have exerted herself on her behalf in the same way, if it were not for one thing. Georgina herself had flung away the prize. Ward was almost old enough to be her father and though he was amazingly wealthy, he was never a serious lover – and she knew it. She had indulged herself with a man for the sake of momentary pleasure. She was brought back to Mayfield in disgrace and more or less made a prisoner of her father. He practically forbade her to leave the house. The awful consequence of being Morgan’s daughter was at last plain to her. Taken together, their actions put the kind of marriage she had been promised and the future she envisaged for herself out of the question forever. She had behaved badly and he hardly any better. Socially they were doomed. Nor had Morgan’s political star shone as much as he would have liked since changing his name to Treherne. In 1857 he went up to Coventry to make his third assault on the constituency. To the Freemen of Coventry ’twas Treherne who spoke – Ere the Tories are beat there are crowns to be broke! So here’s to the man who freedom would earn, Let him follow the colours of Morgan Treherne. Neither the candidacy nor the ballads had improved with age. Morgan came fourth out of five on the ballot and, when given the courtesy of a speech, held up his famous presentation watch, declaring bitterly: ‘It is a good watch; I value it highly, though it has cost me dear, for it has kept better time than its presenters of 1837 have kept faith with me.’ In April 1859 he tried again and was once again defeated. This time he was stung into reminding the electors of Ellice’s boast that Morgan would not serve Coventry for as long as he had breath. Ellice (who had not even come to Coventry to oversee his reelection, pleading gout as his excuse) at once denied he had ever said this and forced a humiliating public retraction. Victorian England was not so large that Morgan’s antics at Coventry and Georgina’s at Little Holland House could not be connected. In so far as they were known at all outside Sussex, father and daughter had contrived to make too many enemies. The campaign to find the £10,000-a-year man lay in tatters. Harry Weldon, meanwhile, was smoking cigars and playing billiards in barracks in his native Yorkshire. He had completely forgotten Georgina and there had been no correspondence between them since January 1858. To his consternation, he was summoned back from the wilderness. The plump and enchanting girl he had bid for and lost now amazed him by writing to him. Unlike Ananias faced with the wrath of God, he was explicitly commanded not to give up the ghost. On the contrary, under conditions of the greatest secrecy, he found himself egged on to indiscretions he must often have pondered in the quiet of his quarters. He took leave to travel to Brighton. The day is fixed, my beloved! On Thursday I think, darling, the best way for us to meet is for you to be waiting for me in a fly at the bottom of the colonnade, your horse’s head turned towards the left and the vehicle itself not quite at the edge of the street: almost – but not quite – opposite Ayler the hat woman. I am sure to be there by half past ten. Keep the blinds of your carriage down and have patience, my Harry, not to look out. Then, darling, when I see you are there, I will open the carriage door, jump in, and you tell the coachman before-hand to drive out of town. On this particular occasion, he had enough gallantry to obey her instructions up to a point. But there was prudence in Harry, or maybe it was callousness. That Thursday, which must have cost her dear in deception, ended in farce. At half past ten she burst out of the hatshop, saw the carriage and ran towards it. She flung open the door. Inside, in the dark, his soldier servant greeted her with the gloomy words, ‘Mr Weldon is not here.’ Though setbacks like this did not deter her, if she was looking for gallantry in Harry she was soon disappointed. He wanted her physically with a passion that delighted her but was, in most other ways, the least gallant officer in the British Army. Just how much she told him about Merthyr and Lord Ward is unknown but it would hardly have made a difference – Harry knew nothing about society and cared less. All he saw was that a plum had fallen into his lap. She was used to the indolence of titled young men; her brother Dal, newly commissioned in the West Kent Militia, was busy learning the same laconic, drawling manners. Harry’s lazy good humour came from a different and more homely source. Money burned a hole in his pocket, the Army bored him, and he had no plans. She had all the plans. His letters to the prison that Mayfield had become were ordered to be wrapped in sheet music from Chappells. She even told him what scores to buy – Verdi. There were a handful of clandestine meetings. Writing many years later, her nephew remarked, ‘No doubt existed that this was anything other than a love match.’ He was quoting family history, for he himself had yet to be born. The evidence is all the other way. Harry was being driven along by forces out of his control. The only other explanation is that he was cynically abusing her. Of this time, when all her greater plans had been dashed to the ground, she writes of Morgan: As we never dared open our lips in his presence, scarcely daring to breathe without his snubbing us unmercifully, and as he allowed us no amusement whatever, not even that of teaching the choir in the church at Mayfield, I left the paternal roof, where otherwise I should have been so happy, without much regret. I had no taste or need of marriage; in a convent I should have been the happiest of women, without a desire, without an aspiration: I was endowed with the most placid temperament in the world. She was fooling herself. There is something quite manic in her pursuit of a little provincial Hussar she hardly knew. This is a woman in her twenties lighting matches in a gunpowder factory. At last, at the beginning of 1860, Harry came to her and explained that he had squandered his entire inheritance and all that was left for him to do was to go to India and there blow out his brains. Instead, they married secretly at Aldershot on Saturday, 21 April 1860. It was snowing in London that day. There was war in the air, as well as snow. All the docks and installations had been fortified and the previous month the Queen had received 2500 volunteer officers in review. Millais, Rossetti and even Watts joined the Artists’ Rifles, riding about Wimbledon Common on horses they could hardly manage. Most amazing of all, the decrepit and tottering Poodle Byng enlisted in the Queen’s Westminsters and was present on parade, just as he had been for George III in the levy of volunteers fifty-seven years earlier. It was a strange time for the happy couple to be rattling towards Dover and the continent, but a letter from Lord Clarendon to the Duchess of Manchester may hint at the suddenness of the marriage: Don’t you remember Miss Treherne, who sang so well at Ashridge & the Poodle was so in love with? She has just eloped with Mr Welldon a respectable man of 3000 a year but who her father did not think fine enough for her. My sister knows her very well & had a letter from her to say how impossible it wd. have been for her to have acted otherwise. The £3000 a year did not exist of course. What was the reason for her being unable to act otherwise? Whether she was pregnant going across to Dieppe we do not know (though she was very soon after). Although Harry was married in uniform and attended by his fellow officers, he sold his commission the same day. At Paris, Georgina wrote to her brother Dal, asking him to intercede with her father. But it was no use. Morgan cut her off without a penny and she never saw him again. Harry had won his prize after all. The circumstances were less than ideal. He had met her parents only once at the Sudeley Ball. He knew her only through the days and nights they had stolen together. She knew nothing at all of his family and astounded him by supposing Manchester to be a town in Yorkshire. As the coach headed south and Georgina practised her French and Italian on the natives, their destination was – where else? – Florence. Less than two years after being presented at Court, a week after shaming her parents, she was talking with a wildness and lack of realism he must already have grown used to, of going on the stage. No matter that the Mediterranean sun began to shine on them and leaving aside the question of whether or not she was already pregnant, they were effectively ruined. The only way back from a fiasco like this was through love. Or genius. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39771021&lfrom=390579938) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.