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Isabel Burton was the daughter of Hon. Henry Raymond Arundell (1799–1886) of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, nephew of James Everard Arundell (1785–1834), 10th Baron Arundell of Wardour. Her mother, Eliza, was the sister of Robert Tolver Gerard (1808–1887), 13th Baronet of Bryn, Lancashire, and 1st Baron Gerard of Bryn.Isabel was one of eleven children born into the House of Wardour, a respected and well-to-do Roman Catholic family in England. She grew up enmeshed in London society and attended the convent of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, where she excelled as a writer and in theological studies.During the Crimean War, Isabel was refused three times in her quest to be a "Nightingale nurse" and instead set up a group of 150 like-minded women from Catholic families known as the Stella Club to assist the wives and children of soldiers who had married without permission and for whom the Army took no responsibility. Such women and children were often in dire circumstances at home. Isabel and her group went into the slums of London, against the advice of police, to distribute assistance.
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Birth and Lineage
My Childhood and Youth
My First Season
Boulogne: I Meet My Destiny
Four Years of Hope Deferred
Richard Loves Me
My Continental Tour: Italy
My Continental Tour: Switzerland
They Meet Again
A Trip to Portugal
Our Expedition into the Interior
Morro Velho and its Environs
My Lonely Ride to Rio
My Journey to Damascus
In and About Damascus
Early Days at Damascus
Through the Desert to Palmyra
Bludán in the Anti-Lebanon
Jerusalem and the Holy Land
The True Reasons of Burton's Recall
The Passing of the Cloud
Early Years at Trieste
The Journey to Bombay
The Shadows Lengthen
Gordon and the Burtons
The Sword Hangs
The Sword Falls
The Truth About “The Scented Garden”
The Return to England
The Tinkling of the Camel’s Bell
Lady Burton began her autobiography a few months before she died, but in consequence of rapidly failing health she made little progress with it. After her death, which occurred in the spring of last year, it seemed good to her sister and executrix, Mrs. Fitzgerald, to entrust the unfinished manuscript to me, together with sundry papers and letters, with a view to my compiling the biography. Mrs. Fitzgerald wished me to undertake this work, as I had the good fortune to be a friend of the late Lady Burton, and one with whom she frequently discussed literary matters; we were, in fact, thinking of writing a romance together, but her illness prevented us.
The task of compiling this book has not been an easy one, mainly for two reasons. In the first place, though Lady Burton published comparatively little, she was a voluminous writer, and she left behind her such a mass of letters and manuscripts that the sorting of them alone was a formidable task. The difficulty has been to keep the book with limits. In the second place, Lady Burton has written the Life of her husband; and though in that book she studiously avoided putting herself forward, and gave to him all the honour and the glory, her life was so absolutely bound up with his, that of necessity she covered some of the ground which I have had to go over again, though not from the same point of view. So much has been written concerning Sir Richard Burton that it is not necessary for me to tell again the story of his life here, and I have therefore been able to write wholly of his wife, an equally congenial task. Lady Burton was as remarkable as a woman as her husband was as a man. Her personality was as picturesque, her individuality is unique, and, allowing for her sex, her life was as full and varied as his.
It has been my aim, wherever possible, throughout this book to let Lady Burton tell the story of her life in her own words, and keep my narrative in the background. To this end I have revised and incorporated the fragment of autobiography which was cut short by her death, and I have also pieced together all her letters, manuscripts, and journals which have a bearing on her travels and adventures. I have striven to give a faithful portrait of her as revealed by herself. In what I have succeeded, the credit is hers alone: in what I have failed, the fault is mine, for no biographer could have wished for a more eloquent subject than this interesting and fascinating woman. Thus, however imperfectly I may have done my share of the work, it remains the record of a good and noble life — a life lifted up, a life unique in its self-sacrifice and devotion.
Last December, when this book was almost completed, a volume was published calling itself The True Life of Captain Sir Richard F. Burton, written by his niece, Miss Georgiana M. Stisted, stated to be issued “with the authority and approval of the Burton family.” This statement is not correct — at any rate not wholly so; for several of the relatives of the late Sir Richard Burton have written to Lady Burton’s sister to say that they altogether disapprove of it. The book contained a number of cruel and unjust charges against Lady Burton, which were rendered worse by the fact that they were not made until she was dead and could no longer defend herself. Some of these attacks were so paltry and malevolent, and so utterly foreign to Lady Burton’s generous and truthful character, that they may be dismissed with contempt. The many friends who knew and loved her have not credited them for one moment, and the animus with which they were written is so obvious that they have carried little weight with the general public. But three specific charges call for particular refutation, as silence on them might be misunderstood. I refer to the statements that Lady Burton was the cause of her husband’s recall from Damascus; that she acted in bad faith in the matter of his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church; and to the impugning of the motives which led her to burn The Scented Garden. I should like to emphasize the fact that none of these controversial questions formed part of the original scheme of this book, and they would not have been alluded to had it not been for Miss Stisted’s unprovoked attack upon Lady Burton’s memory. It is only with reluctance, and solely in a defensive spirit, that they are touched upon now. Even so, I have suppressed a good deal, for there is no desire on the part of Lady Burton’s relatives or myself to justify her at the expense of the husband whom she loved, and who loved her. But in vindicating her it has been necessary to tell the truth. If therefore, in defending Lady Burton against these accusations, certain facts have come to light which would otherwise have been left in darkness, those who have wantonly attacked the dead have only themselves to blame.
In conclusion, I should like to acknowledge my indebtedness to those who have kindly helped me to make this book as complete as possible. I am especially grateful to Mrs. Fitzgerald for much encouragement and valuable help, including her reading of the proofs as they went through the press, so that the book may be truly described as an authorized biography. I also wish to thank Miss Plowman, the late Lady Burton’s secretary, who has been of assistance in many ways. I acknowledge with gratitude the permission of Captain L. H. Gordon to publish certain letters which the late General Gordon wrote to Sir Richard and Lady Burton, and the assistance which General Gordon’s niece, Miss Dunlop, kindly gave me in this matter. My thanks are likewise due to the Executors of the late Lord Leighton for permission to publish Lord Leighton’s portrait of Sir Richard Burton; to Lady Thornton and others for many illustrations; and to Lady Salisbury, Lady Guendolen Ramsden, Lord Llandaff, Sir Henry Elliot, Mr. W. F. D. Smith, Baroness Paul de Ralli, Miss Bishop, Miss Alice Bird, Madame de Gutmansthal-Benvenuti, and others, for permission to publish sundry letters in this book.
W. H. WILKINS.
I have known love and yearning from the years
Since mother-milk I drank, nor e’er was free.
Alf Laylah wa Laylah (Burton’s “Arabian Nights”).
Man is known among men as his deeds attest,
Which make noble origin manifest.
Alf Laylah wa Laylah (Burton’s “Arabian Nights”).
Isabel, Lady Burton, was by birth an Arundell of Wardour, a daughter of one of the oldest and proudest houses of England. The Arundells of Wardour are a branch of the great family of whom it was sung:
Ere William fought and Harold fell
There were Earls of Arundell.
The Earls of Arundell before the Conquest are somewhat lost in the mists of antiquity, and they do not affect the branch of the family from which Lady Burton sprang. This branch traces its descent in a straight line from one Roger de Arundell, who, according to Domesday, had estates in Dorset and Somerset, and was possessed of twenty-eight lordships. The Knights of Arundell were an adventurous race. One of the most famous was Sir John Arundell, a valiant commander who served Henry VI. in France. The grandson of this doughty knight, also Sir John Arundell, was made a Knight Banneret by Henry VII. for his valour at the sieges of Tiroven and Tournay, and the battle that ensued. At his death his large estates were divided between the two sons whom he had by his first wife, the Lady Eleanor Grey, daughter of the Marquis of Dorset, whose half-sister was the wife of Henry VII. The second son, Sir Thomas Arundell, was given Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, and became the ancestor of the Arundells of Wardour.
The House of Wardour was therefore founded by Sir Thomas Arundell, who was born in 1500. He had the good fortune in early life to become the pupil, and ultimately to win the friendship, of Cardinal Wolsey. He played a considerable part throughout the troublous times which followed on the King’s quarrel with the Pope, and attained great wealth and influence. He was a cousin-german of Henry VIII., and he was allied to two of Henry’s ill-fated queens through his marriage with Margaret, daughter of Lord Edmond Howard, son of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk. His wife was a cousin-german of Anne Boleyn and a sister of Catherine Howard. Sir Thomas Arundell was a man of intellectual powers and administrative ability. He became Chancellor to Queen Catherine Howard, and he stood high in the favour of Henry VIII. But in the following reign evil days came upon him. He was accused of conspiring with the Lord Protector Somerset to kill the Earl of Northumberland, a charge utterly false, the real reason of his impeachment being that Sir Thomas had been chief adviser to the Duke of Somerset and had identified himself with his policy. He was beheaded on Tower Hill a few days after the execution of the Duke of Somerset. Thus died the founder of the House of Wardour.
In Sir Thomas Arundell’s grandson, who afterwards became first Lord Arundell of Wardour, the adventurous spirit of the Arundells broke forth afresh. When a young man, Thomas Arundell, commonly called “The Valiant,” went over to Germany, and served as a volunteer in the Imperial army in Hungary. He fought against the Turks, and in an engagement at Grau took their standard with his own hands. On this account Rudolph II., Emperor of Germany, created him Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and decreed that “every of his children and their descendants for ever, of both sexes, should enjoy that title.” So runs the wording of the charter.1 On Sir Thomas Arundell’s return to England a warm dispute arose among the Peers whether such a dignity, so conferred by a foreign potentate, should be allowed place or privilege in England. The matter was referred to Queen Elizabeth, who answered, “that there was a close tie of affection between the Prince and subject, and that as chaste wives should have no glances but for their own spouses, so should faithful subjects keep their eyes at home and not gaze upon foreign crowns; that we for our part do not care that our sheep should wear a stranger’s marks, nor dance after the whistle of every foreigner.” Yet it was she who sent Sir Thomas Arundell in the first instance to the Emperor Rudolph with a letter of introduction, in which she spoke of him as her “dearest cousin,” and stated that the descent of the family of Arundell was derived from the blood royal. James I., while following in the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth, and refusing to acknowledge the title conferred by the Emperor, acknowledged Sir Thomas Arundell’s worth by creating him a Baron of England under the title of Baron Arundell of Wardour. It is worthy of note that James II. recognized the right of the title of Count of the Holy Roman Empire to Lord Arundell and all his descendants of both sexes in a document of general interest to Catholic families. Wardour Castle
Thomas, second Baron Arundell of Wardour, married Blanche, daughter of the Earl of Worcester. This Lady Arundell calls for special notice, as she was in many ways the prototype of her lineal descendant, Isabel. When her husband was away serving with the King’s army in the Great Rebellion, Lady Arundell bravely defended Wardour for nine days, with only a handful of men, against the Parliamentary forces who besieged it. Lady Arundell then delivered up the castle on honourable terms, which the besiegers broke when they took possession. They were, however, soon dislodged by Lord Arundell, who, on his return, ordered a mine to be sprung under his castle, and thus sacrificed the ancient and stately pile to his loyalty. He and his wife then turned their backs on their ruined home, and followed the King’s fortunes, she sharing with uncomplaining love all her husband’s trials and privations. Lord Arundell, like the rest of the Catholic nobility of England, was a devoted Royalist. He raised at his own expense a regiment of horse for the service of Charles I., and in the battle of Lansdowne, when fighting for the King, he was shot in the thigh by a brace of pistol bullets, whereof he died in his Majesty’s garrison at Oxford. He was buried with great pomp in the family vault at Tisbury. His devoted wife, like her descendant Lady Burton, that other devoted wife who strongly resembled her, survived her husband barely six years. She died at Winchester; but she was buried by his side at Tisbury, where her monument may still be seen.
Henry, third Lord Arundell, succeeded his father in his titles and honours. Like many who had made great sacrifices to the Royal cause, he did not find an exceeding great reward when the King came into his own again. As Arundell of Wardour was one of the strictest and most loyal of the Catholic families of England, its head was marked out for Puritan persecution. In 1678 Lord Arundell was, with four other Catholic lords, committed a prisoner to the Tower, upon the information of the infamous Titus Oates and other miscreants who invented the “Popish Plots.” Lord Arundell was confined in the Tower until 1683, when he was admitted to bail. Five years’ imprisonment for no offence save fidelity to his religion and loyalty to his king was cruel injustice; but in those days, when the blood of the best Catholic families in England ran like water on Tower Hill, Lord Arundell was lucky to have escaped with his head. On James II.‘s accession to the throne he was sworn of the Privy Council and held high office. On King James’s abdication he retired to his country seat, where he lived in great style and with lavish hospitality. Among other things he kept a celebrated pack of hounds, which afterwards went to Lord Castlehaven, and thence were sold to Hugo Meynell, and became the progenitors of the famous Quorn pack.
Henry, the sixth Baron, is noteworthy as being the last Lord Arundell of Wardour from whom Isabel was directly descended (see p. 9), and with him our immediate interest in the Arundells of Wardour ceases. Lady Burton was the great-granddaughter of James Everard Arundell, his third and youngest son. Her father, Mr. Henry Raymond Arundell, was twice married. His first wife died within a year of their marriage, leaving one son. Two years later, in 1830, Mr. Henry Arundell married Miss Eliza Gerard, a sister of Sir Robert Gerard of Garswood, who was afterwards created Lord Gerard. The following year, 1831, Isabel, the subject of this memoir, was born.
I have dwelt on Lady Burton's lineage for several reasons. In the first place, she herself would have wished it. She paid great attention to her pedigree, and at one time contemplated writing a book on the Arundells of Wardour, and with this view collected a mass of information, which, with characteristic generosity, she afterwards placed at Mr. Yeatman’s disposal for his History of the House of Arundell. She regarded her forefathers with reverence, and herself as their product. But proud though she was of her ancestry, there never was a woman freer from the vulgarity of thrusting it forward upon all and sundry, or of expecting to be honoured for it alone. Though of noble descent, not only on her father’s side, but on her mother’s as well (for the Gerards are a family of eminence and antiquity, springing from the common ancestor of the Dukes of Leinster in Ireland and the Earls of Plymouth, now extinct, in England), yet she counted it as nothing compared with the nobility of the inner worth, the majesty which clothes the man, be he peasant or prince, with righteousness. She often said, “The man only is noble who does noble deeds,” and she always held that
He, who to ancient wreaths can bring no more
From his own worth, dies bankrupt on the score.
Another reason why I have called attention to Lady Burton’s ancestry is because she attached considerable importance to the question of heredity generally, quite apart from any personal aspect. She looked upon it as a field in which Nature ever reproduces herself, not only with regard to the physical organism, but also the psychical qualities. But with it all she was no pessimist, for she believed that there was in every man an ever rallying force against the inherited tendencies to vice and sin. She was always “on the side of the angels.”
I remember her once saying: “Since I leave none to come after me, I must needs strive to be worthy of those who have gone before me.”
And she was worthy — she, the daughter of an ancient race, which seems to have found in her its crowning consummation and expression. If one were fanciful, one could see in her many-sided character, reflected as in the facets of a diamond, the great qualities which had been conspicuous in her ancestors. One could see in her, plainly portrayed, the roving, adventurous spirit which characterized the doughty Knights of Arundell in days when the field of travel and adventure was much more limited than now. One could mark the intellectual and administrative abilities, and perhaps the spice of worldly wisdom, which were conspicuous in the founder of the House of Wardour. One could note in her the qualities of bravery, dare-devilry, and love of conflict which shone out so strongly in the old Knight of Arundell who raised the sieges of Tiroven and Tournay, and in “The Valiant” who captured with his own hands the banner of the infidel. One could see the reflex of that loyalty to the throne which marked the Lord Arundell who died fighting for his king. One could trace in her the same tenacity and devotion with which all her race has clung to the ancient faith and which sent one of them to the Tower. Above all one could trace her likeness to Blanche Lady Arundell, who held Wardour at her lord’s bidding against the rebels. She was like her in her lion-hearted bravery, in her proud but generous spirit, in her determination and resource, and above all in her passionate wifely devotion to the man to whom she felt herself “destined from the beginning.”
In sooth they were a goodly company, these Arundells of Wardour, and ’tis such as they, brave men and good women in every rank of life, who have made England the nation she is to-day. Yet of them all there was none nobler, none truer, none more remarkable than this late flower of their race, Isabel Burton.
1 The name of Arundell of Wardour appears in the official Austrian lists of the Counts of the Empire. The title is till enjoyed by Lord Arundell and all the members of the Arundell family of both sexes. Lady Burton always used it out of England, and took rank and precedence at foreign courts as the Countess Isabel Arundell (of Wardour). She used to say, characteristically: “If the thing had been bought, I should not have cared; but since it was given for a brave deed I am right proud of it.”
As star knows star across the ethereal sea,
So soul feels soul to all eternity.
Blessed be they who invented pens, ink, and paper!
I have heard men speak with infinite contempt of authoresses. As a girl I did not ask my poor little brains whether this mental attitude towards women was generous in the superior animal or not; but I did like to slope off to my own snug little den, away from my numerous family, and scribble down the events of my ordinary, insignificant, uninteresting life, and write about my little sorrows, pleasures, and peccadilloes. I was only one of the “wise virgins,” providing for the day when I should be old, blind, wrinkled, forgetful, and miserable, and might like such a record to refresh my failing memory. So I went back, by way of novelty, beyond my memory, and gleaned details from my father.
For those who like horoscopes, I was born on a Sunday at ten minutes to 9 a.m., March 20, 1831, at 4, Great Cumberland Place, near the Marble Arch. I am not able to give the aspect of the planets on this occasion; but, unlike most babes, I was born with my eyes open, whereupon my father predicted that I should be very “wide awake.” As soon as I could begin to move about and play, I had such a way of pointing my nose at things, and of cocking my ears like a kitten, that I was called “Puss,” and shall probably be called Puss when I am eighty. I was christened Isabel, after my father’s first wife, née Clifford, one of his cousins. She died, after a short spell of happiness, leaving him with one little boy, who at the time I was born was between three and four years old.
It is a curious fact that my mother, Elizabeth Gerard, and Isabel Clifford, my father’s first wife, were bosom friends, school-fellows, and friends out in the world together; and amongst other girlish confidences they used to talk to one another about the sort of man each would marry. Both their men were to be tall, dark, and majestic; one was to be a literary man, and a man of artistic tastes and life; the other was to be a statesman. When Isabel Clifford married my father, Henry Raymond Arundell (of Wardour), her cousin, my mother, seeing he was a small, fair, boyish-looking man, whose chief hobbies were hunting and shooting, said, “I am ashamed of you, Isabel! How can you?” Nevertheless she used to go and help her to make her baby-clothes for the coming boy. After Isabel’s death nobody, except my father, deplored her so much as her dear friend my mother; so that my father only found consolation (for he would not go out nor meet anybody in the intensity of his grief) in talking to my mother of his lost wife. From sympathy came pity, from pity grew love, and three years after Isabel’s death my mother and my father were married. They had eleven children, great and small; I mean that some only lived to be baptized and died, some lived a few years, and some grew up. 3
To continue my own small life, I can remember distinctly everything that has happened to me from the age of three. I do not know whether I was pretty or not; there is a very sweet miniature of me with golden hair and large blue eyes, and clad in a white muslin frock and gathering flowers, painted by one of the best miniature painters of 1836, when miniatures were in vogue and photographs unknown. My mother said I was “lovely,” and my father said I was “all there”; but I am told my uncles and aunts used to put my mother in a rage by telling her how ugly I was. My father adored me, and spoilt me absurdly; he considered me an original, a bit of “perfect nature.” My mother was equally fond of me, but severe — all her spoiling, on principle, went to her step-son, whose name was Theodore.
When my father and mother were first married, James Everard Arundell, my father’s first cousin, and my godfather, was the then Lord Arundell of Wardour. He was reputed to be the handsomest peer of the day, and he was married to a sister of the Duke of Buckingham. He invited my father and mother, as the two wives were friends, to come and occupy one wing of Wardour immediately after their marriage, and they did so. When James Everard died, my parents left Wardour, and took a house in Montagu Place at the top of Bryanston Square, and passed their winters hunting at Leamington.
We children were always our parents’ first care. Great attention was paid to our health, to our walks, to our dress, our baths, and our persons; our food was good, but of the plainest; we had a head nurse and three nursery-maids; and, unlike the present, everything was upstairs — day nurseries and night nurseries and schoolroom. The only times we were allowed downstairs were at two o’clock luncheon (our dinner), and to dessert for about a quarter of an hour if our parents were dining alone or had very intimate friends. On these occasions I was dressed in white muslin and blue ribbons, and Theodore, my step-brother, in green velvet with turn-over lace collar after the fashion of that time. We were not allowed to speak unless spoken to; we were not allowed to ask for anything unless it was given to us. We kissed our father’s and mother’s hands, and asked their blessing before going upstairs, and we stood upright by the side of them all the time we were in the room. In those days there was no lolling about, no Tommy-keep-your-fingers-out-of-the-jam, no Dick-crawling-under-the-table-pinching-people’s-legs as nowadays. We children were little gentlemen and ladies, and people of the world from our birth; it was the old school. The only diversion from this strict rule was an occasional drive in the park with mother, in a dark green chariot with hammer-cloth, and green and gold liveries and powdered wigs for coachman and footman: no one went into the park in those days otherwise. My daily heart-twinges were saying good-night to my mother, always with an impression that I might not see her again, and the other terror was the old-fashioned rushlight shade, like a huge cylinder with holes in it, which made hideous shadows on the bedroom walls, and used to frighten me horribly every time I woke. The most solemn thing to me was the old-fashioned Charley, or watchman, pacing up and down the street, and singing in deep and mournful tone, “Past one o’clock, and a cloudy morning.”
At the age of ten I was sent to the Convent of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, New Hall, Chelmsford, and left there when I was sixteen. In one sense my leaving school so early was a misfortune; I was just at the age when one begins to understand and love one’s studies. I ought to have been kept at the convent, or sent to some foreign school; but both my father and mother wanted to have me at home with them.
I want to describe my home of that period. It was called Furze Hall, near Ingatestone, Essex. Dear place! I can shut my eyes and see it now. It was a white, straggling, old-fashioned, half-cottage, half-farmhouse, built by bits, about a hundred yards from the road, from which it was completely hidden by trees. It was buried in bushes, ivy, and flowers. Creepers covered the walls and the verandahs, and crawled in at the windows, making the house look like a nest; it was surrounded by a pretty flower garden and shrubberies, and the pasture-land had the appearance of a small park. There were stables and kennels. Behind the house a few woods and fields, perhaps fifty acres, and a little bit of water, all enclosed by a ring fence, comprised our domain. Inside the house the hall had the appearance of the main cabin of a man-of-war, and opened all around into rooms by various doors: one into a small library, which led to a pretty, cheerful little drawing-room, with two large windows down to the ground; one opened on to a trim lawn, the other into a conservatory; another door opened into a smoking-room, for the male part of the establishment, and the opposite one into a little chapel; and a dining-room, running off by the back door with glass windows to the ground, led to the garden. There was a pretty honeysuckle and jessamine porch, which rose just under my window, in which wrens and robins built their nests, and birds and bees used to pay me a visit on summer evenings. We had many shady walks, arbours, bowers, a splendid slanting laurel hedge, and a beautiful bed of dahlias, all colours and shades. A beech-walk like the aisle of a church had a favourite summer-house at the end. The pretty lawn was filled, as well as the greenhouse, with the choicest flowers; and we had rich crops of grapes, the best I ever knew. I remember a mulberry tree, under the shade of which was a grave and tombstone and epitaph, the remains and memorial of a faithful old dog; and I remember a pretty pink may tree, a large white rose, and an old oak, with a seat round it. Essex is generally flat; but around us it was undulating and well-wooded, and the lanes and drives and rides were beautiful. We were rather in a valley, and a pretty road wound up a rise, at the top of which our tall white chimneys could be seen smoking through the trees. The place could boast no grandeur; but it was my home, I passed my childhood there, and loved it.
We used to have great fun on a large bit of water in the park of one of our neighbours, — in the ice days in winter with sledges, skating, and sliding; in the summer-time we used to scamper all over the country with long poles and jump over the hedges. Nevertheless, I had a great deal of solitude, and I passed much time in the woods reading and contemplating. Disraeli’s Tancred and similar occult books were my favourites; but Tancred, with its glamour of the East, was the chief of them, and I used to think out after a fashion my future life, and try to solve great problems. I was forming my character.
And as I was as a child, so I am now. I love solitude. I have met with people who dare not pass a moment alone; many seem to dread themselves. I find no greater happiness than to be alone out of doors, either on the sea-beach or in a wood, and there reflect. With me solitude is a necessary consolation; I can soothe my miseries, enjoy my pleasures, form my mind, reconcile myself to disappointments, and plan my conduct. A person may be sorrowful without being alone, and the mind may be alone in a large assembly, in a crowded city, but not so pleasantly. I have heard that captives can solace themselves by perpetually thinking of what they loved best; but there is a danger in excess of solitude, lest our thoughts run the wrong way and ferment into eccentricity. Every right-minded person must think, and thought comes only in solitude. He must ponder upon what he is, what he has been, what he may become. The energies of the soul rise from the veiled obscurity it is placed in during its contact with the world. It is when alone that we obtain cheerful calmness and content, and prepare for the hour of action. Alone, we acquire a true notion of things, bear the misfortunes of life calmly, look firmly on the pride and insolence of the great, and dare to think for ourselves, which the majority of the great dare not. When can the soul feel that it lives, and is great, free, noble, immortal, if not in thought? Oh! one can learn in solitude what the worldly have no idea of. True it is that some souls capable of reflection plunge themselves into an endless abyss, and know not where to stop. I have never felt one of those wild, joyous moments when we brood over our coming bliss, and create a thousand glorious consequences. But I have known enough of sorrow to appreciate rightly any moment without an immediate care. There are moments of deep feeling, when one must be alone in self-communion, alike to encounter good fortune or danger and despair, even if one draws out the essence of every misery in thought.
I was enthusiastic about gypsies, Bedawin Arabs, and everything Eastern and mystic, and especially about a wild and lawless life. Very often, instead of going to the woods, I used to go down a certain green lane; and if there were any oriental gypsies there, I would go into their camp and sit for an hour or two with them. I was strictly forbidden to associate with them in our lanes, but it was my delight. When they were only travelling tinkers or basket-menders, I was very obedient; but wild horses would not have kept me out of the camps of the oriental, yet English-named, tribes of Burton, Cooper, Stanley, Osbaldiston, and one other tribe whose name I forget. My particular friend was Hagar Burton, a tall, slender, handsome, distinguished, refined woman, who had much influence in her tribe. Many an hour did I pass with her (she used to call me “Daisy”), and many a little service I did them when any of her tribe were sick, or got into a scrape with the squires anent poultry, eggs, or other things. The last day I saw Hagar Burton in her camp she cast my horoscope and wrote it in Romany. The rest of the tribe presented me with a straw fly-catcher of many colours, which I still have. The horoscope was translated to me by Hagar. The most important part of it was this:
“You will cross the sea, and be in the same town with your Destiny and know it not. Every obstacle will rise up against you, and such a combination of circumstances, that it will require all your courage, energy, and intelligence to meet them. Your life will be like one swimming against big waves; but God will be with you, so you will always win. You will fix your eye on your polar star, and you will go for that without looking right or left. You will bear the name of our tribe, and be right proud of it. You will be as we are, but far greater than we. Your life is all wandering, change, and adventure. One soul in two bodies in life or death, never long apart. Show this to the man you take for your husband. — Hagar Burton.”
She also prophesied:
“You shall have plenty to choose from, and wait for years; but you are destined to him from the beginning. The name of our tribe shall cause you many a sorrowful, humiliating hour; but when the rest who sought him in the heyday of his youth and strength fade from his sight, you shall remain bright and purified to him as the morning star, which hangs like a diamond drop over the sea. Remember that your destiny for your constancy will triumph, the name we have given you will be yours, and the day will come when you will pray for it, and be proud of it.”
Much other talk I had with Hagar Burton sitting around the camp-fire, and then she went from me; and I saw her but once again, and that after many years.
This was the ugliest time of my life. Every girl has an ugly age. I was tall, plump, and meant to be fair, but was always tanned and sunburnt. I knew my good points. What girl does not? I had large, dark blue, earnest eyes, and long, black eyelashes and eyebrows, which seemed to grow shorter the older I got. I had very white regular teeth, and very small hands and feet and waist; but I fretted because I was too fat to slip into what is usually called “our stock size,” and my complexion was by no means pale and interesting enough to please me. From my gypsy tastes I preferred a picturesque toilette to a merely smart one. I had beautiful hair, very long, thick and soft, with five shades in it, and of a golden brown. My nose was aquiline. I had all the material for a very good figure, and once a sculptor wanted to sculpt me, but my mother would not allow it, as she thought I should be ashamed of my figure later, when I had fined down. I used to envy maypole, broomstick girls, who could dress much prettier than I could. I was either fresh and wild with spirits, or else melancholy and full of pathos. I wish I could give as faithful a picture of my character; but we are apt to judge ourselves either too favourably or too severely, and so I would rather quote what a phrenologist wrote of me at this time:
“When Isabel Arundell loves, her affection will be something extraordinary, her devotion great — in fact, too great. It will be her leading passion, and influence her whole life. Everything will be sacrificed for one man, and she will be constant, unchangeable, and jealous of his affections. In short, he will be her salvation or perdition! Her temper is good, but she is passionate; not easily roused, but when violently irritated she might be a perfect little demon. She is, however, forgiving. She is full of originality and humour, and her utter naturalness will pass for eccentricity. She loves society, wherein she is wild and gay; when alone, she is thoughtful and melancholy. She is ambitious, sagacious, and intellectual, and will attract attention by a certain simple dignity, by a look in her eye and a peculiar tone of her voice. To sum her up: Her nature is noble, ardent, generous, honourable, and good-hearted. She has courage, both animal and mental. Her faults are the noble and dashing ones, the spicy kind to enlist one’s sympathies, the weeds that spring from a too luxuriant soil.”
Thus wrote a professional phrenologist of me, and a friend who was fond of me at the time endorsed it in every word. With regard to the ambition, I always felt that if I were a man I should like to be a great general or statesman, to have travelled everywhere, to have seen and learnt everything; done everything; in fine, to be the Man of the Day!
When I was between seventeen and eighteen years of age, we left Furze Hall and went to London. The place in which we have passed our youthful days, be it ever so dull, possesses a secret charm.
I performed several pilgrimages of adieu to every spot connected with the bright reminiscences of youth. I fancied no other fireside would be so cosy, that I could sleep in no other room, no fields so green. Those who know what it is to leave their quasi-native place for the first time, never to return; to know every stick and stone in the place for miles round, and take an everlasting farewell of them all; to have one’s pet animals destroyed; to make a bonfire of all the things that one does not want desecrated by stranger hands; to sit on some height and gaze on the general havoc, to reflect on what is, what has been, and what may be in a strange world, amidst strange faces; to shake hands with a crowd of poor old servants, peasants, and humble friends, and not a dry eye to be seen, — those who have tasted something of this will sympathize with my feelings then. “Ah, miss,” the old retainers said, “we shall have no more jolly Christmases; we shall have no beef, bread, and flannels next year; the hall will not be decked with festoons of holly, there will be no more music and dancing!” “No more snapdragons and round games,” quoth the gamekeeper; and his voice trembled, and I saw the tears in his eyes and in the eyes of them all.
So broke up our little home in Essex, and we went our ways.
Society itself, which should create
Kindness, destroys what little we have got.
To feel for none is the true social art
Of the world’s lovers.
I was soon going through a London drilling. I was very much pleased with town, and the novelty of my life amused me and softened my grief at leaving my country home. I greatly disliked being primmed and scolded, and I thought dressing up an awful bore, and never going out without a chaperone a greater one. Some things amused me very much. One thing was, that all the footmen with powdered wigs who opened the door when one paid a visit were obsequious if one came in a carriage, but looked as if they would like to shut the door in one’s face if one came on foot. Another was the way people stared at me; it used to make me laugh, but I soon found I must not laugh in their faces.
We put our house in order; we got pretty dresses, and we left our cards; we were all ready for the season’s campaign. I made my début at a fancy ball at Almack’s, which was then very exclusive. We went under the wing of the Duchess of Norfolk.
I shall never forget that first ball. To begin at the beginning, there was my dress. How a girl of the present day would despise it! I wore white tarlatan over white silk, and the first skirt was looped up to my knee with a blush rose. My hair, which was very abundant, was tressed in an indescribable fashion by Alexandre, and decked with blush roses. I had no ornaments; but I really looked very well, and was proud of myself. We arrived at Almack’s about eleven. The scene was dazzlingly brilliant to me as I entered. The grand staircase and ante-chamber were decked with garlands, and festoons of white and gold muslin and ribbons. The blaze of lights, the odour of flowers, the perfumes, the diamonds and the magnificent dresses of the cream of the British aristocracy smote upon my senses; all was new to me, and all was sweet. Julian’s band played divinely. My people had been absent from London many seasons, so at first it seemed strange. But at Almack’s every one knew every one else; for society in those days was not a mob, but small and select. People did not struggle to get on as people do now, and we were there by right, and to resume our position in our circle. There is much more heart in the world than many people give it credit for — at any rate in the world of the gentle by birth and breeding. Every one had a hearty welcome for my people, and some good-natured chaff about their having “buried themselves” so long. I was at once taken by the hand, and kindly greeted by many. Some great personage, whose name I forget, gave a private supper, besides the usual one, to which we were invited; and in those days there were polkas, valses, quadrilles, and galops. Old stagers (mammas) had told me to consider myself very lucky if I got four dances, but I was engaged seven or eight deep soon after I entered the ballroom, and had more partners than I could dance with in one night. Of course mother was delighted with me, and I was equally pleased with her: she looked so young and fashionable; and instead of frightening young men away, as she had always done in the country, she appeared to attract them, engage them in conversation, and seemed to enjoy everything; she was such a nice chaperone. I was very much confused at the amount of staring (I did not know that every new girl was stared at on her first appearance); and one may think how vain and incredulous I was, when I overheard some one telling my mother that I had been quoted as the new beauty at his club. Fancy, poor ugly me!
I shall not forget my enjoyment of that first ball. I had always been taught to look upon it as the opening of Fashion’s fairy gates to a paradise; nor was I disappointed, for, to a young girl who has never seen anything, her first entrance into a brilliant ballroom is very intoxicating. The blaze of light and colour, the perfume of scent and bouquet, the beautiful dresses, the spirited music, the seemingly joyous multitude of happy faces, laughing and talking as if care were a myth, the partners flocking round the door to see the new arrivals — all was delightful to me. But then of course in those days we were not born blasé, as the young people are to-day.
And I shall never forget my first opera. I shall always remember the delights of that night. I thought even the crush-room lovely, and the brilliant gaslight, the mysterious little boxes, with their red-velvet curtains, filled with handsome men and pretty women, which I think Lady Blessington describes as “rags of roues, memoranda books of other women’s follies, like the last scene of the theatre; they come out in gas and red flame, but do not stand daylight.” I do not say that, but some of them certainly looked so. The opera was La Sonambula, with Jenny Lind and Gardoni. When the music commenced, I forgot I was on earth; and, so passionately fond of singing and acting as I was, it was not wonderful that I was quite absorbed by this earth’s greatest delight. Jenny’s girlish figure, simple manner, birdlike voice, so thrilling and so full of passion, her perfect acting and irresistible lovemaking, were matchless. Gardoni was very handsome and very stiff. The scene where Gardoni takes her ring from her, and the last scene when he discovers his mistake, and her final song, will ever be engraven on my memory; and if I see the opera a thousand times, I shall never like it as well as I did that night, for all was new to me. And after — only think, what pleasure for me! — there came the ballet with the three great stars Amalia Ferraris, Cerito, and Fanny Essler, whom so few are old enough to remember now. There are no ballets nowadays like those.
This London life of society and amusement was delightful to me after the solitary one I had been leading in the country. I was ready for anything, and the world and its excitement gave me no time to hanker after my Essex home. The rust was soon rubbed off; I forgot the clouds; my spirit was unbroken, and I lived in the present scrap of rose-colour. They were joyous and brilliant days, for I was exploring novelties I had only read or heard of. I went through all the sight-seeing of London, and the (to me) fresh amusement of shopping, visiting, operas, balls, and of driving in Rotten Row. The days were very different then to what they are now: one rose late, and, except a cup of tea, breakfast and luncheon were one meal; then came shopping, visiting, or receiving. One went to the Park or Row at 5.30, home to dress, and then off to dinner or the opera, and out for the night, unless there was a party at home. This lasted every day and night from March till the end of July, and often there were two or three things of a night. I was tired at first; but at the end of a fortnight I was tired-proof, and of course I was dancing mad. The Sundays were diversified by High Mass at Farm Street, and perhaps a Greenwich dinner in the afternoon.
I enjoyed that season immensely, for it was all new, and the life-zest was strong within me. But I could not help pitying poor wall-flowers — a certain set of girls who come out every night, who have been out season after season, and who stand or sit out all night. I often used to say to my partners, “Do go and dance with So-and-so"; and the usual rejoiner was, “I really would do anything to oblige you, but I am sick of seeing those girls.” In fact, we girls must not appear on the London boards too often lest we fatigue these young coxcombs. London, like the smallest watering-place, is full of cliques and sets on a large scale, from Billingsgate up to the throne. The great world then comprised the Court and its entourage, the Ministers, and the Corps Diplomatique, the military, naval, and literary stars, the leaders of the fashionable and political world, the cream of the aristocracy of England; and — at the time of which I write — the old Catholic cousinhood clan used to hold its own. You must either have been born in this great world, or you must have arrived in it through aristocratic patronage, or through your talents, fame, or beauty. Nowadays you only want wealth! There were some sets even then which were rather rapid, which abolished a good deal of the tightness of convenance, whose motto seemed to be savoir vivre, to be easy, fascinating, fashionable, and dainty as well as social.
I found a ballroom the very place for reflection; and with the sentiment that I should use society for my pleasure instead of being its slave, I sometimes obstinately would refuse a dance or two, or sitting-out and talking, in order to lean against some pillar and contemplate human nature, in defiance of my admirers, who thought me very eccentric. I loved to watch the intriguing mother catching a coronet for her daughter, and the father absorbed in politics with some contemporary fogey; the old dandy with his frilled shirt capering in a quadrille the steps that were danced in Noah’s ark; the rouged old peeress, whom you would not have taken to be respectable if you did not happen to know her, flirting with boys. I saw other old ones, with one foot in the grave, almost mad with excitement over cards and dice, and every passion, except love, gleaming from their horrid eyes. I saw the rivalry amongst the beauties. I noted the brainless coxcomb, who comes in for an hour, leans against the door, twirls his moustache, and goes out again — a sort of “Aw! the Tenth-don’t-dance-young-man!”; the boy who asks all the prettiest girls to dance, steps on their toes, tears their dresses, and throws them down; the confirmed, bad, intriguing London girl, who will play any game for her end; and the timid, delighted young girl, who finds herself of consequence for the first time. I have watched the victim of the heartless coquette — the young girl gazing with tearful, longing eyes for the man to ask her to dance to whom she has perhaps unconsciously betrayed her affection; she in her innocence like a pane of glass, the other glorying in her torture, dancing or flirting with the man in her sight, only to glut her vanity with another’s disappointment. I have watched the jealousy of men to each other, vying for a woman’s favour and cutting each other out. I have heard mothers running down each other’s daughters, dowagers and prudent spinsters casting their eyes to heaven for vengeance on the change of manners — even in the Forties! — on the licence of the day, and the liberty of the age! I have heard them sighing for minuets and pigtails, for I came between two generations — the minuet was old and the polka was new; all alike were polka mad, all crazed with the idea of getting up a new fast style, but oh! lamblike to what it is now! I watched the last century trying to accommodate itself to the present.
One common smile graced the lips of all — the innocent, the guilty, the happy, and the wretched; the same colour on bright cheeks, some of it real, some bought at Atkinson’s; and, more wonderful still, the same general outward decorum, placidity, innocence, and good humour, as if prearranged by general consent. I pitied the vanity, jealousy, and gossip of many women. I classed the men too: there were many good; but amongst some there were dishonour and meanness to each other, in some there were coarseness and brutality, and in some there was deception to women; some were so narrow-minded, so wanting in intellect, that I believed a horse or a dog to be far superior. But my ideal was too high, and I had not in those days found my superior being.
I met some very odd characters, which made one form some rather useful rules to go by. One man I met had every girl’s name down on paper, if she belonged to the haute volée, her age, her fortune, and her personal merits; for he said, “One woman, unless one happens to be in love with her, is much the same as another.” He showed me my name down thus: “Isabel Arundell, eighteen, beauty, talent and goodness, original — chief fault £0 0s. 0d.!” Then he showed me the name of one of my friends: “Handsome, age seventeen, rather missish, £50,000; she cannot afford to flirt except pour le bon motif, and I cannot afford, as a younger brother, to marry a girl with £50,000. She is sure to have been brought up like a duchess, and want the whole of her money for pin-money — a deuced expensive thing is a girl with £50,000!” Then he rattled on to others. I told him I did not think much of the young men of the day. “There now,” he answered, “drink of the spring nearest to you, and be thankful; by being too fastidious you will get nothing.”
I took a great dislike to the regular Blue Stocking; I can remember reading somewhere such a good description of her: “One who possesses every qualification to distinguish herself in conversation, well read and intelligent, her manner cold, her head cooler, her heart the coldest of all, never the dupe of her own sentiments; she examined her people before she adopted them, a necessary precaution where light is borrowed.”
A great curiosity to me were certain married people, who were known never to speak to each other at home, but who respected the convenances of society so much that even if they never met in private they took care to be seen together in public, and to enter evening parties together with smiling countenances. Somebody writes:
Have they not got polemics and reform,
Peace, war, the taxes, and what is called the Nation,
The struggle to be pilots in the storm,
The landed and the moneyed speculation,
The joys of mutual hate to keep them warm
Instead of love, that mere hallucination?
What a contrast women are! One woman is “fine enough to cut her own relations, too fine to be seen in the usual places of public resort, and therefore of course passes with the vulgar for something exquisitely refined.” Another I have seen who would have sacrificed all London and its “gorgeous mantle of purple and gold” to have wedded some pale shadow of friendship, which had wandered by her side amid her childhood’s dreary waste. And oh! how I pity the many stars who fall out of the too dangerously attractive circle of society! The fault there seems not to be the sin, but the stupidity of being found out. I say one little prayer every day: “Lord, keep me from contamination.” I never saw a woman who renounced her place in society who did not prove herself capable of understanding its value by falling fifty fathoms lower than her original fall. The fact is, very few people of the world, especially those who have not arrived at the age of discretion, are apt to stop short in their career of pleasure for the purpose of weighing in the balance their own conduct, enjoyments, or prospects; in short, it would be very difficult for any worldly woman to be always stopping to examine whether she is enjoying the right kind of happiness in the right kind of way, and, once fallen, a woman seems to depend on her beauty to create any interest in her favour. I knew nothing of these things then; and though I think it quite right that women should be kept in awe of certain misdemeanours, I cannot understand why, when one, who is not bad, has a misfortune, other women should join in hounding her down, and at the same time giving such licence to really bad women, whom society cannot apparently do without. ’Tis “one man may steal a horse, and another may not look over the hedge.” If a woman fell down in the mud with her nice white clothes on, and had a journey to go, she would not lie down and wallow in the mud; she would jump up, and wash herself clean at the nearest spring, and be very careful not to fall again, and reach her journey’s end safely. But other women do not allow that; they must haul out buckets of the mud, and pour it over the fallen one, that there may be no mistake about it at all. Then men seem to find a wondrous charm in poaching on other men’s preserves (though a poacher of birds gets terrible punishments, once upon a time hanging), as if their neighbours’ coverts afforded better shooting than their own manors.
When I went to London, I had no idea of the matrimonial market; I should have laughed at it just as much as an unmarrying man would. I was interested in the fast girls who amused themselves at most extraordinary lengths, not meaning to marry the man; and at the slower ones labouring day and night for a husband of some sort, without any success. I heard a lady one day say to her daughter, “My dear, if you do not get off during your first season, I shall break my heart.” Our favourite men joined us in walks and rides, came into our opera-box, and barred all the waltzes; but it would have been no fun to me to have gone on as some girls did, because I had no desire to reach the happy goal, either properly or improperly. Mothers considered me crazy, and almost insolent, because I was not ready to snap at any good parti; and I have seen dukes’ daughters gladly accept men that poor humble I would have turned up my nose at.
What think’st thou of the fair Sir Eglamour?
As of a knight well spoken, neat and fine,
But were I you he never should be mine.
Lots of such men, or mannikins, affected the season, then as now, and congregated around the rails of Rotten Row. I sometimes wonder if they are men at all, or merely sexless creatures — animated tailors’ dummies. Shame on them thus to disgrace their manhood! ’Tis man’s work to do great deeds! Well, the young men of the day passed before me without making the slightest impression. My ideal was not among them. My ideal, as I wrote it down in my diary at that time, was this:
“As God took a rib out of Adam and made a woman of it, so do I, out of a wild chaos of thought, form a man unto myself. In outward form and inmost soul his life and deeds an ideal This species of fastidiousness has protected me and kept me from fulfilling the vocation of my sex — breeding fools and chronicling small beer. My ideal is about six feet in height; he has not an ounce of fat on him; he has broad and muscular shoulders, a powerful, deep chest; he is a Hercules of manly strength. He has black hair, a brown complexion, a clever forehead, sagacious eyebrows, large, black, wondrous eyes — those strange eyes you dare not take yours from off them — with long lashes. He is a soldier and a man
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