Some New Letters by Leigh Hunt and Stevenson
ALEXANDER IRELAND is known to most book-lovers chiefly as the compiler of The Book-Lover’s Enchiridion, but it will perhaps be as the friend of some of the greatest literary celebrities of his day that he will longest be borne in remembrance. And that day was a long one, for he was born in Edinburgh on May 9, 1810, and died in Manchester on December 7, 1895.
Although he was not actively connected with journalism until 1846, when he became business manager of the Manchester Examiner and Times, Mr. Ireland had been keenly interested in literature for many years, and as early as 1835 had made the acquaintance of Emerson and Robert Chambers. The history of his friendship with Emerson he himself has given in his Memoir and Recollections of Emerson (1892). For nine years (1834-43) he was a constant visitor at the home of Robert Chambers, coming into contact there with many interesting people. It was through Mr. Ireland that Vestiges of Creation was first published; and later, it was he who divulged the secret of the authorship, as he was the last survivor of the four to whom it had been entrusted. It must remain a matter for infinite regret that he never put together his recollections of the distinguished writers whom he had known.
It was on the occasion of a visit to London, in the spring of 1838, that Mr. Ireland made the acquaintance of Leigh Hunt, introduced by Robert Chambers in the first of the following letters : —
EDINBURGH, March 28, 1838.
MY DEAR SIR, — A young friend of mine, who often reads and converses upon your works with me, and is, though in business, capable of appreciating their thought, fancy, and benevolence, is about to visit London, and I have thought of gratifying both him and myself by commissioning him to take this letter to you, to inquire how you do, and to give you my kind remembrances, and to bring me from your own lips, if possible, some intelligence regarding you. All I have heard of you for some time is that you conduct the Monthly Repository, which is not to be seen in Scotland, or which, at any rate, I have not seen since you began to be connected with it. I should like to know if Fortune is kinder to you than she has been, and how your lambs suck and ewes feed ; how your young people, I mean, are getting on. You and the world have somehow been unconformable strata, which surely there was no need for; and as I think it owes you something, I should like to learn that it has begun to pay the debt. My friend’s name is Ireland; he is the son of an eminent Edinbro’ patriot, and an excellent young man, setting aside all regard to literary taste and philosophic principle. Next to Lamb, I believe you are his favourite author, and you can sympathize in the pleasure which a young man of refined feelings, brought up in the country, must be disposed to experience on being admitted to see, in very habit as he lives, one of the objects of his worship. If his good fortune and your convenience unite to favour him with an interview of a few minutes, it will make me, as his friend, your grateful debtor.
Trusting to hear all that is good of you, and with sentiments of sincere regard, I remain, my dear sir,
Yours ever faithfully,
ALEXANDER IRELAND TO LEIGH HUNT.
EDINBURGH, May 18, 1838.
MY DEAR SIR, — I beg your acceptance of the accompanying works, of which I spoke to you when I saw you. I should like to know your opinion of both, but particularly of Combe’s work. It appears to me to unfold very important views relative to the advancement and amelioration of the species, and affords a solution, in my humble opinion, of many of those difficulties connected with the moral government of the universe which puzzle those accustomed to think of such subjects.
I sincerely trust that you may preserve your health, because upon it depend cheerfulness and all the blessings. A Spanish proverb says, “ He who loves wealth loves much ; he who loves friends loves more; but he who loves health loves all.” May happier and brighter days be yet in store for you and yours ! I retain the most pleasing recollection of my interview with you, and I shall have resort to your works with greater delight than ever, now that I know you. Mr. Chambers desires me to return you his grateful thanks for your kindness to me as his friend. I shall be exceedingly happy to hear from you when you have leisure to write ; and believe me, I will always continue to feel the liveliest interest in your welfare.
Yours faithfully, A. IRELAND.
ALEXANDER IRELAND TO LEIGH HUNT.
MANCHESTER, May 4, 1845.
MY DEAR SIR, — You may not perhaps recollect me; but I shall never forget a delightful evening I spent with you six or seven years ago in Chelsea, where you welcomed me to your house, and allowed me the privilege of a few hours’ conversation with you about Lamb, Hazlitt, Coleridge, and Poetry and Life, and all these glorious things.
Since then many things have happened to me, both sad and sweet, but all tending to make me love my fellow creatures more and more, and to have stronger and firmer hopes in the advancement of our common nature.
I have been for two years residing in Manchester, engaged in commercial pursuits. I am connected with the Athenæum, a literary institution of considerable importance, and of which you have doubtless heard. My object in writing to you is to ascertain whether you would be willing to be chairman at our next great soirée. Dickens was our first chairman, Disraeli our second, and we are now beginning to think of a third. . . .
Leigh Hunt’s first letter to Ireland shows that even in the chorus of fame which was then assailing him the author enjoyed the single but sincere note which his young worshiper sounded : —
CHELSEA, February 21 [about 1840].
MY DEAR SIR, — I wish I could write you as long and welcome a letter as the one I have received, and cram it full of all impossible good things besides ; but overwhelmed as I am with heaps of written and printed congratulations, every one of which I am bound in gratitude, as well as impelled with delight, to answer, I am forced to make my thanks as brief as I can, consistently with my feelings. Many thanks for the letter itself, and the length of it, and all you say in it, and the time at which it was written, and above all for the news you tell me of Mrs. Ireland ; for the breath of a woman ever sounds the best as well as the highest of all the notes of joy. With best returns of congratulations to you both, and hope to see you together some day on the green borders of London (for I am going to flit northward towards my old meadows), I am ever, dear sir,
Your faithful and obliged servant,
Like everybody else, Hunt seems to have fallen victim to the memorable epidemic of influenza in 1841; for he writes from Kensington under date of February 16 of that year : —
MY DEAR IRELAND, — Pardon this brief word of a note. I have been so unwell with influenza, and am so with the consequences of it, I seem as if I had been walking a hundred miles, and could n’t get the fatigue out of my limbs.
Ever most truly yours, L. H.
The next letters show that Mr. Ireland’s admiration for his gifted friend continued to find expression: —
KENSINGTON, May 31.
MY DEAR IRELAND, — My friend Mr. Ollier informs me that “ some weeks ago ” there was a very kind notice of me in an article in your old godfather the Examiner. I fear the godson must have thought me very insensible for saying nothing about it, but I have never seen the article. The number of the Manchester Examiner containing it never came into my hands.
Observing the series of notices which your paper was giving of contemporary journals, etc., I had delayed making a remark or two on itself till I had seen the number in question ; and its nonarrival was therefore doubly perplexing. Will you have the goodness to inquire whether any accident stopped it at the office ? When I receive it I will write again. I have another request to make you ; which is, to constitute yourself, for one minute, my spiritual representative at the Amateur supper (luckily for you, you cannot represent me in the flesh), and getting up, glass in hand, drink my kindest affectionate remembrances to my famous friend, and cordialest wishes for the Shakespearean welfare of Knowles.
Ever most sincerely yours,
P. S. You will be glad to know that Webster has accepted my play, and that he promises to bring it out early next season.
MY DEAR SIR, — A million thanks for papers and their contents, and all kindness. I am forced to write very briefly, owing to a bad biliosified head : but you may well imagine what I feel, at what all kind friends are saying and doing.
I hope to thank the Manchester portion of them by and by in person, for, if I prosper, there is nothing which will add to my good and pleasure so much as taking a journey or two gratitudewards : in which hope I am ever, my dear sir, most sincerely
Your obliged and faithful friend,
The following extract from a letter of Ireland’s to Leigh Hunt, referring to the production of Hunt’s play, A Legend of Florence, in London, shows the continued recollection of the memorable first meeting ten years before : —
... I have just been reading in the Morning Chronicle and Examiner accounts of your new play. Allow me to express to you the sincere pleasure and glow of satisfaction with which I read them. Amongst the many congratulations of your friends, be assured none can be more heartfelt than mine. Your works have been to me for years a solace and delight; a kind of sanctuary where I can retire from the rush of this workaday world. I cannot resist the occasion of sending you a few lines, prompted to it by this pleasing passage in your history. Never shall I forget your kindness in permitting me, an entire stranger (“ No ! ” I hear you say ; “ an author and his reader cannot be strangers ”), to spend a few hours with you some ten years since.
That “ the gray - haired boy whose heart can ne’er grow old " may long be spared to utter sweet and generous thoughts, diffusing wherever they go a cheerful humanity and mirthfulness, is the prayer of
Your sincere well-wisher,
This last letter of Hunt’s shows his reverence for “ royalty,” and reveals the sensitive vanity of the man. A play is, after all, the last thing in the world on which a man can rationally take criticism.
HAMMERSMITH, October 27 [about 1849],
MY DEAR SIR, — Many thanks for your handsome notice of my play. Next to this, your approbation of it. I was particularly pleased to find that Mr. Montgomery gave way to his fervour so properly, on the occasion you allude to.
I used to make Ellen Tree laugh, during the rehearsals of the part, by reminding Mr. Anderson that he was not to be indecent, but to clasp his mistress right heartily, and as if the only thing to be ashamed of were his doing it by halves. For you know there is apt to be a cold suggestiveness on the stage, on such occasions, which is the most indecent of all things. Ah! I wish everybody had understood the play as thoroughly as her fine nature did, or as that (let me proudly add) of the Queen did. I do not speak of the poetry, but of the heart and justice of it. It would have had a better fortune. But “ thereby hangs a tale.”
You speak of the emptiness of the boxes. There were so few men, one night, among the audience at Covent Garden that the same charming actress wittily said, “ Those are all the good husbands in London.” The same inequality of the sexes will perhaps have been observable in the Manchester audiences. If so, it might be worth your while (and edifying for them) to notice it. Madame Vestris, with an instinctive apprehension to that effect, wished me to let Agolanti have his wife back again, and said that if I did so she would undertake that the play should have a run of sixty nights. I told her that my conscience would not allow me ; that I felt I had a piece of legislation in my hands, the duty of which I could not give up ; and that as the man was not to be divorced (for she would not have the divorce in the play, as originally written) nothing remained for justice but to kill him.
A queen’s opinion, however, may do much, in spite of conventional errors. How it happened that the Legend of Florence was not repeated at the Princess’s Theatre, as other plays performed at Windsor had been, I have yet to learn, and even to inquire, — so strangely incurious am I, and so much in the habit of waiting events ; but I ought to have done so, and must, now that my Autobiography is to be continued. Strange things have been told me, but I have never investigated them. Not that the Queen had anything to do with them. Her Majesty (God bless the dear, warmhearted woman) has never done me anything but good and honour, from first to last.
Perhaps you are not aware that after she had first witnessed the performance of the play at Covent Garden, the Queen, on her way out of the theatre, said to the stage manager, “ This is a beautiful play you have given us to-night, Mr. Bartly.” Bartly, with great good nature as well as presence of mind, said to the Queen, “ I think the author would be very happy if I might repeat to him those gracious words of your Majesty.” “ Do so, by all means,” said the cordial sovereign.
Lord John Russell told me that Prince Albert expressed the same opinion of the piece. You are aware, I believe, that the Queen went more than once to see it at Covent Garden ; twice, I know, but Madame Vestris told a friend that she went four times. She afterward had it performed at Windsor ; and this, I think, it might have been good for the Manchester people to be told, in the play’s announcements. I had thought of saying as much to the manager, myself, in a letter to him ; but living so retired, and ignorant of so many things which other people know, I am not acquainted with his name, and did not like to address him merely by his office. Perhaps, if you, or some friend of yours, have personal knowledge of him, you would be kind enough to convey my compliments to him and state my opinion on the subject ; perhaps let him have a sight of this letter.
I cannot help thinking, knowing what an effect royalty has at all times, and how just a sympathy the people have with it, in its present English shape, that if the manager were to speak of the play in his bills and announcements as “ performed by her Majesty’s command at Windsor Castle,” the result to the boxes might be good for all parties concerned.
With constant pleasure in reading, every Saturday or Monday (according as the postman chooses to gratify me), both your original articles (often plucking out the whole heart of the questions) and the judicious and entertaining selections which you make from books, I am ever, dear sir,
Thankfully and faithfully yours,
Another of the literary men whom Mr. Ireland had among his correspondents was Robert Louis Stevenson. The first of the following letters from him — the only real letter of the three; the others are but notes — is very characteristic, intense, eager, and hopeful.
DAVOS, SWITZERLAND [1881 ?].
MY DEAR SIR, —This formidable paper need not alarm you: it argues nothing beyond penury of other sorts, and it is not at all likely to lead me into a long letter. If I were at all grateful, it would, for yours has just passed for me a considerable part of a stormy evening. And speaking of gratitude, let me at once, and with becoming eagerness, accept your kind invitation to Bowden. I shall hope, if we can agree as to dates, when I am nearer hand, to come to you some time in the month of May. I was pleased to hear you were a Scot, — I feel more at home with my compatriots always ; perhaps the more we are away, the more we feel that bond.
You ask about Davos. I have discoursed about it already, rather sillily, I think, in the Pall Mall, and I mean to say no more ; but the ways of the Muse are dubious and obscure, and who knows ? I may be wild again. As a place of residence, beyond a splendid climate, it has to my eyes but one advantage, — the neighbourhood of J. A. Symonds. I dare say you know his work, but the man is far more interesting. Davos has done me, in my two winters of Alpine exile, much good ; so much that I hope to leave it now forever, but would not be understood to boast. In my present unpardonably crazy state, any cold night sends me skipping, either back to Davos or further off. It is dear, a little dreary, very far from many things that both my taste and my needs prompt me to seek, and altogether not the place I should choose of my free will.
I am chilled by your description of the man in question; though I had almost argued so much from his cold and undigested volume. If the republication does not interfere with my publisher, it will not interfere with me ; but there, of course, comes the hitch. I do not know Mr. Bentley, and I fear all publishers like the devil, from legend and experience both. However, when I come to town, we shall, I hope, meet and understand each other, as well as author and publisher ever do. I liked his letters ; they seemed hearty, kind, and personal. Still, I am notedly suspicious of the trade; your news of this republication alarms me.
The best of the present French novelists seems to me, incomparably, Daudet. Les Rois en Exil comes very near being a masterpiece. For Zola I have no toleration, though the curious, eminently bourgeois, and eminently French creature has power of a kind. But I would he were deleted ! I would not give a chapter of old Dumas (meaning himself, not his collaborators) for the whole boiling of the Zolas. Romance with the smallpox (or the great one), — diseased — and black-hearted, and fundamentally at enmity with joy.
I trust that Mrs. Ireland does not object to smoking ; and if you are a teatotaler, I beg you to mention it before I come. I have all the vices ; some of the virtues also, let us hope, — that, at least, of being a Scotchman and
Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P. S. My father was in the old High School the last year, and walked in the procession to the new. I blush to own I am an Academy boy ; it seems modern, and smacks of the soil.
P. P. S. I enclose a good joke, — at least, I think so, — my first attempts, and wood-engravings printed by my stepson, a boy of thirteen. I will put in also one of my later attempts. I have been nine days at the art : observe my progress.
R. L. S.
The shadow of illness lay over all the work Stevenson did, but he maintained a merry daring till the end.
SPEY VIEW, KINGROSSIE, August 18 [1883 ?].
MY DEAR SIR, — I am afraid the 14th of September is too late for me, and we ’ll have to delay the visit till next summer. I regret this extremely ; but I must be thinking of something more to the purpose — finding a shelter for my head — by that date.
I am feeling better, though I have been worse, since I saw you ; but I am in hopes that I shall get through the summer, at least, without harm, and then some better climate in winter will enable me to progress. Summer seems worse than winter, somehow.
Pray excuse my delay. This is a formula of mine, — a cliché.
But my wife has had a relapse, and between that and dyspepsia I have not had my head on my shoulders this while past.
With many thanks, believe me,
Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Did I ever tell you with how great an interest I had read your reminiscences of Carlyle and Mrs. C. ? If not, it was tenfold ungrateful. I have not often read anything so convincing. I believe I felt both of them more nearly in your paper than anywhere else.
R. L. S.
The pages below referred to, which Stevenson found so much pleasure in having reprinted in the Enchiridion, were taken from an article published in the Fortnightly Review of April, 1881, on The Morality of the Profession of Letters. “ The Hazlitt scheme ” was a proposal by Stevenson to prepare a volume on William Hazlitt for the English Men of Letters series.
HÔTEL DES ILES D’OR,
HYÈRES, FRANCE, November [1883 ?].
MY DEAR SIR, - Much ill health, and a whole odyssey of changes, and a sea of confused affairs must stand my excuse for this long silence. I am now better, much better, and have got to a place where, at least, I take a moment’s breath ; and so I hasten to thank you for your having kindly sent me the Enchiridion, and still more kindly found a place for a word of mine in so select a company. It is much easier for you to imagine than for me to express (that, at least, is an original phrase) the gratification I felt when I saw my name in your collection : I fear it was the extract I enjoyed the most! — but the whole work seems admirably done, and I find it not only a beautiful little book for the eye, but quite one of those pocket volumes that a man can read and re-read, without end or weariness.
The Hazlitt scheme lies, for the present, high and dry ; I do not even see my way to revisit England this year, and it would be tempting Providence to make sure of the next. I believe I require a long absence and much care, to get properly on my legs again, and the abominable folly of getting well in winter, only to come home and fall ill again in autumn, is one which I am eager to avoid repeating. Please pardon me as well as you can for that sort of fault to which, I fear, I have already only too much accustomed you, and believe me,
Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
A. IRELAND, ESQ.
As these fragmentary letters show, Mr. Ireland was exceedingly rich in reminiscence; he could tell of interviews with Sir Walter Scott, De Quincey, and William and Dorothy Wordsworth ; he numbered among his friends Thomas Campbell, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Carlyle, Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many more. Carlyle, from whose caustic portraiture so few of his friends did not suffer, said of Mr. Ireland in 1847 : “ A solid, dark, broad, rather heavy man; full of energy and broad sagacity and practicability, — infinitely well affected to the man Emerson.” And the “ man Emerson ” has said of him, with equal truth and greater warmth: “ At the landing in Liverpool I found my Manchester correspondent awaiting me. . . . He added to solid virtues an infinite sweetness and bonhomie. There seemed a pool of honey about his heart which lubricated all his speech and action with fine jets of mead.”
At the age of seventy Mr. Ireland retired from active connection with the Examiner and Times, and the gradual failure of the paper (which was actually sold, and passed out of existence some ten years later) obliged him to spend the remaining years of his life in the greatest simplicity of living.
Ethel Alleyne Ireland.