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Writers, Readers, and ReputationsLiterary Life in Britain 1870-1918$

Philip Waller

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199541201

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199541201.001.0001

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The Aristocratic Round and Salon Circle

The Aristocratic Round and Salon Circle

(p.523) 14 The Aristocratic Round and Salon Circle
Writers, Readers, and Reputations

Philip Waller (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

As celebrities, writers received invitations to salons in aristocratic town houses or to country-house weekend parties. This excited mixed emotions, ranging from elation at being part of a socially exclusive circle to disgust at the sycophancy being practised. Writers whose attitudes and experiences are detailed in this chapter include J. M. Barrie, Max Beerbohm, W. S. Blunt, Robert Browning, John Buchan, Thomas Carlyle, Marie Corelli, W. H. Davies, Elinor Glyn, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, Francis Thompson, Hugh Walpole, Mrs Humphry Ward, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats. During the Great War, readings by soldier poets and others were staged by aristocratic hostesses in aid of various charities; but writers had not been without their own salons or patronage networks. Attention is given to the weekly literary lunches at the Mont Blanc restaurant in Soho presided over by Edward Garnett, and to the Sunday parties given by Alice and Wilfrid Meynell at their Bayswater home.

Keywords:   celebrities, aristocracy, readings, literary lunches, patronage networks

Mr. Pinero recently confessed that he could not write a play about the middle-classes. In his search for dramatic complications suitable for representation on the stage he found himself compelled to place his characters higher in the social scale.

(Punch, 17 April 1901)


For Robert Louis Stevenson (member 1874–94), the Savile Club was his centre whenever he was in London.1 The same could not be said for Henry James (member 1884–99) during his social bloom, but only because the Savile was too small to contain his activity. ‘London becomes impossible’, he wrote in March 1885, ‘for a literary person wishing to work and yet knowing 5,000 people, and I already perceive the uncomfortable increase of the pace. I have had nine notes to write this morning, and have done no work as yet!’2 He had been elected to the Athenaeum under Rule II in 1882. This caused him to purr how the Athenaeum was ‘the last word of a high civilisation’.3 He was also a member of the Reform (from 1878). He usually put up at the Reform between 1898, when he moved to Rye, and 1912, when he took a London apartment, at Carlyle Mansions, Chelsea. In 1914, in conversation with Arnold Bennett and the publisher Algernon Methuen, James lamented that the Reform had become a ‘club of ghosts’.4

James had, indeed, many memories to hold. During his debut season, 1878–9, he had displayed an awesome appetite for social engagements, when he dined out over 100 times at country houses, clubs, and other venues in the haut monde. He moderated this heroism in the mid-1880s and again in 1895, accepting fewer (p.524) invitations; and from 1904 to 1910 he resorted to ‘Fletcherism’,5 the prolonged mastication of food, which later he blamed for his ‘digestive crisis’, ‘food loathing’, nervous debility, and depression. Yet, in and out of season, James specialized in ruminative talk. The style did not appeal to everyone. Dorothy Richardson vulgarly compared it to the ‘non-stop waggling of the backside as he hands out, on a salver, sentence after sentence’.6 This compulsion to disgorge in conversation what he had chewed over in mind meant that James could not stay secluded for long. He had come out again after 1909 in order to shepherd Edith Wharton about Society, accompanying her to the Elchos at Stanway, the Astors at Cliveden, the Marchioness of Ripon at Coombe Court, Lady St Helier at Arlington Manor, Newbury, and her town house in Portland Place, the Charles Hunters at Hill Hall, the Ranee of Sarawak at Ascot, Lady Charles Beresford, et omnes.7

This commitment to club and social life James could justify as artistic dedication. Close inspection of upper-crust ‘manners, customs, usages, habits, forms, upon all these things matured and established’, furnished him with materials essential to his work, as a novelist of a great society in slow decline. It was not a distinction that won universal applause—Somerset Maugham in Cakes and Ale (1930) would write that ‘Henry James had turned his back on one of the great events of the world’s history, the rise of the United States, in order to report tittle-tattle at tea parties in English country houses’8—and in 1911 the combined efforts of Gosse in England and W. D. Howells in America, and the orchestration of Edith Wharton throughout the northern hemisphere, to obtain for James the Nobel Prize for Literature, proved a failure. Compensation then came on 15 April 1913, James’s seventieth birthday, when 269 admirers paid homage by subscribing a ‘golden bowl’ (actually a silver-gilt Charles II porringer and dish), plus a commission for John Singer Sargent to paint that ‘large and luscious rotundity’.9 (p.525) The finished portrait hung in the Royal Academy until it attracted the attentions of an elderly suffragette with a meat cleaver in 1914. After repair and James’s demise, it was willed to the National Portrait Gallery. James had thus become an eminence.


There was a suitableness about authors and aristocracy coming together. Figures alike, if Wilde’s aphorism is followed, that the peerage ‘is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done’.10 Hugh Walpole was avid in pursuit of both. Charles Marriott, author of The Column (1901) and recipient of one of Walpole’s frequently posted fan letters, recalled that ‘not long after we were settled in London [in 1909] Hugh had engaged to dine with us but threw us over for an invitation from old Lady Lovelace, explaining quite frankly that she would be of more use to him in that stage of his career as a writer’.11 Drawing-room life in aristocratic town houses or weekending in their country piles was a favourite subject for dramatists and novelists, even for those of severe intellectual disposition such as Mrs Humphry Ward, who struggled to maintain the eighteenth-century mansion Stocks in Hertfordshire which she occupied from 1892. She also settled into the Tudor mansion Levens Hall in Cumbria in 1896–7 while writing Helbeck of Bannisdale (1898). After her first great success, Robert Elsmere (1888), she was invited to spend a week with Lady Wemyss, whom, she declared,

I love more than ever, but the party in the house was large and very smart, and with the best will in the world on both sides it is difficult for plain literary folk who don’t belong to it to get much entertainment out of a circle where everybody is cousin of everybody else, and on Christian name terms, and where the women at any rate, though pleasant enough, are taken up with ‘places’, jewels and Society with a big S.12

The entertainment may have been limited—what Arthur Pinero, in The Times (1891), called ‘the gaiety of climbing a flight of stairs to clutch at a haggard hostess on a landing’13—but it was the publicizing of these occasions that mattered foremost. Max Beerbohm affirmed that for an author admission to ‘Society is a sort of substitute for an Academy of Letters’. Such parties might involve tiresome, even humiliating, horseplay; a junket that included Asquith, Cromer, and Haldane, ended with ‘eggs being fried in Max Beerbohm’s hat’. Still, Max could be consoled, as when Lady Desborough invited him to dine with ‘the de Greys, (p.526) Soveral, Mr. Balfour, Lord Rosebery, the Edgar Vincents, Evan [Charteris], and a few others’, that the guest list would be reported in the Morning Post, because this would upset his rivals such as Barry Pain and crown his supremacy as a fashionable writer.14 And, Max being Max, he was quite capable of getting his own back via caricature or parody. One subject was the Portuguese Ambassador, the Marquis de Soveral, a Society pet, and so swarthy and simian-ugly that he was dubbed the Black Monkey.15

It was not only on the home front that aristocracy and authors sought out each other. When the Countess of Jersey, wife of the seventh Earl, who was Governor-General of New South Wales, visited Samoa in 1892, Robert Louis Stevenson was only too willing to play the court author. He appeared at dinner in a black velvet jacket, white shirt and trousers, and with a red silk cummerbund. Stevenson’s American wife, Fanny, both republican and jealous, likened the Countess to Kipling’s Mrs Hawksbee, and judged her ‘very selfish and greedy of admiration, a touch of vulgarity’. By contrast, Stevenson considered her ‘in all ways admirable, so unfussy, so plucky, so very kind and gracious’; and, without heed for the diplomatic consequences, he arranged for her an encounter with the island’s rebel chieftain. Politicians were dismayed, but the Stevensonian image was secured: ‘Stevenson was not only a writer of romance’, gushed the Countess, ‘but a hero of romance.’16

Social acceptance by the aristocracy thus required a certain conformity of behaviour, even spanielling, from the author. Carlyle had shown leadership quality here. Famously grumpy, he reserved his limited charm for Lady Ashburton.17 He came out spectacularly sycophantic in their correspondence and dependably drooling in her company. Adoration and abasement were total when a title was annexed to beauty and brains. In the last decade of his life, from 1900, an infatuated George Meredith exceeded his own abnormal copiousness in conducting a cloying correspondence with Lady Ulrica Duncombe, who was fifty years his junior.18 This was now the pattern for authors. Usually, that is, but not always. Walter Besant did not found the Society of Authors, fight to raise the incomes and security of writers, or lobby to win them recognition through the honours system, to see them fritter away public respect by becoming mincing courtiers. Though he himself was gonged as Sir Walter, he ‘was the very last man (p.527) to push his way into aristocratic circles’. So wrote Robertson Nicoll, his neighbour in Hampstead, who recalled that

There was about him a great quiet pride. One very prominent nobleman who admired his works asked him to be his guest. Sir Walter replied that he could not pretend to be on an equal footing with the society he would meet with, and that he preferred to remain among his own people. He may very likely have carried this too far, but his pride was an honourable pride.19

Bernard Shaw appeared sprung from the same mould, with aggression added. The more he was chased by the aristocracy, after John Bull’s Other Island (1904) was attended by the King and Prime Minister, the more outrageously he played the derider and iconoclast. Polite Society was not something he had seen much of: ‘I have not been at an at-home for fifteen years,’ he wrote in 1903, ‘and as far as I can see, the next social engagement in which I am likely to take part is my funeral.’20 Hence the zest with which the vegetarian Shaw now refused an invitation to dinner from Lady Randolph Churchill because he did not sit down with people who ‘eat dead animals’.21 During the Asquiths’ holiday at Littlestone-on-Sea in 1905, when they were joined by Lord and Lady Elcho and the Prime Minister, Balfour, Shaw constituted their dinner conversation, whether he was to be taken seriously as a preacher of socialism or whether he was a farceur and fundamentally nihilist.22 Fortunately, Shaw’s self-conceit was so complete, thought Beatrice Webb, that being tumbled over by smart society could produce no deterioration: he was ‘proof against flattery’. But, she added rebukingly,

Where it will injure him is in isolating him from serious intercourse with intimate friends working in other departments of life. Whenever he is free there is such a crowd of journalists and literary hangers-on around him that one feels it is kinder to spare him one’s company, and that will be the instinct of many of his old friends engaged in administration, investigation or propaganda.23

For the literary life as commonly understood—the companionship in salons, clubs, and cafés, of authors affectedly bohemian and mutually boosting—Shaw never felt attraction: ‘I might have spent my life sitting watching these fellows taking in each other’s washing and learning no more of the world than a tic in a typewriter if I had been fool enough.’ In The Candid Friend in 1901 he broadcast how ‘Marx made me a Socialist and saved me from becoming a literary man.’24 This was the authorized version. It ignored an episode, shortly after he moved to London in 1876 with the ambition of conquering England, when he was invited to the Savile Club. Shaw was not made comfortable, and ‘swore I would avoid (p.528) literary society like the plague all the rest of my life as Wellington avoided military society’. Why was this? Shaw’s father had been second cousin to a baronet but otherwise, the son wrote with disgust, ‘a hypocrite and a dipsomaniac’.25 Shaw smarted about his family’s dive down the social scale before he assumed his unembarrassable pose and embraced socialism. He joined several literary societies in the 1880s—the New Shakspere, Browning, and Shelley—as well as political societies, most famously the Fabians. He also joined the Authors’ Society, but this he characteristically termed his ‘trade union’. In 1909, for the first time, he recorded in Who’s Who membership of a club, Royal Automobile, clarifying his position in 1910 by adding ‘motor driving’ to his established exercises of ‘cycling, swimming, public speaking’.26 In a conventional sense, therefore, Shaw never was a clubman or regular at salons.

Arnold Bennett, who did relish club life but also considered himself a socialist, would not be ensnared in salons either. He mocked the notion of ‘a literary bachelor living with a cause and holding receptions of serious people in chambers furnished by Roger Fry’.27 That description indicated a shift in the trappings of the bohemian lifestyle during this period. Irregular it may have remained in several respects, it was also chic and needed a fair income to support it. Ambrose Byars, in Guy Thorne’s When it was Dark (1903), declares: ‘The days when you couldn’t be a genius without being dirty are gone … I was staying at St. Ives last summer, where there is quite an artistic settlement. All the painters carried golf-clubs and looked like professional athletes. They drink Bohea in Bohemia now.’28 Guy Thorne (C. A. E. Ranger-Gull), a fervent High Churchman and snob, was cutting; but, since he had been a hard-drinking journalist in London and then moved to Cornwall, where he continued to imbibe copious quantities, he cannot be dismissed as a witness. This assessment of a changing bohemian style, from the sordid to the pseudo, was not in conflict with that of the more sympathetic Arthur Ransome, whose Bohemia in London (1907) shocked only by the absence of shocking behaviour to report. ‘Bohemia is an abominable word,’ he decided, ‘with an air of tinsel and sham, and of suburban daughters who criticise musical comedies seriously, and remind you twice in an afternoon that they are quite unconventional’.29 Bohemian in the sense of hanging about Soho coffee-houses and taverns was a developmental phase for many a writer, like the pupal period for a bug. Eventually, they would evolve into Hampstead, where ‘long and matted hair is quite intelligibly worn by the young men who are mad to “return to the primitive emotions of healthy barbaric life” (I quote from a Hampstead conversation).’ Hampstead was where a ‘dozen charming middle-aged women struggle, with the aid of Messrs Liberty and a painful expenditure of taste, to turn (p.529) their drawing-rooms into salons’ and to catch ‘the meanings and messages of “the newer movements”’. Ransome elaborated:

The room has half a dozen nooks and corners, and in each corner, seated on cushions, are a young man with long hair and flowing tie, and a maiden out of a Burne-Jones picture, reading poetry, listening to the talk or to the music made by a youthful Paderewski at the piano. The hostess will be draped in green or brown, to tone with the wall-papers, and she will talk anxiously with one or another young man, thinking all the time about the intellectual level of the conversation and the balance of her sentences … Some cause, some movement, some great and vital matter will stir the whole salon … A man will address the hostess and shake his fist, and talk of Ireland, and the brutality of English rule; of the deplorable condition of the Russian peasants; of the open shame of the Ipecacuanha Indians, who prefer tattoo to decent clothing … Several committees will be formed at once.30

Bennett did not pass through a bohemian phase, only because he had his own idea about the proper decoration of a literary bachelor’s apartment. This betrayed a different weakness, to imitate a luxurious imperial lifestyle. When furnishing his small flat, 4 rue de Calais, after his move to Paris, he visited the Fontainebleau Palace:

He fell in love with the furniture of Napoleon’s period—he had to have that style for his home. He hunted round for bargains, with tips given to him by his devoted friend, Henry Davray. Napoleonic furniture inspired him; I do not mean Napoleon did, but certainly Napoleon’s love of pageantry, his tenacity, perseverance, his success, did encourage the worker in him; the man afraid of splendour, sumptuousness and power, yet striving to get them all.31

The successful author was thus acquiring status trappings; still, being indulged at home or in Hampstead was different from being on parade in Mayfair. The marquess inherited rather than bought his furniture, while the millionaire simply scooped it up, quality and quantity alike. Hence the self-assurance of authors was often tested by the aristocratic and plutocratic embrace. Many were both flattered and flustered. The deference demanded of them rankled with the status-sensitive or class-confused writer, who suspected his own sycophancy. George Du Maurier made merry with the torment in 1879 in his Punch cartoon ‘The Reward of Merit’. This depicted the Duchess of Stilton ‘being introduced to a famous writer for the ninth time of the season, complacently conscious of giving pleasure, but quite unconcerned with her failure to recognise him’.32 Among his other cartoon characters was Mrs Lyon Hunter. The super-rich Americans Waldorf and Nancy Astor were not yet transmogrified into super-rich British aristocrats, but the first stage was begun when for their marriage dowry in 1906 William Waldorf Astor gave them several millions and a palace, Cliveden, which he had bought from the Duke of Westminster in 1893. There, Nancy Astor became one of the most lavish Society hostesses. She would handpick a famous author or two to mix with native (p.530) and foreign royalty and aristocracy. Barrie, Belloc, and Kipling, all feature in her visitors’ book and none appears to have been at ease.33 As an author’s experience and confidence grew, a disclosure of real feeling might occur, as in Barrie’s Twelve-Pound Look (1910), where Kate tells her gross and conceited ex-husband, who is about to be knighted and already calling himself Sir Harry, why his attitude revolted her:


  • How you beamed at me when I sat at the head of your fat dinners in my fat jewellery, surrounded by our fat friends …

  • [shouting] ….We had all the most interesting society of the day. It wasn’t only business men. There were politicians, painters, writers—
  • KATE.

  • Only the glorious, dazzling successes. Oh, the fat talk while we ate too much—about who had made a hit and who was slipping back, and what the noo house cost and the noo motor and the gold soup-plates, and who was to be the noo knight.34
  • In Dear Brutus (1917) Barrie introduces ‘Lady Caroline Latey of the disdainful poise, lately from the enormously select school where they are taught to pronounce their r’s as w’s; nothing else seems to be taught, but for matrimonial success nothing else is necessary. Every woman who pronounces r as w will find a mate; it appeals to all that is chivalrous in man.’35 In the Midsummer Night’s mayhem that follows, Barrie marries her off to the rough butler Matey, who has a past of shady dealings. In Mary Rose (1920) Barrie was in more lenient mood; but the confessional of the peculiarly pedantic Cameron, who rows the Blakes—from Sussex gentry and officer stock—to the Scottish isle, rings true. Cameron is aware that he is better read and all-round more intelligent; indeed, he has tested this assumption, yet still feels the need to copy something in Mr Blake:

    It iss not Mr Blake’s learning; he has not much learning, but I haf always understood that the English manage without it. What I admire in you iss your ferry nice manners and your general deportment, in all which I haf a great deal to learn yet, and I watch these things in Mr Blake and take memoranda of them in a little note-book.36

    Authors might smoulder, but they went on accepting the invitations, alike from dim Lady Lisping of old feudality and from brassy Lord Muck of new manufacture. Douglas Goldring, who left Oxford to join the staff of Country Life and the English Review, wrote:

    I shall never forget an occasion when, at a dance given by a millionaire armaments manufacturer in a palatial house in Knightsbridge, I heard my hostess say to an unobtrusive man in steel-rimmed spectacles: ‘Oh Mr. Kipling, will you take Mrs. Humphry Ward down to supper?’ I was struck dumb with astonishment. ‘Good heavens’, I thought, ‘what are they doing here?’ It amazed me to see two genuinely distinguished people among so many rich nobodies.37

    (p.531) Arthur Benson thought much the same about his brother Fred, who moved in the fashionable swim after the success of Dodo (1893): ‘he goes to stay with absurd countesses like Lady Radnor whose vagaries I cannot think that he would tolerate if she was Mrs Tompkinson’.38

    Perhaps the best course was to be utterly cynical about the whole thing. In 1890 Punch entertained readers with a communication purportedly from a retired author. His original ambition had been modest enough, to make enough money to spend six weeks by the seaside at Herne Bay; but he succeeded beyond expectation when ‘an elderly lady of unstable views’ was so taken by a story of his that she bequeathed to him ‘a very handsome legacy’. How was this feat accomplished? ‘My plan briefly was to write a quasi-religious Novel with a Purpose. I knew nothing about religion, and had no literary experience’; but, having invested in a dozen penny novelettes, he constructed his plot and dialogue by scissors-and-paste method. The finishing touch required ‘a reading ticket for the British Museum Library, and from the writings of Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Emerson, Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, Dr Momerie, and Mr Walter Pater, and largely from the more pretentious Reviews and Magazines, I made copious and tolerably bewildering extracts, which I apportioned among the vacant spaces in my story’. The product had no difficulty finding a reputable publisher and was immediately taken up by salon types:

    I became for one dazzling season a second-rate lion of the first magnitude. I was pointed out by literary celebrities whom nobody knew, to social recruits who knew nobody. I figured prominently in the Saloons of the Mutual-exploitation Societies, and when my name appeared in the minor Society papers among those present at Mrs Ophir Crowdy’s reception, I felt what it was to be famous—and to remain unspoiled.39

    The spoof scribbler was satisfied by his one season; but several real authors were set on becoming social somebodies in their own right. Mrs Humphry Ward, it has been noticed, was chatelaine of a Hertfordshire mansion. Kipling embarked on the same in 1902 when he bought Bateman’s in East Sussex for £9,300, initially with 33 acres, which he progressively extended to 300 acres. As a landlord with tenant farmers, Kipling ‘enjoyed the cachet of owning a small estate, which allowed him to discuss hunting and poaching with the aristocratic friends of his later years’.40


    In her Memories of Fifty Years (1909) Lady St Helier41 ascribed the increasing cosmopolitanism of Society to the initiative of Lady Waldegrave, the principal (p.532) Whig–Liberal party hostess following the death of Lady Palmerston in 1869. Lady Dorothy Nevill, on the other hand, awarded the palm to Lady Waldegrave’s rival Lady Molesworth as being the better at ‘drawing out clever people and making them talk—a social quality of the highest possible value’. This disagreement between Lady St Helier and Lady Dorothy Nevill—themselves the best-known salon hostesses in the late Victorian and Edwardian period—reflected their own political loyalties. Lady Waldegrave had been the first to capture Dickens, though apparently he was too tongue-tied to be launched at a large Society gathering and it was Lady Molesworth who first succeeded in getting him to shine at a dinner party of six.42 Literary salons given under the patronage of a titled hostess had been seen before, the best known in the 1830s and 1840s being associated with the widowed Countess of Blessington. She supplemented her jointure by the proceeds of her pen, turning out ‘silver-fork’ novels and editing annuals such as The Book of Beauty and The Keepsake. Disraeli, Bulwer-Lytton, and Dickens had attended her functions; so had the then best-seller Harrison Ainsworth, who was famously handsome. This was a distinct social step up for Ainsworth, a Manchester solicitor’s son, though he had distant aristocratic connections through his mother; still, it makes sensible, if not altogether accurate, Somerset Maugham’s observation that ‘Ainsworth was the first English man of letters to move in English society on terms of equality,’ until with the collapse in the popularity of his work from the 1850s, he retreated to the shadows.43

    Each of these hostesses was in her own origins on the margins of Society or even from beyond: Lady Molesworth, for instance, had been a singer, and Lady Dorothy Nevill’s immediate family invited disrepute by their misbehaviour. Lady Dorothy’s own youngest son, Ralph, who co-authored her memoirs, was the rumoured offspring of her affair with Disraeli. Breeding remained a paramount consideration for Society proper. Lord Frederic Hamilton, who was born in 1856 and enjoyed Society functions in the late 1870s, emphasized that ‘London society was so much smaller then, that it was a sort of enlarged family party’—an apt observation, since Hamilton was one of fourteen children of a duke.44 Before the 1880s the old order was intimate and generally exclusive, the barriers being social as well as party-political. Activities such as drama and professions such as medicine were mostly beneath notice. Lady St Helier instanced only Mr and Mrs Alfred Wigan and Miss Helena Faucit (Lady Martin)45 from the first, and the (p.533) surgeon Sir Henry Thompson46 from the second, who were admitted. Lady Molesworth’s liberality was afterwards imitated by Lady Dorothy Nevill, whose Sunday luncheons brought together ‘all the best representatives of every kind of society’, her circle including the actors Squire Bancroft and Henry Irving as well as Cabinet ministers. It was, however, her cultivation of authors that was most signal and systematic. ‘Literary people have always attracted me,’ she wrote.47 In her reminiscences—a plodding account which makes almost incomprehensible Edmund Gosse’s opinion that Lady Dorothy was ‘the finest female wit of her age’48—she noted her mother’s friendship with the poet Samuel Rogers and wanted particularly to recall her own with Matthew Arnold, Walter Pater, J. A. Froude, Hepworth Dixon (editor of the Athenaeum), Ouida, and Oscar Wilde. The last named acquired Zola’s autograph for her: she was a ruthless collector and unblushingly solicited them. Thus it was that Lady Dorothy united strange company such as Cardinal Newman and Zola, if only as signatures in her book. Her seizing on certain authors was inspired by family interest: the poet Austin Dobson, known for his eighteenth-century literary studies, in 1893 wrote an appreciation of one of her forebears, Horace Walpole. Otherwise, the remarkable thing about Lady Dorothy was the way in which she spanned the generations and genres in her literary network: Thackeray (whose sardonicism rather unnerved her), Tennyson, Frederick Locker, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Austin, Kate Green-away, Miss M. E. Braddon, and Edmund Gosse, who dedicated his only novel, The Secret of Narcisse (1892), to her.

    (p.534) The inclusion of authors, as also actors and actresses and (to adopt T. H. S. Escott’s designation) ‘impostors and impostresses’, had one obvious justification. Escott, editor (1882–6) of the Fortnightly Review, explained it as Society’s ‘anxiety to secure prophylactics against boredom’.49 Some authors, once admitted, were rather too keen to make up for lost time, such that they ‘are quite as much courtiers, even parasites, by profession, as they are poets or men of letters by achievement’. This was particularly true of the older generation, so long excluded. Primed by his election to the Athenaeum in February 1862, Robert Browning was now seen to live ‘for society, and in society’. He had become ‘a professional diner-out’, a fixture of all drawing rooms, aristocratic and plutocratic, great and small, where he appeared ‘full of anecdote accommodated to his audience, profound or superficial, light or serious, literary, scientific, poetic, historical, or what you will’. A widower since 1861, he also congratulated himself on being considered ‘irresistible by ladies of all ages and all degrees’—reasonably enough in the case of the equally widowed Lady Ashburton, who twice proposed marriage to him, 1869–71. Matthew Arnold was another such ‘orb of literary light in the social empyrean’, though ‘less conspicuously or aggressively the man of the world, pure and simple, than Mr Browning’.50 Browning’s ‘engagement book [was] filled a month ahead each year from December until August’;51 and Hallam Tennyson suspected that when Browning expired it would be ‘in a white choker at a dinner party’.52 Browning’s correspondence shows him staying at various country piles, among them Alton Towers (the Earl of Shrewsbury), Highclere (the Earl of Carnarvon), and Hatfield (the Marquess of Salisbury). Shortly before his death in 1889 he dined with Lord Rosebery to meet the Shah of Persia; but his Liberal leanings otherwise caused him to turn down an invitation to sup with General Boulanger, the enemy of the Third French Republic.53 Mary Gladstone, the GOM’s daughter, had not liked Browning at first: ‘He talks everybody down with his dreadful voice, and always places his person in such disagreeable proximity with yours and puffs and blows and spits in yr. face.’ But she began to think better of him during the Eastern Crisis, when he turned his rhyming talent against the music-hall jingoes, coming up with this coarse gem at a breakfast party:

    We don’t want to fight,

    By Jingo, if we do,

    The head I’d like to punch

    Is Beaconsfield the Jew.54

    (p.535) Politics generally now counted for less in these gatherings. Many of the literary figures whom Lady Dorothy invited to her table were Liberal in inclination, whereas their hostess was a decided Tory, proud to proclaim that Lord Randolph Churchill originated the idea of the Primrose League at her house; she herself was on its Ladies’ Grand Council.55 But authors would always forgive, if not every lady, then at least the titled ones. In this they behaved no differently from others on the rise: Joseph Chamberlain was friendly with Lady Dorothy in his anti-aristocratic period when they talked about orchids and French literature and avoided contentious politics.56 An exception to this accommodation of political differences was briefly made for followers of Parnell’s more aggressive brand of Irish nationalism, if Justin McCarthy’s experience is a guide. In the 1870s he enjoyed a double success as leader-writer for the Liberal Daily News and romantic novelist, author of Dear Lady Disdain (1875) and Miss Misanthrope (1878). He was then earning, according to T. P. O’Connor, ‘the gigantic income of two or three thousand a year’ and, with his ‘fascinatingly agreeable manners, gentle, modest, as brilliant in talk as in writing, he was the darling of London society’. In 1879 McCarthy was returned as Parnellite MP for Longford, whereupon, as both Liberal and Conservative parties denounced the terrorism of the Irish land campaign and the obstructive tactics of the parliamentary party, he found Society doors closed. He was then ostracized by ‘all his old social friends, with the honourable exception of Lady St. Helier, then Mrs. Jeune’.57 This did not last. Society hostesses generally renewed their competitive pursuit of talent; and McCarthy instead found himself pilloried as an ‘Anglicized Irishman’ by the more extreme Irish Nationalists, following the split in Parnellite ranks caused by the leader’s disgrace and demise.58

    In only one respect did Lady Dorothy Nevill regret Edwardian Society’s failure to uphold the exclusivity that had prevailed in early and mid-Victorian society. This was in the admission of the nouveaux riches or plutocrats who had no social virtues. Indeed, she ‘questioned whether Society, as the word used to be understood, now exists at all … The question is not now asked, “Is So-and-so clever?” but instead, “Is So-and-so rich?” … Now all is changed; in fact Society (a word obsolete in its old sense) is, to use a vulgar expression, “on the make”.’59 This was because the old landed and leisured aristocracy, to offset falling agricultural rents, angled for City directorships. Mayfair needed to pick the pockets of the Stock Exchange; alternatively, to play the marriage market by embracing a transatlantic bride who came blessed with dollars. It was W. T. Stead who coined the phrase ‘gilded prostitution’ in The Americanization of the World (1902). Equally indelicate was Marie Corelli: ‘there is always a British title going (p.536) a-begging,—always some decayed or degenerate or semi-drunken peer, whose fortunes are on the verge of black ruin, ready and willing to devour, monster-like, the holocaust of an American virgin, provided bags of bullion are flung, with her, into his capacious maw’.60 The racket was well organized: in Corelli’s story Thelma (1887) Mrs Rush-Marvelle is paid 500 guineas commission to broker the marriage of Marcia Van Clupp to Lord Masherville.61

    Corelli further claimed to be able

    to name at least a dozen well-known society women … who make a very good thing … by accepting huge payments in exchange for their recommendation or introduction to Royal personages, and who add considerably to their incomes by such means, bringing the names of the King and Queen down to their own sordid level of bargain and sale, with a reckless disregard of the damaging results of such contemptible conduct.62

    A persistent theme of Corelli’s novels was that in modern Society everything could be had for a price. In The Sorrows of Satan (1895) the author Geoffrey Tempest, who has become a multi-millionaire by selling his soul, is presented at a court levée. The introduction has been purchased for him by Prince Lucio Rimânez—the Devil incarnate. Corelli scornfully depicted the ‘flunkeydom … sham and humbug’ that went with these events; yet she exculpated the Prince of Wales himself, who presided on this occasion:

    the heir-apparent to the greatest empire in the world expressed in his very attitude and looks an unaffected and courteous welcome to all, surrounded as he was, and as such in his position must ever be, by toadies, parasites, sycophants, hypocritical self-seekers, who would never run the least risk to their own lives to serve him, unless they could get something personally satisfactory out of it, his presence impressed itself upon me as full of the suggestion of dormant but none the less resolute power.63

    What accounts for this exception? Later in the story the reader is privileged to peep inside Lily Cottage, the Warwickshire home of Mavis Clare, the best-selling novelist whom venal critics decry and the public adores for her fearless honesty and romantic passion: ‘There were flowers everywhere, books, rare bits of china—elegant trifles that only a woman of perfect taste would have the sense to select and appreciate—on one or two of the side tables and on the grand piano were autograph-portraits of many of the greatest celebrities in Europe.’ Among these were the Tsar of Russia, the Queen of Italy, and the Prince of Wales. ‘You know the Prince?’, Tempest asks, ‘in a little surprise’. ‘Well, it would be more correct to say that he knows me,’ the authoress replies with becoming modesty. ‘He has been very amiable in taking some little interest in my books. He knows a great deal about literature too—much more than people give him credit for. (p.537) He has been here more than once …’.64 Mavis Clare was an idealized self-portrait of Marie Corelli, who made sure the world knew of the favour her novels found among native and foreign royalty. To her publisher Bentley she had written ecstatically when the Prince of Wales requested her first two novels, A Romance of Two Worlds (1886) and Vendetta (1886): ‘If you can manage it will you put a paragraph on this in some of the leading evening papers[?]’ And Corelli just happened to be in Homburg in 1892 when the Prince was there, which brought her an invitation to dinner. Her triumph was complete when her attendance was commanded at his coronation.65

    For authors and aristocrats possessed of aesthetic sensibility, neither financiers nor royalty came up to scratch. Esmé Amarinth, the cartoon Oscar Wilde figure in The Green Carnation, remarks:

    I wonder what a stockbroker is like. I don’t think I have ever seen one. I go out in Society too much, I suppose. Society has its drawbacks. You meet so few people in it nowadays, and Royalties are of course strictly tabooed. I was dining with Lady Murray last week, and mentioned the Prince by mistake. She got quite red all down her neck, and snorted …—‘One must draw the line somewhere.’ The old aristocracy draws it at Princes now, and who can blame them.66

    Nor was the new aristocracy always willing to lower its standards to a princely level. E. F. Benson’s Society novel Dodo (1893) was taken to be a skit on Margot Tennant and, when she dined at the Russian Ambassador’s shortly after its publication, the Prince of Wales came up to her and enquired: ‘How do you do, Miss Dodo?’ An appalled Lady Emily Lytton, to whom Margot reported this, commented: ‘He is the only man who would have had the bad taste enough to do such a thing.’67

    It was nothing new for Society to flirt with Sensation, but it entirely recoiled from Scandal. The real Oscar Wilde would soon know the difference, although his doppelgänger Amarinth might still joke in 1894: ‘One has to choose between being dangerous and dull. Society loves to feel itself upon the edge of a precipice, I assure you. To be harmless is the most deadly enemy to social salvation.’ But it was important not to tip over the edge:

    ‘Society only loves one thing more than sinning,’ said Madam Valtesi, examining the moon magisterially through her tortoiseshell eyeglass.

    ‘And what is that?’ said Lady Locke.

    ‘Administering injustice.’68

    The upper-crust attitude to sexual adventure and eccentricity was not naturally censorious. Not a few aristocratic males might well have experienced homoerotic sensations, even seduction, at public school and, reclining in leather armchairs at (p.538) their St James’s clubs in old age, with testosterone diminished or altogether dead, stare vacantly into the middle distance fondly recollecting such adolescent dalliances. But to make a career of homosexuality and to flaunt it as Wilde did was incorrigible and utterly infra dig. Homosexual transgressions whose sordid details ended up in court and a blaze of publicity were far more horrifying than homicide, which might involve glamour and romance. The well-bred appreciated stylish slaughter in the drawing room as in the field, or so J. M. Barrie suggested with a twinkle. In Seven Women (1917) Tovey itemizes for an old friend the guests invited to a dinner party in his honour, who include a murderess. Tovey explains: ‘Fact is … the order of the day for dinners has become a celebrity at any cost’; and he swells with pride that the murderess ‘had a much more exalted engagement’, which she broke to join their party.69

    Generally, the literary man had preceded the millionaire (or murderess) in gaining access to Society. In the late Victorian period, as conventions were beginning to be relaxed, and new habits of town-house at-homes and supper parties and country-house weekending were taking root, ‘the world began to realise the enormous crowd of brilliant men and women who had hitherto lived unrecognised and unappreciated at their very gates; and those into whose houses they were welcomed found their rooms filled with distinguished guests, and the beau monde flocking in numbers to make their acquaintance’. This was Lady St Helier’s description; and it was her receptions and dinners, in the 1880s and afterwards, that were marked by this social mixing, such that those who attended

    were always convinced that every person they did not know was distinguished, either for some political, intellectual, or literary reason, or even from some less elevated point of view. I think … it amused them to see those of whom they had heard, but whom they had never known, and, above all, to feel that every person who trod on their gown or knocked up against them was remarkable in some way or other.70

    All this impressed members of the foreign aristocracy such as Constantine Benckendorff, who thought there was ‘no other country where the ruling few mixed so easily with the literary and artistic world’.71 Of course, this progressive liberality did not obtain universally. When Elinor Glyn married into county Society in 1892—her husband’s estate was Sheering Hall in Essex—one dowager instructed her in correct form: ‘Remember, my dear, it is only to garden parties that you must ask the lawyers and doctors—never to luncheons or dinners!’ Glyn added: ‘Brains did not count; the Army, the Navy, the Diplomatic Service, the Church or the Bar were the only undisputed professions of “Gentlemen”. Those who earned money in other ways, whether by professional, literary or artistic (p.539) ability, or by business interests, were ruled out, and were only seen at Hunt balls and charity entertainments.’ When making the rounds of aristocratic establishments, Glyn was more likely to meet, rather than some author, a ‘handsome young man in a velvet smoking-suit … sprawling on a rug before the fire playing with his rough-haired terrier … a typical product of Eton and Oxford, endowed with a splendid physique, personal charm and innate good qualities of the highest order, but intellectually and emotionally sound asleep’.72

    On visits to London from Dorset, Thomas Hardy would stay occasionally at Lady St Helier’s. ‘He was a delightful companion,’ she recalled, ‘always glad to talk about his books, and the reasons and events which had influenced him in his different novels.’ This, it was implied, was a confidence Hardy reserved for her, because ‘society had no attractions for him. He was shy and retiring, and the adulation and interest which he awakened was a cause of annoyance instead of being any pleasure to him.’73 There was misjudgement here. Hardy’s limit of agreeableness (or of fawning) was rarely reached where titled ladies were concerned. Although he did once chance a criticism of Lady Grove’s description of her brush with an unhelpful shop assistant when he read the proofs of The Social Fetich (1907), her study of contemporary manners, it paled beside his wife’s review of its failings.74 Fundamentally repressed and calculating, Hardy stoically maintained a dutiful deference in aristocratic company, and harboured his resentments for a posthumous and covert autobiography (published under his second wife’s name), in which, for example, he declared apropos the banal conversation at the Carnarvons’: ‘A row of shopkeepers in Oxford Street taken just as they came would conduct the affairs of the nation as ably as these.’75 This was different from his accounts at the time. Describing to his first wife (who did not accompany him) a reception at Lady Carnarvon’s in May 1885, which Robert Browning and Mrs Oliphant also attended, Hardy swelled with wide-eyed pride at (p.540) his mixing with ‘the Portsmouth sisters’, that is, the daughters of the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth, who included Lady Carnarvon herself, Lady Dorothea and Lady Margaret Wallop, and Lady Winifred Herbert, although regrettably Lady Camilla Gurdon was missing:

    Nearly all the ladies were wearing the same dresses as before. Lady Winifred’s divine blue looking decidedly crumpled about the neck—the stick-up ruff I mean—not so well as when we saw it in all its new glory. Lady Margaret was in black lace, with gloves between salmon & buff, & a dull red fan—& necklace of brilliants & black ornaments between—dress low—Both the sisters tell me in confidence that they feel shy of meeting so many people having been shut up in the country so long. Lady W. slaved away at the tea-pouring—complaining bitterly of the heaviness of the teapot—which was an enormous one.76

    In March Hardy had stayed at Eggesford House in Devon, home of the Portsmouths, having been met at the station by

    Ld. P’s brougham waiting to take me up to the house, so there was no trouble at all … I have had tea with Lady P. & the ladies—the only members of the family at home—Lord P. not having returned from hunting yet (6 p.m.) The young ladies are very attentive & interested in what I tell them. Lady P. charges them to take care of me—& goes away to her parish people etc.—altogether a delightful household … I shd say that a married daughter, Lady Rosamond Christie, I think she is, who is here, strikes me as a particularly sensible woman. If Lady P’s orders are to be carried out my room will be like a furnace—she is particularly anxious that I shd not take cold etc.77

    By 1893–4, Hardy was in his prime, attending regularly at aristocratic tables. He passed what might be called the Frank Harris test, that of being invited back (Harris, according to Wilde, could boast of having been to all the great houses of England—once). Hardy was particularly smitten by Florence Henniker, who had writing ambitions about which she consulted him.78 Fifteen years younger than Hardy, she was the sister of Lord Houghton, Viceroy of Ireland and later Marquess of Crewe and Leader of the House of Lords. Hardy’s correspondence with her betrays the author at his most grand, as when penning the imperishable lines: ‘Our friend the Duchess of Manchester wanted me to dine with her last Sunday; but I did not stay in town. She sd she had a lot of interesting people coming’; or, ‘I have accepted also an invitation to Lady Shrewsbury’s dinner on the 29th but I can throw her over if necessary.’79 As things turned out, Hardy did grace Theresa, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury’s dinner with his presence; and he was rewarded when his ‘partner at the table was Lady Gwendolen Little, Lady S’s daughter—by far the brightest woman present, as I found afterwards, on (p.541) sounding them all round. The lady on the other side of me was Lady Julia (?) Wombwell—to whom I did not say 3 words the whole dinner-time—although I meant to.’80 Among the round of dinners, luncheons, picnics, and other functions that Hardy attended at this time were ones given by Lady Londonderry, Lady Pembroke, and the Hon. George Curzon.

    Hardy was living proof that by authorship men of modest origins could transmogrify into ‘gentlemen’. Some ruthlessness and deviousness were required to fashion this magic, but Hardy could summon the necessary. In the genealogy he composed in old age and in his autobiography, some family members were raised in status while others, including whole branches, were lopped off. Puddletown relations who were servants or labourers were not only not received at Max Gate, they were ignored by Hardy and his wife as they passed through the streets.81 In Who’s Who Hardy was unspecific about his birth, giving only the county Dorset of which he became a magistrate; but he made a point of styling his wife, Emma, the ‘niece of Archdeacon Gifford’.82 This distance which Hardy placed between himself and his origins was integral to the making of him as a writer. He continued to live in the district but, mentally, he moved on and needed to do in order to write about the changes that were affecting country people and landscape, and the conflict of rural custom and urban culture, with the imaginative force that he did. In his autobiography, revealing in spite of its evasions, Hardy wrote uncomfortably of his ‘triple existence … a life twisted of three strands—the professional life, the scholar’s life, and the rustic life combined’.83 Born in the hamlet of Higher Bockhampton, the son of a master mason who was ingrained in the Dorset vernacular, Hardy had been taught Latin and French in the county town of Dorchester,84 then London-trained as an architect and church restorer before turning to live as an author, by preference a poet, by necessity a story-writer.

    The emotional strangulation entailed in this evolution was not always understood by others. No sympathy could be expected from George Gissing, who was as socially detached and deracinated as Hardy became, but in a generally downward rather than upwardly mobile trajectory. When Gissing visited Hardy in 1895, he ‘grieve[d] to find he is drawn into merely fashionable society, talks of lords and ladies more than ordinary people’; yet, Gissing, belatedly in receipt of critical acclaim, was also beginning to get invitations to country weekends and club dinners. Gissing bought a dress suit so that he might attend, taking care always to leave behind his working-class wife.85 A rule of ignoring wives in invitations issued to male celebrities was firmly implemented by most Society (p.542) hostesses—and upheld by most male celebrities from Dickens onwards. George Du Maurier was outstanding for refusing to attend without his wife. He cartooned the hypocrisy in 1886 when he depicted Lady Snobbington (née Shoddy) ‘At her Old Tricks Again’, telling Mr Löwe (the Eminent Banjoist), ‘I’ve a nice little Bohemian dinner-party on Sunday—nice clever people you will like. Come and dine, and bring your banjo, if Mrs. Löwe will spare you, just for once!’86


    Authors practised their own patrician–clientship system. The one-legged ‘super-tramp’ W. H. Davies became an instant celebrity with the publication of The Soul’s Destroyer (1905), hailed by Arthur Symons as being ‘full of uncouth power, queer individuality, and a kind of bitter personal reality’.87 There followed his Autobiography (1908), boosted by a preface from Bernard Shaw. Davies received a Civil List pension, largely through the intercession of Edward Garnett and his circle. Son of Richard Garnett, who had been keeper of printed books at the British Museum, a poet, and man of letters, Edward Garnett was a writer and, above all, an influential publisher’s reader, and adviser to umpteen authors: Conrad, Galsworthy, W. H. Hudson, D. H. Lawrence, and more. His wife, Constance, was the respected translator of Russian classics, which she pursued for little financial reward and at the cost of failing eyesight. A strong air of being the tsar of a literary dynasty hung about Edward Garnett, thought Douglas Goldring, who stated that ‘almost the only experiences I can recall of sheer unprovoked rudeness—apart from contacts with British officials and diplomatic attachés, who specialise in “high-hatting”—have been at the hands of this distinguished family’. In 1908–9, when Goldring was not known as an author, Garnett seemed to judge his position as sub-editor on the English Review as akin to office boy, to whom offensiveness was the right attitude to adopt. Goldring also noticed:

    His manner to all the ‘rising’ authors present was so heavily patronising as to suggest that they had no business to ‘rise’ without his consent and approval … Of his personal qualities, apart from his boorish manners and quite remarkable ugliness, I know nothing … It was merely as a Literary Pontiff that he seemed to me then, and seems to me still, largely a fake. It is claimed that he ‘discovered’ Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, and other geniuses, but actually he got Lawrence from Ford and Conrad from Galsworthy. His personal judgment may have been fairly sound, but it is doubtful if he would have achieved his reputation as a publisher’s reader had he not been in a position to pick the brains of his betters.88

    (p.543) At this time Garnett, who was a big man, unkempt, and a smoker of herbal cigarettes, presided over informal weekly literary lunches at the Mont Blanc restaurant in Soho. These W. H. Davies occasionally attended, meeting there Conrad, Hudson, Belloc, Masefield, Ford Madox Ford, Norman Douglas, and other now lesser-known figures such as Stephen Reynolds, Thomas Seccombe, and H. M. Tomlinson. With Edward Thomas, who was enduring the life of a literary hack and had not yet emerged as a poet, Davies struck a chord and, following the Mont Blanc meal, they would repair to the St George’s vegetarian restaurant in St Martin’s Lane for another literary gathering over tea, at which Thomas presided.89 Davies preferred this to the Mont Blanc session. Not being used to literary company, he was uneasy in Garnett’s circle and ‘bored with their long, lifeless talk on books and art’. Davies was at a disadvantage: the authors at the Mont Blanc knew his work and he did not know theirs, because he was not a book-reviewer and could not otherwise afford to buy books by living authors.90 Davies, ‘Celtic, sardonic, animal, curiously simple, primitive’, according to Arthur Symons,91 relished therefore the St George’s group, which included poets in a similar mould, struggling and strange, such as John Freeman and Gordon Bottomley. He hit it off especially with Ralph Hodgson, who was accompanied everywhere by a bull terrier. Hodgson and Davies shared a fiercely strong pipe tobacco and ‘talk of dogs and prizefighters instead of poets and poetry’.92 Davies then resumed his tramping, until the onset of the Great War, when he returned to London, to a flat in Holborn, ready to answer the call to duty. For a 43-year-old cripple without a trade, the options appeared strictly limited; but he was wooed by Society women to perform on behalf of their war charities. These involved poets reading their works, and actors reciting the poems of others, in some vast drawing room, for which tickets were sold at high prices and large sums raised as a result.

    Gatherings such as these had many a late Victorian precedent and advertised the hostesses’s reputation for intellectualism as well as good works. In 1893 Lady Emily Lytton described one of a course of lectures on the ‘Uses of Poetry’ given by Churton Collins at Lady Cowper’s London home in St James’s Square. Lady (p.544) Cowper was the daughter of the fourth Marquess of Northampton; her husband, the seventh Earl, had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; but Lady Emily was not easily impressed. ‘There were many fine ladies listening to the lecture and the solemnity of everyone was quite painful,’ she wrote. The high spot for her was not anything Collins said about poetry being ‘the embodiment of ideal truth’; it was

    the entrance of Margot Tennant. She arrived in the middle of the lecture and the butler opened the door very gently so that she might quietly slip in, but Margot was determined to be noticed. She banged the door and marched up the room with a great noise, patted me on the back and seated herself beside me, and afterwards made remarks in a loud whisper.93

    The Professor of Literature at Oxford, Walter Raleigh, also did ‘a Society Cakewalk’. At one dinner, seated next to the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell, he was asked to recommend passages from Wordsworth for her to recite. Raleigh was shocked: Wordsworth was not for reciting and on no account was she to do so in his presence. Fiddlesticks, Mrs Pat countered—until Raleigh prevailed and ‘shunted her on to Jean Ingelow, which she did very well. Jean Ingelow is best recited.’ But the significant intelligence was Mrs Pat telling him that she had once received £60, ‘the most she ever got for 12 lines, all for reciting [Wordsworth’s] “She dwelt among the untrodden ways”’.94

    Poetry readings at London town houses during the Great War starred soldier–poets foremost. Siegfried Sassoon performed at Lady Colefax’s on 15 November 1917, together with Robert Nichols, who returned for an encore on 12 December. Wykehamist and Oxonian, and of solid county family, Nichols flaunted his war wounds in front of the shirkers when he reappeared on a bill that included the three Sitwells, T. S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley. The last left a famous account:

    Gosse in the chair—the bloodiest little old man I have ever seen—dear Robbie Ross stage-managing, Bob Nichols thrusting himself to the fore as the leader of us young bards (bards was the sort of thing Gosse called us) and myself, Viola Tree, a girl called McLeod and troops of Shufflebottoms, alias Sitwells bringing up the rear: last and best, Eliot. But oh—what a performance: Eliot and I were the only people who had any dignity: Bob Nichols raved and screamed and hooted and moaned his filthy war poems like a Lyceum villain who hasn’t learned how to act … the Shufflebottoms were respectable, but terribly nervous.95

    The first such function at which W. H. Davies read was at Baroness ‘Baba’ D’Erlanger’s, in Byron’s former house in Piccadilly. The Cabinet minister and belletrist Augustine Birrell was in the chair, and Lady Cynthia Asquith selling (p.545) programmes. ‘It was’, she wrote, ‘a most amusing idea, ten live poets reading their own poems.’ The decimal bards were Hilaire Belloc, Laurence Binyon, Emile Cammaerts (the Belgian poet, now a war refugee), Davies, Walter de la Mare, Maurice Hewlett, Henry Newbolt, Owen Seaman, Margaret Woods, and W. B. Yeats. The last ‘recited four poems preciously, but really rather beautifully’; by contrast, Belloc ‘complained of being the “sport of the rich at forty-six”’, though he gave a ‘very funny’ recital of Doris.96 So successful was the affair that a sequel was arranged. Lady Cynthia was in the front row this time but, perhaps because of aristocratic caprice, the event was not so well attended. Gilbert Murray presided, too flippantly for Lady Cynthia’s taste, and the poets now included a khaki-clad and nervous W. J. Turner and clerically intoning John Drinkwater. Walter de la Mare performed attractively, Hewlett tediously, and Yeats rose to the occasion like ‘the stage poet—a pale hand checking a lock trained into rebellion—a cathedral voice and a few editing remarks before delivering a poem’. For Lady Cynthia, ‘far the most lovable was little Davies who read delicious poems very sweetly. I felt him to be a real poet and when one sees him one loses any lingering impression of artificial, strained simplicity. He is so obviously nature-inspired and not a retailer.’97 Lovable little Davies revelled in these events. Socks crumpled over his ankles and collar without stud, the antithesis of gentility, ‘I was treated so well at these houses that I never once had cause to complain.’ So might a family pet write. Davies added that his readings for charity ‘led me into another kind of life, where I met some interesting people. One of the most brilliant hostesses was Lady Cunard, whose luncheons were often attended by the Prime Minister and his family, by Balfour and others. Lady Cunard was so straightforward that I took to her at once …’. But, he maintained, ‘I knew what I was doing; and stood ready at any moment to call a halt.’98

    Davies had travelled from street to salon. Eventually he returned to the road in search of a wife.99 There were other writers who, though the distance between them and the rich and titled was not so vast as for Davies, also came from socially impossible backgrounds. One of these, H. G. Wells, whose mother knew life below stairs, much enjoyed being upstairs with the Souls at Lady Desborough’s at Taplow Court and Lady Elcho’s at Stanway. It confirmed ‘my natural disposition to behave as though I was just as good as anybody’100—apt because, if marital infidelity was the test, Wells was equal to this aristocratic set. Wells’s amorous exploits made him a pariah for some but not for the Souls and, after his (p.546) involvement with them, the characters in his novels tended to rise in the social scale.101 With D. H. Lawrence, the combustible combination of imperious patroness and prickly author naturally exploded in outright ingratitude. ‘It is rather splendid that you are a great lady,’ he wrote obsequiously to Lady Ottoline Morrell, whose hobby was collecting writers and artists at her homes, Bedford Square in London, Peppard (near Henley), and Garsington Manor (near Oxford); ‘I would give a great deal to have been born an aristocrat.’ He did the next best thing, eloping in 1912 with Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen—‘my wife’s father was a baron’); and he shabbily caricatured Morrell in Women in Love (1916).102

    Lawrence worked hard at his misanthropy. He ‘said there were certainly not more than eight people in the whole world with whom he could bear to spend two hours—all the rest made him ill. He knew at first sight whether a newcomer would ever be a possibility and generally fell in hate.’ When Lawrence did not hate mankind, he was stricken by its tedium. The world, he told Lady Cynthia Asquith, ‘bored him in his legs and arms’. Apparently, Lady Cynthia was one of humanity’s few to find favour with Lawrence. It was the mark of a discriminating mind to select another aristocrat, having tired of Lady Ottoline. Of course, he occasionally turned on Lady Cynthia too, accusing her of being hard and the vainest person he knew. He used her as a model for a character in The Thimble, which upset her by ‘quite gratuitously’ describing her big feet. Lawrence could also butter his prey. It was always a sensible move, when writing to an Asquith, to slip in some offensive reference to Lloyd George.103 For a while Lady Cynthia’s relationship with Lawrence had an intensity that led her mother to think that she was in love with him, and her sister-in-law to think that Lawrence was in love with her.104

    Galsworthy was without this inverted snobbery and spite. Born into the upper-middle class, educated at Harrow and Oxford, Galsworthy had no consuming urge to chase after aristocrats. He adopted an artist’s measured tone in examining their manners and outlook, their narrowness and complacency, which was all the more devastating for its cool understatement. Edward Garnett, whom Galsworthy invited to criticize his manuscripts, recollected how, in taking issue (p.547) with The Patrician (1911), ‘I wrongly challenged his knowledge of the aristocracy. He knocked me off my length by sending me a list of one hundred and thirty upper-class men and women he had met or known. I knew nothing of the aristocracy and had spoken idly, and his definition is absolutely right.’105 Yet Galsworthy did not aim to produce an anatomy of the upper classes so much as ‘dispassionately examine myself’ in the overall scheme of life’; that is, ‘an opposition of authority and dry high-caste life with the lyrical point of view, with the emotionalism and dislike of barriers inherent in one half of my temperament’.106

    Aristocrats with an affectation for literature set themselves up for satire. Saki duly delivered:

    Lady Isobel was seen everywhere with a fawn-coloured collie at a time when every one else kept nothing but Pekinese, and she had once eaten four green apples at an afternoon tea in the Botanical Gardens, so she was widely credited with a rather unpleasant wit. The censorious said she slept in a hammock and understood Yeats’s poems, but her family denied both stories.107

    Yeats’s association with Lady Gregory, at whose home Coole Park he spent most summers from 1897 for twenty years, was widely known; yet how Saki would have relished the first performance of Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well, chanted to music by masked actors, Japanese-style, in Lady Cunard’s drawing room in 1916.108 Noh appealed to Yeats as being symbolic, impersonal, and aristocratic. It also helped that Yeats was ‘completely unmusical, indeed almost tone deaf’.109


    Literature was not a leading interest of the aristocracy generally. Where it touched one member, it did not always pass down the blue bloodstream. The mid-Victorian Lord Ellenborough, while understandably vexed about the coming rule of the mob (as he saw the franchise extension in 1867) and the fate of the Empire in its grimy hands, was a cognoscente of Dante, ‘much of whose work he knew by heart’.110 By contrast, the Edwardian Lord Ellenborough, genially dubbed ‘Lord Yellingbugger’, was reckoned ‘almost illiterate’ by Edmund Gosse, who, as House of Lords’ Librarian, was privileged to appreciate the aristocracy at close quarters.111 ‘What an amazing example Spencer is of what can be done in this country by a noble presence and a great hereditary position and a fine personal record, assisted by no intellectual parts of any kind!’, Gosse reported the Prime (p.548) Minister Balfour saying about the strictly limited brain power of the fifth Earl Spencer, who had entertained hopes of forming his own ministry in 1903–4.112 Accordingly, Gosse enjoyed impressing aspiring authors like young Siegfried Sassoon with such barbs about their country’s senior legislators.113 For many peers, the library was not their natural habitat. The aristocrat largely remained ‘barbarian’, as Matthew Arnold classically termed him in the 1860s, or ‘surviving savage’, as the Spencerian novelist Grant Allen contemptuously assessed him in the 1890s, taking pains to spell out his mental and moral inferiority for Liberal readers of the Westminster Gazette.114 G. K. Chesterton added to the indictment in the Edwardian period: for the ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the Smart Set … the higher culture … consists chiefly of motoring and Bridge’.115 Hubert Henry Davies, in his play Lady Epping’s Lawsuit (1908), has Lord Epping sum it all up: ‘I know genius is not looked down upon as it used to be … but I’m getting tired of the way we run after celebrities and turn Epping House into a zoo every Saturday to Monday.’ He wants to cut the whole gang, having discovered that some ‘are just as stupid as our own relations’. Davies’s satire pointed a moral in the final act, ‘the folly of trying to shine outside their legitimate spheres’: the author ‘posing as a man of fashion’, and the countess, not content with her coronet, seeking fame as a writer—‘What a sorry spectacle!’116

    Occasionally the titled were themselves authors. Somerset Maugham wrote tartly: ‘One of the greatest benefits that compulsory education has conferred upon the world is the wide diffusion among the nobility and gentry of the practice of writing.’ He added: ‘A title, even a courtesy one, can make a well-known author of almost anyone and it may be safely asserted that there is no better passport to the world of letters than rank.’117 This imaginative scribbling was more commonly a feminine than masculine trait. The most exciting from the early Victorian period were the three Sheridan sisters, granddaughters of the dramatist and politician. Their alluring looks predestined them for aristocratic bedrooms, in or out of wedlock. Caroline married George Norton, brother of Lord Grantley; was separated after a divorce suit in which the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, was cited as co-respondent; became a champion of married women’s property and custodial rights; and was posthumously celebrated as the model for George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways (1885). In between she herself wrote novels and poetry.118 Youngest sister Jane Georgiana was altogether more passive, content to be a duchess (of Somerset) and enthroned (p.549) as Queen of Beauty at the Eglinton Tournament in 1839, while eldest sister Helen bagged two lesser titles (Countess of Dufferin, then Countess of Gifford) and turned out songs, poetry, and plays. In the early 1860s her devoted son, afterwards Viceroy of India, constructed Helen’s Tower on his estate; its walls were decorated with golden tablets bearing not only his mother’s poems but verses solicited from the Duke of Argyll, Robert Browning, and Tennyson.119 The Sheridans thus stimulated authorship in others as well as generated it themselves; but they were not born into the aristocracy. Far more eminent, indeed at the zenith of the pedigree scale, was Lady Georgiana Fullerton, a Leveson-Gower originally and therefore connected to the Earl Granvilles (her brother was Russell’s and Gladstone’s Foreign Secretary), the Marquesses of Stafford, the Dukes of Sutherland, and so on throughout the high peerage. She dropped a social rung in 1833 when she married an Irish Guards officer. He was attached to the Paris embassy, where her father was Ambassador. Lady Georgiana fell several more rungs when first her husband and then she converted to Roman Catholicism, following a decent interval of Puseyism. Between these conversions she became a novelist. Her Ellen Middleton (1844) was appropriately esteemed, by Gladstone and the former Lord Chancellor, Brougham. Grantley Manor (1847) maintained her reputation for combining piety with romance and melodrama; and she continued to produce fiction in this vein, including two novels written in French, although this took second place to philanthropic and devotional work—she brought the sisters of St Vincent de Paul to England—after the death of her only son in 1854.120

    Lady Georgiana’s fiction was inseparable from her religious life; but she was truly an author. So were several other aristocrats, or they had pretensions to be thought so; but it was usually wise to behave as Arthur Balfour did when he dined with the Countess of Carmarthen in 1890. Knowing that her Ouida-style novel A Lover of the Beautiful was about to be published, ‘I asked no indiscreet questions about it.’121 Torrid too was Lady Colin Campbell’s Darell Blake (1889), for which she drew on her unhappy experience of marriage to a son of the Duke of Argyll that ended in a sensational court case in 1886. Lady Colin’s novel sold 5,000 copies in its first year;122 thereafter she enjoyed a career as art pundit and social commentator in periodicals such as The World. While keeping fit by swimming, riding, and fencing, she generally lived quietly as befitted an outcast of Society. Authors replaced aristocrats at her table: the Meynells, George Meredith, and Henry James. Though she wrote no more novels, Lady Colin dabbled at playwriting, co-authoring with Clotilda Graves St Martin’s (p.550) Summer (subtitled ‘A Play Written by Ladies for Ladies’), which opened at Brighton in 1902; and it was as an authority on Society’s seamier side that other playwrights consulted her. She was technical adviser to Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer (1898); Shaw also tried out Mrs Warren’s Profession (1898) on her. That suitably underscored the collapse of her social standing; and this became exposed to public scrutiny in 1911 when, after her death at age 53, her estate was audited at a mere £470.123

    Elinor Glyn was the best-known Society authoress. Like Lady Colin Campbell, who was born Gertrude Elizabeth Blood, the daughter of County Clare gentry, Elinor Glyn was not aristocratic by birth; moreover, and in this unlike Lady Colin, through marriage in 1892 she ranked only with the county squire class. Yet Glyn was presented at court and her red-haired, green-eyed beauty enticed both British and French Society. Her debut work was The Visits of Elizabeth (1900), purporting to describe a first ‘season’ and country-house parties through a daughter’s ingenuous letters to her mother. This sequence of wandering hands on the sofa, corridor floorboards creaking, and bedroom doorknobs uncannily turning in the night, was based on Glyn’s journal, and initially serialized as an anonymous column in The World in 1899. Her husband had touted the ‘letters’ about his club, the Garrick, to the members’ amusement. It was largely because of Clayton Glyn’s extravagance, his gambling and drinking, that Elinor turned to authorship and, though proud of her facility, romantic imagination, and achievement as ‘almost the first society woman to become a novelist’, she was ever conscious of her limited education. This manifested itself in the faulty spelling and grammar of her manuscripts. Her most famous confection, Three Weeks (1907), both pitched her into the bestseller class and flushed out another authorial talent from the aristocracy; at least, it inspired the parody Too Weak (1907) by ‘Ellova Gryn’, who turned out to be Montague Charles Eliot, of Charterhouse and Oxford, Gentleman Usher to the King, and future Earl of St Germans. Still, the Glyns’ bills mounted: ‘the years from the summer of 1908 to the winter of 1913 stay in my memory as one long nightmare of recurring financial crises, as fresh debts of Clayton’s came to light; of hastily written novels, the advance payments on which were already mortgaged to some pressing creditor, or urgently required to pay the household bills or school fees of the children’. In 1911 she felt particularly humiliated: ‘I discovered that Clayton had supplemented the income which I gave him by borrowing £1,000 from … a friend who had often paid attentions to me.’124 She redeemed this debt by writing a feuilleton, The Reason Why, for the Daily Express.

    Journalism proved a fairly common means of cushioning depleted aristocratic fortunes. Lady Emily Lytton was horrified when, following the death of their (p.551) father, the former Viceroy of India and Ambassador at Paris, her sister Constance showed all the signs of developing into

    a regular newspaper correspondent, which is painful to think of. She has been asked by her editor to write on the etiquette of Ambassadors and Governors. To think she has come to this! It is really most melancholy. At any rate, when I am obliged to make money, I will not have anything to do with newspapers. I think I should prefer the workhouse. It is generally considered as the least degrading occupation a lady can take up, but I think it is very low.125

    Lady Emily thawed a little when her other sister, Betty, explained that

    Con is paid £2 2s. a column, and as her articles commonly fill two columns, this amounts to £4 4s. a week. It shows what a title is worth to such a paper. Of course, the ordinary rate of payment is barely a fourth of what Con receives. The rest is paid to her title. With readers of the upper and middle classes a title prefixed to such an article would not enhance its value. Rather the reverse. It is otherwise when you drop lower. Fanny tells me that our servants take in three Society Papers, and they like to have their news and sentiments fresh from the Queen herself, or her associates. This explains the pay, which is to me a novel fact in modern literature. As titled contributors multiply the pay will diminish. The wisdom is to earn a fortune while golden harvests can be had.126

    Lady Randolph Churchill, widowed since 1895, advanced in the same direction, becoming editor–proprietor of the Anglo-Saxon Review, the authoress of Reminiscences (1908), and a playwright and essayist; but Lady Constance Lytton’s journalism took a more serious turn when she started writing on the different sense of honour that moved men and women and on the wrongs suffered by women in the labour market. ‘In 1908, aged 39,’ she explained for Who’s Who, she

    realised that women, together with men, participate in life’s responsibilities and should have an equal share in self-government; that the Government had always prevented this; became a Suffragette; four times imprisoned; two hunger-strikes; at the first of these was released because of heart condition, at the second (Walton Jail, Liverpool), disguised as a working woman, heart condition not noticed, and she was forcibly fed; May 1912 had a stroke …127

    She published No Votes for Women (1909) and Prisons and Prisoners (1914); and her ordeals hastened her early death in 1923.

    (p.552) Though less dramatic, the case of Lord Ernest Hamilton was scarcely less interesting. A nephew of the former Prime Minister Lord John Russell and a son of the first Duke of Abercorn, Hamilton enjoyed ‘a fatal facility for doing everything easily’. Having played cricket for Harrow and taken up steeplechasing, he had a spell in the 11th Hussars before sitting as Conservative MP for North Tyrone, 1885–92, when he declared himself ‘ready to support further measures for the establishment of an independent farming proprietary’.128 Now married, Hamilton abandoned politics for golf, music, and photography, then produced a clutch of historical novels and society romances between 1897 and 1905, ‘and very successful some of them were, until it finally dawned on him that his real vocation in life was that of a historian’. One of his brothers, Lord Frederic Hamilton, whose account this was, fondly recalled a Gilbertian verse Lord Ernest wrote, entitled ‘The Curse of Versatility’;129 but this was something of a family trait because Lord Frederic edited the Pall Mall Magazine and wrote novels after retiring from the diplomatic service and Parliament. Less talent and more pose were evident in 1917, when Virginia Woolf met the Hon. Evan Morgan, the heir of Viscount Tredegar, at Garsington Manor: he was ‘most carefully prepared to be a poet & an eccentricity, both by his conversation, which aimed at irresponsible brilliance, & lack of reticence, & by his clothes, which must have been copied from the usual Shelley picture’.130 Scarcely less absurd was Lady Florence Bourke, who wrote Faithfulness in High Places (1912). This was a ‘fatuous novel’, thought Lady Cynthia Asquith, who was delighted to be privy to a telephone conversation between Lord Basil Blackwood and the insistent authoress: ‘He rashly embarked on saying he was reading her book (he hasn’t opened it). She immediately asked him how far he had got. He appealed to me, “For God’s sake, where have I got to?” holding his hand over the receiver. I prompted him to say, “Where the mother has an accident”. There is no mother and no accident!’131 Later Lady Florence told Lady Cynthia ‘the story of the play she had just finished and given to Mrs Pat[rick Campbell]—she said, patronisingly, she “wouldn’t mind her doing the part of the Duchess”’.132

    The aristocracy contained more gifted authors than these, though the most gifted tended to be qualified as aristocrats only by distant (or deviant) line. Swinburne’s mother was daughter of the third Earl of Ashburnham—a title deriving from William III’s reign—and his father, an admiral, descended from (p.553) a Border family who had acquired a baronetcy from Edward II. Swinburne’s romanticism was charged up by this:

    The poet never forgot the ancestral castle of Swinburne, which had passed from his forebears two centuries ago, never the fierce feuds and rattling skirmishes under the hard Northumbrian sky. He talked with freedom and manifest pleasure of these vague mediaeval forefathers, of their bargaining and fighting with the Umfrevilles and the Fenwicks; of the unspeakable charm of their fastness at Capheaton, where so much of his own childhood was passed.133

    Aubrey de Vere was in the same mould. His family could trace descent to the Norman Conquest, though their days of power as Earls of Oxford were long extinct, much like their ruined seat, Hedingham Castle in Essex. Aubrey de Vere sported the same Christian name as umpteen forebears, including his father, who was also a poet; but their home was now in Ireland and, though de Vere was famed for his friendships with Wordsworth (whom he idolized), the Brownings, and Tennyson, his own standing as a poet suffered from his conversion to Rome in 1851.134 This was the year of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, passed by Russell’s Government to counter the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in Britain. De Vere’s reputation was judged accordingly; for example, dismissively by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, later Colonial and India Secretary, the Earl of Kimberley, as being ‘of the sentimental, aesthetical turn of mind which is closely allied to superstition—clever, amiable but priestridden’.135 It was thus against the grain in 1898 when W. Macneile Dixon, Professor of English Literature at Mason College, Birmingham, lauded de Vere’s Alexander the Great (1874) as the finest poetic drama of the century; but then it was precisely for his independence of fashion, peculiar psychology, and unusual diction that he was being singled out.136 The Athenaeum’s reviewer of de Vere’s Recollections (1897) scored the point by styling him ‘a man of letters in a sense peculiar to a day now disappearing, a man of responsible leisure, of serious thought, of grave duties, of high mind’.137 The succeeding sort of man of letters, professional not gentlemanly, and prone to think religion cant, was epitomized by Edmund Gosse when he contrived to meet de Vere in 1896. De Vere was then in his eighty-third year, and it was rather as a relic, who had known Wordsworth and Newman, for which he was valued. And value he gave: Gosse ‘never knew a more persistent speaker … Mr. de Vere talked, with no other interruption than brief pauses for reflection, for three hours … without the smallest sign of fatigue.’ Slyly, Gosse noted the unmarried (p.554) de Vere’s ‘maidenly vivacious brightness’, though ‘he occasionally used what are called “strong expressions”—with a little playful affectation, I used to think, of the man of the world’. His summary impressions were cock-a-snook: de Vere resembled a cross between an abbé and the Mad Hatter.138

    Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was another poet with aristocratic connections. He was much else besides: diplomat, traveller, advocate of Irish, Egyptian, and Indian self-government, breeder of Arab horses, and philanderer. Blunt’s wife was Byron’s granddaughter, and Blunt’s father had been Byron’s fag at Harrow. When in residence at Crabbet Park, Sussex, Blunt cut a dash by driving his four-in-hand dressed in white Baghdad robes. At his parties guests were invariably offered Arabian attire. Among those who took to it were the painter Neville Lytton and his eventual wife, Judith, the Blunts’ only child. This costume appealed, both to show off the figure and for ideological reasons. They were ‘an enlightened pair’, vegetarians both. Judith was ‘all for the freedom of subject races’, and Neville combined being Amateur (Royal) Tennis Champion and a ‘devotee of Tolstoy’.139 Neville’s sister Lady Emily Lytton was also persuaded into Arab dress, as a house guest in 1893. She was then aged 18, virginal, and Judith’s close friend, all of which added piquancy to Blunt’s strategy of seduction. Though not blind to the ‘hypocrisy and baseness’ of this ‘shameless profligate’, Lady Emily was fascinated by Blunt: ‘the handsomest man I have ever met, and I think the most physically attractive’.140

    Blunt’s parties mixed metropolitan politicians, native aristocracy, colonial governors, and foreign potentates—the odd sultan and maharaja—with literary types. In addition he hosted the ‘Crabbet Club’, convening more or less annually from 1876, though changing in membership as the years rolled on and as Blunt’s political and other antics caused ructions. His couple of months’ imprisonment, for incitement in Ireland, in Galway and Kilmainham gaols in 1887, provided one inconvenience, though Wilde, a one-time Crabbet member, credited Arthur Balfour—then Chief Secretary for Ireland and responsible for Blunt’s incarceration—with having thus converted Blunt from ‘a clever rhymer into an earnest and deep-thinking poet’.141 The Crabbet included the sons of aristocrats and of leading politicians and Civil Service mandarins, connected by cousinage, public school, and varsity, about a dozen to a score in number, united by a taste for amusing company and nude tennis. The intellectual element consisted of a verse competition and the election of a Crabbet Club poet laureate for the year. In the 1890s, when Blunt’s cousin George Wyndham, Tory romantic and littérateur, rejuvenated the group, it produced ‘verse of a quite high order’, (p.555) thought Blunt. ‘The poetry of the Crabbet Club has been preserved in print’, he added, ‘and is one of the curiosities of literature, deserving a place … in company with the best verse of a not serious kind, including even perhaps that of the Mermaid Tavern.’142 Yet, poetry was not first in Blunt’s and Wyndham’s preferences. They conceived of devising a woodland ‘society of men and women on Boccaccian lines, which we are to call the Fellowship of the Holy Ghosts’.143 Poetry was a post-prandial entertainment for Blunt’s circle, and ideally served as an entrée to amorous activity. In 1894 Blunt ‘gave a dinner at Mount Street to Lady Granby, Lucy Smith, [Constant] d’Estournelles, Alfred Lyall, and Godfrey Webb, all of us more or less poets. After dinner we read and recited poetry …’.144


    ‘Without an original there can be no imitation,’ Mr Pooter very cleverly remarks after another evening of Mr Burwin-Fosselton’s Henry Irving impersonations.145 Authors liked to act as salon hosts just as aristocrats did. Wilfrid Meynell and his poet–essayist wife, Alice, were long-standing acquaintances of Blunt, eventually in 1911 settling nearby Crabbet Park at Greatham, in a seventeenth-century manor, with 80 acres. The Meynells were then aged 60, and their country house was designed to signal their achievement in letters, a court where authors and aristocrats might converge. In 1915 Lady Cynthia Asquith and the Rt. Hon. Harold ‘Bluetooth’ Baker motored to Greatham to call on the D. H. Lawrences, who were guests of the Meynells’ daughter Viola. They were admitted into

    the Holy of Holies … a room full of trophies of the élite of literature—a real little museum, calculated—if anything could—to reduce to an absurdity, Keats, Shelley, etc. A blighting, stifling cult. And, as for the family, I have never believed in the existence of such stilted preciosity. Quite incredibly like caricatures in a book—most interesting as specimens, but making one feel acutely, physically uncomfortable. Meynell himself, with a silky, reverent unctuousness, displayed literary treasure after treasure, and we had the utmost difficulty in escaping.146

    The Meynells were welcome at Crabbet Park. At one poetical evening, when the guests included A. E. Housman and Desmond MacCarthy, who was then collaborating over a play with Hilaire Belloc, Wilfrid was requested to read George Meredith’s Modern Love. This he did, with running commentary ‘as good as the best of lectures’, according to Blunt, though Meynell found it ‘rather an ordeal before strangers who could have done it so much better and who knew it in and out’.147 Before their move to Greatham, the Meynells were themselves (p.556) salon hosts at their London home, 47 Palace Court, Bayswater. They were not well off: they had sunk most of their money into the house and had a large family to support from writing. Their drawing room was notably less crowded with furniture than was common then, and Alice dressed without the richness usual to women of her social position, though this simplicity made her beauty stand out the more.148 Sunday was the day for the Meynells’ open house, which often meant, as the editor of The Academy, Charles Lewis Hind, put it, ‘arriving at about half-past three, staying till midnight, and meeting in the course of the year most of the literary folk worth knowing’. In the 1890s this included Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde and brother Willie, Richard Le Gallienne, Lionel Johnson, H. W. Nevinson, Coventry Patmore, Stephen Phillips, Herbert Trench, Richard Whiteing, William Watson, Katharine Tynan, and W. B. Yeats.149 Affectedly grand and snide, Wilde was wont to speak of Bayswater with horror—‘A Bayswater view of life meant, from his lips, a severe condemnation for mediocrity’150—but Sheila Kaye-Smith counted herself fortunate to be invited to one of the Meynells’ at-homes, following the publication of her second novel, Starbrace (1909). She was aged 22 and under instruction from her literary agent to spend time in London, in order to broaden her horizons. A Sussex doctor’s daughter, Kaye-Smith was raised in that evangelical style that ensured that she possessed ‘working knowledge’ of the Bible before she was competent even to read it. Introduced for the first time to other literary people at the Meynells, she was ‘profoundly shaken by the experience. The atmosphere—artistic, cultured, casual—was entirely different from that of my own home, where Sunday supper meant the family sitting down in state to eat cold beef and prunes and talk about the evening’s sermon.’151 In 1929, together with her Anglican parson husband, Kaye-Smith would convert to Rome; but there was a republic of letters here that reached beyond the Catholic literary circles of which the Meynells were the recognized leaders. Arthur Symons acknowledged this in 1900, telling his future wife how he was ‘forcing’ himself to attend Alice Meynell’s at-home because her invitation bore ‘some significance in one who for so long professed a pious horror of me and my works. One reason for going is that she has great influence journalistically.’152 Symons first met Mrs Meynell in 1889. His opinion of her Preludes (1875) was that it contained ‘some of the most truly poetical poetry any woman has ever written’. He also noted, ‘There is something pathetically weary and harassed about her, but she talks really like a poet.’153

    Alice Meynell was either serene or prone to migraines at her own at-homes. The ‘most exciting parties’ she still judged to be those at Stafford House, the great town house in St James’s, where Millicent, wife of the fourth Duke of Sutherland, (p.557) reigned. Robert Hichens concurred, writing soapily that the Duchess was ‘perhaps the most absolutely charming woman in the London world of that time, and very beautiful into the bargain’.154 William Rothenstein remembered her with equal fervour, while candid about the comical way in which writers and artists (himself included) tumbled over themselves to meet ‘this gracious and beautiful lady’.155 J. M. Barrie was another author whom the Duchess cultivated;156 but she became closest to Anthony Hope. They first met in 1896 and thereafter conducted an extensive correspondence, this literary friendship supplemented by Liberal Party politics. When Hope eventually married, he named his first child Millicent; previously, however, he refused her request that he dedicate a book to her, lest he be thought snobbish. The Duchess, an omnivorous reader—‘she could begin the day with reports on technical education in Prussia, continue it with Huxley’s Life and Shakespeare, and … polish off seven love-stories at the same time’157—could hold up in literary cross-examination. In 1904, over tea at Eton with Arthur Benson, she ‘talked of poetry—Yeats etc.—with a good deal of discrimination’;158 and Mrs Belloc Lowndes recorded that the Duchess ‘published at least one novel anonymously’ and had ‘a lively, eager mind’.159 Some notes of dissent were registered, notably by Arnold Bennett in The Card (1911). This lampooned the Duchess’s record of good works in the Potteries, where, operating from the family seat at Trentham Hall, she gained the title Meddlesome Millie.160 Let, however, Alice Meynell describe one of the Duchess’s ‘little parties’ at Stafford House, as reported to her children:

    She is giving ‘intellectual’ Friday evenings. The Duke of Argyll (who has literary ambitions) was there, the Duchess of Rutland, Winston Churchill, Lord Ribblesdale, Mrs Hunter, Andrew Lang, Herbert Trench, the Beerbohm Trees, Laurence Binyon, Oliver Lodge, who said he has read all I have written, Mr [Augustine] Birrell—I cannot remember any more; the gathering was small. Percy Grainger played.161

    (p.558) And on another occasion:

    The Stafford House party last night was very good. Your father came on with Wilfrid Blunt from dinner, and with Lord Osborne Beauclere. There were a good many people we know, and in any case Violet Meeking stuck to me all evening, so I was not lonely. Your father and Wilfrid Blunt enjoyed themselves ‘listening to each other’, as Violet well said.162

    The Meynells had an additional attraction for Blunt beyond their own merits. They were intriguing because of their rescue and promotion of the mysterious Francis Thompson, who, when not sleeping rough, in derelicts’ hostels or in drab lodgings, harboured with them. Thompson’s first published poem appeared in the Meynells’ magazine Merry England in 1888.163 The discerning then recognized the quality of Thompson’s Poems (1893), which contained ‘The Hound of Heaven’. Sister Songs (1895) and New Poems (1897) followed and, in 1898, Blunt wrote to remind Wilfrid Meynell, ‘you have often promised me that I shd. make Thompson’s acquaintance’. The day was chosen, 12 October; but only the day because, though Blunt invited them to stay overnight, Meynell tactfully explained that this was unwise, ‘the poet having an inconvenient habit of setting his bed on fire’. Under the influence of De Quincey and his own torments—a Manchester doctor’s son, Thompson had studied medicine and been intended for the Catholic priesthood—he had become a laudanum addict. This, together with an enfeeblement caused by consumption and a further weakness for alcohol, rendered him unconscious of surroundings. Meynell’s anxiousness about Thompson’s combustible propensity was, therefore, well founded. In 1897 Thompson had burned himself out of his Harrow Road lodgings; and, after a succession of these accidents, landladies considered him ‘a mental case’. Whereupon Thompson moved in with the Meynells and promptly started another fire in a cupboard by leaving a lit pipe in his coat pocket. Eighteen ninety-seven was not a good year for Thompson’s well-being: he was hospitalized after being run over by a hansom at High Holborn. Since he generally walked the streets in a trance, it was a marvel that he was not struck more often; but a railway journey seemed scarcely safer. Meynell’s son Everard, who wrote the Life of Francis Thompson, was witness in a railway carriage when an umbrella fell on Thompson from the rack: ‘I am the target of all disasters!’, the poet cried tremblingly.164 When Blunt finally met (p.559) Thompson, he rather liked his ingenuousness but found it ‘difficult to think of him as capable of any kind of strength in rhyme or prose’. As ‘the poet of nature’, Thompson was a huge disappointment. Meynell told Blunt that, as their train passed through the countryside, Thompson ignored the scenery and was ‘wholly absorbed in the Globe newspaper’. On escorting Thompson into the woods after luncheon, Blunt confirmed this. Thompson was ‘quite ignorant of the names of the commonest trees, even the elm, which he must have seen every day in London. I pointed one out to him, and he said, “I think, a maple”.’ Physically, too, Thompson was unprepossessing. While acknowledging that Thompson was a Lancastrian, indeed preserved his accent and a passion for Lancashire County Cricket, Blunt considered him ‘a true Cockney’, by which he meant ‘a little weak-eyed, red-nosed young man of the degenerate London type, with a complete absence of virility …’. There was not much going for Thompson in Blunt’s estimation, therefore, except for his ‘look of raptured dependency on Mrs Meynell which is most touching’.165 Still, Blunt fulfilled the role expected of him as aristocratic patron. In 1907, when Thompson was dying, Blunt provided nursing for him in a cottage on his estate.166


    (1) [Stephen], Savile Club, 27. Stevenson’s sponsor for the Savile was Sidney Colvin. In 1888 he was elected to the Athenaeum.

    (2) To Edwin L. Godkin, 3 Mar. 1885, in Edel (ed.), James Letters, iii. 74.

    (3) [Cowell], Athenaeum, 34.

    (4) Flower (ed.), Bennett Journals, ii. 80 (31 Jan. 1914); also i. 316 (4 Apr. 1909), for Bennett’s wish to belong to the Reform and his getting proposed as temporary member of the National Liberal.

    (5) Named after the American Horace Fletcher. The start of this fad was described by his friend R. D. Blumenfeld: ‘Horace Fletcher, the man who is mostly responsible for the infliction of Japanese fans and other cheap Oriental gewgaws on Europe and America, has developed a new one … he has found youth by chewing every morsel of food until it is no longer chewable, and this has reduced Fletcher from fifteen stone to ten stone in weight, and given him the strength and endurance of a young giant. A year ago he was just a fat, flabby, helpless invalid, and we had to assist him into a four-wheeler. Now he rides a bicycle before breakfast for twenty miles and never tires’ (Blumenfeld, Diary, 122 (31 Oct. 1900)). While less alert to the commercial possibilities of mastication manuals, the Liberal premier Gladstone’s rule that all food be chewed thirty-two times before swallowing made a deeper impression on schoolboys than all his wise statesmanship; see J. C. Masterman, ‘My Mr Gladstone’, in Masterman, Bits and Pieces (1961), 93–7.

    (6) Rosenberg, Richardson, 50.

    (7) See Powers (ed.), Letters. All these Society names are well-known to historians, with the possible exception of the Charles Hunters. His wealth derived from coalmines, and they entertained literary and other celebrities at their estate in the north of England as well as at Hill Hall, Epping Forest. Mary Hunter was the daughter of a major-general. George Moore was a favourite of hers. He dedicated The Brook Kerith (1916), his musing about the character of Christ, to her, as a belated return for the Bible she had given him in 1898.

    (8) Maugham, Cakes and Ale, 72.

    (9) See the five-volume biography by Leon Edel (1953–72), esp. v: The Master 1901–1916, 438–9, 484–9. Also, Edel’s editions of James’s letters, esp. ii: 1875–1883 (1980) and iii: 1883–1895 (1981); Simon Nowell-Smith, The Legend of the Master (1947; Oxford, 1985), 54–6; Lomax and Ormond, Sargent, 69–70.

    (10) Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance (1893), Third Act, in Wilde, Plays, 117.

    (11) Hart-Davis, Walpole, 74. On Charles Marriott (1869–1957), Sutherland, Companion, 411, and Kemp et al. (eds.), Edwardian Fiction, 267–8. He struggled as a novelist after the success of The Column and ended his days as art critic for The Times. Compton Mackenzie knew him when he was living in St Ives, where Walpole originally sought him out; Mackenzie, Life and Times, iv. 53–5.

    (12) Mrs Ward to Mrs A. H. Johnson, 21 Oct. 1888, in Trevelyan, Mrs. Ward, 72.

    (13) Fyfe, Pinero’s Plays, 72.

    (14) Newsome, Edge of Paradise, 275, and Cecil, Max, 205–7, 264.

    (15) Behrman, Max, 74, 184, 198.

    (16) Mackay, Violent Friend, 261–2. For Stevenson’s account, see Colvin (ed.), Vailima Letters, 205–14; and for the Countess’s, Nineteenth Century (Jan. 1893).

    (17) Daughter of the sixth Earl of Sandwich; in 1823 she married William Bingham Baring (second Lord Ashburton from 1848); died 1857. See DNB, iii. 193; and, for Carlyle’s correspondence with her, for example in 1854–5, The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, vols. xxix, xxx, ed. Ian Campbell et al. (Durham, NC, 2003). Cf. Goldwin Smith, Reminiscences (1910), 140–1: ‘Lady Ashburton was a great lady, perhaps the nearest counterpart that England could produce to the queen of a French salon before the Revolution … It was a mistake to think that she was a Mrs. Leo Hunter on a grand scale. She cared as little for reputation in itself as she did for rank or wealth. To form a circle of brilliant talkers with herself at its centre was her aim …’.

    (18) Cline (ed.), Meredith’s Letters, iii. 1729 and passim.

    (19) Nicoll, Bookman’s Letters, 149–50.

    (20) Holroyd, Shaw, i. 101.

    (21) Gardiner, Prophets, Priests and Kings, 18.

    (22) Violet Asquith diary, 17 June 1905, in Bonham Carter and Pottle (eds.), Lantern Slides, 45–6.

    (23) Mackenzie and Mackenzie (eds.), Beatrice Webb’s Diary, ii. 355 (14 Oct. 1905).

    (24) Shaw paid a similar tribute to Sidney Webb: ‘Without him I might have been a mere literary wisecracker, like Carlyle and Ruskin’ (Shaw, Sixteen Self Sketches, 50, 82, 131–2).

    (25) Holroyd, Shaw, i. 8, 15, 99.

    (26) Who’s Who (1909), 1717; (1910), 1758.

    (27) Bennett, The Title, 26.

    (28) Guy Thorne, When it was Dark (1904), 15.

    (29) Ransome, Bohemia in London, 7.

    (30) Ibid. 229–31.

    (31) Bennett, Bennett, 22.

    (32) Ormond, Du Maurier, 341, 343.

    (33) Maurice Collis, Nancy Astor (1960), ch. 3; Jerome, Life and Times, 98, for Barrie’s touchiness about this or a similar experience.

    (34) Barrie, Plays, 730–1.

    (35) Ibid. 465.

    (36) Ibid. 563.

    (37) Goldring, South Lodge, 45.

    (38) Arthur Benson’s diary, July 1906, in Newsome, Edge of Paradise, 191.

    (39) Punch, 7 June 1890, 276.

    (40) Andrew Lycett, ‘Everything a Man Could Want’, National Trust Magazine (summer 1999), 54–7.

    (41) Born Susan Stewart Mackenzie, of a Scottish landed family—her aunt was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen—she married the judge Sir Francis Jeune, who was created Baron St Helier in 1905, the year of his death. He was a member of Grillion’s, the most exclusive of dining clubs. Jeune was her second husband, her first being Colonel Stanley, son of Lord Stanley of Alderley. Her entry in Who’s Who (1905), 857, recorded that ‘Lady Jeune is indefatigable in service of the poor, and in Society is famed for her brilliant art of entertaining.’ The St Heliers’ only son died of fever in India, also in 1905.

    (42) Nevill, Reminiscences, 171–5; and [Escott], Society, 37–8. For Lady Waldegrave (1821–79), Lady Molesworth (c.1809–88), and Lady Dorothy Nevill (1826–1913), see Oxford DNB.

    (43) Maugham, Cakes and Ale, 86; and Oxford DNB, for Ainsworth (1805–82) and Blessington (1789–1849).

    (44) Hamilton, Days before Yesterday, 195.

    (45) For Alfred Wigan (1814–78) and his wife, Leonora Pincott, and for Helena Faucit (1817–98), who married Theodore Martin (knighted in 1880), see DNB. Martin was the official biographer of the Prince Consort (1875–80), and his wife was also favoured by the Queen. The actor Charles Brookfield (Reminiscences, 219) cattily remarked about the Wigans: ‘Alfred and his wife were frequently honoured by a command from Her Majesty to bring their company to perform at Windsor. It is not to be wondered at that her social success rather turned the head of the gifted Leonora—that is to say, that she became a little apt to give herself airs among her brother and sister artists who had been less favoured.’

    (46) Thompson (1820–1904), from a trade and Nonconformist background, was very unusual. A surgeon at University College London, whose speciality was urinary disorders, he operated (successfully) on King Leopold I of Belgium in 1863 and (unsuccessfully) on the exiled Napoleon III of France in 1872–3. He was founder of the Cremation Society of Great Britain in 1874, a cause supported by Anthony Trollope and Sir John Tenniel; the practice was legalized in 1884, and the first cremation took place at Woking in 1885. Thompson was also an astronomer, artist, and novelist (under the pseudonym Pen Oliver) and a collector of Chinese porcelain (which Whistler celebrated in his canvases). This versatility made Thompson an attractive catch for Society; and his own entertaining at Wimpole Street was much praised, particularly his ‘octaves’, dinner parties of eight courses for eight people served at eight o’clock. He started these in 1872: they involved ‘the most famous persons in the worlds of art, letters, science, politics, diplomacy, and fashion’. The Prince of Wales (the future George V) attended the 300th; the last, the 301st, took place just before Thompson’s death. See DNB Supplement 1901–1911, iii. 503–5; Nevill, Reminiscences, 298–9. Perhaps this sufficiently explains why he was the first of medical men to be singled out for social promotion; but he also treated the aristocracy and the famous for venereal complaints. Thackeray was one of his patients (Harden (ed.), Thackeray’s Letters, pp. xvi, xxii, 72, 323, 327, 369); so was Lord Colin Campbell (G. H. Fleming, Victorian ‘Sex Goddess’ (Oxford, 1990), 10, 41) and, quite possibly, the Marquess of Queensberry (Oxford DNB, article by John Davis), whose body was cremated at death. Thompson was thus a privileged keeper of secrets.

    (47) Nevill, Reminiscences, 319.

    (48) Thwaite, Gosse, 327. Thwaite states that it was at the home of the general Sir Redvers Buller that Gosse first met Lady Dorothy Nevill, who became thereafter one of his closest friends; ibid. 310. See also [Escott], Society, 119–20, for Nevill’s salon.

    (49) [Escott], Society, 52.

    (50) Ibid. 130–1.

    (51) DeVane and Knickerbocker (eds.), New Letters of Robert Browning, 2. The London Season proper ran from Easter/April to the end of July, whereupon the shooting season and/or autumnal visits to Continental spas and resorts took over.

    (52) Miller, Browning, 272.

    (53) DeVane and Knickerbocker (eds.), New Letters of Robert Browning, 379–81.

    (54) Masterman (ed.), Mary Gladstone, 116–17, 135, 240, 411, 454 (9 Mar. 1877, 4 Apr. 1878, 11 Feb. 1882, 18 Dec. 1889, 14 Mar. 1901).

    (55) Nevill, Reminiscences, 327–35.

    (56) Ibid. 224–7.

    (57) O’Connor, Memoirs, ii. 66–7, 70–1; and [Escott], Society, 136, where McCarthy is described as doing himself harm by transforming ‘from an English litterateur into an Irish politician’.

    (58) Sheehy, ‘Irish Journalists’, 254. Parnell himself disdainfully styled McCarthy ‘a nice old gentleman for a quiet tea-party’.

    (59) Nevill, Reminiscences, 121–2.

    (60) Corelli, ‘American Women in England’, in Corelli, Free Opinions, 119. See also Maureen E. Montgomery, ‘Gilded Prostitution’: Status, Money and Transatlantic Marriages, 1870–1914 (1989).

    (61) Marie Corelli, Thelma: A Norwegian Princess (1896), 290, 413–14.

    (62) Corelli, ‘The Vulgarity of Wealth’, in Corelli, Free Opinions, 100.

    (63) Corelli, Sorrows of Satan, 151–4.

    (64) Ibid. 180–1, 191.

    (65) Ransom, Corelli, 38–9, 64–6, 116.

    (66) Hichens, Green Carnation, 118–19.

    (67) Letter to the Revd Whitwell Elwin, 4 July 1893, in Lutyens, Blessed Girl, 207.

    (68) Hichens, Green Carnation, 69; and [Escott], Society, 134–5, for Wilde’s success with Society women.

    (69) Barrie, Plays, 636.

    (70) St Helier, Memories, 186–7; and Nevill, Reminiscences, 340, for Lady Dorothy’s eulogy. Burnand, Records, ii. 285 choruses this: ‘At “the Jeunes” you met everybody who was anybody and rarely anybody who only thought himself somebody. Not to have the entrée to “the Jeunes” was to argue yourself unknown.’

    (71) Quoted in Ridley and Percy (eds.), Balfour–Elcho Letters, 12.

    (72) Glyn, Romantic Adventure, 63, 133.

    (73) St Helier, Memories, 240. Cf. Maugham, Cakes and Ale, preface, for the only time he met Hardy, which was at a dinner party at Lady St Helier’s, when ‘there was in him a curious mixture of shyness and self-assurance’.

    (74) Millgate, Hardy, 454–6; Emma Hardy to Lady Grove, 9 Dec. 1907, in Millgate (ed.), Emma and Florence Hardy, 36–7. Lady Grove not only roused Emma’s jealousy but alienated her by criticism of her religious views. The daughter of General Pitt-Rivers, the anthropologist and archaeologist Lady Grove was both extremely beautiful and proud of her looks. She was also known for her directness; Lowndes, Merry Wives, 40. Lady Grove was also author of Social Solecisms (1903), and of that esoteric classic Seventy-One Days Camping in Morocco (1902), a suffragist and anti-vaccinationist, see Who Was Who, 1916–1928, 441–2. The Social Fetich was dedicated to Hardy. It was scornfully appraised by G. K. Chesterton as a form of aristocratic mystification, upsetting what she called ‘middle-classdom’ by pronouncing whether it is more correct to say ‘port wine’ instead of ‘port’, ‘napkin’ rather than ‘serviette’, and causing further social anxieties about pillowcases, bedspreads, and so forth. Lady Grove referred alarmingly to ‘gateless barriers’, which blocked the social acceptability of people who perpetrated these vulgarisms. Her book was a precursor of the U and non-U speech and behaviour debate of the 1950s. See Chesterton, All Things Considered, 237–43; Nancy Mitford (ed.), Noblesse Oblige (1956); and K. C. Phillipps, Language and Class in Victorian England (Oxford, 1984), 1, 57–8, 129, 135.

    (75) Florence Emily Hardy, The Life of Thomas Hardy 1840–1928 (1972), 172. An expanded version edited by Michael Millgate (1985) restores more of Hardy’s pleased recollections of titled ladies.

    (76) Hardy to Emma Hardy, 16 May 1885, in Purdy and Millgate (eds.), Hardy Letters, i. 132–3.

    (77) Hardy to Emma Hardy, 13 Mar. 1885, ibid. 131.

    (78) Florence Henniker’s In Scarlet and Grey (1896) included ‘The Spectre of the Real’, written jointly with Hardy.

    (79) Hardy to Florence Henniker, 20 June and 1 Dec. 1893, in Purdy and Millgate (eds.), Hardy Letters, ii. 16, 43.

    (80) Hardy to Florence Henniker, 30 June 1893, ibid. 19.

    (81) Robert Gittings, Young Thomas Hardy (1975) is particularly good on this.

    (82) Who’s Who (1905), 708.

    (83) Hardy, Life, 32.

    (84) Hardy’s choice of phrase in Who’s Who (1905) was ‘Latin and French private tuition’.

    (85) Halperin (ed.), Gissing, 190, 210, 220, 228, 234. For H. G. Wells’s meeting Gissing at the Omar Khayyám Club, Wells, Autobiography, ii. 563, 567.

    (86) Ormond, Du Maurier, 343. Cf. Maugham, Cakes and Ale, 24, 41, for the aristocratic condescension shown towards celebrity authors’ wives and for their social exclusion.

    (87) Outlook, 19 July 1905, quoted in Beckson, Symons, 302, where Davies’s opinion is given that it was Symons’s review that launched his success.

    (88) Goldring, South Lodge, 171. Garnett was responsible for expurgating Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers for publication by Duckworth in 1913. Among the decisions taken by Garnett which dismayed a later generation, his rejection of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is frequently cited. Ezra Pound led the denunciation of Garnett’s judgement about this at the time. For an appraisal, see George Jefferson, Edward Garnett: A Life in Literature (1982).

    (89) Thomas had reviewed The Soul’s Destroyer (1905) in the Daily Chronicle. Afterwards, Davies lived with the Thomases for a while, dedicated his New Poems (1907) to them, and was encouraged by Thomas to compose his autobiography. Cooke, Thomas, 45–51.

    (90) W. H. Davies, Later Days (1925), 39. The account by Davies is shot through with resentments against the literary men he met. He seems to have formed a particular dislike of W. H. Hudson, until he got hold of a copy of Green Mansions (1904), which drew his admiration. Also Garnett (ed.), Galsworthy Letters, 9–10; Douglas, Looking Back, 405–6, for the Mont Blanc lunches.

    (91) Beckson, Symons, 302.

    (92) Davies, Later Days, 73; also Rothenstein, Men and Memories, 1900–1922, 351–2. For another pleasing description of Hodgson, see Roberts, Years of Promise, 208–9; and for his life (1871–1962) and work, Drabble, Companion, 466. His first book of poems, The Last Blackbird, was published in 1907; he was the last recipient of the Polignac Prize, awarded for his poems ‘The Bull’ and ‘The Song of Honour’, in 1914.

    (93) Lady Emily Lytton to the Revd Whitwell Elwin, 3 May 1893, in Lutyens, Blessed Girl, 188.

    (94) Letter to Mrs C. A. Ker, 16 July 1909, in Raleigh (ed.), Raleigh Letters, ii. 344–5. On Jean Ingelow (1820–97), Drabble, Companion, 494.

    (95) John Pearson, Façades: Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell (1980), 117. On Nichols (1893–1944), DNB 1941–1950, 626–7.

    (96) Asquith, Diaries, 152 (11 Apr. 1916).

    (97) Ibid. 314 (21 June 1917).

    (98) Davies, Later Days, 130–2, 142, 146. The straightforwardness of Lady Cunard, the American-born Maud Burke, nicknamed Emerald, was not always apparent to authors: ‘Filson Young, the shilling-shocker novelist once came to lunch with her and found his books lying thick on her tables. He remarked that one was missing and she said she hadn’t been able to get it from the book shop. He hurried round and indignantly asked why they hadn’t provided it to Lady Cunard. They said, “Lady Cunard—why she had all your books up yesterday and returned them in the afternoon”’ (Asquith, Diaries, 449 (7 June 1918)).

    (99) W. H. Davies, Young Emma, Foreword C. V. Wedgwood (1980).

    (100) Wells, Autobiography, ii. 636.

    (101) A point made by Walter Lippmann, reviewing The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman (1914); see Patrick Parrinder (ed.), H. G. Wells: The Critical Heritage (1972), 221. Max Beerbohm’s parody or Wells, ‘Perkins and Mankind’ (Christmas Garland, 33–47), picks up on the same. Wells assured Lady Desborough that ‘If a social revolution should occur … and I should be Dictator … Taplow Court shall be sacred and one delightful family at least secure from the guillotine.’ See Nicholas Mosley, Julian Grenfell: His Life and the Times of his Death 1888–1915 (New York, 1976), 200. Wells acknowledged that the ‘Souls’ ‘came out stoutly for me and would have nothing to do with any social boycott’, when his affair with Amber Reeves scandalized many others. The lovers fled to France but the relationship failed, Amber recalling: ‘He kept hankering to go back whenever he got invitations from Lady Desborough or anyone’ (Wells, Autobiography, ii. 471–2; Mackenzie, Wells, 252).

    (102) George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton (eds.), The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ii: June 1913–October 1916 (Cambridge, 1982).

    (103) Asquith, Diaries, 95, 299, 357, 376 (31 Oct. 1915, 29 Apr. 21 Oct., 4 Dec. 1917).

    (104) Ibid. 57, 382 (22 July 1915, 19 Dec. 1917).

    (105) Garnett (ed.), Galsworthy Letters, 7–8.

    (106) Galsworthy to Garnett, 13 Nov. 1910, ibid. 199–200.

    (107) H. H. Munro, ‘The Jesting of Arlington Stringham’ (1911), in Stories of Saki, 97.

    (108) Wade (ed.), Yeats Letters, 607–12.

    (109) Goldring, South Lodge, 49.

    (110) Nevill, Reminiscences, 155. This Ellenborough (1790–1871) had been a Governor-General of India.

    (111) Thwaite, Gosse, 419. This Ellenborough (1841–1915) succeeded his cousin, who died unmarried and insane in 1902.

    (112) Peter Gordon (ed.), The Red Earl: The Papers of the Fifth Earl Spencer 1835–1910 (Northampton, 1986), ii. 64.

    (113) Wilson, Sassoon, 163.

    (114) Allen, Post–Prandial Philosophy, 9–17. Allen was a stern emancipationist Radical, who regarded most conservatism, whether party-political or simply social, as unimaginable and selfish; accordingly, he advocated not just the abolition of the House of Lords based on male hereditary title but the removal of any second-chamber system of rule.

    (115) Chesterton, All Things Considered, 102.

    (116) Davies, Plays, i. 188, 210–11.

    (117) Maugham, Cakes and Ale, 82.

    (118) Oxford DNB, xli. 206; and Sutherland, Victorian Fiction, 469–70, for Mrs Norton, later Lady Stirling-Maxwell, 1808–77.

    (119) DNB, liii (1898), 77–8, for Helen Sheridan (1807–67); Nicolson, Helen’s Tower, 138–41. Tennyson’s Demeter and Other Poems (1889) also included ‘To the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava’.

    (120) For Lady Georgiana Fullerton (1812–85), DNB xx (1889), 325–6; Sutherland, Companion, 212, 237, 259.

    (121) Balfour to Lady Elcho, 5 Mar. 1890, in Ridley and Percy (eds.), Balfour-Elcho Letters, 66. The Countess of Carmarthen was born Katherine Lambton, daughter of the Earl of Durham.

    (122) Sutherland, Companion, 102.

    (123) Fleming, ‘Victorian Sex Goddess’, 242–4; Holroyd, Shaw, i. 286–7, 293.

    (124) Glyn, Romantic Adventure, 174.

    (125) Lady Emily Lytton to the Revd Whitwell Elwin, 3 Oct. 1893, in Lutyens, Blessed Childhood, 238.

    (126) Lytton to Elwin, 4 Oct. 1893, ibid. 239.

    (127) Who Was Who, 1916–1928, 655–6. Her conversion to militant suffragism was inspired by Christabel Pankhurst; see David Mitchell, Queen Christabel: A Biography of Christabel Pankhurst (1977), 2, 73, 146, 150–1, 227. Mitchell cites Lady Constance’s description of herself in pre-suffrage days as ‘one of that numerous gang of leisured-class spinsters, unemployed, unpropertied, unendowed, uneducated, and economically dependent on others. A maiming subservience is so conditional to their very existence that it becomes an end in itself, an ideal’. Her sister Lady Betty Balfour was a prominent non-militant suffragist.

    (128) Michael Stenton and Stephen Lees (eds.), Who’s Who of British Members of Parliament, ii: 1886–1918 (Hassocks, 1978), 153–4.

    (129) Hamilton, Days before Yesterday, 116–18. On Lord Ernest Hamilton (1858–1939), see Sutherland, Companion, 272; Kemp et al. (eds.), Edwardian Fiction, 171; on Lord Frederic Hamilton (1856–1928), see Stenton and Lees (eds.), Who’s Who of M.P.s, ii. 154.

    (130) Bell, Woolf Diary, i. 78–9 (19 Nov. 1917). Morgan—‘The inimitable Evan Morgan, poet, painter, musician, aristocrat and millionaire … the unique fairy prince of modern life’—became a friend of Aldous Huxley, who featured him in Crome Yellow (1921). They, too, first met at Garsington during the war. See Bedford, Huxley, 85, 123.

    (131) Asquith, Diaries, 63–5 (5, 7 Aug. 1915).

    (132) Ibid. 177 (17 June 1916).

    (133) Gosse, ‘Swinburne’, in Gosse, Portraits and Sketches, 45. When his father died in 1877, he inherited £5,000 and his books, valued at another £2,000; Gosse, Life of Swinburne, 234–5. Swinburne’s cousin was the first Lord Redesdale (1837–1916), father of the Mitford sisters.

    (134) See Aubrey de Vere, Recollections (1897).

    (135) Hawkins and Powell (eds.), Kimberley Journal, 166 (27 June 1865).

    (136) W. Macneile Dixon, In the Republic of Letters (1898), 64–118, praising both Aubrey de Vere’s and his father’s poetic achievements. Dixon became professor at Glasgow in 1904.

    (137) Quoted in the publisher Edward Arnold’s catalogue, Oct. 1898, 13.

    (138) Gosse, ‘Aubrey de Vere’, in Gosse, Portraits and Sketches, 119–25.

    (139) Rothenstein, Men and Memories, 1900–1922, 135. The Lyttons divorced in 1923. Neville eventually became third Earl of Lytton.

    (140) Letter to the Revd Whitwell Elwin, 2 Sept. 1893, in Lutyens, Blessed Girl, 228. Lady Emily married the architect Edwin (Ned) Lutyens in 1897.

    (141) Longford, Blunt, 265; also MacCarthy, Portraits, i. 29–33, for an appreciation of Blunt’s poetry.

    (142) Blunt, Diaries, i. 41–2, 68, 112, 145 for the membership.

    (143) Ibid. ii. 103 (16 July 1904).

    (144) Ibid. i. 144 (22 June 1894).

    (145) Grossmiths, Diary of a Nobody, 120.

    (146) Asquith, Diaries, 38 (5 June 1915).

    (147) Meynell, Alice Meynell, 217; id., Thompson and Meynell, 80–1; Blunt, Diaries, ii. 371 (25 Nov. 1911).

    (148) Lowndes, Merry Wives, 10–11.

    (149) Meynell, Alice Meynell, 142–5.

    (150) Sherard, Wilde, 73.

    (151) Brook, Writers’ Gallery, 78. Kaye-Smith (1887–1956) was best known for her rural novels which, like Mary Webb’s and D. H. Lawrence’s, were parodied in Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm (1932).

    (152) Beckson, Symons, 207–8.

    (153) Ibid. 48.

    (154) Hichens, Yesterday, 97, 187.

    (155) Rothenstein, Men and Memories, 1900–1922, 70–1, 206–8.

    (156) Dunbar, Barrie, 168–72.

    (157) Mallet, Hope, 160. Cf. the Duchess telling Regy Brett, ‘I have dinner on a tray [and], in between mouthfuls of fried sole and partridge, read [Ruskin’s] Sesame and Lilies [1865] and [Marie Corelli’s] Barabbas [1893] by turn.’ It was Brett who had recommended Corelli’s novel as a must-read, together with George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) and Charlotte Brontë—an extraordinary menu. See Lees-Milne, Enigmatic Edwardian, 85.

    (158) Lubbock, Benson, 92 (3 Nov. 1904).

    (159) Lowndes, Merry Wives, 102–3. Anthony Hope acted as her agent in dealing with the publisher: Mallet, Hope, 134–8. According to Kemp et al. (eds.), Edwardian Fiction, 134, the novel, published in 1899, dealt with ‘socialist agitators during a strike’. There were also books of short stories published in 1902 and 1925; in addition, her sister Lady Angela Forbes turned to novel-writing for money after her marriage collapsed, The Broken Commandment (1910) being ‘banned by the libraries’ and dubbed by The Times as ‘a compound fracture of the seventh commandment’.

    (160) The Duchess appears in The Card as the Countess of Chell, nicknamed Interfering Iris. Bennett first met the Duchess, in some embarrassment at a dinner party, following its publication. He afterwards wrote to her claiming that he was ‘admiring, apologetic, and unrepentant’ (Drabble, Bennett, 159, 184). On the Duchess (1869–1955), see Who Was Who, 1951–1960, 1059; the Duke died in 1913, and the Dowager Duchess twice remarried and eventually settled in France.

    (161) This was probably in June 1908. Grainger played previously for the Duchess of Sutherland at Dunrobin Castle in Scotland in August 1905; see Kay Dreyfus (ed.), The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy Grainger 1901–14 (1985), pp. x, 48, 214. The gimmick of getting Grainger to play at parties was taken up by rival hostesses such as Mrs Charles Hunter, whose sister was the composer Dame Ethel Smyth (1858–1944). Grainger was paid £25 for an evening’s work at Mrs Hunter’s at homes, rising to £50 when the guests were unusually grand, as when she entertained the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, General French, and Rodin; see John Bird, Percy Grainger (1982), 139. Grainger, for all his peculiar sexual make-up and practices, was a general favourite with women. He had shown himself a strong supporter of the Lyceum Club; Smedley, Crusaders, ch. viii.

    (162) Meynell, Alice Meynell, 246; cf. Blunt, Diaries, ii. 353 (14 July 1911).

    (163) Blunt, Diaries, i. 147–8 (6 Aug. 1894), ii. 181–4 (30 Aug. 1907).

    (164) Meynell, Alice Meynell, 247; Meynell, Thompson and Meynell, 79, 115–6.

    (165) Blunt, Diaries, i. 297–8 (12 Oct. 1898).

    (166) Ibid. ii. 179 (24 Aug. 1907).