Intro Book VI

DECEMBER 1860 – JUNE 1862

Introduction to Book VI

THE fifth volume of the diary, which covered the rest of 1859 and nearly all 1860, was lost almost as soon as it was written. The first entry in Book VI refers to its loss, and the letter to the Cab Office mentioned in the first extract was an enquiry about it. It was never recovered. Its great event must have been the marriage of Meriel, Lucy’s eldest and very intimate sister, the ” old thing ” of the diary, to John Gilbert Talbot, afterwards for many years Member for Oxford University. The present volume shows Lucy taking her sister’s place as mistress of Hagley and mother of the younger children, so far as a sister can play a mother’s part. She is all through endlessly occupied with the health and the characters of all her brothers and sisters. Albert’s illnesses fill many pages, and cause much anxiety ; his character, on the other hand, none at all. She gives her views at some length of all the others : shrewd and observant, always very affectionate, by no means exclusively complimentary. One of these is quoted, that of Arthur, the Queen’s Page, who, alone of Queen’s Pages, ended his life as a Bishop. One person, too, of the generation younger than her brothers occupied a good deal of space—her first nephew, George, now Mr. Justice Talbot, all of whose baby doings and sufferings are minutely and admiringly recorded. I incline to think that I am respecting what would be his wishes in leaving these pages in the seclusion of manuscript. They are, indeed, unique in the Diary ; for Lady Frederick never had a child of her own ; and Mrs. Talbot, though in no hurry for babies, as her sister records, did in fact have so many of these best of all possessions that even the most affectionate of aunts could not be expected to receive the later arrivals with the enthusiasm with which she greeted the first.
For the rest, Lucy Lyttelton’s life goes on here much as before, divided between Hagley, country-house visits, and London. When in London she stays at 11 Downing Street, whither the Gladstones had removed from Carlton House Terrace, apparently not taking Mr. Gladstone’s books with them : for she complains of it as a ” bookless house ” when she had typhoid fever there in May 1861. The London life, of course, repeats in general that of her first season. There are a great many parties and balls ; and certain names, especially those of Lord Cowper and Sir Charles Mordaunt, recur very frequently as partners. But there is not the slightest hint of any special feeling of interest in anybody as yet ; and I doubt whether several mysterious allusions, in September and October of 1861, to suspense and anxiety and the desire for guidance, refer to anything of that kind. If they do, the reference is probably to another young man, a friend of her eldest brother’s whom she frequently met and always liked meeting.
Besides the balls and parties in London there were occasional operas and theatres, though she was not allowed to go to the opera when it included a ballet. She visits picture-galleries, and after visiting South Kensington Museum records her opinion that the pictures of Turner’s middle period are ” beauties,” but that his later ones should all be inscribed ” Fire in a Fog ” ; while her impressions of the Academy in 1862 are of ” overdone lurid glows, glaring colours, solid gold cornfields, manufactured heather and herbage, woollen water, and a general air of papier-mâché tea-tray,” all of which shows that there is nothing new under the sun, not even in the writings of the newest and most advanced criticisms of the Academicians ! She attends a Drawing Room (as Queen Victoria’s Courts were called), and has the disagreeable experience of being taken very sick on arrival and having to retire to the ministrations of the Royal housekeeper, who had ” everything handy for such an emergency.” However, she was soon duly ” holstered up ” for the Presence and all went well. ” The Queen shook hands with me and asked after Meriel.” She continually rides in the Row at the then fashionable hour of half-past twelve. She is often present at what she calls the ” clever breakfasts ” ; at which she sees and hears such men as Bishop Wilberforce, Lord Houghton, Lord Acton, Lord Dufferin, and other notable intellectuals of that time. At one she met two Frenchmen who talked of French schools ” where the boys would stab right and left with pen-knives if they were flogged, as they richly deserve to be and of which one of my neighbours said he retained such a dismal impression that for a long time he dreamt of school whenever he had the nightmare ; where also they haven’t space for cricket ! ”
There is a great deal about the death of the Prince Consort, which darkened the season of 1862, as her own illness had, for her, rather spoilt that of 1861, taking up all May, and causing the first half of June to be spent recruiting at Sheen, the house of her cousins the Wortleys, the youngest of whom was afterwards to marry her brother Neville. But she was very content there, the country and the spring and the feeling of recovery all helping to make her happy. Her entry on June 11th is : ” Oh, so lovely, like poetical May ; and how shall I describe my enjoyment of the soft brisk wind and fragrant lanes this morning when I drove a mouse of a pony, in a bit of a carriage, with Mary to Wimbledon Common ? Oh, the treat of reins and whip in my hands again ! ” Mrs. Wortley afterwards forbade this driving when she heard of it : either thinking Lucy not strong enough for it, or perhaps not thinking it ” proper.” The limits of propriety were strict in those days. The diarist walks alone on the pier at Brighton, but records that it ” suddenly struck ” her as ” scampish ” ; and we hear of her and her cousin Agnes Gladstone walking from Downing Street ” over to Stratton Street ” (her grandmother’s house) ” after breakfast with footman,” which she describes in brackets as ” rather scampish, but it was early and the streets empty.” It sounds almost as if they had breakfasted with the footman, which would have been ” scampish ” indeed ; but it was evidently bad enough to venture without any other protector on this bold and dangerous walk !
In the country, too, there are things recorded which have an antiquarian interest to-day. In a pen-sketch she gives of the skating at Hawarden in December 1860 the men wear top-hats ! She records that at Hagley five-o’clock tea was then a luxury reserved for Sundays. Probably the dress she wore as bridesmaid at her cousin Reginald Yorke’s wedding will seem to connoisseurs as out of date as tea only once a week ! She describes herself as ” figged out in tarlatane trimmed at the bottom with light green battlements, a geranium wreath, a tulle veil flying behind, and a pretty locket presented for the occasion.” Nor are some of the amusements recorded any longer in vogue. Cricket and croquet and billiards, all of which she records herself as playing, are indeed still popular ; and girls hunt and fish to-day at least as often as she did. But ordinary riding has almost disappeared from roads overrun by motors ; and archery and its accompanying ” bow meetings,” though not perhaps unknown, are no longer often heard of. Nor do many young people now know enough poetry to play the game of ” capping verses,” which Lucy Lyttelton is always playing, both before and after her marriage. In this volume she describes herself as going a twenty-mile ride with her uncle, the last twelve miles of which were done under pouring rain, so that they arrived home soaked to the skin. But ” we came the ten miles home within an hour, capping verses to keep up our spirits.”
Nor does anyone, so far as I know, now practise a curious sort of game which she describes herself as going in for at Lady de Tabley’s, with touching results which she no doubt kept to herself. ” Lady Jane Levett set us all off feeling each other’s pulses to dis¬cover which, of three individuals thought of, the person whose pulse is being held loves most. Very little could be made out of my odd feeble pulse at first ; but at last I thought of some indifferent person, and then of darling Mammie, and the change was from a small weak pulse to a very quick one. A proof I can’t help liking that one’s love is not vague and unreal, but actually affecting one’s nature.” Strange that she should have fancied she needed any proof of the sincerity of her love, not only of the dead mother but of the living father and brothers and sisters. It is written plain in almost every page of the Diary.
Since this was in type, I have been lent a little volume written in 1862 in place of the lost fifth book of the Diary. Of course it only relates a few doings which stood out enough to be remembered after two years. There is a visit to Althorp, where she says of the new and beautiful Lady Spencer—” Spencer’s Fairy Queen,” as she used to be called—” I am falling head over ears in love with Charlotte. Mr. Leslie is painting her : but does he hope to do justice to her lovely expression, her dancing ingenuous eyes and in¬describable winsomeness, etc ? Sanguine ! ” She met Lord Derby, the Prime Minister, at Witley (Lord Dud¬ley’s) and describes him as ” beyond anything agree¬able ” ; adding that he ” flirts with me in a way that does me honour.” At Witley, too, we hear that she walked ten miles to church and back ” through mud, up hill, with an immensely heavy poplin gown to hold up.” She finds Cliveden ” full of dignified and courteous grandees ” who fill her with ” portentous shyness “: ” the old Duke ” (of Sutherland) ” still very grand looking but as deaf as a post.” And there is a Royal Ball at which she danced with Lord Cowper, who is described as ” a grand partner.”
But of course the chief event mentioned is her sister Mend’s engagement, which took place on an expedition to the Crystal Palace, on May 26th, 1860; and her marriage, which followed on July 19th at Westminster Abbey. There is nothing to quote in her account of it, unless it be this : ” I don’t think darling old Meriel and I slept very calmly on this our last night together, after all these happy years of sisterhood.”