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An essay by Edmund Gosse

The Author Of "Pelham"

Title:     The Author Of "Pelham"
Author: Edmund Gosse [More Titles by Gosse]

One hundred and twenty years have nearly passed since the birth of Bulwer-Lytton, and he continues to be suspended in a dim and ambiguous position in the history of our literature. He combined extraordinary qualities with fatal defects. He aimed at the highest eminence, and failed to reach it, but he was like an explorer, who is diverted from the main ascent of a mountain, and yet annexes an important table-land elsewhere. Bulwer-Lytton never secured the ungrudging praise of the best judges, but he attained great popularity, and has even now not wholly lost it. He is never quoted as one of our great writers, and yet he holds a place of his own from which it is improbable that he will ever be dislodged. Although he stood out prominently among his fellows, and although his career was tinged with scandal and even with romance, very little has been known about him. Curiosity has been foiled by the discretion of one party and the malignity of another. The public has not been in a position to know the truth, nor to possess the real portrait of a politician and a man of letters who has been presented as an angel and as a gargoyle, but never as a human being. Forty years after his death the candour and the skill of his grandson reveal him to us at last in a memoir of unusual excellence.

In no case would Lord Lytton's task have been an easy one, but it must have been made peculiarly difficult by the work of those who had preceded him. Of these, the only one who deserves serious attention is Robert Lytton, who published certain fragments in 1883. That the son wished to support the memory of his father is unquestionable. But it is difficult to believe that he intended his contribution to be more than an aid to some future biographer's labour. He scattered his material about him in rough heaps. Apart from the "Literary Remains," which destroyed the continuity of even such brief biography as he gave, Robert Lytton introduced a number of chapters which are more or less of the nature of essays, and are often quite foreign to his theme. Moreover, he dedicated several chapters to literary criticism of his father's works. It is, in fact, obvious to any one who examines the two volumes of 1883 which Robert Lytton contrived to fill, that he was careful to contribute as little as he possibly could to the story which he had started out to relate. Although there is much that is interesting in the memoirs of 1883, the reader is continually losing the thread of the narrative. The reason is, no doubt, that Robert Lytton stood too close to his parents, had seen too much of their disputes, was too much torn by the agonies of his own stormy youth, and was too sensitively conscious of the scandal, to tell the story at all. We have the impression that, in order to forestall any other biography, he pretended himself to write a book which he was subtle enough to make unintelligible.

This baffling discretion, this feverish race from hiding-place to hiding-place, has not only not been repeated by Lord Lytton in the new Life, but the example of his father seems to have positively emphasised his own determination to be straightforward and lucid. I know no modern biography in which the writer has kept more rigidly to the business of his narrative, or has less successfully been decoyed aside by the sirens of family vanity. It must have been a great difficulty to the biographer to find his pathway cumbered by the volumes of 1883, set by his father as a plausible man-trap for future intruders. Lord Lytton, however, is the one person who is not an intruder, and he was the only possessor of the key which his father had so diplomatically hidden. His task, however, was further complicated by the circumstance that Bulwer-Lytton himself left in MS. an autobiography, dealing very fully with his own career and character up to the age of twenty-two. The redundancy of all the Lyttons is amazing. Bulwer-Lytton would not have been himself if he had not overflowed into reflections which swelled his valuable account of his childhood into monstrous proportions. Lord Lytton, who has a pretty humour, tells an anecdote which will be read with pleasure:--

"An old woman, who had once been one of Bulwer-Lytton's trusted domestic servants, is still living in a cottage at Knebworth. One day she was talking to me about my grandfather, and inadvertently used an expression which summed him up more perfectly than any elaborate description could have done. She was describing his house at Copped Hall, where she had been employed as caretaker, and added: 'In one of his attacks of fluency, I nursed him there for many weeks.' 'Pleurisy,' I believe, was what she meant."

The bacillus of "fluency" interpenetrates the Autobiography, the letters, the documents of every kind, and at any moment this disease will darken Bulwer-Lytton's brightest hours. But curtailed by his grandson, and with its floral and heraldic ornaments well pared away, the Autobiography is a document of considerable value. It is written with deliberate candour, and recalls the manner of Cobbett, a writer with whom we should not expect to find Bulwer-Lytton in sympathy. It is probable that the author of it never saw himself nor those who surrounded him in precisely their true relation. There was something radically twisted in his image of life, which always seems to have passed through a refracting surface on its way to his vision. No doubt this is more or less true of all experience; no power has given us the gift "to see ourselves as others see us." But in the case of Bulwer-Lytton this refractive habit of his imagination produced a greater swerving aside from positive truth than is usual. The result is that an air of the fabulous, of the incredible, is given to his narratives, and often most unfairly.

A close examination, in fact, of the Autobiography results in confirming the historic truth of it. What is surprising is not, when we come to consider them, the incidents themselves, but Bulwer-Lytton's odd way of narrating them. Lord Lytton, without any comment, provides us with curious material for the verification of his grandfather's narrative. He prints, here and there, letters from entirely prosaic persons which tally, often to a surprising degree, with the extravagant statements of Bulwer-Lytton. To quote a single instance, of a very remarkable character, Bulwer-Lytton describes the effect his scholarship produced, at the age of seventeen, upon sober, elderly people, who were dazzled with his accomplishments and regarded him as a youthful prodigy. It is the sort of confession, rather full-blooded and lyrical, which we might easily set down to that phenomenon of refraction. But Lord Lytton prints a letter from Dr. Samuel Parr (whom, by the way, he calls "a man of sixty-four," but Parr, born in 1747, was seventy-four in 1821), which confirms the autobiographer's account in every particular. The aged Whig churchman, who boasted a wider knowledge of Greek literature than any other scholar of his day, and whose peremptory temper was matter of legend, could write to this Tory boy a long letter of enthusiastic criticism, and while assuring Bulwer-Lytton that he kept "all the letters with which you have honoured me," could add: "I am proud of such a correspondent; and, if we lived nearer to each other, I should expect to be very happy indeed in such a friend." Letters of this kind, judiciously printed by Lord Lytton in his notes, serve to call us back from the nebulous witchcraft in which Bulwer-Lytton was so fond of wrapping up the truth, and to remind us that, in spite of the necromancer, the truth is there.

From the point where the fragment of autobiography closes, although for some time much the same material is used and some of the same letters are quoted, as were quoted and used by Robert Lytton, the presentation of these is so different that the whole effect is practically one of novelty. But with the year 1826, when Edward Bulwer-Lytton, at the age of three-and-twenty, became engaged to Rosina Doyle Wheeler, all is positively new. The story of the marriage, separation, and subsequent relations has never before been presented to the world with any approach to accuracy or fulness. No biographical notices of Bulwer-Lytton even touch on this subject, which has been hitherto abandoned to the gossip of irresponsible contemporaries. It is true that a Miss Devey composed a "Life of Rosina, Lady Lytton," in which the tale was told. This work was immediately suppressed, and is inaccessible to the public; but the only person who is known to be familiar with its contents reports that it "contains fragments of the narrative, obviously biassed, wholly inaccurate, and evidently misleading." So far as the general public is concerned, Lord Lytton's impartial history of the relations between his grandfather and his grandmother is doubtless that portion of his book which will be regarded as the most important. I may, therefore, dwell briefly upon his treatment of it.

The biographer, in dealing with a subject of this incalculable difficulty, could but lay himself open to the censure of those who dislike the revelation of the truth on any disagreeable subject. This lion, however, stood in the middle of his path, and he had either to wrestle with it or to turn back. Lord Lytton says in his preface that it was necessary to tell all or nothing of the matrimonial adventures of his grandparents, but, in reality, this was not quite the alternative, which was to tell the truth or to withdraw from the task of writing a Life of Bulwer-Lytton. The marriage and its results were so predominant in the career of the man, and poisoned it so deeply to the latest hour of his consciousness, that to attempt a biography of him without clear reference to them would have been like telling the story of Nessus the Centaur without mentioning the poisoned arrow of Heracles. But Lord Lytton shall give his own apology:--

"As it was impossible to give a true picture of my grandfather without referring to events which overshadowed his whole life, and which were already partially known to the public, I decided to tell the whole story as fully and as accurately as possible, in the firm belief that the truth can damage neither the dead nor the living. The steps which led to the final separation between my grandparents, and the forces which brought about so disastrous a conclusion of a marriage of love, apart from their biographical interest, afford a study of human nature of the utmost value; and so great are the moral lessons which this story contains, that I venture to hope that the public may find in much that is tragic and pitiful much also that is redeeming, and that the ultimate verdict of posterity may be that these two unfortunate people did not suffer entirely in vain."

His story, therefore, is not written with any partiality, and it seems to be as full and as truthful as the ample materials at the author's disposal permitted. The reader will conjecture that Lord Lytton could have given many more details, but apart from the fact that they would often have been wholly unfit for publication, it is difficult to see that they would in any degree have altered the balance of the story, or modified our judgment, which is quite sufficiently enlightened by the copious letters on both sides which are now for the first time printed.

Voltaire has remarked of love that it is "de toutes les passions la plus forte, parce qu'elle attaque, à la fois, la tête, le cœur, le corps." It is a commonplace to say that Edward Bulwer's whole career might have been altered if he had never met Rosina Wheeler, because this is true in measure of every strong juvenile attachment: but it is rarely indeed so copiously or so fatally true as it was in his case. His existence was overwhelmed by this event; it was turned topsy-turvey, and it never regained its equilibrium. In this adventure all was exaggerated; there was excess of desire, excess of gratification, an intense weariness, a consuming hatred.

On the first evening when the lovers met, in April 1826, an observer, watching them as they talked, reflected that Bulwer's "bearing had that aristocratic something bordering on hauteur" which reminded the onlooker "of the passage, 'Stand back; I am holier than thou!'" The same observer, dazzled, like the rest of the world, by the loveliness of Miss Wheeler, judged that it would be best "to regard her as we do some beautiful caged wild creature of the woods--at a safe and secure distance." It would have preserved a chance of happiness for Bulwer-Lytton to possess something of this stranger's clairvoyance. It was not strange perhaps, but unfortunate, that he did not notice--or rather that he was not repelled by, for he did notice--the absence of moral delicacy in the beautiful creature, the radiant and seductive Lamia, who responded so instantly to his emotion. He, the most fastidious of men, was not offended by the vivacity of a young lady who called attention to the vulgarity of her father's worsted stockings and had none but words of abuse for her mother. These things, indeed, disconcerted the young aristocrat, but he put them down to a lack of training; he persuaded himself that these were superficial blemishes and could be remedied; and he resigned his senses to the intoxication of Rosina's beauty.

At first--and indeed to the last--she stimulated his energy and his intellect. His love and his hatred alike spurred him to action. In August 1826, in spite of the violent opposition of his mother, he and Rosina were betrothed. By October Mrs. Bulwer had so far prevailed that the engagement was broken off, and Edward tossed in a whirlpool of anger, love, and despair. It took the form of such an attack of "fluency" as was never seen before or after. Up to that time he had been an elegant although feverish idler. Now he plunged into a strenuous life of public and private engagements. He prepared to enter the House of Commons; he finished Falkland, his first novel; he started the composition of Pelham and of another "light prose work," which may have disappeared; he achieved a long narrative in verse, O'Neill, or the Rebel; and he involved himself in literary projects without bound and without end. The aim of all this energy was money. It is true that he had broken off his betrothal; but it was at first only a pretence at estrangement, to hoodwink his mother. He was convinced that he could not live without possessing Rosina, and as his mother held the strings of the common purse, he would earn his own income and support a wife.

Mrs. Bulwer-Lytton, who had a Roman firmness, was absolutely determined that her son should not marry "a penniless girl whose education had been so flagrantly neglected, who was vain and flighty, with a mocking humour and a conspicuous lack of principle." At this point the story becomes exceedingly interesting. A Balzac would strip it of its romantic trappings, and would penetrate into its physiology. Out of Rosina's sight, and diverted by the excess of his literary labours, Edward's infatuation began to decline. His mother, whose power of character would have been really formidable if it had been enforced by sympathy or even by tact, relaxed her opposition; and instantly her son, himself, no longer attacked, became calmer and more clear-sighted. Rosina's faults were patent to his memory; the magic of her beauty less invincible. Within a month all was changed again. Rosina fretted herself into what she contrived to have reported to Bulwer-Lytton as an illness. She begged for an interview, and he went with reluctance to bid her farewell for ever. It was Bulwer-Lytton's habit to take with him a masterpiece of literature upon every journey. It seems unfortunate that on this occasion The Tempest was not his companion, for it might have warned him, as Prospero warned Ferdinand, against the fever in the blood:--

"No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; but barren hate,
Sour-eyed disdain, and discord, shall bestrew
The union of your bed, with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it, both."

When his short interview, which was to have been a final one, was over, that had happened which made a speedy marriage necessary, whatever the consequences might be.

The new conditions were clearly stated to old Mrs. Bulwer-Lytton, but that formidable lady belonged to an earlier generation, and saw no reason for Quixotic behaviour. Her conscience had been trained in the eighteenth century, and all her blame was for Rosina Wheeler. Torn between his duty and his filial affection, Bulwer-Lytton now passed through a period of moral agony. He wrote to his mother: "I am far too wretched, and have had too severe a contest with myself, not to look to the future rather with despondency than pleasure, and the view you take of the matter is quite enough to embitter my peace of mind." Miss Wheeler, not unnaturally stung to anger, used disrespectful expressions regarding Mrs. Bulwer-Lytton, and these bickerings filled the lover and son with indignation. His life, between these ladies, grew to be hardly worth living, and in the midst of one such crisis this brilliant young dandy of four-and-twenty wrote:--"I feel more broken-hearted, despondent, and sated than any old valetudinarian who has seen all his old hopes and friends drop off one by one, and finds himself left for the rest of his existence to the solitary possession of gloom and gout." Mrs. Bulwer-Lytton fought fiercely to the last, and Edward determined to close the matter; on August 29th, 1827, he married Rosina.

At first, in spite of, and even because of, the wild hostility of his mother, the marriage seemed successful. The rage of the mother drove the husband to the wife. Lord Lytton has noted that in later years all that his grandfather and his grandmother said about one another was unconsciously biassed by their memory of later complications. Neither Bulwer-Lytton nor Rosina could give an accurate history of their relations at the beginning, because the mind of each was prejudiced by their knowledge of the end. Each sought to justify the hatred which both had lived to feel, by representing the other as hateful from the first. But the letters survive, and the recollections of friends, to prove that this was entirely untrue. It must be admitted that their union was never based upon esteem, but wholly upon passion, and that from the first they lacked that coherency of relation, in moral respects, which was needed to fix their affections. But those who have dimly heard how bitterly these two unfortunate people hated one another in later life will be astonished to learn that they spent the two first years together like infatuated turtle-doves.

Their existence was romantic and absurd. Cut off from all support by the implacable anger of old Mrs. Bulwer-Lytton, they depended on a combined income of £380 a year and whatever the husband could make to increase it. Accordingly they took a huge country house, Woodcot in Oxon, and lived at the rate of several thousands a year. There they basked in an affluent splendour of bad taste which reminds us of nothing in the world so much as of those portions of The Lady Flabella which Mrs. Wititterly was presently to find so soft and so voluptuous. The following extract from one of Rosina's lively letters-and she was a very sprightly correspondent--gives an example of her style, of her husband's Pelhamish extravagance, and of the gaudy recklessness of their manner of life. They had now been married nearly two years:--

"How do you think my audacious husband has spent his time since he has been in town? Why, he must needs send me down what he termed a little Christmas box, which was a huge box from Howel and James's, containing only eight Gros de Naples dresses of different colours not made up, four Gros des Indes, two merino ones, four satin ones, an amber, a black, a white and a blue, eight pocket handkerchiefs that look as if they had been spun out of lilies and air and brodée by the fairies, they are so exquisitely fine and so beautifully worked. Four pieces (16 yards in each) of beautiful white blonde, two broad pieces and two less broad, a beautiful and very large blue real cashmere shawl, a Chantilly veil that would reach from this to Dublin, and six French long pellerines very richly embroidered on the finest India muslin, three dozen pair of white silk stockings, one dozen of black, a most beautiful black satin cloak with very pretty odd sort of capes and trimmed round and up the sides with a very broad band of a new kind of figured plush--I forget what they call it (it came from Paris), and a hat of the same--such a hat as can only be made in the Rue Vivienne. You would think that this 'little Christmas box' would have been enough to have lasted for some time. However, he thought differently, for on New Year's morning before I was out of bed, there came a parcel by the mail, which on opening proved to be a large red Morocco case containing a bright gold chain, a yard and a half long, with the most beautiful and curious cross to it that I ever saw--the chain is as thick as my dead gold necklace, and you may guess what sort of a thing it is when I tell you that I took it to a jeweller here to have it weighed, and it weighed a pound all but an ounce. The man said it never was made for less than fifty guineas, but that he should think it had cost more."

Rosina, who has only £80 a year of her own, will not be outdone, and cannot "resist ordering" Edward "a gold toilette, which he has long wished for.... Round the rim of the basin and the handle of the ewer I have ordered a wreath of narcissus in dead gold, which, for Mr. Pelham, you'll own, is not a bad idea."

It would be expected that all this crazy display would lead the young couple rapidly and deeply into debt. That it did not do so is the most curious phase of the story. Bulwer-Lytton immediately, and apparently without the slightest difficulty, developed a literary industry the sober record of which approaches the fabulous. Walter Scott alone may be held to have equalled it. The giants of popular fiction did, indeed, enjoy larger single successes than Bulwer-Lytton did, but none of them, not Dickens himself, was so uniformly successful. Everything he wrote sold as though it were bread displayed to a hungry crowd. Even his poetry, so laboriously and lifelessly second-hand, always sold. He did not know what failure was; he made money by Devereux; even The New Timon went into many editions. To earn what was required, however--and in these early years he seems to have made £3000 his minimum of needful return--to live in the insane style which his wife and he demanded, an enormous nervous strain was required. Edward Bulwer-Lytton's temper had always been warm and eager; it now grew irritable to the highest degree. His mother continued to exasperate him; his wife suddenly failed to please him; his health waned; and he became the most miserable of men; yet without ceasing for a moment to be the most indefatigable of authors. The reader will follow the evolution of the tragedy, which is of poignant interest, in Lord Lytton's pages. The whole story is one of the most extraordinary in the history of literature.

It has been a feature of Bulwer-Lytton's curious posthumous fortune that he has seemed solitary in his intellectual if not in his political and social action. We think of him as one of those morose and lonely bees that are too busy gathering pollen to join the senate of the hive, and are dwellers in the holes of the rocks. It is quite true that, with a painful craving for affection, he had not the genius of friendship. The general impression given by his biography is one of isolation; in "the sea of life" he was one of those who are most hopelessly "enisled." Nothing is sadder than this severance of a delicate and sensitive temperament from those who surround it closely and to whom it stretches out its arms in vain. But a careful reading of these interesting volumes leaves us in no doubt of the cause of this loneliness. Bulwer-Lytton, with all his ardour and his generosity, was devoid of the gift of sympathy. In characters of a simpler mould a natural kindliness may take the place of comprehension. But Bulwer-Lytton had a lively and protean fancy which perpetually deceived him. In human relations he was always moving, but always on the wrong track.

The letters to his mother, to his wife, to his son, exemplify this unfortunate tendency. They are eloquent, they are even too eloquent, for Bulwer-Lytton intoxicated himself with his own verbosity; they are meant to be kind, they are meant to be just, they are meant to be wise and dignified and tender; but we see, in Lord Lytton's impartial narrative, that they scarcely ever failed to exasperate the receiver. His dealings with his son, of whom he was exquisitely proud and sensitively fond, are of the saddest character, because of the father's want of comprehension, haste of speech and intolerance of temper. The very fact that a son, a wife, or a mother could with impunity be addressed in terms of exaggerated sensibility, because there could be no appeal, was a snare to the too-ready pen of Bulwer-Lytton, which, poured out its oceans of ink without reflection and without apprehension. If violent offence were given, the post went out again later in the day, and equally violent self-humiliation would restore the emotional balance. But what could not be restored was the sense of confidence and domestic security.

In his contact with other literary men of his own age more restraint was necessary, and we learn from Lord Lytton's pages of valuable and prolonged acquaintanceships which were sometimes almost friendships. His company was much sought after, and occasionally by very odd persons. Lord Lytton prints a series of most diverting letters from the notorious Harriette Wilson, who, in spite of the terror into which her "Memoirs" had thrown society, desired to add the author of Pelham to the aviary of her conquests. But the snare was set in vain before the eyes of so shrewd a bird as Bulwer-Lytton; he declined to see the lady, but he kept her amazing letters. This was in 1829, when the novelist seems to have had no literary or political associates. But by 1831, we find him editing the New Monthly Magazine, and attaching himself to Lord Melbourne and Lord Durham on the one hand and to Disraeli and Dickens on the other. When to these we have added Lady Blessington and Letitia Landon, we have mentioned all those public persons with whom Bulwer-Lytton seems to have been on terms of intimacy during his early manhood. All through these years he was an incessant diner-out and party-goer, and the object of marvellous adulation, but he passed through all this social parade as though it had been a necessary portion of the exterior etiquette of life. Why he fatigued himself by these formal exercises, in which he seems to have found no pleasure, it is impossible to conceive, but a sense of the necessity of parade was strangely native to him.

He had, however, one close and constant friend. John Forster was by far the most intimate of all his associates throughout his career. Bulwer-Lytton seems to have met him first about 1834, when he was twenty-eight and Forster only twenty-two. In spite of this disparity in age, the younger man almost at once took a tone of authority such as the elder seldom permitted in an acquaintance. Forster had all the gifts which make a friend valuable. He was rich in sympathy and resource, his temper was reasonable, he comprehended a situation, he knew how to hold his own in argument and yet yield with grace. Lord Lytton prints a very interesting character-sketch of Forster, which he has found among his grandfather's MSS. It is a tribute which does equal credit to him who makes it and to him of whom it is made:--

"John Forster.... A most sterling man, with an intellect at once massive and delicate. Few, indeed, have his strong practical sense and sound judgment; fewer still unite with such qualities his exquisite appreciation of latent beauties in literary art. Hence, in ordinary life, there is no safer adviser about literary work, especially poetry; no more refined critic. A large heart naturally accompanies so masculine an understanding. He has the rare capacity for affection which embraces many friendships without loss of depth or warmth in one. Most of my literary contemporaries are his intimate companions, and their jealousies of each other do not diminish their trust in him. More than any living critic, he has served to establish reputations. Tennyson and Browning owed him much in their literary career. Me, I think, he served in that way less than any of his other friends. But, indeed, I know of no critic to whom I have been much indebted for any position I hold in literature. In more private matters I am greatly indebted to his counsels. His reading is extensive. What faults he has lie on the surface. He is sometimes bluff to rudeness. But all such faults of manner (and they are his only ones) are but trifling inequalities in a nature solid and valuable as a block of gold."

This was written with full experience, as the names of Tennyson and Browning will remind us, for Bulwer-Lytton was slow to admit the value of these younger talents. His relations with Tennyson have always been known to be unfortunate; as they are revealed in Lord Lytton's biography they approach the incredible. He met Browning at Covent Garden Theatre during the Macready "revival" of the poetic stage, but it was not until after the publication of Men and Women that he became conscious of Browning's claim, which he then very grudgingly admitted. He was grateful to Browning for his kindness to Robert Lytton in Italy, but he never understood his genius or his character.

What, however, we read with no less pleasure than surprise are the evidences of Bulwer-Lytton's interest in certain authors of a later generation, of whom the general public has never suspected him to have been aware. Something almost like friendship sprang up as lately as 1867 between him and a man whom nobody would suppose him to admire, Matthew Arnold. It sometimes happens that a sensitive and petulant artist finds it more easy to acknowledge the merits of his successors than to endure those of his immediate contemporaries. The Essays in Criticism and The Study of Celtic Literature called forth from the author of My Novel and The Caxtons such eulogy as had never been spared for the writings of Thackeray or Carlyle. Matthew Arnold appeared to Bulwer-Lytton to have "brought together all that is most modern in sentiment, with all that is most scholastic in thought and language." Arnold was a guest at Knebworth, and brought the Duke of Genoa with him. He liked Bulwer-Lytton, and their relations became very cordial and lasted for some years; Arnold has given an amusing, but very sympathetic, account of the dignified hospitalities of Knebworth.

No revelation in Lord Lytton's volumes is, however, more pleasing or more unexpected than his grandfather's correspondence with Swinburne. It is thought that he heard of him through Monckton Milnes; at all events, he was an early reader of Atalanta in Calydon. When, in 1866, all the furies of the Press fell shrieking on Poems and Ballads, Bulwer-Lytton took a very generous step. He wrote to Swinburne, expressing his sympathy and begging him to be calm. The young poet was extremely touched, and took occasion to beg the elder writer for his advice, the publisher having, without consulting him, withdrawn his volume from sale. Bulwer-Lytton's reply was a most cordial invitation to stay with him at Knebworth and talk the matter over. Swinburne gratefully accepted, and John Forster was asked to meet him. It was Bulwer-Lytton, it appears, who found another publisher for the outraged volume, and helped Swinburne out of the scrape. He was always kindness itself if an appeal was made to his protection, and to his sense of justice. However, pleasant as the visit to Knebworth was, there is no evidence that it was repeated. Bulwer-Lytton considered Swinburne's opinions preposterous, and indeed if he told Swinburne, as in 1869 he told his son Robert, that Victor Hugo was "but an epileptic dwarf in a state of galvanism," there must have been wigs on the green at Knebworth.

The student of the biography, if he is already familiar with the more characteristic works of Bulwer-Lytton, will find himself for the first time provided with a key to much that has puzzled him in the nature of that author. The story itself, apart from the tragic matrimonial trouble which runs through it like a blood-red cord, is of unusual interest. It is a story of strife, without repose, without enjoyment, but with a good deal of splendour and satisfaction. Almost to the end Bulwer-Lytton was engaged in struggle. As an ambitious social being he was fighting the world; as an author he was battling with his critics; as a statesman he was always in the wild storm of party politics. As a private individual he was all the time keeping his head up against the tide of social scandal which attacked him when he least expected it, and often threatened to drown him altogether. This turmoil contrasts with the calm of the evening years, after the peerage had been won, the ambition satisfied, the literary reputation secured.

Few writers have encountered, in their own time and after their death, so much adverse criticism, and yet have partly survived it. It is hardly realised, even perhaps by Lord Lytton, how unwilling the reviewers were to give credit to his grandfather. He never found favour in their eyes, and it was a matter of constant resentment with him that they did him, as he thought, injustice. The evidence of his wounded feelings is constant in his letters. The Quarterly Review never mentioned him without contempt until 1865, when the publication of his works, in forty-three volumes, forced it to consider this indefatigable and popular writer with a measure of respect. Sir Walter Scott, with his universal geniality, read Pelham in 1828 and "found it very interesting: the light is easy and gentlemanlike, the dark very grand and sombrous." He asked who was the author, and he tried to interest his son-in-law in the novel. But Lockhart was implacable: "Pelham," he replied, "is writ by a Mr. Bulwer, a Norfolk squire, and horrid puppy. I have not read the book, from disliking the author." Lockhart, however, did read Devereux, and three years afterwards, when reviewing some other novel, he said of the historical characters in that romance: "It seems hard to disquiet so many bright spirits for the sole purpose of showing that they could be dull." That was the attitude of the higher criticism to Bulwer-Lytton from, let us say, 1830 to 1860; he was "a horrid puppy" and he was also "dull."

But this was far from being the opinion of the reading public. We have seen that he never failed, and sometimes he soared into the very empyrean of popularity. In 1834, when he published The Last Days of Pompeii, again in 1837 when he published Ernest Maltravers, the ecstasy of his adorers discovered their favourite in a moment under the mask of anonymity which he chose to assume. This was just before the outburst of the great school of Victorian novelists; Bulwer had as yet practically no one but Disraeli to compete with. These two, the author of Pelham and the author of Vivian Grey, raced neck and neck at the head of the vast horde of "fashionable" novel-writers; now all but them forgotten. In Bulwer-Lytton's romances the reader moved among exalted personages, alternately flippant and sinister; a "mournful enthusiasm" was claimed for the writer by the readers of his day. It was the latest and most powerful development of that Byronic spirit which had been so shortlived in verse, but which was to survive in prose until Bulwer-Lytton adopted his Caxtons manner in the middle of the century. As always in Byronic periods, the portrait of the author himself was searched for among his most fatal conceptions. To the young library subscriber the stoical, solitary figure of Mordaunt, in The Disowned, was exactly what was wanted as a representation of the mysterious novelist himself. Pelham was the apotheosis of the man of fashion, and it is amusing to read how, when the Bulwer-Lyttons travelled, they were gazed at in reverence as the Pelham and the Pelhamess.

It would be difficult to improve upon the language used so early as 1832 by one of the very few critics who attempted to do justice to Bulwer-Lytton's merits. The Edinburgh Review found in him "a style vigorous and pliable, sometimes strangely incorrect, but often rising into a touching eloquence." Ten years later such was the private opinion of D.G. Rossetti, who was "inspired by reading Rienzi and Ernest Maltravers, which is indeed a splendid work." Now that we look back at Bulwer-Lytton's prodigious compositions, we are able to perceive more justly than did the critics of his own day what his merits were. For one thing, he was extraordinarily versatile. If we examine his books, we must be astonished at their variety. He painted the social life of his own day, he dived into spectral romance, he revived the beautiful ceremonies of antiquity, he evoked the great shades of English and of Continental history, he made realistic and humorous studies of middle-class life, he engaged in vehement controversy on topics of the hour, he prophesied of the order of the future, he wrote comedies and tragedies, epics and epistles, satires and lyrics. His canvasses were myriad and he crowded every one of them with figures. At his most Byronic moment he flung his dark cloak aside, and danced in motley through Paul Clifford, with its outrageous caricature of George IV. and his Ministers as a gang of Hounslow highwaymen. Perhaps his best claim to regard is the insatiability of his human curiosity, evinced in the almost infinite variety of his compositions.

The singular being who wrote so large a library of works and whose actual features have so carefully been concealed from the public, will be known at last. The piety of his grandson has presented him to us with no reservations and no false lights. Here he stands, this half-fabulous being, not sheathed in sham armour and padding the stage in buskins, but a real personality at length, "with all his weaknesses and faults, his prejudices, affectations, vanities, susceptibilities, and eccentricities, and also with all his great qualities of industry, courage, kindness of heart; sound judgment, patience, and perseverance." Lord Lytton has carried through to the close a biographical enterprise of unusual difficulty, and he deserves the thanks of all students of English literature.

[The end]
Edmund Gosse's essay: Author Of "Pelham"