New! Why, there is nothing new. The only luck is to pitch on something
old enough to be forgotten.
The writing profession is a hard and often underpaid one, but one thing
may be said, that writers are ever ready and willing to help each other.
We can most of us testify to this by kindnesses received.
Sir Walter Besant was the very embodiment of this spirit of
helpfulness, not only to me personally, but also to the literary world
at large, and it was he who conceived the idea of bringing this same
friendliness into a common centre by establishing the Incorporated
Society of Authors.
Having touched on the toil, sorrows, and worries of “work,” it is
pleasant to pass on to the silver lining to the cloud.
I cannot remember when I first met Sir Walter Besant, although two
or three meetings stand forth distinctly in the tangled web of
recollection. One of the many kind things he did for me was soon after
my election to the Society of Authors. A dinner was announced. I had
never been to a public dinner in my life, but as a member of that
august body I had a right to be present.
Naturally wishing to go, I wrote a little letter to Sir Walter, saying
that I simply dared not go alone; did he know any lady who would join
forces with me?
“I quite understand,” he replied; “you are young and new at the game,
and may bring any guest you like. If you take my advice you will let
it be a man, and not a woman, because, I think, you will have a better
From that moment women writers were allowed a guest.
Accordingly, with a man as my “chaperon,” I attended my first public
Afterwards, when I was in great anxiety as to ways and means of
obtaining a pension for the late Mrs. J. H. Riddell, I went one day
to see Besant at his office in Soho Square. He was surrounded—half
buried, in fact—by manuscripts, for he was then correcting his books
on London—the really joyful work of his literary life. Volumes strewed
the floor, volumes were stacked upon the writing-table, volumes lay
pell-mell on the chairs. In fact, there was nowhere to sit or stand;
London on paper filled the room.
He quite sympathised with my difficult task, but said there was then no
fund available to which one could apply; and I asked if it would not be
possible to form, in connection with the Society of Authors, some sort
of Pension Fund for writers who had made fame but not fortune.
“Well, I don’t know; it might be,” he said.
As I poured forth a string of enthusiastic suggestions the dear
old gentleman listened calmly and quietly, gazing through his gold
spectacles in wonderment at my volubility.
“Not a bad idea,” he remarked.
Several interviews were the result, and not long afterwards the Pension
Fund of the Society of Authors was formed, under the able Chairmanship
of Mr. Anthony Hope. On the Original Committees of which I served, and
Besant was a real practical help to young writers. Quaint,
old-fashioned, and prim, he addressed even his best friends as “Madam.”
The following letter is in connection with a further pension for Mrs.
Riddell, which I was then endeavouring to procure from the Civil List,
and did afterwards succeed in obtaining from Mr. Balfour:
“The way to get a (Civil List) pension is to ask for it. You must
draw up a petition setting forth the exact circumstances of the
case, and get this signed by as many people of name and position
as you can, or—what is perhaps better—get it signed by a few
whose names command attention. If your friend is a member of our
society, I will undertake the petition and the signatures of a good
many known names. Remember that W. H. Smith, in administering
these pensions, is under the fixed belief that novelists are an
extravagant race who spend in luxury the enormous sums their
publishers allow them. Word your petition, therefore, so as to show
that your friend was never in receipt of his imaginary fabulous
“I remain, dear madam,
“Very sincerely yours,
No man did more for writers than Walter Besant. He raised their
status, he demanded more pay for their products, he attempted to make
a copyright with America; and the present-day position of authors,
unsatisfactory though it is, is a thousand times better than it was
before Sir Walter Besant took the matter up and maintained that
literary wares were property, and as such should be treated legally. I
merely quote this letter to show the kindness of heart of the man, and
how even the busiest people find time to do a good deed. He wrote:
“DEAR MRS. TWEEDIE,
“Your little book looks very nice. I hope it will go. Publishers
work by a regular method. Their travellers offer the book to
booksellers, who take at first what they think they can sell. Then
reviews—nature of the subject—the reputation which a book quickly
gets—cause or do not cause—a demand, and so the book succeeds or
fails. I hate to discourage people, but I have always entreated you
not to expect too much. This only on the general principle that
most books fail.
“Publishers, though very few would acknowledge this, can really do
very little for a book. What helps more than anything is for the
book to be talked about.”
His death was a loss to the entire literary profession.
He lived at Hampstead in a charming old house not far from George du
Maurier and Frank Holl; in fact, in the early days of my married life,
there was quite a little colony of interesting people living in that
neighbourhood, and we often drove up on Sundays for luncheon or to call
on those delightful folk.
Are there any novelists to-day who make enormous sums? When Sir Walter
Besant himself died he left only £6000.
* * * * *
Looking back into the recesses of one’s memory two women writers,
who died within a few weeks of each other (1906), come to mind; two
women entirely distinct in their lives and in their deaths, in their
writings, in their purpose. One rich, popular, and brilliant; the other
poor, popular, and—less brilliant, perhaps, but so extraordinarily
brave and persevering, that if it be true that genius is the capacity
to take infinite pains, no one will deny the late Mrs. J. H. Riddell’s
The first woman writer of these two was Mrs. Craigie (John Oliver
And Mrs. Craigie was herself a dual personality. As a girl she was full
of romance, sentiment, enthusiasm, and fire. Mrs. Craigie as a woman
renounced romance—of which she had but a sad experience—and sought
solace in religion. The dissection of love and the solace of religion
became the keynotes of her writings.
“John Oliver Hobbes” was another person altogether. He was a cynic,
clever, brilliant, at times as hard as his name implied. He was the
mask, the curb by which the budding womanhood of Mrs. Craigie was
extinguished and held in check. The death of this duplex personality
was a real loss.
A paradox often ends conversation, the listener is so busy trying to
unravel its meaning. But a paradox in a book often stimulates the
reader, and Mrs. Craigie was a master of paradoxes.
No one could honestly wish her back. Her death was ideal. At the zenith
of her power, in the prime of her life and looks, with the happiness of
unfulfilled dreams still before her, she lay down quietly to rest and
passed away. She was a handsome woman, with wit and charm; her parents
were rich, she acquired position, and she commanded respect by her
work. She did not live to grow old or grey, she just slipped the cable
when all the world was rose-colour and the sun shone.
Mrs. Craigie’s face when in repose had a melancholy aspect, her tongue
was often bitter. Like all Americans, she loved titles and craved
for social success; for, clever and brilliant writer as “John Oliver
Hobbes” was, Mrs. Craigie was undoubtedly a woman of the world.
To a certain extent her life was dwarfed. An unhappy marriage, in
which she early divorced her husband, kept the woman in her nature
from expanding; she imposed restraint upon all her actions, all her
thoughts. She never—even in her writings—let herself go.
Mrs. Craigie was of medium height, with a slight figure, piercing
eyes, and dark hair, which she wore very simply. She was an excellent
_raconteur_, and a delightful neighbour at a dinner-table. She
certainly showed to greater advantage in the company of men than of
women, in which characteristic she was somewhat un-American.
Knowing this want of sympathy with her own sex, she rarely appeared at
Mrs. Craigie’s name appeared in many papers as attending dinners or
committees, and making speeches; but in reality Mrs. Craigie herself
came seldom, ill-health or retirement into a convent being a frequent
excuse at the last moment for her non-appearance. She spoke well when
she did speak, although it was not really a speech at all, but a
carefully prepared little treatise which she read word for word to her
audience. She delivered it well, the matter was always worth listening
to, and she was pleasing to look upon.
“John Oliver Hobbes” was a weird pseudonym. The titles of her books
were equally incongruous. Imagine such anomalies as _Some Emotions
and a Moral_, _The Gods, Some Mortals and Lord Wickenham_, _The Herb
Moon_, or the latest—_The Dream and the Business_. Mrs. Craigie will be
remembered as a novelist, not as she aspired to be—a dramatist.
None of her plays achieved any real success except _The Ambassador_,
which had a considerable run at the St. James’s Theatre, ably helped
by that excellent manager, Sir George Alexander. Smart epigrams,
pretty setting, and French frocks won’t make a play. Her characters
lacked blood and sinew; they meant well and generally began well,
but they were not healthy, living beings. In a novel that lack of
characterisation was not so obvious as on the stage, and her smart
lines, her epigrams, and ironic thoughts, or rather the irony of “John
Oliver Hobbes” (her double), covered the lack of plot and thinness of
character more satisfactorily.
As years rolled on and the sentimental woman was lost in the thoughtful
religionist, swayed by the Romish Church, the philosopher found
satisfaction, and her later books became deeper in tone, stronger in
handling, and likely to be more lasting on the shelves of time. She
was a literary personality, with high aims where her art was concerned,
and had she lived she might some day have rivalled George Meredith,
whose style she so much admired. Much mystery surrounded her death; she
was barely forty when she suddenly and swiftly passed, as it were, like
a person going out of a house without a good-bye.
People pray against sudden death. Let me pray for it. What more lovely
ending than to sleep away into the Unknown? It may be a selfish wish,
because the shock is greater for those left behind, but, after all, to
them the death of a dear one is always a shock, come quick, come slow,
and why should the parting be harrowed by tardiness? Yes, let me pray
for sudden death, and at an early age before one gets dependent on
And my body. Well, if I die of anything interesting—disease or
accident—that will make my body of any value whatever to medicine or
science, I bequeath it for dissection to University College, Gower
Street (or to any other hospital that may be nearer me at my decease).
It is only right we should help the living to the last, and interesting
cases should always be investigated; at least, my love and admiration
for science and medicine tell me so.
Then the scraps can be cremated, because they will have fulfilled their
end. Putrefaction is disgusting and harmful to living things; so let my
remains be consumed by fire to clean white ash, and let that (in one of
those beautiful urns designed by Watts) rest inside Kingsbury Church,
or in the vault outside, beside my husband and father.
None of this is morbid, it is only common sense. Death has no horrors
for me. I am content to die, and have even paid for and arranged my own
cremation to save my survivors time and expense.
But let us return to Mrs. J. H. Riddell, who was the second of these
two well-known women writers. Of her one thinks and writes differently;
and for myself it is difficult not to hold her in memory more as the
woman than the writer, for she was an intimate friend of my earliest
years. Even then she was approaching middle life, and, unlike “John
Oliver Hobbes,” who passed away when so much of the best of life seemed
before her, Mrs. Riddell had reached the eve of her seventy-fifth
birthday before death at last—in September, 1906—released her from her
She was writing as early as 1858, when women writers were little known.
At one time she was among the most popular novelists of the day; but
she only declared her identity in 1865, after the enormous success of
_George Geith of Fen Court_.
The death of her husband whom she adored, the failure of her
publishers, and her own constant ill-health, brought her much trouble,
but she bravely struggled on with her writing for nearly half a
century, producing some thirty or forty novels, many of which ran into
second and third editions and are now in sixpenny numbers. Her insight
into character was her strong point, and her people gradually unfolded
themselves with skill and thought as the stories proceeded. She reaped
little reward, however, as her best work was done before there was any
copyright with America, and, being poor, she sold her books out for an
average of about one hundred pounds each.
Although born on the hill-side in Ireland, at Carrickfergus, the
daughter of a squire, and a lover of fresh air, fowls, flowers, and
country pursuits and produce, Mrs. Riddell settled in London. She hated
it at first, and then became an enthusiast over its charms. By day and
by night she wandered into its highways and peered into its alleys. She
learnt the City off by heart, and penetrated the mysteries of business
life so successfully that, woman though she was, she wrote _The Senior
Partner_, _City and Suburb_, etc. At that time business was not thought
a suitable subject for the novelist except in France, by men like
Balzac, so to Mrs. Riddell is due the honour of introducing the City
gentleman and making him known to the West End.
Many of the tragedies, the failures, and mysteries of business routine
which she so often depicted in her books, she wrote from personal
knowledge. Misfortunes fell upon her family and, as she was the one
to try to put matters right, she naturally learnt many curious ins
and outs of speculation and failure. Had she not always had her hand
in her pocket for someone, she would not have been so miserably off
financially when old age and sickness overtook her.
She wrote her first novel when only fifteen; but this she candidly
admitted never saw the light.
In my early writing days I remember asking Mrs. Riddell for an
“What?” she replied. “Introductions are no good; the best and only
introduction to an editor is a good article.”
How right she was!
Mrs. Riddell once told me she collected the whole of a three-volume
novel in her head—all novels were then in three volumes—and for weeks
and months she worried out the story. When it was quite complete she
wrote the last, or the most telling chapter of the book, first. For
instance, Beryl’s death scene in _George Geith_ was set down just as it
appeared in print three years subsequently.
As I have said, it was my privilege to know Mrs. J. H. Riddell from my
childhood. She was an old and valued friend of my father, and in the
curious jumbling of early recollections I recall eating my first ice at
her house at Hampstead, and being obliged to confess, with a cold lump
of surprise on my tongue, “It isn’t as nice as I ’spected.” A remark
she recalled with amusement years afterwards.
I do not suppose I was more than five years of age at that time, but
I can remember perfectly well the kindly and charming face of the
hostess, and her dark brown hair, which she wore in a loose curl
hanging behind each ear.
Her Hampstead home existed in Mrs. Riddell’s palmy days; she went
through much subsequent trouble, backing a bill for a friend, paying
debts for her husband, keeping a paralysed brother whose health
necessitated constant care, and who was for many years a heavy drag
upon her purse, all of which brought incessant anxiety upon the
authoress. My father and my husband helped her substantially many
times—so when they both died so suddenly she was even more handicapped
by Fortune. She nobly struggled on until the year 1900, when, as
already mentioned, I made a personal application to Mr. Balfour, then
Prime Minister, for a sum of money towards purchasing an annuity for
her. Much correspondence ensued, and, thanks to the courtesy of Mr.
Balfour, a cheque for three hundred pounds was finally handed to me
from the Civil List. Through the help of Mr. J. M. Barrie, a further
couple of hundred pounds was obtained from the Royal Literary Fund.
This, with some kindly contributions from my own personal friends,
among whom may be mentioned Sir W. S. Gilbert, Mrs. Humphry Ward,
Justin Huntley McCarthy, E. W. Hornung, and Anthony Hope Hawkins,
was, however, found to be too small a sum to buy an annuity of real
value, and, accordingly, I made that bold suggestion to the Society of
Authors. It was finally agreed that I should hand over three hundred
pounds direct to them, in consideration of their granting her a pension
for life, the Society retaining the three hundred at her death.
Mrs. Riddell thus became the first pensioner of the Society of Authors,
of which she was one of the original members; and time after time she
expressed to me her gratitude for that sixty pounds a year, her own
private income being practically _nil_. The Society conferred a great
benefit in bestowing this pension, and, at the same time, must feel
proud to know it was given to one so worthy to claim it in the world of
Her struggles to work were magnificent, and she actually published
her last book after she was seventy years of age. Nearly fifty years
of penmanship is indeed a record. During the last months of her life
she suffered much pain from cancer, and was constantly in her bed, not
being able to write at all, and to read but little. I constantly went
to see her, and wondered at her patience and grieved at her poverty and
Then came her release; for such was the messenger of death to her tired
spirit. And the few friends who saw her laid in the grave, felt it was
so, and had the relief of knowing they had added to her comfort—and
even the necessaries of life—in her last darkened years.
Since those days I have collected purses for a dozen or more folk.
Men and women whose names are known in every land—but who have fallen
on evil days—generally ill-health having been the cause. The Arts
are shockingly paid, the mental strain is great. Exponents of great
work live on their health capital, their brain-force, and sometimes
the chain snaps and the wheels refuse to go round. Then a few hundred
pounds, or a pension, or the kindly sympathy of friendship that backs
up their faltering strength, comes like a new fuse, inspiring the
recipient to take up the threads of work almost as well as before.
Yes, I collected between seven and eight hundred pounds for Mrs.
Riddell, which I doled out weekly till her death. I paid her servant’s
wages, rent, the doctor, and all the necessities of years of illness.
Just as my little store was coming to an end her life flickered out.
There was enough left for a modest funeral and a stone slab above her
grave. That was the first time I undertook a big job of the kind; but
not long after I did the same for one of the most famous singers of the
Then again, the people who do things that will live have proverbially
bad business heads. Just as judges die without wills, and Chancellors
of the Exchequer leave their own affairs in a muddle, so artists,
writers, painters, scientists, reap little reward themselves when
weighed against the intense pleasure they give to others.
Each little monetary collection or pension has necessitated dozens,
almost hundreds, of letters, all of which have come into extremely busy
days. I only wish I could have done twice as much, for well I know what
a few hundred pounds handed over to me by friends and sympathisers
would have been in those early days of widowhood.
He who gives quickly gives twice. The generous people are those who
have been poor and suffered. The rich so seldom think of anyone but
themselves, although writing a cheque costs them no self-sacrifice.
Then comes another notable woman; a power in her day. One who, herself
strong-minded and a pioneer without recognising it, bitterly denounced
other women for so-called strong-mindedness; but, while inflicting
the lash on imaginary victims, she poured balm on the wounds of real
sufferers. Unhappily deserted in her married life, she yet extolled the
virtues of mankind to the skies—a living paradox.
Woman has advanced very far since Mrs. Lynn Linton invented the phrase
of “the shrieking sisterhood.”
That was in the distant ’eighties, when the modern young woman,
who filled her with such holy horror, was, after all, but a poor,
shrinking creature compared with the amazons of 1907, who marched to
Hyde Park to demand votes for women. A desire for the development
of her own individuality, freed from the control of parents and the
enforced escort of brothers, a latch-key, a club, and a _mode_ of
short hair, waistcoats, men’s coats, and even hard shirts, besides a
horse-shoe pin, were all that the “Girl of the Period” advanced; but,
in contemptuous condemnation of her, Mrs. Lynn Linton dipped her pen in
Dear me! what an archaic type she already seems, that original “new
woman” whom one used to find at the Pioneer Club in its early days.
Perhaps it is as well that Mrs. Lynn Linton did not live to see
suffragists concealed in pantechnicon vans for the purpose of raiding
Parliament, or shouting down Cabinet Ministers, assaulting policemen,
smashing windows, and going to prison in hundreds with as much
self-glorification as if they were notorious criminals and heroines
of a “Penny Dreadful.” The dictionary surely does not contain words
so scathing as the old lady would have required for such flagrant
revolters against her ideal of womanhood. That women suffragettes have
an ideal she would not have understood. The curt indifference of men
to their more peaceable demands has forced women to perpetrate these
antics to draw attention to their creed. She was herself a woman who
was greatly misunderstood. The conception formed by the public, who
knew Mrs. Lynn Linton only by her writings, was entirely different from
that of people who were privileged to know her personally. All her
venom was in her pen, all her heart in her home and her friends.
I have reason to recall her name with gratitude, for she was one of the
first to assist me by helpful advice and example along the slippery
path of authorship. Indeed, her readiness to place her long experience
at the service of young writers, who were often entirely unknown to
her, even at the sacrifice of considerable time and convenience to
herself, was one of the most delightful points in her character.
One day, late in the last century, I was chatting with her in her flat
eight stories up in Queen Anne’s Mansions, the windows of which looked
out high over the neighbouring chimney-pots and far away beyond the
grey mist of smoky London to the Surrey hills. Lying on the table was a
large bundle of manuscripts, upon which I naturally remarked, “What a
lot of work you have there on hand; surely that means two or three new
“Not one page is my own,” she replied, peering at me through her
gold-rimmed spectacles. “Bundles of manuscripts like these have haunted
my later life. I receive large packets from men and women I have never
seen and know nothing whatever about. One asks for my advice; another
if I can find a publisher; a third enquires if the material is worth
spinning out into a three-volume novel; a fourth lives abroad and
places the MS. in my hands to do with it exactly as I think fit.
“How fearful! But what do you do with them all?”
“Once I returned one unread, for the writing was so bad I could not
decipher it. But only once; the rest I have always conscientiously
read through and corrected page by page, if I have thought there was
anything to be made of them. But to many of my unknown correspondents,
I have had to reply sadly that the work had not sufficient merit
for publication, and, as gently as I could, suggest their leaving
literature alone and trying something else.”
“You are very good to bother yourself with them.”
“No, not good exactly; but I feel very strongly the duty of the old
to the young, and how the established must help the striving. I am so
sorry for young people, and know how a little help or advice given at
the right moment may prove the making of a career; kindly words of
discouragement, given also at the right time, may save many a bitter
tear of disappointment in the future.”
This was the “dragon” who, I do not doubt, existed in the minds of
thousands of readers of Mrs. Lynn Linton’s magazine essays—essays which
were full of fire; critical, analytical, clear-sighted and written
unflinchingly. Who would dream after reading one of her splendidly
forcible arguments, written in her trenchant style, that the real
author was one of the most domesticated, home-loving women possible,
full of kindness and sympathy, and keenly interested in the welfare
of all around her? How little a book reveals the true author. How
often the pen disguises the real person, as words disguise the inmost
Indeed, one might go far to find another such lovable old lady.
It is often supposed by the outside world that jealousies and rivalries
exist between authors, as is too often said to be the case in other
professions. Nonsense! Here is one example to the contrary. And many
another could easily be furnished.
At the very time that Mrs. Lynn Linton was earning her living by
writing novels, Mrs. Alexander, in private life Mrs. Hector (another
dear memory), was doing the same. Rivalry there was none between these
two; more than that, they actually helped each other. And in the end,
when Mrs. Lynn Linton died, she left her most cherished cabinet of
china and many other souvenirs to her woman writer friend, who prized
them above rubies.
The following is a characteristic letter from Mrs. Lynn Linton, anent
an article I had written about her:
“MY DEAR MRS. TWEEDIE,
“Thank you so much for your kind letter. I am so glad you are busy
and successful in your work.
“The She you painted in _T.B._ was a very nice old She indeed, a
quite superior She, and a little better than the original, I am
sorry to say! But, la, la, la, the heaps of begging letters and
manuscripts the paper has brought me. It has punished me for any
pride I might have had there-anent, and kept my comb cut down to
my head. To-day, again, comes a long eight-paged letter of sorrow,
distress, and nonsense, which I am asked to help. Well, I do what I
can, and, at all events, sympathy and kind words and thoughts have
their own value, if that is not of a productive or golden kind.
“I was very sorry not to see that fine young fellow again. I was
charmed with him, if you like! I should have liked to kiss his
hand for respect and hope and admiration. I should have liked to
whip him as an aged Sarah might have whipped her grandson! I hope
he will come back safe and with renown and success.
“Good-bye, dear Mrs. Brightness.
“Yes, I have partly recovered from Ibsen, who had a lurid kind of
light that fascinates yet repels, a lying spirit that enthusiates
“E. LYNN LINTON.”
I had sat between her and Beerbohm Tree at the first performance
in England of “Hedda Gabler,” which I had seen Ibsen rehearse in
Christiania shortly before in his slow pompous manner.
To understand humanity is a work of intelligence, and Mrs. Lynn
Linton had that gift in a marked degree. She was a woman of strong