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George Meredith

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Meredith, George I Meredith, Mr. Meredith I, 1828–1909, poet and novelist. Attended two schools in England, thereafter a Moravian school in Neuwied, Germany. Articled to London solicitor; abandoned study of law to turn to writing. Contributed poem to Chambers's, 1849, apparently his first published piece. Later contributed verse, stories, novels, and essays to Once a Week, Fortnightly, Cornhill, New Quarterly Magazine, Macmillan's, Pall Mall Magazine, Scribner's, and other periodicals. For some years, journalist for Ipswich Journal, Pall Mall Gazette, Morning Post. For more than thirty years, reader for Chapman & Hall. Published his first book, Poems, in 1851; his novels from 1856 to 1895.


Meredith and Dickens were acquainted. Meredith, who was still an occasional contributor to H.W. at the time that The Shaving of Shagpat was published, left a copy of the book, inscribed with Dickens's name, at the H.W. office. Dickens sent him a note of thanks (May 10, 1856) before he had read the book.
      Meredith disliked Dickens's novels and deprecated the exaggerated praise heaped on them. Though he amicably owned himself convinced by Alice Meynell's article in the Pall Mall Gazette that the "popular favourite" had claim to bring "a lord outside cockaigne" (to Alice Maynell, Jan. 20, 1899, Letter, II, 500–501), Meredith obviously held Cockaigne to be Dickens's realm. To Edward Clodd he remarked: "Not much of Dickens will live, because it has so little correspondence to life. He was the incarnation of cockneydom, a caricaturist who aped the moralist ... If his novels are read at all in the future, people will wonder what we saw in them, save some possible element of fun meaningless to them. The world will never let Mr. Pickwick, who to me is full of the lumber of imbecility, share honours with Don Quixote" (Clodd, "George Meredith," Fortnightly, July 1909). Meredith's criticism of a passage that he considered one of the "blots" in An Inland Voyage" was that "It is in the style of Dickens" (to R. L. Stevenson, June 4, 1878, Letters, I, 290). On reading the Spectator's obituary of Dickens, Meredith wrote to his friend Hardman (June 15, 1870, Letters, I, 206): "The 'Spectator' says he beat Shakespeare at his best, and instances Mrs. Gamp as superior to Juliet's nurse. This is a critical newspaper!"
      Meredith's connection with H.W. began at the very outset of his literary career, obviously through the agency of his friend Horne, who was then on the H.W. staff. (The Office Book records payment for Meredith's first poem, as also for some later ones, as made to Horne.) Meredith's confining his H.W. contributions almost entirely to verse is explained by his remark to Tom Taylor that he could not "properly do facts on the broad grin, the tricky style Dickens encouraged" (Stevenson, Ordeal of George Meredith, p. 68). Meredith ceased to write for H.W. at the end of 1856. In 1859, when Bradbury and Evans launched Once a Week in opposition to Dickens's newly established A.Y.R., he at once became a contributor. He identified himself with Once a Week and its interests, and was eager that it have an individuality of its own, as distinct as possible from that of Dickens's periodical. "... we must be careful not to seem to be copying the enemy...," he wrote to Samuel Lucas, the editor (Stevenson, p. 87). 
      Of Meredith's H.W. poem "Monmouth," [XIV, 372–73. Nov. 1, 1856] Dickens wrote to Wills, Sept. 29, 1856 (MS Huntingdon Library): "Monmouth would be well enough, but for its breaking down so direfully at the end. Still I think there is sufficient merit in it to justify its acceptance."
      The joint names accompanying the titles of four of Meredith's poems, as listed in the Office Book, indicate that those poems underwent revision, one being revised by Wills, three by Horne. At the time of revising "Sorrors and Joys" [I, 517–18. Aug. 24, 1850] and "The Two Blackbirds," [II, 157. Nov. 9, 1850] Horne was on the H.W. staff. In Feb. 1852, however, when "War" appeared in H.W., he was no longer on the staff, his engagement having terminated in mid-May 1851. In what capacity he is listed as reviser is, thus, not clear. As Meredith's friend and as his mentor in the art of poetry, he may have worked on the poem personally with Meredith; or, as former staff member, he may have been asked to revise the poem for its appearance in H.W
      Meredith, in later life, hoped that his early immature verses would be allowed to escape into obscurity. When B. W. Matz, in 1906, identified those in H.W., by means of the Office Book, he was informed by Meredith's publishers "that Mr. Meredith was annoyed at their being discovered, that he did not wish them published, and, indeed, was not sure that he wrote all of them" (letter to the Editor, The Times, Feb. 23, 1911). Matz, nevertheless, privately printed twenty-five copies of the hitherto unreprinted poems: Twenty Poems by George Meredith, 1909. In 1911, in "Some Unknown Poems of George Meredith," T.P.'s Weekly, Feb. 17, he made public announcement of his discovery of the poems, as also of the prose item assigned in the Office Book to Meredith. The article led to an exchange of letters between him and Meredith's son William Maxse Meredith, published in the columns of The Times (Feb. 21, 23, 25, 28, March 2, 1911). Meredith's son repudiated the evidence of the Office Book for all the items except the two poems that Meredith had reprinted and "Monmouth" (later, through the T.L.S., May 23, 1912, he acknowledged Meredith's authorship of an additional poem – "Infancy and Age"). Poems assigned in the Office Book to Meredith with payment recorded as sent to the address at which the Merediths lived, he contended, must have been in whole or part the writing of Meredith's wife, Mary Ellen Meredith (see also his comment in Letters of George Meredith, I, 8n). Meredith's son had not seen the Office Book; he did not understand its system of recording; his repudiation of its evidence has no weight.
       Matz, in his letters to The Times, correctly interpreted the Office Book entries, except in one matter: He took the contributor "Mrs. Meredith" (i.e., Mrs. Charles Meredeth), to whom two items are assigned, to be Mrs. George Meredith. (Matz has no occasion, in The Times letters, to mention the payment notation accompanying "A Child's Prayer," p. 480). As far as can be determined, the only connection of Meredith's wife with H.W. is that Meredith, in "The Two Blackbirds," [II, 157. Nov. 9, 1850] "Infancy and Age" retold an episode that she had made the subject of a poem in the MS Monthly Observer in 1849 (Forman, George Meredith and the Monthly Observer, pp. 18–19).
      Of Meredith's- H.W. poems not reprinted, four are authenticated by evidence outside the Office Book as his writing. In a letter of Dec. 12, 1850, to John W. Parker, concerning the poems to be included in the volume brought out in the following year, Meredith wrote, "'Sorrows and Joys,' 'The Two Blackbirds,' 'Infancy and Age' are a selection from those published in 'Household Words'" (Letters, I, 8). (Actually, the three poems mentioned were not "a selection from" Meredith's poems "published in 'Household Words'": the first two were the only poems of his that had been published in the periodical. "Infancy and Age" did not appear until April 19, 1851 – four months after the date of Meredith's letters.) Versions of "Queen Zuleima," [IV, 131–32. Nov. 1, 1851] "Rhine-Land" [XIV, 12–13. July 19, 1856] and "Montmouth," in Meredith's handwriting, appear in an interleaved copy of Meredith's Poems [1851] in the Berg Collection, New York Public Library. 
       A note by Meredith's son in the Memorial Edition of The Works of George Meredith (XXVII, 299) states that Meredith did not wish "Monmouth" reprinted among his collected poems. 
      In the Office Book, Meredith is recorded as the author of "The Burial of the Old Year"; his name is marked out and substituted by that of Miss Siddons. Meredith is recorded as author of "A Child's Prayer"; his name is marked out but not substituted by another. 
      Harper's reprinted "Sorrow and Joys," with acknowledgment to H.W.
                                                                                                                       D.N.B. suppl. 1901–11



Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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