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George Meredith (PLSS report 24 nov 1888)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

George Meredith is an article published in Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle on 24 november 1888.

Report of the lecture The Genius of George Meredith of the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society held at the Portsmouth Guildhall on 20 november 1888.

George Meredith


Before numerous gathering of the members of the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society, an interesting operation was on Tuesday evening performed at the Portsmouth Guildhall by Dr. Conan Doyle. The occasion was the first ordinary meeting of the current session of the Society, and the operation was of no less magnitude than a metaphorical analysis of the brain of George Meredith, by means of any analytical paper on the genius of that writer, whom Dr. Doyle regards as a sort of Carlyle of fiction. The experiment was doubly congenial from the fact that Dr. Doyle, besides being one of the versatile Hon. Secretaries of the Society, is himself an author, and one rapidly rising, to distinction. In the absence of the President (Dr. Axford) the chair was taken by Mr. A. W. Jerrard. — The essayist, who illustrated his remarks by the frequent reading of selections from Meredith's works, commenced by pointing out that the greater the originality of a writer the more difficult did it become to measure his genius and assign to him his true place in the world of letters. The reading public was conservative, and looked askance at sweeping innovations in matter and style, and when both were decidedly original an author must be content to bide his time. In England we had had during the present century three men of this class in various ranks of literature. Two had risen to the front rank, and he thought the third would take his true position as one of the greatest writers of English fiction. He referred to Carlyle and Browning, and to George Meredith. The latter had been writing since 1853, but yet his name was less familiar to the public than that of the author of the latest "shilling shocker." In a great town like Portsmouth there was not a single private library which contained more than two of his works. The writers of this class had some consolation in the great enthusiasm they had raised in a few, which might be taken as a protest against the luke-warmness of the general reading public; and the essayist cited the Browning Societies in evidence. Having quoted favourable opinions of Meredith's writing to which Walter Besant, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Carlyle had given expression, Dr. Doyle said there were now signs that his reward was at hand. On every side saw allusions which indicated that the belief was growing that a profound and deep author had been writing among us unhonoured and unknown. Dealing seriatim with Meredith's works he described "The Ordeal of Richard Feverel" us teeming with witty dialogue, displaying a pewer of drawing the feelings and doings of boys which was second only to that of Thackeray, tracing a succession of events rather than a plot, ending with tragedy as hard and inexorable as the work of the old character dramatist, and manifesting a scorn of conventionality "Evan Harrington" might be described as a text book of snobbishness, carried out with such completeness as to make one regret that Thackeray did not live to read it, "Emilia in England" and "Vittoria" were dull; and when Meredith was dull he was intolerably so. "Rhoda Fleming" was a novel of great power; more original, perhaps, than "Richard Feverel," but hardly so forcible. Balzac himself never showed such power of analysis of the female mind as did Meredith, who had the Shakesperian trick of without. "Diana of the Crossways" contained all Meredith's faults and none of his virtues; it was full of wit, and sparkled, but there was an inherent improbability about the incident and a want of sympathy about the various persons introduced, which marred it as a work of art. Regarding "The Egoist," Dr. Doyle said that as a piece of character drawing he new nothing in the whole range of English fiction to which it could be compared. "Harry Richmond" resembled "Richard Feverel" in its subject, and thought inferior in sustained interest it abounded in passages and incidents equal to any which Meredith ever wrote; and there was hardly a character in the book which did not deserve to live. Dealing with Meredith's faults the essayist said he compelled people to read his works for the mere intellectual pleasure of his brilliant thoughts, while his characters had an artificial air about them. As a rule the construction of the stories was faulty. Meredith was a phrase-maker, and was so determined not to be commonplace, and never to say anything, as any other man had said it, that the result was now and then so out of place as to be grotesque. Some of his aphorisms should be retained in the English language, but others were ridiculous. Still Meredith's counterbalancing virtues were to the essayist's mind sufficient to place him head and shoulders above my other living writer of fiction.

The Chairman said the essay had probably introduced some of them to the writings of George Meredith for the first time. As a schoolboy the speaker tried to read some of Mr. Meredith's manuscript and failed. The circumstances were these:— Mr. Meredith was staying with the head-master of the school,and the pupils, the fact of his being a rising author, thought they might get something out of him, and accordingly asked him to secure a half-holiday for them. This is declined to do, but promised to write them a poem for the school library. The poem was written, but none of the boys could read it, nor could the head master. The boys, however, suggested that it seemed to them to be a request that they should be granted a half-holiday; and as this seemed to be a reasonable conjecture, they got it, (Laughter.) — Mr. J. Hay said George Meredith was a Hampshire man, and it was somewhat surprising, not simply that he should not be generally recognised by the country at large, but that he should not be properly appreciated by his native county — that he was, in fact, a stranger in Portsmouth. He proposed a vote of thanks to the essayist. — Dr. Watson seconded, and after a few words from Dr. Ward Cousins, the resolution was carried unanimously. — Dr. Doyle replied, and the meeting terminated.

The company included the following ladies and gentlemen:— The Rev. and Mrs. H. Maxwell Egan Desmond, the Rev. S. Kennah, Colonel C. Hunter, Col. J. E. Taylor, Captain R. Jackson, R.N., Dr. J. Ward Cousins and Miss Cousins, Dr. and Mrs. J. Watson, Dr. and Mrs. C. C. Claremont, Dr. and Mrs. Conan Doyle, Miss Doyle, Miss Harward, Mr. A., Mrs., and Miss Addison, Mr. W.G.P. Gilbert, Mr. Hugh S. Maclauchlan, Mr. and Mrs. J. Hay, Mr. W. Weston, Mr. and Mrs. C. Foran, Mr. J. M. Ollis, R.N., Mr. George Fremantle-Ollis, Messrs. A. E. Cogswell, T. A. Andrews, R. East; Mr. and Mrs. W. Inglis, Mr. and Mrs. G. A. Cook and party; Messrs. J. W.F. Allnutt, W. E. Welch, A. Howell, E. J. Lindsey, F. T. Durell, W. T. Pover, R.N., Mrs. J. Roberton, Mr. Gruexier and friends, Mr. and Mrs. Charpentier and friends, Mr. and Miss Wolseley, Mr. and Mrs. D. M. Ford, Mrs. Aldwell and friends, Mr. F. Aylen, Mrs. Maybury, Mrs. A. E. Petrie, Mr. J. W. Boughton, Mrs. and Miss Tomlinson and Miss Childs, Mr. and Mrs. G. F. Bell and Miss Wilcock, Mr. T. L. Reynolds and the Misses Reynolds, Mr. and Mrs. Darley and friends, Mr. C. G. and Mrs. and the Misses Nicholson, Mrs. Blake, Mr. and Mrs. J. Watkins, Mr. S. Pittis, Mrs. Kennedy, &c. The following gentlemen were elected members:- Commmodore Albert H. Markham, C.B., Colonel C. Hunter, Colonel F. Trevor. Dr. Lysander Maybury, and Messrs. J. W. F. Allnutt, F. Aylen, G. Farney Brown, F. W. Byers, M. A., F. T. Durell, E. J. Lindsey, E. Walker, and A. W. White. There were nominated for membership:— Mrs. Capel, and Captain W. Vine, R.N., Captain Needham, R.N., the Rev. S. Kennah, M.A., the Rev. W. G. Burroughs, Mr. A. Hellard, and Mr. A. W. Darley.