Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options

View Options

In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
page: 100


THAT the life of an eminent Englishwoman should have been written by a Frenchwoman, is in itself a point of interest; but especially so when the Englishwoman was Lady Georgiana Fullerton, sister to Lord Granville, and her biographer Madame Augustus Craven, whose maiden name was Pauline de la Ferronnays, and whose first work, “Le Récit d’une Sœur,” passed though forty editions.

Lady Georgiana died ten years ago, and in the wide circle which she frequented, a society chiefly knit together by incessant charitable work, the loss of her familiar figure caused a great blank. She was tall and largely built, her face was plain, but full of bright intelligence and gentle humour, naturally a merry face; she always dressed in black, wearing a shawl across her shoulders, and no gloves. She said that gloves cost too much money, and that she had much page: 101 rather give the half‐crown to the poor. Having had many occasions of speaking with her, I would describe the impression she made on her contemporaries as so marked that in entering even a crowded room Lady Georgiana would have been one of the first people to be noticed, from her majestic figure and the plain severity of her dress.

She was very nobly born. Her father, Lord Granville, served his country for a long series of years as Ambassador to France. Her mother, an excellent, conscientious woman, was daughter to that beautiful Duchess of Devonshire, of whom so many anecdotes survive, and whose life‐size portrait by Gainsborough disappeared so mysteriously some years ago. Sir Joshua Reynolds also repeatedly painted the Duchess, the best known portrait being the one wherein she is playing with her child. It was after this lovely grandmother that the little girl was named Georgiana. She had an elder sister, Susan, and the two were carefully and even severely educated by a good governess, against whose influence Georgiana at one time rebelled, but who became, when she grew up, her dear and page: 102 intimate friend. They lived in the splendid house allotted to the British Embassy in Paris, entered by a vast court from the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, and sheltered at the back by a large shady garden. Most tourists know the great gates in the high wall surmounted by the arms of England—the Lion and the Unicorn, no longer “fighting for the crown,” and speaking of home to all British residents in the capital of France. Two little girls and three little boys then formed the English family at the Embassy.

When the Ladies Susan and Georgiana Leveson Gower grew up, they were taken by their mother, Lady Granville, into the great world of fashion which then surrounded the French court, and to the famous Almack’s, in London, and they both married early. Lady Susan became the wife of Earl Rivers, and Lady Georgiana, after some little opposition, was allowed to marry the man she preferred, an untitled gentleman, Captain Fullerton. Her father was afraid that there was not enough money to enable his daughter to live as she had been brought up, and, on the other hand, the parents of the bridegroom were alarmed at his page: 103 marrying a young lady whose father, mother, uncles, aunts and cousins, all belonged to the greatest nobility of England. The obstacles, were, however, smoothed away by the active kindness of the Duke of Devonshire, who was tenderly attached to his niece. Very pretty and charming are her letters to him; she was, indeed, an “old‐fashioned girl,” and sent quaint, modest messages through him to the man of her heart. Finally, Captain Fullerton left the army on half pay, a post was found for him at the Embassy in Paris, and the young couple after their marriage lived with Lord and Lady Granville in the great old house where Lady Georgiana had passed her childhood and youth. She was one‐and‐twenty when her son was born—her only son, her only child.

The next ten years of Lady Georgiana’s life passed in the usual employment of her rank and state in life. She notices, in her letters to her old governess and to her sister Susan, all the little growths and changes in her boy’s childhood; how he learnt to read, and how she has dressed him up for a child’s costume‐ball at the French court. She writes at great length about page: 104 his religious education and his Sunday toys; and then there came a sad time when the little man was very ill, his brain too excitable, said the doctors, and a threat was made of stopping his education. But he recovered, and the grievous alarms of the parents were laid to rest.

The letters presently reach the beginning of Lady Georgiana’s career as an authoress, but she has left no record in her correspondence of the mental travail she must have undergone before writing “Ellen Middleton,” a book in which she tried to grapple with the deepest questions of conscience. She sent the manuscript to Mr. Henry Greville and to Lord Brougham, the latter being then at the zenith of his fame; and we have their letters and comments. Lord Brougham greatly admires the novel, but objects to its High Church tendencies, for Lady Georgiana had become a strong High Churchwoman. Henry Greville praises and criticizes, and both men give it a singularly respectful attention. It was published, and straightway greeted with a burst of applause, and “Grantley Manor,” her second book, very soon revived the same chorus of delighted admiration. The most unlikely people page: 105 —Harriet Martineau and the aged Maria Edgeworth—wrote of them as if they were ardent young novel readers. Miss Martineau says she made her eyes red with crying! Mr. Gladstone, then the youthful hope of the High Church and Tory Party, wrote an elaborate review; the best minds in England on all sides agreed in reading and delighting in these two books, full of theology and ardent old‐fashioned romance.

But ere the echoes had died away, Lady Georgiana Fullerton had followed her husband and her revered friend, John Henry Newman, into the Roman Catholic Church. It is pleasant to learn that this momentous step in no way broke up her tender filial ties, nor her relations with her beloved sister and her nieces. Lady Georgiana remained the bright, charming wife and mother; and young Granville Fullerton went creditably through the years of education, and finally entered the army. His health had occasionally aroused anxiety, but had not debarred his preparation for the military career.

When the first alarm of the Crimean War was sounded, it became necessary for the parents to face the dangers of active service for their son. page: 106 Not since Waterloo had there been a real shock of arms in Europe, and now the best blood of England, in all ranks, was summoned to that awful contest so disastrous in its earlier stages to the British troops, and the Fullertons had to resign themselves to part with their son. Strange, pathetic anxiety, not destined to be borne with lingering pain—fear unrealized, anguish of waiting strangely changed into quite another doom. His mother was prepared to send him forth to his professional duty, in what she recognized as England’s cause. She would have watched for bulletins in alternate agonies of fear and hope; had her boy been wounded, she would have hurried off to Scutari; had he even been shot down in the trenches, he would have shared, with ah! so many others, the honours of soldier’s grave; and she would have been one of the many, many mothers who rued the name Sebastopol. But none of these things were to be. At the last moment medical advice forbade the young fellow to join the active army. Bitterly disappointed, he resigned himself to remain at home, and going to visit his uncle, Lord Rivers, at Rushmore, in Hampshire—met page: 107 there his death! Met it by a most sudden, sad accident, which, as it is not detailed in the book from which we have been quoting, so neither will we detail it here. He was alone when the summons came.

We have been told by a private friend that when Mr. Fullerton received the letter containing this terrible news, he did not at first know how to tell such a thing to the wife of his youth, the beloved companion of his middle age, and that he tenderly lured her into the open church where she was wont to pray, and there, as she knelt peacefully before the altar, he found words in which to make her understand that her one child was dead.

Of this time of anguish Lady Georgiana Fullerton in after years never spoke or wrote. Only in one note to a favourite niece, who had been as a sister to the lost son, is there any mention of him; a note written just a year after his death. With all the force of a powerful nature she submitted; and to us, who knew her in later years, there seemed no darkness in her kindly smile, no moment of flagging in her tireless charity.

page: 108

But shortly after her child’s death she took a vow which may seem singular to many of my readers—a vow of poverty, which, though she survived for thirty years and mixed freely with friends and relatives, and was, as was seen by all, a most beloved mistress of a household, she never broke. She engaged never to buy or possess anything which was not absolutely necessary in the way of her ordinary duties. Gloves went first; “the half crown for the poor” meant, by the end of the year, the annual payment needed for some orphan child. How often were seen the kind, useful hands laid for the moment on that comfortable black shawl, when she stood amidst a group of other ladies at some meeting for the poor. In her younger days she must inevitably have been accustomed to the finest dresses ever made or worn, living, as she did, in the house of an ambassador of the first rank. She now never wore any costume but the black dress and shawl and plain cap, which might have suggested austerity but for the bright, merry eyes, which were also penetrating and spiritual, full of mingled expressions. Who that has read the “Récit d’une Sœur” but remembers the sen‐ page: 109 tence sentence of final resignation, “Je pleure mon Albert gaiement”? There was this touch of gaiety in Lady Georgiana’s eyes, infinitely touching to those who knew the agony she had passed through.

She did not lay down her pen, though she seems to have hesitated as to whether it was right to give hours a day to the writing of romances. She drew up a curious written argument in two columns, in which she says that she could earn so much more money for the poor in this way than in any other, that she thought she ought to continue; and most lovely were some of the stories she produced. “Constance Sherwood,” an historical romance of the time of Elizabeth, is perhaps the best. “Too Strange not to be True” is a striking story, based on the legend of the survival of the Czarowitch, son of Peter the Great. Another is “A Will and a Way,” the subtle story of a young woman constrained in the French Revolution to marry a rough suitor who saves her father’s life. She redeems the situation, changing her husband’s half savage nature and moulding him afresh. Lady Georgiana continued to page: 110 the last just as capable of writing an interesting love story as when she made Miss Martineau cry.

Of her manifold charities one knows not how to speak. She was the kindest and the most industrious of women. The charge of orphans, sick people, and schools was a daily matter of course to her, as to many another; but in touching ever so slightly upon her sphere of activity, one became aware of the odds and ends which were, so to speak, stuffed into the crevices from year’s end to year’s end. The village library, of which, when she was called away to another part of England, the covers were dropping off (happy books we loved so much, for ever finding new treasures); the old servants pensioned; the five shillings slipped into a little friend’s hand to buy a fan at a bazaar; the given book; the old priest’s sister still living on the remains of her bounty; the bringing of the Grey Sisters over from France (this last a serious heavy responsibility), and establishing them in Westminster;—such are a few of the things which might be multiplied indefinitely by the memories of others.

page: 111

And so, year by year, Lady Georgiana Fullerton’s life went on, until the time came when she was attacked by a painful disease, and the black gown hung in long thin folds on a wasted figure, which recalled some early Italian picture in the severe grace of old age. On her deathbed she asked that the curtain covering her son’s portrait should be withdrawn, saying that she had the courage to look at it now. Another time, when Father Gallwey was reading the Scriptures to her, he saw her eyes fill at an allusion to the death of a child; an involuntary revelation of the pain silently endured for thirty years. Please God they are now together, the mother and the son; and of her it may most emphatically be said: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord!”