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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER I
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A.D. 1771-1835

Charlotte Maria Tucker, known widely by her nom de plume of A. L. O. E.,—signifying A Lady Of England,—as the successful author of numberless children’s books, deserves to be yet more extensively known as the heroic Pioneer of elderly and Honorary volunteers in the broad Mission-fields of our Church.

Her books, which were much read and appreciated in the youth of the present middle-aged generation, may to some extent have sunk into the background, as the works of successive story-tellers do in the majority of cases retire, each in turn, before newer names and newer styles; but the splendid example set by Charlotte Tucker, at a time of life when most people are intent upon retiring from work, and taking if they may their ease,—an example of then buckling on her armour afresh, and of entering upon the toughest toil of all her busy life, will surely never be forgotten.

She was the sixth child and third daughter of Henry St. George Tucker, a prominent Bengal Civilian, and, later on, Chairman of the East India Company. All her five brothers went to India, and all five were there in the dark days of the Mutiny. Thus by birth she had a close connection with that great eastern branch of the British Empire, to which her last eighteen years were entirely[4] devoted. People in general go out early, and retire to England for rest in old age. Miss Tucker spent fifty-four active years in England, and then yielded her remaining powers to the cause of our fellow-subjects in Hindustan.

It seems desirable that a slight sketch of her father’s earlier life should precede the story of hers.

Henry St. George Tucker came into this world on the 15th of February 1771. He was born in the Bermudas, on the Isle St. George, whence his name, and was the eldest of ten children. An interesting reference to this event is found in a letter of Charlotte Tucker’s, written February 15, 1890: ‘As I went in my duli to villages this morning, I thought, “One hundred and nineteen years ago a precious Baby was born in a distant island”; and I thanked God for our beloved and honoured Father.’

Henry St. George’s father was a man of good descent, of high reputation, and of a leading position in the islands. His mother, a Miss Bruere before marriage,—probably the name was a corruption of Bruyere,—was daughter of the then governor of the Bermudas, a gallant old soldier, possessing fourteen children and also a particularly irascible temper.

The elder Mr. Tucker appears to have been a man of gentle temperament and liberal views; I do not mean ‘Liberal’ in the mere party sense, but liberal as opposed to ‘illiberal.’ Whatever his own opinions may have been, he did not endeavour to force them upon his children; he did not, in fact, petrify the children’s little fancies by opposition into a lasting existence. It is amusing to read of the opposite tendencies among his boys, one taking the loyal side and another the republican side in the dawning struggle between England and her American Colonies. Long after, Henry St. George spoke of himself as having then been ‘a bit of a rebel’; adding, ‘But my republican zeal was very[5] much cooled by the French Revolution; and if a spark of it had remained, our own most contemptible revolution of 1830 would have extinguished it, and have fixed me for life a determined Conservative.’

He had on the whole a strong constitution, though counted delicate as a child; and his early life in the Bermudas was one of abundant fresh air and exercise. Much more time was given to riding and boating than to books; indeed, his education seems hardly to have been begun before the age of ten years, when he was sent to school in England. Whether such a plan would answer with the ordinary run of boys may well be doubted. Henry St. George Tucker was not an ordinary boy; and he showed no signs of loss in after-life through ten years of play at the beginning of it.

One piece of advice given to him by his mother, when he was about to start for England, cannot but cause a smile. She was at pains to assure him that it would be unnecessary to take off his hat to every person whom he might meet in the streets of London. Henry St. George, speaking of this in later years, continues: ‘But habit is strong; and even now, when I repair to the stables for my horse, I interchange bows with the coachman and the ostlers and all the little idle urchins whom I encounter in the mews.’ One would have been sorry indeed to see so graceful a habit altered. It might far better be imitated. Exceeding courtesy was through life characteristic of the man, and it descended in a marked degree upon many of his descendants, notably so upon Charlotte Maria, the A. L. O. E. of literature.

School education, begun at ten, ended at fourteen. The boy worked hard, and rose in his classes quickly; though at an after period he spoke of his own learning in those days as ‘superficial.’ He had been intended by his father for the legal profession, and many years of hard work were[6] supposed to lie before him. These plans were unexpectedly broken through. One of his aunts, who lived in England, acting impulsively and without authority, altered the whole course of his career. She asked him, ‘Would he like to visit India?’ A more unnecessary question could hardly have been put. What schoolboy of fourteen would not ‘like to visit India’? Young Henry seized upon the idea; and the said aunt, under the impression that she was kindly relieving his father of needless school expenses, actually shipped the lad off as middy in a merchant vessel bound for India, not waiting to write and ask his father’s permission. She merely wrote to say that the deed was done.

Officious aunts do exist in the world; but surely few so officious as this. The deepest displeasure was felt and shown when Henry’s father learned what had happened. But by the time that his grieved remonstrances reached the boy, Henry was fifteen thousand miles away, ‘hunting wild animals on the plains of Behar.’ In the present day a boy so despatched might be sent back again; but in those days India was separated from England by a vast gulf of distance and of time. Any one writing from India to England could not look for a reply in less than a year; and his father was at Bermuda, not even at home, which made a further complication.

The boy’s condition must at first have been forlorn enough. After a petted and luxurious boyhood, he had to live for months together upon salt junk; and his bed was only a hencoop. But there was ‘stuff’ in him, and hardships of all kinds were most pluckily endured. On landing at Calcutta he found himself in a strange country, among strange faces, without money and without work, though happily not quite without friends. His mother’s brother, Mr. Bruere, was one of the Government Secretaries in Calcutta; and in the house of Mr. Bruere and of Mr. Bruere’s pretty little sylph-like wife the young adventurer found[7] shelter for some months, until an opening could be secured for him.

Fifteen years followed of a hard and continuous struggle. As long after he said of himself, he ‘looked the world in the face’ in those days; and while a mere boy of fifteen or sixteen he set himself resolutely to get on. From the first he grappled with the Native languages, showing a vigour and persistency in the study which, many many years later, were visible again in his daughter Charlotte, when grappling with the very same task. Only he was young; and she, when she followed his example, was well on in middle life.

Towards the end of those fifteen years resolution and untiring energy triumphed; and from the age of about thirty Mr. Tucker’s rise to a good position was steady.

In 1792 he became a member of the Bengal Civil Service. In 1809 he was made Secretary in the Public Department. But he had had heavy work and many troubles, and his health began to fail; so the following year, after a quarter of a century of unbroken exile, he set off for England, carrying with him Government testimonials, couched in the warmest terms. These testimonials spoke of his ‘long and meritorious services,’ of his ‘peculiar abilities,’ of his ‘talents and acquirements of the highest order,’ of his ‘unwearied diligence,’ of his ‘unimpeached integrity.’ All this, of one who, twenty-five years before, had landed on Indian shores an almost penniless adventurer, without so much as a definite plan of what to do with himself and his energies!

That very year he was engaged, and the year after he was married, to Jane Boswell, daughter of a Mr. Robert Boswell of Edinburgh, who was related to the well-known biographer of Dr. Johnson. The Boswell family was known to have first settled in Berwickshire as far back as in the days of William Rufus, and afterwards in Fifeshire and Ayrshire at Balmute and Auchinleck. Mr. Robert Boswell’s[8] grandmother, Lady Elisabeth Bruce, was a daughter of the first Earl of Kincardine. Mr. Boswell was a devotedly good and also an able man; a minister, not in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, but in some smaller religious body; and his death took place in a somewhat tragic manner, before the date of his daughter’s marriage to Mr. Tucker. While preaching, he quoted the text which begins, ‘All flesh is as grass——,’ and as he uttered the words he fell back, dead!

A characteristic anecdote is told of his wife,—A. L. O. E.’s grandmother. She had a large family, and was badly off. One day a poor woman applied to her for help; and Mrs. Boswell called out to her daughter Jane, to know what money they happened to have in hand. ‘Only one seven-shilling piece,’ was the answer. Mrs. Boswell’s voice sounded distinctly,—‘Give it, then; give it to the woman.’ ‘But, dear mamma, there is no more money in the house,’ remonstrated Jane. More decisively still came the response, ‘Give it, then; give it to the woman.’ And given it was. The story almost inevitably recalls that of the Widow’s Mite; even though from certain points of view one is dubious as to the wisdom of the act.

Despite the poverty of the family Mrs. Boswell’s daughters settled well in life. One married Mr. Egerton of the High Court in Calcutta; one married Dr. Roxburgh; one married General Carnegie; one married Mr. Anderson; one only, Veronica by name, remained unmarried; and Jane became the wife of Henry St. George Tucker. She was at that time a gentle and beautiful girl of about twenty-one, while Mr. Tucker was already over forty.

Early in the following year, 1812, they went out to India together; and his delight was great in returning to the country where he had toiled so long, and had made many friends. This time, however, his stay in the east was to be brief.


His first child, Henry Carre, was born that same year; and two years later came his eldest daughter, Sibella Jane. Also in 1814 fell the blow of his Mother’s death, over which, strong man that he was, he wept passionately. Then his wife’s health seemed to be seriously failing; and this decided him to leave the land of his adoption, throwing up all prospects in that direction. In 1815, the first year of European peace, at the age of forty-five, he ‘retired from the active service of the Company,’ travelling by long sea with his invalid wife and his two little ones, and spending some time at the Cape by the way. Before they arrived in England another little one, Frances Anne, had been added to their number.

A home was found in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh; and for some years, till 1819 or 1820, he was well content to remain there, living a quiet home-life, with a little family growing around him. Two more boys came, George William and Robert Tudor,—the former dying in babyhood, the latter growing up to be slain in the Indian Mutiny. Losing the infant George was a dire trouble to his parents; and Mrs. Tucker, believing that he had succumbed to the keen cold of Edinburgh, was never at rest in her mind until the northern home had been exchanged for one in the south. Such a change was not to be accomplished in a day, but in the course of time it came about; and meanwhile the remaining children were a constant source of interest and delight. The ‘baby’ at this date was Robert; afterwards a very favourite elder brother of A. L. O. E. His children, known in the family by the name of ‘The Robins,’ became in later years as her own.

Mr. Tucker could not long remain contented without definite work. He was still in the prime of life, still under fifty; and an eager desire took hold of him to enter public life once more, to serve again his own country, as[10] well as the eastern land of his adoption. These purposes he thought might best be carried out by his becoming, if possible, one of the Directors of the East India Company. For the fulfilment of his desire—a desire, not for gain or wealth or position, but for the means of doing good—he had to wait a considerable time. He had indeed to wait until his next little daughter, Charlotte Maria, was five years old. Then, at length, he was appointed Director; one of the Twenty-four who, in those days, practically ruled India. Thereafter his influence was steadfastly exerted in the direction of a wise and righteous government of the dark millions of Hindustan; the land in which he had spent a quarter of a century of his life, and to which afterward not only all his five sons went, but one of his five daughters also, in the advanced years of her life.

While he waited for this long-desired appointment, other changes took place. They left their home in Edinburgh and moved south, first spending some months at Friern Hatch, in Barnet, near Finchley; and there it was that little Charlotte first saw the light of day. In 1822 they went to live in London, settling into No. 3 Upper Portland Place, whence no further move was made until after the death of Mrs. Tucker, more than forty-five years later.

In Portland Place the family was completed. Two years after the birth of Charlotte came her next brother, St. George; two years later still her next sister, Dorothea Laura, her peculiar companion and friend. The three youngest, William, Charlton, and Clara, finished the tale of ten living children.

Mr. Tucker was, as may have been already gathered, a man of unusual force of character and of indomitable will; robust in body and mind; unwearying in work; self-reliant, yet never presumptuous; an absolute gentleman, remarkable[11] for the polished courtesy of his bearing, alike to superiors, equals, and inferiors in social position; open and straightforward as daylight; firm in his own convictions, but well able to look on both sides of a question, and liberal towards those who differed from him; entirely fearless in doing what he held to be right, and entirely free from all thought of self-seeking. He was, as his Biographer Mr. Kaye observes,—‘pre-eminently a man amongst men,’—‘a statesman at eighteen, and a statesman at eighty.’ He was also a man of deep and true religion; a religion not much expressed in words, but apparent in every inch of his career. In a letter written long after his death by his daughter Charlotte, she remarked, when speaking of the biography of some well-known man: ‘There is nothing to indicate that he ever said, as our beloved Father said, “The publican’s prayer is the prayer of us all!”’ Probably religious speech never came easily to him. His life, however, spoke more eloquently than mere words could have done.

One of his main characteristics was an abounding generosity. He was always ready to help those who needed help, up to his power, and beyond his power. In his own home he was charming; full of wit, full of fun, full of gay spirits and laughter; full also of the tenderest affection for his wife and children, an affection which was abundantly returned. He was an intensely loving and lovable man; his wonderful sweetness and evenness of temper, never disturbed by heavy work or pressing cares, endearing him to all with whom he came in contact. While he talked little of his own feelings, he did much for the good of others; and his life was one long stretch of usefulness. The union in him of strength with gentleness, of a masterful intellect with a spirit of yielding courtesy, of nobility with playfulness, of generosity with self-restraint, of real religious conviction and experience with frolicsome[12] gaiety, made a combination not more rare than beautiful.

Many of his characteristics were distinctly inherited from him by his daughter Charlotte; among others, his literary bent. He was fond of writing, and in his well-occupied life he found some time to indulge the play of his fancy. In the year 1835 he published a volume of plays and enigmas, called The Tragedies of Harold and Camoens, dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, for whom he and his family had the deepest esteem and admiration.

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