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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER II
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A.D. 1821-1835

Charlotte Maria Tucker was born on the 8th of May 1821, not within the sound of Bow bells, but, as already stated, at Friern Hatch, in Barnet, no long time before the family settled down in Portland Place.

Details of her very early life are greatly wanting. We should like to know how the childish intellect began to develop; what first turned her thoughts into the ‘writing line’; whether authorship came to her spontaneously or no. But few records have been kept.

It is not indeed difficult to imagine the general character of her childhood. She was clever, quick-witted, full of fun, overflowing with energy, abounding in life and vigour. One of a large and high-spirited family, living in a home of comparative comfort and ease, and surrounded by a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, Charlotte must have had a happy childhood.

Long years after, when old and wellnigh worn out with her Indian campaign, she wrote—

‘It seems curious to look back to the birthday sixty-one years ago, when sweet Mother called me “her ten-years old.” Do you remember my funny little cards of invitation to a feast of liquorice-wine,—with possibly something else,—
‘“This is the eighth of May,
Charlotte’s Happy Birthday.”


‘I would not change this time for that. What a proud ambitious little creature I was! I have a pretty vivid recollection of my own character in youth. I should have liked to climb high and be famous.’

In another letter she alludes to the fact that as a child she had been accused of ‘liking to ride her high horse.’

No doubt in those early days her ambition pointed to higher game than children’s tales written ‘with a purpose.’

In the gay young family party, two daughters and two sons were older than herself. Of the latter the nearest in age was Robert, four years her senior, the future dying hero of the Indian Mutiny. ‘Our noble Robert’ she calls him long after; and there appears to have been an early and close tie between Robert and his ambitious, eager little sister. Of Fanny, too, the next sister above her in age, two years older than Robert, she was particularly fond. But the tie in her life which was most of all to her, perhaps taking precedence of even her passionate love for her Father, was the bond between herself and Laura, the next youngest sister, about four years her junior. From infancy to old age these two were one, loving each other with an absolutely unbroken and unclouded devotion.

The two were counted to some extent alike, though with differences. Laura was the gentler, the more self-distrustful, the more disposed to lean. Charlotte was the more impulsive, the more eager, the more energetic, the more independent, the more self-reliant. In fact, Charlotte never did ‘lean’ upon anybody. Both were equally full of spirits and of frolicsome fun.

In another letter from India to this sister, dated January 18, 1886, when referring to a recent illness, she wrote—

‘My memory is very acute. I thought lately that it was a great shame that I never should go back to dear old No. 3, which really was the happy home of our childhood before our griefs. So what do you think, Laura dear, I did lately? I acted over in my mind[15] Christmas Day, as in the old times, when you and I were girls. I do not think that I left out anything; our jumping on dearest Mother’s bed; the new Silver;[1] the Holly and the Mistletoe; the Christmas Box; the choosing the gowns; the Cake, etc. Then I went to Trinity Church; I heard the glorious old hymn, “High let us swell triumphant notes.” It was such a nice meditation. Then Aunt Anderson and her dear daughters came for dinner. Of course Aunt had her little yellow sugar-plum box!’

It is a pretty and vivid description of the olden days in that dear old home, always spoken of among themselves as ‘Number Three,’ which she loved ardently to the last. Charlotte’s affections for everything connected with her youth were of a very enduring nature.

Another short extract from her later letters may be given here, describing something of what the loved sister Laura was to her in those early days. It is dated December 10, 1892.

‘My Laura loved me so fondly; we were so close to each other. How we used to share each other’s thoughts from youth, as we shared the same room! Our honoured Father loved to hear his Laura’s merry ringing laugh; when we chatted together he would say to her favourite sister,’—meaning herself—‘“She combines so much.” I doubt that he saw any imperfection in a being so bright, so sweet.’

And in yet one more letter to this same Laura, dated November 1, 1884—

‘You underrate your own qualifications as a companion, darling. Don’t I know you of old, how playful and genial you are, as well as loving?... You are choice company for a tête-à-tête.’

The earliest writing of Charlotte’s which comes to hand is indorsed, ‘Charlotte, 1832,’ and is addressed to ‘Miss[16] D. L. Tucker, 3 Upper Portland Place.’ It is a valentine written to her sister; and it shows that at the early age of eleven she had at least begun a little versifying; usually the line first adopted by incipient authors.
‘The snow-drops sweet that grace the plain
Are emblems, love, of you,
With innocence and beauty blest
Pure as the morning dew.
‘Sweet rosebud, free from every storm
Of life, may peace incline
To hover ever round thy bed,
My dearest Valentine.’

Another early effort, undated, but possibly a year or two later, is addressed, ‘To Dolly, the sweet little bud of the morn,’—no doubt to the same favourite sister, Dorothea Laura.
‘Sweet bud of the morning, what poet can speak
The glories that beam in thy eye?
The rosebuds that bloom on thy fat little cheek,—
And thy round head so stuffed full of Latin and Greek,
Arithmetic and Geology.
‘I send you a character-teller, my love,
’Tis little and poor, but it may
My kindness, affection, etcetera, prove,
And show you, my dear little Dolly, I strove
To make mine a happy birthday.’

What the ‘character-teller’ may have been it is difficult even to conjecture. Since Laura was four years her junior, the Latin, Greek and Geology were of course meant in the symbolical sense, standing for learning in general.

One more apparently early effort remains; not this time versification, but a birthday letter to Laura, inscribed, ‘To my dear Lady Emma, from her affectionate Tosti.’ Why Lady Emma?—and why Tosti? In these three[17] effusions the handwritings are curiously unlike one another, though all are childish. One is large and unformed; another is small and cramped; the third is neat and of a copperplate description. It may be that her writing was long before it crystallized into any definite shape; often the case with many-sided people. But for the juvenile handwriting, it would be almost impossible to believe that the following middle-aged production was not written in later years. Children were, however, in those days taught to express themselves like grown people; and no doubt she counted that she had accomplished her task well.

‘Many joyful returns of this day to you, dearest Laura, and may each find you better and happier than the last. I send you a little piece of velvet, which you may find useful, for I do not think you will value a present only for the money it costs; and I dare say you will agree with me that a trifle from an affectionate friend is often more valuable than great gifts from those who love you not.

‘I hope, dearest Lautie, you may enjoy a very particularly happy birthday, and that you may have as few sorrows in the year you are just entering as in that you have just passed.—Accept my kindest love, and believe me to be

‘Your affectionate friend and sister,

‘C. M. T.’

This letter may have been some years later than the two copies of verses; but that hardly does away with the difficulty. The style is almost as pedantic for the age of sixteen or seventeen as for the age of ten or twelve.

Side by side with the intense devotion for her sister Laura, there was a considerable degree of reticence in Charlotte’s nature. It may have developed more fully as time went on; yet it must surely have been a part of herself even in childhood. It was not with her a superficial reserve, an acted reticence, such as may sometimes be seen in essentially shallow women. On the surface she[18] was free, frank, chatty, quick in response, ready to converse, full of liveliness, fun, and repartee. But underlying the freedom and brightness there was a habit of silence about her own affairs—that is to say, about affairs which concerned only and exclusively herself—which to some extent was a life-long characteristic.

Neither Charlotte nor any of her sisters ever went to school. Their father had a very pronounced objection to schools for girls; indeed, he had himself made an early resolution never to marry any girl who had been educated at school, and he kept that resolution. The same idea was followed out with his own daughters. A daily governess came in to superintend their studies; and occasional masters were provided. In reference to the latter Charlotte wrote, many years afterward, to a niece: ‘No one can do as much for us in the way of education as we can do for ourselves. A willing mind is like a steam-engine, and carries one on famously. When I was young my beloved parents did not feel able to give us many masters. We knew that, and it made us more anxious to profit by what we had.’

Twenty-five years of hard toil in India had not made a rich man of Mr. Tucker; nor did his position as a Director bring him wealth. It was his daughter’s pride in after-life to know that he had died comparatively poor, because of his inviolable sense of honour. Not that more money would not have been acceptable! Ten children, including five sons, to be launched in life, are a serious pull upon any purse of ordinary capacity; and Mr. Tucker was of an essentially generous nature. He had many relatives, many friends, and the demands upon his purse were numerous. On a certain occasion he gave away about one-quarter of his whole capital, a sum amounting to several thousands of pounds, to help a relative in a great emergency. One who met him immediately afterwards[19] spoke of his appearing to have suddenly grown into an old man.

In Charlotte’s earlier years anxiety as to money matters was often experienced; and recurring Christmastides saw a repeated difficulty in making both ends meet. This state of things continued up till about the year 1837, when an unlooked-for legacy was left to Mr. Tucker, as a token of great esteem, by a friend, Mr. Brough. Besides the main legacy to Mr. and Mrs. Tucker, the sum of two hundred pounds came to each of the children, and was treated as a ‘nest-egg’ for each. From this date serious pressure ceased, and Mr. Tucker became able to meet the various calls upon him; not indeed without care and economy, but without a perpetual weight of uneasiness. Some few years later another friend, Mr. Maclew, left another legacy in the same kind and unexpected manner.

These facts serve to explain the paucity of masters when Charlotte was young. But the sisters bravely accepted the condition of things, and worked hard to make up for any disadvantages. One distinct gain in such a home education was that at least they were free to develop each in her own natural lines, instead of being all trimmed as far as possible into one shape.

Charlotte’s ‘lines’ were many in number.

She had a marked talent for drawing, and could take likenesses of her friends; good as regarded the salient features, though apt to grow into more of caricatures than the young artist intended. Musical gifts also were hers, including an almost painfully sensitive ear. Though her voice was never really very good, she sang much; and while well able to take a second at sight, she was in after years equally ready to undertake any other part in a glee, inclusive of the bass, which often fell to her share when a man’s voice happened to be lacking.

A gift for teaching showed itself early; and as a child[20] she would try to impress geographical facts upon her younger brothers and sisters by an original system of her own. In the Park Crescent Gardens, near Portland Place,—their playground; described by one friend in those days as a “jungle,” because of its unkempt condition,—she would name one bed England, another France, another Germany, and so on, and would thus fix in the children’s minds their various positions, though the shapes and sizes of the beds were by no means always what they ought to have been. That the mode of instruction was effective is evident from the fact that her brother, Mr. St. George Tucker, can recall the lessons still, after the lapse of fifty years, and can say, ‘By that means I learnt that England was in the north-west corner of Europe.’

Another direction in which she excelled was that of dancing. Even in walking she possessed a peculiarly springy step, remarked by all who knew her; and this in dancing was a great advantage. She was at home alike in the dignified minuet and in the active gavotte, and she would perform the pas de basque with much spirit. Indeed dancing was an exercise in which she found immense enjoyment through half a century of life.

At home Charlotte was a leader in the games, herself flowing over with fun and frolic. Her fertile imagination left her never at a loss for schemes of amusement. Naturally eager, impulsive, vehement, she had from beginning to end an extraordinary amount of energy, and in childhood her vigour must have been almost untirable.

One can imagine how the house echoed with the gay voices and laughter of the young people, as they pursued their various games, led by the indefatigable Charlotte. Mr. Tucker loved the sound of those merry voices; and when he could join them he was probably the merriest of the whole party. At one period, heavy and long-continued[21] work in ‘clearing up the finances’ of the East India Company kept him much apart from the family circle; and the delight was great when he could leave his big dry books, and be as a boy among the children again.

Bella, the elder girl, was pretty and of gracious manners, with dark eyes, and with a capacity for dressing herself well upon the very moderate allowance which her father was able to bestow. Fanny, the next sister, though not at all handsome, had also soft dark eyes, and a peculiarly sweet disposition; and she too dressed nicely. It was commonly said amongst themselves that Fanny was ‘the gentle sister,’ and that Charlotte was ‘the clever heroic sister.’ But Charlotte was not gifted with the art of dressing well.

In those early days, and for many a year afterwards, it would not appear that gentleness or sweetness were characteristics belonging to Charlotte. They were of far later growth, developing only under long pressure of loss and trial. In her childhood and girlhood, though doubtless she could be both winning and tender to the few whom she intensely loved, yet it was impossible to describe her generally by any such adjectives. She was chiefly remarkable for her spring and energy, her originality and cleverness, her wild spirits, and her lofty determination. With all her liveliness, however, she was in no sense a madcap, being thoroughly a lady.

In appearance Charlotte was never good-looking; and in girlhood she could not have been pretty; though there was always an indescribable charm in the vivid life and the ever-varying expression of her face.

One friend remembers hearing her tell a story of her young days, bearing upon this question of personal appearance. With a mirror and a hand-glass she examined her own face, the profile as well as the full face,[22] and evidently she was not satisfied with the result. A wise resolution followed. Since she ‘could never be pretty,’ she determined that she ‘would try to be good, and to do all the good in the world that she could.’ It was a resolve well carried out.

This sounds like a curious echo of an early experience of her father. When a boy of about ten, he caught smallpox, and ‘came forth,’ as he related of himself long after, ‘most wofully disfigured.... “Well,” observed one of my aunts, “you have now, Henry, lost all your good looks, and you have nothing for it but to make yourself agreeable by your manners and accomplishments.” Here was cold comfort; but the words made an impression upon my mind, and may possibly have had some influence on my future life.’

And much the same thought is reproduced in Charlotte Tucker’s own clever and amusing little book, My Neighbour’s Shoes,—when, as Archie gazes into the mirror, he says of himself, ‘One thing is evident; as I can’t be admired for my beauty, I must make myself liked in some other way. I’ll be a jolly good-natured little soul.’

In girlish days it may have been a prominent idea with Charlotte. By nature she not only was impulsive, but she no doubt inherited some measure of her great-grandfather Bruere’s irascible temper; and the amount of self-control speedily developed by one of so impetuous a temperament is remarkable. High principle had sway at a very early age; but this thought, that her lack of good looks might be compensated for by good humour and kindness to others, may also have been a motive of considerable power in the formation of her character.

It must be added that not all thought so ill of her looks as Charlotte herself did. An artist of repute, who saw her in the later days of her Indian career, has said[23] unhesitatingly, in reply to a query on this subject,—‘Plain! No! A face with such a look of intellect as Miss Tucker’s could never be plain.’ If matters were thus in old age, the same might surely have been said when she was young. But beauty of feature she did not possess.

In addition to her other gifts, Charlotte had something at least of dramatic power, and in her own home-circle she was a spirited actress.

Mr. Tucker’s published volume of plays and enigmas has been already named. Both Harold and Camoens were acted by the young folk of the family, with the rest of their number for audience. It is uncertain whether any outside friends were admitted on these occasions.

In the second play Charlotte took the part of the heroine, Theodora; and her brother, St. George, took the part of Ferdinand. Camoens, the hero, is betrayed to the Inquisition by Theodora; the betrayal being caused by a fit of fierce jealousy on the part of Theodora, who loves, and is apparently loved by, Camoens. The jealousy has some foundation, since Camoens decides to marry, not Theodora but Clara. Theodora in her wrath is helped by another lover, Ferdinand, to carry out her plot, and together they bring a false charge against Ferdinand, who is speedily landed in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Theodora then, finding that Clara does not love Camoens, and repenting too late her deed, goes mad with remorse. Camoens is after all set at liberty, none the worse for his imprisonment; but the distracted Theodora, meeting her other lover and her companion in evil-doing, Ferdinand, attacks him vehemently, with these words—
‘Theod. Ha! Ferdinand!
Thou hast recalled a name!
It brings some dreadful recollections.
’Twas he who basely did betray my husband.
Go, wretched man! bring back the murdered Camoens!
Go, make thy peace. (She stabs him.)
Bian.   Oh! help!
Ferd.   I bless the hand that gave the wound.
Thou hast redeemed me from a deadly sin,
Or mortal suffering.
Farewell, beloved unhappy Theodora.
Guard her, ye pitying angels!
Theod. Where am I?
What have I done?
I have some strange impression of a dream—
A fearful dream of death.
Young Ferdinand, who loved me!
Dead—dead—and by this desperate hand!’

After which Clara enters, and Theodora dies, completing the tragedy. One can picture the force and energy with which Charlotte would have poured forth her reproaches upon the head of Ferdinand, before giving him the fatal stab.

It may have been somewhere about this time—it was at all events before the year 1842—that Charlotte had once a scientific fit, and for several weeks threw herself with ardour into the study of Chemistry. At intervals in her life a marked interest is shown in certain scientific facts or subjects; sufficient, perhaps, to indicate that, had the bent been cultivated, she might possibly have shown some measure of power in that direction also. Books on Natural History always proved an attraction to her; and many little Natural History facts come incidentally into her correspondence, sometimes given from her own observation. In later years she even wrote two or three little books for children on semi-scientific subjects,—not without making mistakes, from the common error of trusting to old instead of to new authorities. But the early influences with which she was surrounded were not of a kind to call forth this tendency, if indeed it existed in[25] any but a very slight degree. Her Father’s bent was strongly poetical and classical; and probably his influence over her mind in girlhood was stronger than any other. The poetic and the scientific may, and sometimes do, exist side by side; but the combination is not very usual.

A great event of Charlotte’s young days was the fancy-dress ball given by her parents in the spring of 1835. The Duke of Wellington himself was present; prominent still in the minds of men as the Deliverer of Europe, only twenty years earlier, from a tyrant’s thraldom. All the young Tuckers, not to speak of their parents, were ardent admirers of the Duke. Laura, still a mere child, in her enthusiasm slipped close up behind, when the Duke was ascending the stairs, and gently abstracted a fallen hair from the shoulder of the hero, which hair she preserved ever after among her choicest treasures; and Charlotte was no whit behind Laura in this devotion.

At the ball Frances made her appearance dressed as Queen Elizabeth,—‘very neat and very stately,’—while Charlotte represented ‘the star of the morning,’ in a dress of pure muslin, full and well starched, so nicely made and so beautifully white that the impression of it lasts still in the mind of a brother, after the lapse of more than half a century. The prettiness of her dress on that particular occasion was no doubt accentuated by the fact that in general Charlotte did not attire herself becomingly; and also by the fact of another young lady being present as a second ‘star of the morning.’ For the other ‘star’ had hired a dress for the evening; a muslin dress, which was by no means white, but dingy and tumbled. In contrast, Charlotte’s pure whiteness, relieved by a star upon her forehead, drew much attention. Since she was then only a girl of about fourteen, it appears that a close distinction was not drawn in those days, as in these, between girls ‘out’ and girls ‘not out.’ Her brother, St.[26] George, a boy of twelve or thirteen, was also present, wearing a Highland costume.

The hero of the day appeared in evening dress, according to the then fashion, with a star on his breast. Frances, in her queenly apparel, presented him with a bag which contained a Commission to defend England,—a business which, one is disposed to think, he had already pretty well accomplished! The Duke received this offering graciously; and a day or two later the following playful letter arrived from him to Mr. Tucker:—

Ap. 26, 1835.

‘My dear Sir,—When Queen Elizabeth gave me that beautiful bag on Friday night, I was not aware that it contained a Letter Patent which I prize highly; and for which I ought to have returned my grateful acknowledgment at the time it was delivered.

‘I beg you to present my thanks; and to express my hopes that her Majesty continued to enjoy the pleasures of the evening; and that she has not been fatigued by them.

‘Ever, my dear Sir,

‘Your most faithful humble servant,

(Signed) ‘Wellington.

‘H. St. George Tucker, Esq., etc.’

The delight and enthusiasm amongst the young people, aroused by this letter, may be imagined. It seems to have come later into the possession of Charlotte; and when she went to India it was presented by her to her sister Laura,—the envelope which contained it having in Charlotte’s handwriting the following inscription:—

‘What I consider one of my most valuable possessions, and therefore send to my beloved Laura, to whom it will recall past days.’

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