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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER V
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A.D. 1847-1849

In 1847 a new interest entered the life of Charlotte Tucker. The three little ones of her brother Robert and his wife,—Louis, Charley, and Letitia,—came to live at No. 3, and were made her especial charge. All of them, but particularly the pretty little dark-eyed Letitia, then only two years old, were thenceforward as her own; first in her thoughts, and among the first in her love. She taught them, trained them, devoted herself to them; and their names will often be found in her letters. The death of Letitia, nearly twenty years later, was one of the heaviest sorrows she ever had to endure. One is disposed to think that the care and responsibility of three little ones, undertaken in the midst of a full and busy family life, and in addition to all the duties of that life, could have been no sinecure, and must have been fraught with many a difficulty.

The Tuckers were much in society, as may indeed have been already gathered. Mr. Tucker was a man greatly sought after, alike on account of his position and influence, and because of his personal attractiveness. Open house was kept; and the large circle of friends and acquaintances never failed to find a welcome. So many indeed would drop in and out, that three lunches in succession were occasionally known to take place at No. 3; and so frequent were the ‘parties’ to which the family was[63] invited, that sometimes they would appear at three different houses in the course of one evening. ‘Party’ in those days was a wide term, embracing divers kinds of entertainment, from a simple musical gathering to a large ball.

Dinner-parties also were numerous. In reference to these, Charlotte Tucker wrote rather drolly to her sister late in life, speaking of—‘those formal affairs, which you and I remember in our earlier days. We must ask So-and-so; and how shall we find gentlemen to counterbalance Mrs. and Miss out of one house? Slow concerns those great dinner-parties were; a kind of social duty, which cost much trouble and expense, and gave not much pleasure. A kind of very stiff jelly, with not many strawberries in it.’

An amusing story is told about these large dinners. In those days the custom of ‘drinking healths’ had gained sway to an absurd and objectionable extent; gentlemen being expected to respond to every toast, and not only to sip their wine, but very often to empty their glasses, under pain of giving serious offence. Mr. Tucker always had by his side a decanter of toast and water, from which his glass was filled for the various toasts; and probably those not in the secret counted him a marvellously hard-headed man. One day a guest requested leave to taste this especial wine, which was kept for the host alone, supposing it to be of some very rare and choice vintage. His request was immediately complied with; and the face of the bon-vivant may be imagined when he discovered himself to be drinking toast-and-water.

No doubt these dinners were a ‘social duty’; and no doubt some of them may have been extremely dull. Yet it must not be supposed that Charlotte did not thoroughly enjoy London society, and did not fully appreciate intercourse with polished and intellectual minds. That which in her old age would have been a mere weariness to[64] her, was no weariness in youth and early middle age. One of her brothers remarks: ‘She was very sociable, lively, and threw her whole heart into the kindly entertaining of guests of all ages.’ Such powers of entertaining as she possessed could not but have gone with enjoyment in the use of those powers.

Moreover, the study of different characters, the drawing out of other people’s thoughts, the gaining of new ideas for herself, must have had some fascination. And, despite all her kindness, all her readiness to see the best in everybody, she could not, with her keen sense of humour, have failed to be a good deal amused with the various foibles and absurdities which certain people are wont to display, even in the best society, and when upon their most circumspect behaviour.

Ever merry, and ever making others merry, she could, as one friend says, ‘keep a whole tableful laughing and talking,’ without difficulty. In fact, whatever the dinner-parties may have seemed to herself, her own presence, her bright smile and sparkling conversation, effectually prevented sensations of dulness on the part of others who were there.

Whether Charlotte ever had what, in the language of fifty or sixty years ago, was delicately termed a ‘preference’ for anybody, cannot be known. Her hand was at least once sought in marriage, while she was still a girl; and some signs seem to have been visible that she was disposed to ‘like’ the gentleman in question. Her parents, however, disapproved of the match, and it came to nothing. If at any time she really were in love, it is pretty certain that she never would have revealed the fact to any mortal being until sure that her ‘preference’ was returned. The reticence which was so marked a feature in her otherwise frank and open nature would undoubtedly have had sway in this direction.


Speaking to a friend, long after in old age, she said that in her young days ‘at home,’ when a certain nameless gentleman was supposed to be paying his addresses to Fanny, the other sisters were ‘very indignant’ at the idea of any man wishing to break into their sisterly circle. This probably preceded her own little affair, since Fanny was four years her senior. The pretty notion of home-life and of the unbroken sisterly circle had in time to yield before stern facts, as first one sister and then a second proved faithless to nursery traditions.

Wide as was the circle of family acquaintances, the girls possessed few intimate outside friends. Mr. Tucker rather discouraged such intimacies, considering that his five daughters ought to be content with the close companionship of one another. Charlotte had above all her Laura, whom she devotedly loved; and so satisfying was this friendship that she probably cared little for others by comparison.

Mrs. Tucker, in her quiet way, was no less a power in the house than was her husband. Though less brilliantly gifted, she was very observant, very quaint, very wise, a most affectionate Mother, intensely loved and revered by all her children. She had her own peculiar mode of looking upon things. For instance,—having noticed that girls in an evening party, glancing at a mirror, were apt to be disquieted to find their dresses disorganised, she resolved to have no mirrors at all in her rooms, hoping thereby to secure greater peace of mind among her guests. It does not seem to have occurred to her, that a vague uneasiness about the state of their attire might possibly trouble them quite as much as even an uncomfortable certainty.

Another short story of Mrs. Tucker, showing her quiet, incisive force of character, may well come in here. She had a very strong objection to unkind discussion of[66] people behind their backs. On one occasion, when in the drawing-room of a certain lady, other callers beside herself were present, and one of the latter rose to leave. No sooner was the unfortunate lady gone, than the hostess began to speak of her in disparaging terms. Mrs. Tucker made no immediate observation; but presently, turning to the hostess, she said mildly, ‘I ought to be going,—but I really am afraid to do so.’ Much surprised, the other asked why. ‘Because,’ Mrs. Tucker replied, ‘I am afraid that when I have left the room you will begin to speak of me as you did just now of Mrs. ——.’ The courteously uttered reproof—a pretty sharp one, however gently bestowed—was accepted in an equally courteous spirit; and the hostess earnestly assured her that nothing of the kind should take place.

There is no need to imagine, because Charlotte was gay and bright in society, that she never knew the meaning of depression. Shadows of loss and sorrow had not yet begun to fall across her pathway; yet even in those happy days she must have grasped the meaning of ‘down’ as well as ‘up.’ Rather curiously, she spoke of herself in old age ............
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