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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER IX
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CHAPTER IX
A.D. 1857-1865
LIFE’S EARLY AFTERNOON

One-half of the life of Charlotte Tucker was now over; a quiet and uneventful life thus far. If we like, we may mentally divide her story into four quarters, each about eighteen years in length, corresponding to Early Morning, Noontide, Afternoon, and Evening. The first eighteen years of her Early Morning had been, perhaps, as bright and cloudless as the existence of any girl could well be. In the succeeding Noontide hours she had known still much of brightness, though they included her first great sorrow, and ended with her second. Also, in the course of that Noontide she had entered upon her career of authorship, with all its hopes and aims, its hard work and its delights. Probably none who have not experienced it for themselves can quite understand the fascinations of authorship.

Now she had passed her Noontide, and was entering on the hours of early Afternoon. Eighteen years of that Afternoon still lay between the dark days of the Indian Mutiny and her own going out to India, for the Evening of her Life,—the fourth and last eighteen years, which were to be the fullest and the busiest of all her busy days.

We have first to do with the earlier portion of the Third Period; a period including much work, many interests, and some deep griefs. Between 1857 and 1866, however, lay a[113] quiet stretch of everyday life, distinguished by no rocks or rapids. The river flowed on peacefully for a while.

Life at No. 3 continued much as it had been in years past. Many friends were in and out, and were always cordially welcomed. Mrs. Tucker, since her husband’s death, had made one difference, in that she no longer gave dinner-parties; but luncheons were in full swing, to any extent; and Charlotte’s powers of entertaining were still in abundant requisition.

No better place can well be found than this for part of a letter to A. L. O. E.’s nephew,—the Rev. W. F. T. Hamilton, son of her favourite sister,—from Sir Francis Outram, son of General Sir James Outram, of celebrated memory.

‘June 25, 1894.

‘My recollections of No. 3 Portland Place and of its typically kind inmates carry me back just half a century. But they are very clear, though, I regret to add, only of a general and intangible character.

‘Mr. Tucker I recall with grave respect, unmingled with awe, as evidently one of the wisest and most influential of my Parents’ proved friends. Mrs. Tucker retains an honoured place in memories of these and later days as the kindest and most liberal of “old aunts,”—so she desired me to designate her, and at once adopted me into her very large circle of favoured nephews and nieces,—the inexhaustible source of varied goodnesses, especially such as were of the most approved edible nature.

‘Their sons I cannot recall, except as the genial and trusty friends of later life. But the five daughters of the house none of us who enjoyed their unselfish kindness at all stages of our youth can ever forget.

‘Of the two who ere long became successively “Miss Tucker,” however, you would alone wish me to speak. They cannot be dissociated in the memory of the generations of young people, whose privilege it was to be entertained and gratified by their unwearied attention throughout many a long holiday afternoon and evening, while stuffed by Mrs. Tucker ad libitum with all the best things of the season.

‘As we grew older, we not only more fully understood the exceptional boundlessness of old-fashioned hospitality and kindness which[114] that house and household exemplified thoroughly, but we came to understand somewhat of the heart-source whence issued that truest manifestation, of “everyday religion,” which evidences itself in an absolutely unselfish consecration,—consistent, unreserved, and essentially practical,—for everyday wear, and not only under “stimulating environments.” Such was the life’s lesson which our association with these two now ageing sisters suggested to us.

‘Miss Charlotte had, as you know, much of the Romantic in her composition.... In person she was always slight, and somewhat fragile-looking. Indeed, both she and Miss Fanny gave one the impression of being too incessantly though quietly busy about everything that promoted the happiness of other people, to ever become stout, or to cultivate dress and appearances, beyond what was consistent with the aims and duties and requirements of a fully occupied home-life.

‘Mrs. Tucker could not quite keep pace with the new-fashioned unconventionalities of “young-lady work” in London; and one of the object-sermons, which most impressed me in my College days, was the beautiful self-restraint which these two sisters—no longer young—imposed upon themselves, in deference to their aged Mother’s wishes, in regard to that outside work which inclination, or one might say conviction, as well as opportunity and qualifications, impelled them to participate in.

‘Still the unbounded hospitality of the “open house” in Portland Place went on; and still they were content to devote their time, talents, and energies to successive generations of juveniles and elder guests, without a murmur.’

One can well believe that the self-restraint had to be severe in Charlotte’s case, with her abounding energies, and her eager desires for usefulness. But she patiently abided her time; and she did not wait in vain. These were years of quiet preparation.

In appearance at this time Charlotte was, as ever, tall and thin,—decidedly tall, her height being five feet six inches, or two inches over her Mother’s height, and only one inch short of her Father’s. She had still as of old a peculiarly elastic and springy mode of walking; and while possessing no pretensions to actual good looks,[115] there was much charm of manner, together with great animation. Still, as ever, she threw herself energetically into the task of entertaining others, no matter whether those ‘others’ were young or old, attractive or uninteresting. This at present was a main duty of her life, and she never neglected or slurred it. Still, as ever, she was guided and restrained by her Mother’s wishes, yielding her own desires when the two wills, or the two judgments, happened to lie in opposite directions.

Although not really fond of work, Charlotte was a beautiful knitter. She would make most elaborate antimacassars, of delicate lace-like patterns, invented by her own busy brain; and while working thus she was able to read Shakespeare aloud. Her Father had loved Shakespeare, and Charlotte had early caught the infection of this love, never afterwards to lose it.

Visiting in the Marylebone Workhouse went on steadily; she and Fanny usually going together, until Fanny’s health began to fail, which was probably not until after 1864.

Fanny was par excellence the gentle sister; very sweet, very unselfish; always the one who would silently take the most uncomfortable chair in the room; always the one to put others forward, yet in so quiet and unobtrusive a fashion that the fact was often not remarked until afterwards. Of Charlotte it has been said by one who knew her intimately,—‘I wonder whether before the year 1850 any one has described her as “gentle.”’ The gentleness, which was with Fanny a natural characteristic, had to be a slow after-growth with the more vehement and resolute younger sister. Many a sharp blow upon the golden staff of her Will was needful for this result.

As an instance of Fanny’s peculiar gentleness, it is told that one Sunday, when she saw a man trying to sell things, she went up and remonstrated with him, speaking[116] very seriously, but in so mild and courteous a manner, so entirely as she would have spoken to one who was socially on her own level, that he was utterly unable to take offence. She was also very generous, giving liberally to the poor out of her limited dress-allowance, in earlier girlish days. This same generosity was a marked feature in the character of Charlotte; perhaps especially in later years.

Fanny was of middle height, and thin, with dark eyes; very neat and orderly in her ways, wherein she was the opposite of Charlotte, who was famed for untidiness in her arrangements. Charlotte was, however, methodical in plans of action, and in literary work; and later in life she seems to have struggled hard after habits of greater tidiness, as a matter of principle. But in middle life she could still speak of her drawers as—at least sometimes—supplying a succession of ‘surprises.’

Her ‘little Robins’ were now growing up, an ever-increasing care and interest to her loving heart; and the devotion which she felt for Letitia was of a most intense nature. The two boys were of course much away at school; but Letitia was always with her,—until the year 1865, when it was decided that she should go out to her uncle, Mr. St. George Tucker, in India. Moreover, many other little nieces and nephews had a warm place in the life of ‘Aunt Char,’ none more so than the children of her especial sister-friend, one of whom was her own god-child.

Side by side with innumerable home-duties and home-pleasures went on the continual writing of little books for children; one or two at least appearing every year. The amount of work in one such volume is not heavy; but A. L. O. E.’s other calls were many. And she was not writing for a livelihood, or even for the increased comforts, whether of herself or of others dependent upon her;[117] therefore it could not be placed in the front rank of home-duties. The Tuckers were sufficiently well off; and Charlotte is believed to have devoted most or all of the proceeds of her pen to charitable purposes.

To secure a certain amount of leisure for work, she accustomed herself to habits of early rising. Her Mother had always strongly objected to late hours, making the rule for her girls,—‘If you can, always hear eleven o’clock strike in bed.’ Charlotte is said to have made her a definite promise never to write books late at night; and through life this promise was most scrupulously adhered to.

Since she was debarred from late hours, and since in those days she could never be sure of her time through the day, early morning was all that remained to her. Punctually, therefore, at six o’clock she got up,—like her hero, Fides, conquering Giant Sloth,—and thus made sure of at least an hour’s writing before breakfast. In winter months, when others had fires at night in their bedrooms, Charlotte denied herself the luxury, that she might have it in the morning instead for her work. The fire was laid over-night, and she lighted it herself when she arose; long before the maid came to call her.

Later in the day she wrote if she could and when she could. No doubt also she found many an opportunity for thinking over her stories, and planning what should come next. She usually had the tale clear in her mind before putting pen to paper; so that no time was lost when an hour for actual work could be secured.

A sitting-room behind the dining-room of No. 3, called ‘the parlour,’ was by common consent known as her room. Here she would sit and compose her books; but she made of it no hermitage. Here she would be invaded by nieces, nephews, children, anybody who wanted a word with ‘Aunt Char.’ And she was ready always for[118] such interruptions. Writing was with her, as we have seen, not the main business of life, but merely an adjunct,—an additional means of usefulness. Since she had secured the one early uninterrupted hour, other hours might take their chance, and anybody’s business might come before her own business. With all these breaks, and in spite of them, she yet managed in the course of years to accomplish a long list of children’s books.

One of the said nieces, Miss Annie Tucker, writes respecting certain visits that she paid to her grandmother, Mrs. Tucker, at Portland Place:—

‘In each of these visits it was always my beloved Aunt Charlotte who entertained me,—if I may use the word,—though I was a mere child; and she did it just as if I were a grown-up person. I could never see that she took less pains to interest me than she did to please the many grown-up people who called. She usually entertained us in her room behind the dining-room, so that my grandmother should not be wearied too much.

‘How often have I gone in and out of her room, with a freedom which now almost surprises me! but she never seemed interrupted by my entrance. I have seen her put down her pen, though she was evidently preparing MS. for the press, and attend to any little thing I wanted to say, without one exclamation of vexation or annoyance, or a resigned-resignation look, that some people put on on such occasions, at her literary work being put a stop to. And yet I am sure that was not because she did not mind being interrupted.’

It is not for a moment to be implied that all hard toilers in life are bound to follow precisely here the example of A. L. O. E. Circumstances differ in different cases. Often the work itself is of supreme importance; the interruptions are unnecessary and undeserving of attention. If everybody worked as Charlotte Tucker worked at that particular period, the amount accomplished would in some cases be very small, and in other cases, where undivided attention is essential, the result w............
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