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Literary Life of the Rev. William Harness
Chapter X.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
‣ Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
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Mr. Harness’s longing for the country was to a certain extent gratified by his position at Knightsbridge. When he first resided in Hyde Park Terrace, the neighbourhood bordering on Rotten Row was laid out in large gardens shaded by luxuriant trees, and melodious with the songs of the linnet and nightingale. His own house, while it faced the Park, commanded from the back a wide view over the country as far as Epsom and the Surrey hills. At first, the intention was to build the church just inside the railings of Hyde Park, and a piece of ground had been assigned for the purpose; but the Commissioners of Woods and Forests afterwards withdrew their grant, and Mr. Harness was obliged to content himself with a site somewhat further removed from the Kensington Road than was desir-
able. The money collected for the building amounted to £10,500; £1,100 of which was contributed by Mr. Harness, and a considerable portion of the remainder by his personal friends.

Mr. Harness was fond of classic designs, and the Italian style of architecture was selected for the church, a bell-tower, or campanile, being afterwards added to it.* The Minister’s income was almost entirely dependent upon the pew-rents; and although the gross revenue exceeded £1,100 per annum, Mr. Harness scarcely received £400 out of it; partly owing to the liberal manner in which all those in his employment were remunerated. He was always unwilling to tax his congregation, and persistently refused to allow charity sermons to be preached for any but local objects. At the same time, he never called for any assistance towards defraying the cost of repairs or other outgoings connected with the edifice, which amounted to a very considerable sum.

The incidental notices which have occurred in the foregoing chapters are sufficient to indicate the affectionate friendship which throughout life existed between Mr. Harness and Miss Mitford. They were bound together not only by early associations, but by a mutual geniality of temperament, and a sympathy in

* In 1860, at a cost of £1,400, to which Mr. Harness contributed £500.

each other’s tastes and pursuits. Both were ardent lovers of literature, especially of the more social branches of it, and both fully appreciated the powerful influence obtained by the Drama. Miss Mitford had an especial predilection for this kind of composition. “If I have any talent,” she writes, “it is for the Drama;” and we can imagine the relief with which she must have flown from the cold cynicism of her father to the kindly encouragement of her early friend, who bade her continue in the path she loved. Nor can we assert that his support was ill-judged, when we read the many noble and touching passages which adorn “
Rienzi,” and recollect the success it achieved—a success which would have distinguished its author had she never etched a single episode of village life. There may perhaps have been also a kinder motive for Mr. Harness’s encouragement; for the theatre then offered better hopes of pecuniary remuneration than any other field of literature.

The affectionate regard which Miss Mitford felt towards her early friend is well shown by the following gratifying offer:

“Three Mile Cross,
“April 4, 1837.

“I have only one moment in which to offer a peti-
tion to you. I have a little trumpery volume called ‘
Country Stories,’ about to be published by Saunders and Otley. Will you permit me to give these Tales some little value in my own eyes by inscribing them (of course in a few true and simple words) to you, my old and most kind friend? I would not dedicate a play to you, for fear of causing you injury in your profession; but I do not think that this slight testimony of a very sincere affection could do you harm in that way; for even those who do not allow novels in their house, sanction my little books.

“Ever affectionately yours,
M. R. Mitford.”

The dedication was as follows:—

Whose old hereditary friendship
Has been the pride and pleasure
Of her happiest hours,
Her consolation in the sorrows,
Her support in the difficulties of life,
This little volume
Is most respectfully and affectionately
Inscribed by

But although there was such a congeniality in
literary taste between
Mr. Harness and Miss Mitford, they were at issue on a more important subject. Miss Mitford’s views on Religion were decidedly ‘broad,’ although they would have appeared narrow in comparison with some of the present day. Mr. Harness, as we have seen, was a man of sound doctrine and faithfully attached to the Church of England, and his friend’s views caused some dissatisfaction to his orthodox mind. He desired to bring her round to more correct opinions, and apparently wrote to her on the subject; for we find her, in a letter, tenderly requesting him not to press arguments upon her which could not alter her convictions, and deprecating the discussion of anything -which might create a distance between two such early friends. After this, Mr. Harness forbore making any further allusions to such matters; but it is satisfactory to know that Miss Mitford remained a member of the Church in which she had been educated.

If there was any person beyond the pale of Mr. Harness’s Christian forbearance, that individual was Dr. Mitford. The reckless manner in which he squandered the family property, and his selfishness even to the last, when he became entirely dependent on his daughter’s incessant toil, often continued by night as well as by day,
would have estranged the affections of any but one,

“Whose kind heart refused to discover
The faults which so many could find.”

The history of Dr. Mitford’s extravagance and folly have been written by Mr. Harness himself. Like other men of his stamp, the Doctor seems to have been in turn the impostor and the dupe. Mr. Harness disliked not only his morals, but also his manners, his self-sufficiency and loud talk, and could scarcely understand the amount of filial infatuation which led Miss Mitford to speak of his “modesty” and “excellence.”

Notwithstanding Miss Mitford’s slavery at the pen, the Doctor died considerably in debt; and although her poverty was great, she retained such a filial regard for his memory, that she boldly announces:—“Everybody shall be paid, if I sell the gown off my back, or pledge my little pension.” In these difficulties a suggestion was made, by those who knew her wide popularity, that a subscription should be set on foot to raise a sum to meet these liabilities. The response to the appeal thus made by Mr. Harness and other friends was more liberal than could have been expected. The following is a letter from Mrs. Opie on this subject:—

MRS. OPIE. 243
“Lady’s Lane,
“2nd Month, 24th, 1843.
“My Dear Friend,

“I thought I should see thy name on poor dear Miss Mitford’s Committee. What a sad tale she has to tell! How she has been tried! And what a daughter she has been to a most unworthy father! I know no one like her in self-sacrifice and patient endurance. Surely, under such circumstances, the creditors will take less than their due, and wait for the rest till she can pay it. So few persons like to subscribe to pay debts, that this debt of £800 or £900 will hang, I fear, like a millstone over the subscription. But I forget—this debt paid, she may, perhaps, by the labours of her pen, support herself without help. And I do hope the Queen will double her pension.

“In the meanwhile, I am begging for her. I intend to raise £20, and to get more if I can. I shall ask a sovereign from eighteen persons—I have in hand seven already—and then send the £20 up to some one, or pay it into Gurney’s bank, to be remitted to her bankers. In such a case, and in many cases, begging is a Christian duty. She has written to me and sent me the papers to distribute.

“I think she would have gained more by an
appeal to the public in the papers, with a list of subscribers; but she and you and her agents know best what to do. I shall be very sorry if I do not raise £20 or more. How I wish it were as easy for me to serve thy nephew!

“Believe me,
“Much thine,

The sum collected was not only sufficient to cover all the outstanding liabilities, but also to add something to the authoress’s narrow income.

During the last two years of her life Miss Mitford’s health rapidly declined. Mr. Harness frequently visited her at this time; and in a letter to a friend shortly before her death she speaks with her old enthusiasm of her early friend:—

“By the way, this most dear friend of mine has been here for ten days—came for one—found himself a lodging, and has stayed ever since, and will stay ten days longer. Did you ever hear of him? . . . . He has every grace and accomplishment—person (even at sixty odd), voice, manner, talent, literature, and, more than all, the sweetest of natures. His father gave away my mother. We were close friends in childhood, and have re-
mained such ever since. And now he leaves the Deep-dene, with all its beauty of scenery and society, to come to me, a poor sick old woman, just because I am sick, and old, and poor; and because we have loved each other like brother and sister all our lives. How I wish you were here to hear him read
Shakespeare, and to listen to conversation that leaves his reading far behind!”

In a note written to himself about this time, and in contemplation of her own approaching dissolution, she observes:—

“You are left, dear friend, to be the one green oak of the forest, after the meaner trees have fallen around you. May God long preserve you to the many still left to grow up under your shade!”

One of the last letters written by Miss Mitford to Mr. Harness, and marked “immediate,” contained directions with regard to the publication of her life and correspondence. With characteristic thoughtfulness, she avoids preferring any formal request that might inconvenience her friend or involve him in a laborious and unprofitable undertaking. She does not even express any opinion as to the value of her literary remains, but rather implies a doubt whether any one would think them worth publishing. Finally, however,
she gives a list of persons in possession of her correspondence, and observes that no one knew the course of her life better than himself. From the tenor of this letter it is evident that she wished Mr. Harness to write some biographical notice of her; and some conversations which had passed between them confirmed him in this opinion.

Soon after his friend’s death, Mr. Harness commenced the task of looking through her letters, but he found the work much more arduous than he had anticipated. Although her habits were in every respect frugal, her favourite economy seemed to be in paper. Her letters were scribbled on innumerable small scraps—sometimes on printed circulars—sometimes across engravings—and half a dozen of these would form one epistle, and had in course of time become confused and interchanged in their envelopes. When we add to this that towards the end of her life Miss Mitford’s handwriting became almost microscopic, it can easily be understood that the arrangement of these Sibylline leaves was no short or easy undertaking. Mr. Harness worked hard at it, out of affection for his lost friend, but at last he felt that, from failing health, he must either abandon his design or call in to his assistance some person who had more time and energy to devote to its
prosecution. Under these circumstances, he applied to
Mr. Henry Chorley, a man of well-known literary skill, and one of Miss Mitford’s most intimate friends.

In the meanwhile a difficulty arose from a most unexpected quarter. A year before Miss Mitford’s death, she made her will, and left her servants K. and Sam her residuary legatees. It is possible that at that time she thought nothing about her letters, or any life which might be written of her, and felt satisfied that at all events she was leaving everything in the safe custody of her executors.

No literary person would ever dream of committing their private correspondence to the hands of half-educated servants, or indeed to those of any one in whose judgment and ability they had not the fullest confidence. Something seems to have occurred to her mind on this subject at the very last, and, being ignorant of law, she thought a letter to Mr. Harness, her executor, would be in every way a sufficient safeguard.* Towards the end of her life, she became very much dependent on her maid, and probably in one of those ebullitions of generosity for which she was remarkable, left her all her little property. On account of the objections raised, Mr. Chorley refused

* The Sweetmans afterwards filed a bill in chancery against Mr. Bentley and myself. It was dismissed without costs.

to proceed with the work, unless an arrangement could be made with the
Sweetmans. They, on their part, put in exorbitant claims, and Mr. Chorley withdrew, observing that the work would barely remunerate the Editor. The undertaking was then relinquished, apparently for ever.

Mr. Harness always considered the demands of the Sweetmans to be merely vexatious, as he knew well the wishes of his life-long friend and the entire confidence she placed in him. He was also fully convinced that her servants had no legal claim whatever on any portion of her literary correspondence.

We thus entered upon the work with a flowing sail, and spent two years not unpleasantly in deciphering and arranging the multifarious materials, so as to form an agreeable and continuous narrative of the life of the popular authoress. One great difficulty we encountered spoke favourably for the promise of the book. We had such a redundance of good matter, of clever criticism and graceful description, that we found it very difficult to compress it into anything like readable proportions.

During the following years I was much with Mr. Harness. Our work was principally carried on in his little study—a room well lined with books and adorned with sketches, several of them by Miss
MR. DYCE.249
Fanshawe. His residence was in every way a charming bijou—a combination of ornament and comfort; and as in his dress he exhibited the most scrupulous neatness and precision, so his household arrangements bespoke taste without extravagance. In his furniture he studied colour and form, and would point out to an intimate friend the little effects which he had produced by certain ingenious dispositions. At the head of the staircase leading to the drawing-room, stood a large mirror reflecting persons entering the room. The apartment itself was in good keeping with the character of its owner. The walls were covered with cases of brightly bound volumes alternating with mirrors draped like the windows. Beside the mantel-piece stood a model of Shakespeare’s monument and his bust.

During this period, no one was a more frequent visitor in Mr. Harness’s study than the well-known Shakespearian critic, Mr. Dyce. He was a tall thin man, with keen eyes and a strong Scotch accent. They had been literary friends through life; and now, as septuagenarians, they were fond of talking over by-gone days, and sometimes indulging in a little old-fashioned badinage. “My rheumatism,” Mr. Dyce would observe, “has become more troublesome of late.” “Very probably,” returned Mr. Harness jocosely; “what is the good of such
250MR. DYCE.
an old fellow as you?” (Dyce was eight years the younger.) “Don’t insult me,” the other replied, with well-affected indignation.

The conversation during these visits frequently turned upon Miss Mitford and her writings, or upon the edition of Shakespeare which Mr. Dyce had then in preparation. With regard to the latter work, Mr. Harness, while fully acknowledging the learning and research of his friend, thought that he had scarcely sufficient enterprise for the task, and was somewhat slow in admitting judicious emendations. He had, for instance, left unconnected a corrupt and unintelligible passage in the ‘Tempest.’*

“A solemn air, and the best comforter
To an unsettled fancy, cure thy brains,
Now useless boiled within thy skull!”

Mr. Harness observed that in Shakespeare’s time the c and s were formed almost alike, and were frequently interchanged; also that the passive “boiled” is inelegant and inapplicable to the brains, whereas the active “boil” would give a good idea of violent mental commotion. In many passages Mr. Dyce did adopt his friend’s views. But he mentions the epitaph on Shakespeare’s wife without noticing his suggestion that the widow

* Act v., Scene 1.

married again. Mr. Harness, when investigating that point, laid the evidence before an actuary, who replied that “it would be as difficult to disprove the fact of Mrs. Shakespeare having become Mrs. James as that
George the Third is now on the throne.”

The following extract from a letter received about this time from Mr. Halliwell, bears interesting and valuable testimony to Mr. Harness’s critical proficiency:—

“I am constantly reminded of you by your excellent edition of Shakespeare, your own explanatory notes to which are, in my opinion (excuse my presumption, but I am always at it, and therefore ought to be able to judge), the best, next to Dr. Johnson’s, ever made. I most earnestly wish you would publish another edition with more of them.”

On the last occasion on which we walked in the South Kensington Museum, Mr. Harness met his old friend, Mr. Longman. They began to talk of bygone times, and Mr. Longman said he remembered his old enthusiasm for Shakespeare, and asked whether he retained it. “Yes,” replied Mr. Harness, “I do. There never was such another man, and there never will be.”


The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, commenced in 1866, was three years in progress. In the Autumn of 1868 it appeared to be ready, and we offered it to several leading publishers, who all declined it upon different grounds. Even Mr. Bentley, who at first entertained the proposal, afterwards withdrew on receiving an adverse critique. He at the same time observed that if the work were reduced to half its dimensions he might still entertain it. Mr. Harness undertook the abridgment, and, but for my strenuous opposition, would have curtailed his own introductory notices, and omitted the first letter, which is characteristic and interesting from its date. In a few months he resigned his undertaking; he was feeling the weakness inseparable from advanced age; and the careful reduction of six volumes to three required no slight amount of reading and attention. He accordingly placed the further revision of the work entirely in my hands.

Since Mr. Harness’s age had become remarkable, it had been his custom to celebrate his birthday by giving a little party to his immediate friends and relations, and they in turn marked the anniversary by congratulations and other tokens of regard. In this year I was obliged, as it happened, to leave London on the day before this interesting occasion; but in passing I left a bouquet at his house.
Next morning, I received an envelope containing the following lines:—

“Sweet are your flowers; for tho’ this sunless Spring
With perfume slight their beauty rare enhances,
A sweeter fragrance to my hearth they bring,
As breathing a kind friend’s remembrances.
“Yours ever,
“W. H.”

Mr. Harness was always fond of flowers. When the Hon. William Cowper was in office, he suggested to him the establishment of a flower-market in Trafalgar Square. His reply was that he thought it already sufficiently ornamental.