Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 34.djvu/388

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Lytton estates. She made him a liberal allowance, but his prospects entirely depended upon her. Solid reasons, therefore, as well as his real affection for his mother, delayed his courtship, and he went to Paris at one time in order to be out of the way of temptation. He found himself, however, bound in honour as well as by feeling to carry out the engagement to Miss Wheeler. He promised his mother not to marry if it could be proved that Miss Wheeler had been born in 1800 or 1801 (ib. ii. 148), but as it was soon proved that she was born on 4 Nov. 1802 (ib. p. 150), the marriage was finally celebrated on 29 Aug. 1827, and caused the temporary alienation of his mother. Upon his marriage Bulwer settled at Woodcot House, near Pangbourne, Berkshire. His wife had only 80l. a year. As he kept a carriage, two or three saddle-horses, and entertained friends, he had to support himself by energetic literary labour. Though he incurred some debts, he was able to pay them off within three years of his marriage. He wrote enormously for all kinds of periodicals, from ‘Quarterly Reviews’ to ‘Keepsakes’ and ‘Books of Beauty.’ In 1827 he had published ‘Falkland,’ a gloomy work, which he says was to him what the ‘Sorrows of Werter’ was to Goethe. It gave some offence, but Colburn the publisher was so far satisfied that he offered 500l. for another novel. Bulwer said that he would give him one ‘which was sure to succeed.’ This was ‘Pelham,’ already begun at college, which he now finished, and which appeared in June 1828. Though abused by most of the critics, it made a rapid success. It was popular in Paris, and was translated into German, Spanish, and Italian. The dandy, with a serious ambition concealed under levity, was naturally taken to represent Bulwer himself. Though he disavowed the resemblance very warmly, there can be no doubt that the belief was not altogether groundless. The author boasted that it had put down the Byronic mania by substituting at any rate a more manly kind of foppery. It is said also to have introduced the fashion of black coats for evening dress (ib. ii. 195). The literary historian who compares it with ‘Vivian Grey’ (1826) will probably find that Bulwer and Disraeli were both representing a common phase of contemporary sentiment. The youthful vivacity made it one of his best novels, and gave him thereafter a safe position as a popular author. Bulwer's first child, Emily Elizabeth (who died on 29 April 1848), was born on 17 June 1828. Her mother's inability to nurse the infant deprived her of a salutary interest, according to her son, who adds that her maternal instincts never revived, and her home life was injured, though the prediction of Bulwer's mother that he would be ‘at a year's end the most miserable of men’ was not verified at the time.

In September 1829 Bulwer left Woodcot, and settled at 36 Hertford Street, London. He had written affectionate letters to his mother upon the birth of his daughter and the publication of his books, which gradually led to a reconciliation. She restored his allowance of 1,000l. a year, but refused at first to see his wife. Upon his remonstrance she at last consented to visit her daughter-in-law. She complained, however, to her son that his wife, whom she ‘maintained,’ had not received her with sufficient effusion. Bulwer resented the phrase by refusing to take her money. Although they remained upon good terms, he had still to work hard for his support. He was prospering as an author. For the ‘Disowned,’ published in December 1828, he received 800l., and for ‘Devereux’—a novel of the reign of Queen Anne—published in June 1829, 1,500l. His absorption in these and other literary works deprived his wife of his society, and gave morbid acuteness to an irritable temperament. He was like a ‘man who has been flayed and is sore all over,’ and his wife suffered, though meekly for the present, under vehement reproaches, as well as frequent solitude. Their second child, afterwards the first Earl Lytton, was born on 8 Nov. 1831.

Meanwhile Bulwer had published in August 1830 ‘Paul Clifford,’ which brought much hostile criticism. Although intended, according to his son, to promote a reform in the criminal law, this portrait of a chivalrous highwayman not unnaturally struck the reviewers as immoral. The dandyism and philosophical pretensions of his novels suggested other marks for ridicule, which was applied pretty freely. Thackeray afterwards expressed regret for some of the personalities into which he had been betrayed as a youth (ib. ii. 275). An attack in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (December 1832) was met by a sharp letter to Lockhart, published by Bulwer in the ‘New Monthly.’ Though over-sensitive to criticism, it must be admitted that the rod had been applied with excessive sharpness, especially in ‘Fraser's Magazine.’ He became himself an editor, undertaking the ‘New Monthly’ in 1831. The first number under his superintendence appeared in November 1831. His sub-editor was Samuel Carter Hall [q. v.], who in the course of 1832 became his successor.

Bulwer was at this time a reformer in politics. He had made some acquaintance with the younger utilitarians, whose leader,