A Reading of EarthMEREDITH, George
London: MacMillan and Co. 1888.
First edition. 8vo. (173x120mm). pp. vi. 136. Publisher's dark blue cloth with title and author in gilt on the spine. Protected by a glassine wrapper. Blue leaf design endpapers. Hinges cracked. The contents are very good.
Presentation copy inscribed, "To Edward Clodd from George Meredith". Inserted between the front free endpaper and the blank leaf, are two ALSs from Meredith to Edward Clodd, dated July 26th 1895 and February 14th 1898. Also inscribed, "For Phyllis Clodd, with warmest regards from her husband's friend and her own. Thomas J Wise". Inserted between pages 134 and 135 is a three-page ALS from Cotter Morrison to Edward Clodd dated June 10th 1885. There are also extensive notes by Clodd describing conversations between him and Meredith. Running to thirteen pages, some have been written on the preliminary leaves and some inserted. Also loosely inserted are two leaves from The Times Literary Supplement, one from May 8th 1953 and the other from May 15th 1953. These are headed "Meredith's Conversations with Clodd". described as "rough notes...made by Edward Clodd and record a chat with George Meredith at Box Hill...". They are an edited typescript of the handwritten notes. Also loosely inserted is a cutting from the TLS of ? June 1955 being a letter from C.L.Cline requesting information about letters from Meredith to various correspondents. Cline is the editor of the three volume edition of Meredith's letters. And finally, a postcard showing George Meredith's house at Boxhill, Dorking is loosely inserted.
Oscar Wilde described Meredith’s style as “chaos illumined by flashes of lightening” and this 1888 collection of poems in which Meredith draws heavily on his love of and closeness to nature demonstrates something of this volatility. A similar air of chaos and lightening hangs over the various inscriptions, letters and inserts in this book which, in places, has the look and feeling of a scrapbook.
The book was a gift from Meredith to Edward Clodd and is inscribed accordingly. Clodd is a fascinating and somewhat unlikely figure. He had a forty year career as a London banker but spent much of his time in Aldeburgh where he gathered around him, at celebrated Whitsun weekend parties, groups of artists, writers and intellectuals. Meredith was one of his close literary friends. In addition, Clodd was an admirer of Darwin and an evangelist for his evolutionary theories, writing biographies of Thomas Huxley, Herbert Spencer and Darwin himself. He was also a member of the Omar Khayyam Club and this is referred to in Meredith’s letter of February 14th 1898: “My dear Clodd, On Saturday, come and dine, and I will be your Valentine, O Chairman of Omar Khayyams, for whom the praises drown the damns”. The earlier letter from July 1895, makes reference to Clodd’s agnosticism, addressing him as “Dearest of faithless men”.
The other letter inserted here, is from James Cotter Morrison to Clodd. It is inserted between pages 134 and 135. Page 134 contains Meredith’s short poem J.C.M. which begins “A Fountain of our sweetest, quick to spring/In fellowship abounding, here subsides”. Above the poem is inscribed “James Cotter Morrison. Died 26th Feb 1888”. Morrison was part of Clodd’s literary circle and a friend of Meredith. This letter which deals mainly with Cotter apologising for having to turn down an invitation from Clodd in favour of dinner with “the Misses Lawrence - friends of Meredith” also touches on literary matters and makes clear the social and intellectual network which Clodd operated and of which Meredith was a central part.
The thirteen pages of notes recording conversations between Clodd and Meredith at Box Hill are not inserted in any obvious order, but a previous owner (perhaps Clodd himself) has helpfully numbered each page in pencil so that one can read the notes chronologically. These are a fascinating insight into late Victorian literary “table-talk”. Many paragraphs begin “Talked of...” and then describe Meredith’s views on an author. One particularly tantalising entry reads: “30 April 1894. Thomas Hardy & I went to Meredith’s to dine & spend the evening. Talk too discursive to permit of record”. In May 1953, the Times Literary Supplement published, on successive weeks “Meredith’s Conversations with Clodd”, based on these notes (but also including some of Clodd recollections from meetings at Aldeburgh which are not in this volume).
The last in this set of fascinating associations is the inscription from Thomas J. Wise to Phyllis Clodd. Phyllis was Edward’s second wife and had been his secretary. They married when he was an old man. She was forty-seven years younger than him and outlived him by twenty-seven years. It seems odd that this volume was not passed to her when Clodd died. We can only assume that Wise, who was a friend of Clodd’s and edited and printed much of his correspondence, acquired this volume from Clodd and then gave it to Phyllis with this rather touching inscription.