The first instalment of “Wives and Daughters”, Mrs. Gaskell’s latest work, and I think universally regarded as the most artistically perfect of all her productions, appeared in the August number of “The Cornhill Magazine” of the year 1864. The last, but uncompleted, portion of the story was published in the January, 1866, number of the same periodical. It was supplemented by an editorial note, mainly conjectural, from the hand of Mr. Frederick Greenwood. Mrs. Gaskell had died on November 12th, 1865, in her fifty-sixth year.

It has not been thought right to omit this admirably expressed note, which reverently treated “what promised to be the crowning work of a life” as “a memorial of death”, from its proper place in the present edition. These “concluding remarks” were written by Mr. Frederick Greenwood, to whom the late Mr. George Smith had addressed an analogous request two years earlier, when the death of Thackeray had left the story of “Denis Duval” less than “half-told” in the pages of the same magazine. I feel, however, compelled to say that I entirely agree with Mr. Basil Champneys (see his well-judged appreciation of “Mrs. Gaskell” in “The Pilot” of June 28th, 1902) in deprecating Mr. Greenwood’s comparison of the character of Cynthia in “Wives and Daughters” with that of Tito in “Romola.” As between these two characters, I can discover little either of likeness in unlikeness, or of unlikeness in likeness; while, if comparison there must be, I have no hesitation in avowing that the character of Cynthia seems to me the more composite, and, if I may be excused the phrase, the more subtly-conceived of the pair.

In a review, published not long since by another critical journal of high reputation, I came across a reference to “the faculty that some writers display of bearing fresh fruit in their old age, making a new start on lines quite unlike those to which they have accustomed the public. Lord Lytton,” the writer continued, “Mrs. Gaskell, and Coventry Patmore, in their several ways are examples of this.” I fancy that this obiter dictum represents an impression shared by not a few with regard to the position of “Wives and Daughters” in Mrs. Gaskell’s literary biography. Yet, as already noted, she was only in her fifty-fourth year when she took up her pen to write “Wives and Daughters;” and, though unhappily she did not live to bring it to actual completion, not only is there in the work no symptom whatever of declining powers, but there was no reason (to human eye or intelligence) why there should have been. “Wives and Daughters” seems to me a signal instance, not of genius setting forth to conquer new worlds, but of genius matured in the full sunlight of its mid-day course, and consciously directed towards compassing, as it had never compassed them before, those ends which had become manifest to it as its own. Neither the pathos nor the humour of “Wives and Daughters” is unfamiliar to the readers of Mrs. Gaskell’s earlier books; while the irony, keen as well as kindly, which in both humour and pathos here makes itself so distinctly perceptible, was already part of the mellow charm characteristic of such works as “Sylvia’s Lovers” and “Cousin Phillis.” Thus it is not less incorrect to describe the manner of “Wives and Daughters” as something new in its author, than to designate the book itself as the fruit of her “old age.”

Curiously enough—but one cannot help thinking of Dickens pacing the streets of Paris in uncontrollable grief for the death of Little Nell, which had befallen earlier in the day—a considerable part of this most English, as well as “every-day”, story was written abroad. Much of it was written at Pontresina, where in 1864 Mrs. Gaskell was making “holiday” with all her daughters. They were accompanied by her son-in- law, Mr. Charles Crompton, Q.C.; by Mr. Thurstan Holland, the betrothed of her eldest daughter, Marianne; and by Mrs. Gaskell’s intimate friend, Miss Mary Ewart (a daughter of Mr. William Ewart, M.P., known as one of the chief promoters of the Free Library Act), whom the present writer remembers in her more advanced years as a lady of great kindliness and charm. Then, after a visit to Madame Mohl, at Paris—in the congenial atmosphere of whose drawingroom the writing continued, and whose interest in the progress of the work naturally became of the keenest— much of the concluding portion of the story was brought to paper in a quiet hotel at Dieppe. Here, among other visitors, Mrs. Gaskell found a French novelist of repute, from whom she heard of his method of composition (very far removed from her own)—how he was wont to stand in an archway between two rooms, with an amanuensis in each, to one or the other of whom he dictated alternately sentences of two different novels.

Before the publication of the story began, a title had to be found for it. “The Two Mothers” seems to have been the name originally thought of; but this I almost think must have been before the design of

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