Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ouida: The Little Earl, Bimbi, and an elegy for Shanklin

The Little Earl is a fable by Ouida (Maria Louise Ramé) telling of a young French earl's 'walkabout' in the Isle of Wight - a kind of 'Prince and the Pauper' experience that teaches him a hard lesson to take on at eight: "I see I am nothing. It is the title they give me, and the money I have got, that make the people so good to me. When I am only me, you see how it is."

The story appeared in Ouida's 1882 anthology of children's stories, Bimbi, a bit of whose background is that:
The Royal Family of Italy had shown Ouida much kindness, and she dedicated Bimbi to "S.A.R. Vittorio Emanuele Principe di Napoli." ... "The Little Earl," had been written for a small boy of Ouida's acquaintance, and she sent him the book with this note : —
" Dear Bertie, — Here is the book. Like a loyal subject, vous rendez place au Prince in your rights to the Little Earl. Perhaps some day when he is King and you are his grand scudiere you and he will talk of me and tell your children of Ouida."
The boy in question was Herbert Danyell, Cavaliere Tassinari's little grandson, to whom Ouida took a great fancy.
- page 114, Ouida: a Memoir (Elizabeth Lee, London: T Fisher Unwin, 1914, Internet Archive ouidamemoir00leee).
 ("Bertie" - uncoincidentally the nickname of the Little Earl in the story - was the son of Ouida's friend Alice Danyell, and formally Count Berto Danyell Tassinari, a.k.a. Herbert Danyell-Tassinari. He grew up to become a stage actor working under the name Herbert Dansey, 1870-1917, and also illustrated, and wrote a little: articles such as About an Actor in The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness, 1902; At the Academy, ditto, 1904; Roman Candles, London: Henry J Drane, 1910 - "a novel 'written from the inside' dealing largely with the doings of the Roman aristocracy ... Dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. George Alexander").

The Little Earl had previously appeared in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Belgravia: an Illustrated London Magazine, Vol. XLIV, 1881. The original London: Chatto and Windus edition had monochrome illustrations by the acclaimed and prolific illustrator Edmund H Garrett (as later reprinted in Bimbi. Stories for children. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott company, 1892 - see Hathitrust 007936682). Further impressions, of which there were many, included A Dog of Flanders, The Nürnberg Sove, and Other Stories (1909 Lippincott, Internet Archive dogofflandersnrnouida / 1913 Lippincott, Internet Archive dogofflandersnrn00ouid) which upgraded these to colour plates by Maria Louise Kirk.

"Will you be so kind as to let me know what you are eating?"
- Edmund H Garrett illustration for Bimbi, Lipincott, 1892
So he ran on through Bonchurch and out of it, leaving its pleasant green shade with a little sigh, half of impatience, half of hunger. He did not go on by the sea, for he knew by hearsay that this way would take him to Ventnor, and he was afraid people in a town would know him and stop him; so he set forth inland, where the deep lanes delve through the grassy downs , and here, sitting on a stile, the little Earl saw the ploughboy eating something white and round and big that he himself had never seen before.
      "It must be something very delicious to make him enjoy it so much," thought the little Earl, and then curiosity entered so into him, and he longed so much to taste this wonderful unknown thing, that he went up to the boy and said to him, —
      "Will you be so kind as to let me know what you are eating ?"
      The ploughboy grinned from ear to ear.
      "For certain, little zurr," he said, with a burr and a drawl in his speech, and he gave the thing to Bertie, which was neither more nor less than a peeled turnip.
      The little Earl looked at it doubtfully, for he did not much fancy what the other had handled with his big brown hands and bitten with his big yellow teeth. But then, to enjoy anything as much as that other had enjoyed it, and to taste something quite unknown ! — this counterbalanced his disgust and over-ruled his delicacy. One side of the great white thing was unbitten; he took an eager tremulous little bite out of that.
      "But, oh !" he cried in dismay as he tasted, "it has no taste at all, and what there is is nasty !"
      "Turnips is main good," said the boy.
      "Oh, no!" said the little Earl, with intense horror; and he threw the turnip down amongst the grass, and went away sorely puzzled.
      "Little master," roared Hodge after him, "I'll bet as you aren't hungry."
- The Little Earl
"Little girl, why do you cry?" he said.
 Maria Louise Kirk illustration for 1909 Lipincott

An illustrated 1884 French translation, Le Petit Comte, is available from the Bibliothèque nationale de France Gallica archive (Le petit comte / par Ouida ; contes traduits de l'anglais... par J. Girardin ; et illustrés de 34 vignettes par Tofani et G. Vuillier. Hachette (Paris), 1884, public domain, ID ark:/12148/bpt6k65677472). The picture style is much more robust, I guess portraying more vividly than the UK/US editions the Little Earl's impression that the real world was full of degenerates.

C'était un petit lord, bien petit.
This was a little lord, very small.

La femme le regarda avec surprise.
The woman looked at him with surprise.

Il retira du leu fer chauffé a blanc.
He drew out the white-hot iron.

Dick s'empara des souliers.
Dick grabbed the shoes.

Il mit rudement la main sur le petite Comte.
He rudely put his hand on the Little Earl.

Je suis lord Avillion.
I am Lord Avillion.

I didn't know that Ouida had ever used an Isle of Wight setting, nor if the locations - Shanklin, Bonchurch and the Undercliff - were directly known to her, or just so familiar as to be generic (the southern Island was immensely popular with the literati of the time). But she did have at least one indirect acquaintance with the area via a friend she made in Italy, the Isle of Wight physician Dr Joseph Glenfield Groves (author of The Isle of Wight as a Health-Resort, BMJ 1881;2:663).
On May 21st Dr. Joseph Groves died at his residence at Carisbrooke in the Isle of Wight ... He was born in the year 1839, being the eldest son of Mr. Joseph Groves of Newport. and was descended by the maternal line from one of the oldest island families. His mother belonged to the Roach family, who for several hundreds of years have farmed the lands of Arreton and Great and Little Standen ...
He was living in Paris at the time of the Communist barricades, and witnessed the death of a close friend who was shot down by the soldiery on the top of a barricade whilst attempting to disperse his riotous student friends. This incident was afterwards introduced into a novel [Under Two Flags], the hero of which was Dr. Groves’s friend, by “Ouida," whose acquaintance Dr. Groves made at this time. In these years of foreign travel Dr. Groves made lifelong friendships with many people of note, he laid up a store of ever-fruitful knowledge and pleasant memories, and he developed his unerring taste in works of art. Returning to the Isle of Wight, at first in charge of a single patient who suffered from mental derangement, he sought, on the recovery of his patient, no practice, but for a year or two attended only his friends at their urgent request. In 1883, however, he was appointed Medical Officer of Health to the Isle of Wight Rural Sanitary Authority From that date, twenty-four years ago ... he has discharged his numerous duties ... as Medical Officer of Health and as a highly esteemed medical practitioner, winning the confidence and admiration of all.
- Obituary, Joseph Groves, B.A, M.B.Lond., M.R.C.S., British Medical Journal, June 1, 1907.
He shared it willingly.
 Maria Louise Kirk illustration for 1909 Lipincott

Ouida: 1874 photo by Adolphe Beau
from Ouida: a Memoir, Elizabeth Lee
(Internet Archive cu31924013470319).
Ouida's children's stories attracted pretty well universal acclaim. While her novels were popular, not everybody liked their general flavour - sagas of laidback aesthetes hovering on the edge of amorality. With the children's stories, she dropped into the charming and evocative. These reviews were typical:
When Ouida has scenery, or art, or animals, or children in her head, there is nothing else there one could wish absent. Her passion for justice, her love of helpless childhood, her reverence for defenceless animals, are so great and rare, that while thinking of them one cease to remember she she has ever written books containing much that is less admirable … Although the stories are written for children, and are such as children of a certain age and some education will thoroughly enjoy, they are excellent reading for “grown-ups.” … “Findelkind” and “The Little Earl” are full of the pathetic aspiration of childhood after serviceableness, and are very beautiful.
- Recent novels, Daily News (London, England), Thursday, July 6, 1882.
Ouida is hardly a name with which the ordinary reader associates children’s stories, and yet we venture to say that one of the most charming works for the young which has appeared for some years is “Bimbi; Stories for Children” (Chatto and Windus). No author probably equals Ouida for word-painting and exquisite pathos. Her descriptions of children and animals have always been striking features of her works; and once get her away from the bad and gloomy side of human nature, there are few writers who can touch the tenderer chords of a reader’s heart more easily. “Moufflon” … and the “Little Earl” are simply idylls of innocent child-life, which will give equal pleasure to parents and to children, and in which the most hypercritical could only find a thoroughly wholesome moral.
- The Reader, The Graphic, (London, England), Saturday, July 1, 1882
It is a thousand pities that “Ouida” will not always write as she has written in “Bimbi.”
- The Literary News, August 1882.
This volume would be worth the money (according to the slang phrase) were it only for the concluding story, ‘The Little Earl,” which, though last, is certainly not the least. It is not only full of interest and well told, but it carries a fine lesson.
- Contemporary Literature, The British Quarterly Review, July 1882.

Image from Le Petit Comte
But even Bimbi got the occasional hostile review. Check out The Month, whose reviewer berates Ouida for having an insufficiently Catholic stance on the issue of animal cruelty and rights ...
Bimbi strikes us as the attempt of one whose moral sense is perverted, and who is half conscious of the perversion, to throw aside the taint of evil and to be childlike, innocent, simple, at least for once. There is no moralizing in the book, no straining after moral effect, no effort to inculcate religious truths through the medium of the tales—perhaps it is all the better for this. There is a great deal of natural beauty in some of the pictures painted, and of the characters that are drawn. But just as he who is used to a rolling deck cannot walk straight upon the land, so Ouida's perverted moral sense crops out, especially when she attempts to introduce some "improving" incident into the story she is telling. In one only of the stories is there any trace of what we must call the prevalent vice of Ouida's novels. The rest are in this respect harmless enough. But over and over again the little readers of these stories are taught to esteem as a virtue that exaggerated devotion to animal pets which is compatible with, and very commonly found along with, an entire absence of any kind of supernatural charity. Many of the cruel sensualists of Ouida's novels, like the Roman ladies of Pagan times, would shudder at the very idea of the slightest pain inflicted on their lap-dog, and would make considerable personal sacrifices for the health and comfort of their petted darling. The spirit of kindness to the dumb animals, the hatred of any wanton cruelty to them, is a sort of overflow of the spirit of true charity, but it is on a different footing altogether, and to ignore the difference, or to represent the brutes as sharing the "rights" of men, is directly at variance with the spirit of the Catholic Church.
      In "The Little Earl," Ouida goes further still. The hero of the story (and a very pretty story it is), a child of seven years old, wanders away from home, gets lost, and among other adventures comes across a shed where pigs are being branded.
      Bertie saw the man take the red-hot iron and go up to the pig. Bertie's face grew blanched with horror.
      "Stop, stop! what are you doing to the pig?" he screamed, as he ran in to the man, who looked up and stared.
      "I be branding the pig; get out, or I'll brand you," he cried. Bertie held his ground; his eyes were flashing.
      "You wicked, wicked man! Do you not know the poor pig was made by God?"
      "Dunno," said the wretch, with a grin. "She'll be eat by men, come Candlemas! I be marking of her, cos I'll turn her out on the downs with t'other. Git out, youngster; you've no call here."
Here again the childish mind is trained to exaggerate the consideration due to animals, and to regard it as a sin to inflict on a pig the momentary pain of the hot iron marking his thick skin.
 - Ouida's stories for children, page 294, The Month: A Catholic Magazine and Review, Vol. XLVI, 1882.
... though I wonder if the reviewer simply disliked Ouida, and also if there was a bit of politics going on about the dedication to the Royal Family of Italy.

The Little Earl contains an authorial passage that's a heartfelt elegy for pre-development Shanklin:
You have never seen Shanklin, for you have never been in England; and if you do go now, you will never see it as it was when Bertie walked there, when it was the prettiest and most primitive little place in England; now, they tell me, it has been made into a watering-place, with a pier and an esplanade.
      Shanklin used to be a little green mossy village covered up in honeysuckle and hawthorn; low long houses, green too with ivy and creepers, hid themselves away in sweet-smelling old-fashioned gardens; yellow roads ran between high banks and hedges out to the green down or downward to the ripple of the sea; and the cool brown sands, glistening and firm, twice a day felt the kiss of the tide. The cliffs were brown too, for the most part; some were white ; the gray sea stretched in front; and the glory of the place was its leafy chine and ravine that severed the rocks and was full of foliage and of the sound of birds. It used to be all so quiet there; now and then there passed in the offing a brig or a yacht or a man-of-war; now and then farmers' carts came in from the downs by Appuldurcombe or the farms beyond the Undercliff; there were some fishing-cabins by the beach, and one old inn with a long grassy garden, where the coaches used to stop that ran through the quiet country from Ryde to Ventnor. It was so green, so still, so friendly, so fresh; when I think of it I hear the swish of its lazy waves, and I smell the smell of its eglantine hedges, and I see the big brown eyes of my gallant dog as he came breathless up from the sea.
      Alas! you will never see it so. The hedges are down, they tell me, and the grand dog is dead, and the hateful engine tears through the fields, and the sands are beaten to make an esplanade, and the beach is noisy and hideous with the bray of bands and the laughter of fools.
      What will the world be like when you are twenty? Very frightful, I fear. This is progress, they say?
      But what of the little Earl? you ask.
      Well, the little Earl knew Shanklin as I knew it, — when the blackbirds and thrushes sang in the quiet chine, and the sense of an infinite peace dwelt on its simple shores. His grandmamma had taken for the summer the house that stands in its woods at the head of the chine and looks straight down that rift of greenery to the gray sea. I know not what that house is now; then it was charming, chalet-like, yet spacious.
- The Little Earl
This, I assume is the Ouida reference that "Monopole" mentions in the 1903 Shanklin Spa guide:
These were the days which "Ouida" once wrote about, and regretted that they had passed away—passed away in Shanklin's progress—many would still say, perhaps without regret.
-  page 21, Shanklin Spa: A Guide to the Town and the Isle of Wight ("Monopole", Shanklin: Silsbury Brothers, 1903, Internet Archive shanklinspaagui00monogoog).
- Ray

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