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MR. WARD'S FAMILY AFFLICTIONS. - DEATH OF HIS TWO ELDER
DAUGHTERS AND OF MRS. PLUMER WARD, — DECLINING HEALTH OF YOUNGER DAUGHTER. -GOES TO BRIGHTON. – MARRIAGE WITH MRS. OKEOVER. -- PASSES WINTER AT WIESBADEN-LETTERS FROM THENCE. RECONCILIATION WITH AN OLD FRIEND, VARIOUS
In the foregoing letters a passing allusion is made to recent losses he had sustained. It would be no part of the intention of this work to dilate on the grievous private afflictions with which he was visited at this period. Their influence will be traced in the more sober character of the works he composed between the publication of “ De Vere” and “ De Clifford,” in which, as in “ Illustrations of Human Life" and “ Pictures of the World,” the narrative form is less maintained, and more room is given to philosophical disquisitions.*
The trials he went through were indeed of no common kind. Two daughters, whose declining health he had anxiously watched, were consigned to the same tomb,—thus united in death, as they had been through life; the second had followed the eldest,
* By 1837 he had completed for the press “ Illustrations of Human Life," and by the end of 1838 “Pictures of the World.” As they could not pretend to continuous interest, like “Tremaine" and "De Vere,” the fact that they attained considerable popularity, even with the general public, may be taken as a proof of the taste and originality which characterised them.
according to her own oft-expressed wish, within a few days of her sister's departure, both victims to the same insidious malady. Within a few months after, that wife, whose kindness and generosity had been unfailing during the short period of their union, died also at Gilston Park, which she had bestowed upon him,- —a gift, however, which the grievous afflictions of which it had been the scene robbed of half its value. I
pass over a protracted period of heart-rending anxiety, during which the alarming illness of his younger daughter did but too truly threaten a further shock to his affections. It was amidst the prostration of spirits and energy to which the last of these repeated trials had at length reduced him, that he first made acquaintance with one who, amid the new sorrow which was fast approaching, and amid many others which were to afflict his declining years, was to be his comfort and stay.
At Brighton, in the summer of 1832, he had the good fortune to make acquaintance with Mrs. Oke. over, the widowed daughter of the late gallant Lt. Gen. Sir George Anson. The alliance in which this acquaintance afterwards resulted furnished sunshine for his remaining years on earth. He seemed to catch from her presence that contented cheerfulness which depends not on the excitement of society, and can even resist the ever-recurring trials to which all are subject, and which, both physically and mentally, attacked him from time to time with a strength requiring every such assistance in order to be successfully resisted.
Among the most pleasing passages in “De Vere,” especially to all who have cultivated a frame of mind such as that to which I have alluded, is the description of the Man of Content, the “ Master of Okeover Hall.” By one of the strange coincidences which are stranger than fiction, Mr. Ward, while searching a Road-book for an appropriate name for the abode of this, one of his favourite characters, had fixed on Okeover Hall. Years after this, and by events subsequent to his marriage, he saw himself, in right of his wife, as the guardian of her only son, the “Master of Okeover Hall;” and most assuredly, in the peaceful life and social circle there established, he realised in the best sense of the words, the “Man of Content.”
The letters written from this happy abode, which I shall furnish later, will speak for themselves. It needs not therefore the recollections of one who like myself has there visited him, to tell of the intellectual enjoyments which its old-fashioned halls supplied, the sparkling anecdote, the philosophic imaginings, the vivid recollections of old times, and of the political giants of other days, — all this, in addition to the bril. liant interchange of every-day conversation. To enjoy this fully, indeed, it was necessary in his later years to be within reach of the “trumpet" which increasing deafness rendered necessary. Happy, however, was he who got next to him, and had it thus in his
power to call forth the recollections of bygone days, detailed with all the vigour and sprightliness of youth.
Two years after his marriage with Mrs. Okeover, Anne, the youngest of his three daughters, was taken
from him, to join those who had gone before. His spirits sank within him. Not only was Gilston Park, where he had been so overwhelmed with sorrows, insupportable to him as a residence, but even his continuance in England was thought by his physicians inadvisable. His health had been grievously affected, and with the German baths in view he commenced a residence at Wiesbaden, which he prolonged through the winter, after the flight of summer butterflies and even the crowd of hypochondriac patients had transferred themselves to other scenes. It was during this tour that the following letters were written,
R. Plumer Ward, Esq., to Mr. Austen.
“Wiesbaden, Jan. 31. 1836.
“My dear Austen,
“What am I to think of all that is said in Galignani (the only paper I see) about changes ? Believe one side and Lord [Melbourne] has not a squeak left; believe t'other, we are all to go out. I hardly care which, for one cause of my health is, that I am no longer an Englishman, and least of all a landed gentleman; so, if
you will give me a couple of thousand a year, and no accounts of audits or farm losses, I will give you Gilston and all its plate and jewels. I love the Germans so much, and am so well pleased with their reception of us, that I could stay among them much longer than my sovereign lady will let me.
Yet they have been particularly civil to her, and in fact she is
admired everywhere, from the Grand-Duchess herself down to the grisette. She is dubbed Countess, and myself Baron, she miladi, I monseigneur ; who would ever go back to little Chesterfield Street ? What is D'Israeli's father about? What am I about myself ? Something: but what will it come to? L'ignoro. Very miscellaneous, a retired statesman, preternatural interventions, society, motives, love and gallantry, an English Rasselas, &c. &c. About a volume and a half done. Colburn pleased, but idle; I can get nothing definite, except for the New Monthly, which, though bribed high, I refuse. Why did Bulwer leave him? I have said all I have got to say, and will only add that we shall be here till May, when again to Ems for another season, then Switzerland, then to Italy, and then if England is England, and I alive (not unless), to crack a bottle in Guildford Street, so I remain ever yours
“ R. P. W."
R. Plumer Ward, Esq., to Mr. Austen.
Lausanne, March 14. 1837.
“My dear Austen,
“Most loth I am to return to it [England), for this climate is superb, and I have been superbly well all the winter, though slightly attacked by the influenza, which has reached us, but in a most mild form, so, as old people have bad chances with it chez vous, I am loth to be among you again. Nevertheless we start