On August 10, 1845, Marryat wrote to Mrs S., a lady for whom, to the time of his death, he retained the highest sentiments of friendship and esteem:—
“I really wish you would write your confessions, I will publish them. I have a beautiful opening in some memoranda I have made of the early life of a Frenchwoman, that is, up to the age of seventeen, when she is cast adrift upon the world, and I would work it all up together. Let us commence, and divide the tin; it is better than doing nothing. I have been helping Ainsworth in the New Monthly, and I told him that I had commenced a work called Mademoiselle Virginie, which he might perhaps have. Without my knowing it, he has announced its coming forth; but it does not follow that he is to have it, nevertheless, and indeed he now wishes me to continue one” (The Privateersman) “that I have already begun in the magazine.”
However, Mrs S., with whom at one time Washington Irving also wished to collaborate, declined the offer; and Mademoiselle Virginie was ultimately published in the New Monthly under the title of Valerie. The first eleven chapters appeared in the magazine 1846, 1847, and the remaining pages were added—according to The Life and Letters of Captain Marryat—by another hand, when it came out in book form.
There are two special features in Valerie, beyond its actual merits, that inevitably excite our attention. It is Marryat’s last work, and the only one in which the interest centres entirely on women. For this reason, and from the eighteenth century flavour in some of its characters, the book inevitably recalls Miss Burney and her little-read The Wanderer, in which, as in Valerie, a proud and sensitive girl is thrown on the world, and discovers—by bitter experience as governess, companion, and music mistress—the sneer that lurks beneath the smile of fashion and prosperity.
The subject is well handled, on the old familiar lines, and supplies the groundwork of an eminently readable story, peopled by many life-like “humours” and an attractive, spirited heroine. The adventures of Valerie are various and well-sustained; her bearing throughout secures the reader’s sympathy, and he is conscious of a genuine pleasure in her ultimate prosperity and happiness.
Valerie, an autobiography, is here reprinted from the first edition in two volumes. Henry Colburn, 1849.
After Marryat’s death a fragment of a story for the “Juvenile Library” was found in his desk, and has been published in the Life and Letters by Florence Marryat. It describes the experience of a man who, like Marryat himself, was compelled by the failure of speculations to live in the country and manage his own estate. It was projected “because few young people have any knowledge of farming, and there are no books written by which any knowledge of it may be imparted to children.” Marryat himself was not a very successful farmer, but probably his theory was in advance of his practice.
I have titled these pages with nothing more than my baptismal name. If the reader finds sufficient interest in them to read to the end, he will discover the position that I am in, after an eventful life. I shall, however, not trespass upon his time by making many introductory remarks; but commence at once with my birth, parentage, and education. This is necessary, as although the two first are, perhaps, of little comparative consequence, still the latter is of importance, as it will prepare the reader for many events in my after-life. I may add, that much depends upon birth and parentage; at all events, it is necessary to complete a perfect picture. Let me, therefore, begin at the beginning.
I was born in France. My father, who was of the ancienne noblesse of France, by a younger branch of the best blood, and was a most splendid specimen of the outward man, was the son of an old officer, and an officer himself in the army of Napoleon. In the conquest of Italy, he had served in the ranks, and continuing to follow Napoleon through all his campaigns, had arrived to the grade of captain of cavalry. He had distinguished himself on many occasions, was a favourite of the Emperor’s, wore the cross of the Legion of Honour, and was considered in a fair way to rapid promotion, when he committed a great error. During the time that his squadron was occupying a small German town, situated on the river Erbach, called Deux Ponts, he saw my mother, fell desperately in love, and married. There was some excuse for him, for a more beautiful woman than my mother I never beheld; moreover, she was highly talented, and a most perfect musician; of a good family, and with a dower by no means contemptible.
The reader may say that, in marrying such a woman, my father could hardly be said to have committed a very great error. This is true, the error was not in marrying, but in allowing his wife’s influence over him to stop his future advancement. He wished to leave her with her father and mother until the campaign was over. She refused to be left, and he yielded to her wishes. Now, Napoleon had no objection to his officers being married, but a very great dislike to their wives accompanying the army; and this was the fault which my father committed, and which lost him the favour of his general. My mother was too beautiful a woman not to be noticed, and immediately inquired about, and the knowledge soon came to Napoleon’s ears, and militated against my father’s future advancement.
During the first year of their marriage, my eldest brother, Auguste, was born, and shortly afterwards my mother promised an increase to the family, which was the occasion of great satisfaction to my father, who now that he had been married more than a year, would at times look at my mother, and, beautiful as she was, calculate in his mind whether the possession of her was indemnification sufficient for the loss of the brigade which she had cost him.
To account for my father’s satisfaction, I must acquaint the reader with circumstances which are not very well known. As I before observed, Napoleon had no objection to marriage, because he required men for his army; and because he required men, and not women, he thought very poorly of a married couple who produced a plurality of girls. If, on the contrary, a woman presented her husband with six or seven boys, if he was an officer in the army, he was certain of a pension for life. Now, as my mother had commenced with a boy, and it is well known that there is every chance of a woman continuing to produce the sex which first makes its appearance, she was much complimented and congratulated by the officers when she so soon gave signs of an increase, and they prophesied that she would, by her fruitfulness, in a few years obtain a pension for her husband. My father hoped so, and thought that if he had lost the brigade, he would be indemnified by the pension. My mother was certain of it; and declared it was a boy.
But prophesies, hopes, and declarations, were all falsified and overthrown by my unfortunate appearance. The disappointment of my father was great; but he bore it like a man. My mother was not only disappointed, but indignant. She felt mortified after all her declarations, that I should have appeared and disproved them. She was a woman of violent temper, a discovery which my father made too late. To me, as the cause of her humiliation and disappointment, she took an aversion, which only increased as I grew up, and which, as will be hereafter shown, was the main spring of all my vicissitudes in after-life.
Surely, there is an error in asserting that there is no feeling so strong as maternal love. How often do we witness instances like mine, in which disappointed vanity, ambition, or interest, have changed this love into deadly hate!
My father, who felt the inconvenience of my mother accompanying him on forced marches, and who, perhaps, being disappointed in his hopes of a pension, thought that he might as well recover the Emperor’s favour, and look for the brigade, now proposed that my mother should return with her two children to her parents. This my mother, who had always gained the upper-hand, positively refused to accede to. She did, however, allow me and my brother Auguste to be sent to her parents’ care at Deux Ponts, and there we remained while my father followed the fortunes of the Emperor, and my mother followed the fortunes of my father. I have little or no recollection of my maternal grandfather and grandmother. I remember that I lived with them, as I remained there with my brother till I was seven years old, at which period my paternal grandmother offered to receive my brother and me, and take charge of our education. This offer was accepted, and we both went to Luneville where she resided.
I have said that my paternal grandmother offered to receive us, and not my paternal grandfather, who was still alive. Such was the case; as, could he have had his own way, he would not have allowed us to come to Luneville, for he had a great dislike to children; but my grandmother had property of her own, independent of her husband, and she insisted upon our coming. Very often, after we had been received into her house, I would hear remonstrance on his part relative to the expense of keeping us, and the reply of my grandmother, which would be, “Eh bien, Monsieur Chatenoeuf, c’est mon argent que je dépense.” I must describe Monsieur Chatenoeuf. As I before stated, he had been an officer in the French army; but had now retired upon his pension, with the rank of major, and decorated with the Legion of Honour. At the time that I first saw him, he was a tall, elegant old man, with hair as white as silver. I heard it said, that when young he was considered one of the bravest and handsomest officers in the French army. He was very quiet in his manners, spoke very little, and took a large quantity of snuff. He was egotistic to excess, attending wholly to himself and his own comforts, and it was because the noise of children interfered with his comfort, that he disliked them so much. We saw little of him, and cared less. If I came into his room when he was alone, he promised me a good whipping, I therefore avoided him as much as I could; the association was not pleasant.
Luneville is a beautiful town in the Department of Meurthe. The castle, or rather palace, is a very splendid and spacious building, in which formerly the Dukes of Lorraine held their court. It was afterwards inhabited by King Stanislaus, who founded a military school, a library and a hospital. The palace was a square building, with a handsome façade facing the town, and in front of it there was a fountain. There was a large square in the centre of the palace, and behind it an extensive garden, which was well kept up and carefully attended to. One side of the palace was occupied by the officers of the regiments quartered in Luneville; the opposite side, by the soldiery; and the remainder of the building was appropriated to the reception of old retired officers who had been pensioned. It was in this beautiful building, that my grandfather and grandmother were established for the remainder of their lives. Except the Tuileries, I know of no palace in France equal to that of Luneville. Here it was that, at seven years old, I took up my quarters; and it is from that period that I have always dated my existence.
I have described my grandfather and my residence, but now I must introduce my grandmother; my dear, excellent, grandmother, whom I loved so much when she was living, and whose memory I shall ever revere. In person she was rather diminutive, but, although sixty years of age, she still retained her figure, which was remarkably pretty, and she was as straight as an arrow. Never had age pressed more lightly upon the human frame; for, strange to say, her hair was black as jet, and fell down to her knees. It was considered a great curiosity, and she was not a little proud of it, for there was not a grey hair to be seen. Although she had lost many of her teeth, her skin was not wrinkled, but had a freshness most remarkable in a person so advanced in years. Her mind was as young as her body; she was very witty and coquettish, and the officers living in the palace were continually in her apartments, preferring her company to that of younger women. Partial to children, she would join in all our sports, and sit down to play “hunt the slipper,” with us and our young companions. But with all her vivacity, she was a strictly moral and religious woman. She could be lenient to indiscretion and carelessness, but any deviation from truth and honesty on the part of my brother or myself, was certain to be visited with severe punishment. She argued, that there could be no virtue, where there was deceit, which she considered as the hot-bed from which every vice would spring out spontaneously; that truth was the basis of all that was good and noble, and that every other branch of education was, comparatively speaking, of no importance, and, without truth, of no value. She was right.
My brother and I were both sent to day-schools. The maid Catherine always took me to school after breakfast, and came to fetch me home about four o’clock in the afternoon. Those were happy times. With what joy I used to return to the palace, bounding into my grandmother’s apartment on the ground floor, sometimes to frighten her, leaping in at the window and dropping at her feet, the old lady scolding and laughing at the same time. My grandmother was, as I observed, religious, but she was not a devotee. The great object was to instil into me a love of truth, and in this she was indefatigable. When I did wrong, it was not the fault I had committed which caused her concern; it was the fear that I should deny it, which worried and alarmed her. To prevent this, the old lady had a curious method—she dreamed for my benefit. If I had done wrong, and she suspected me, she would not accuse me until she had made such inquiries as convinced her that I was the guilty person; and then, perhaps, the next morning, she would say, as I stood by her side: “Valerie, I had a dream last night; I can’t get it out of my head. I dreamt that my little girl had forgotten her promise to me, and when she went to the store-room had eaten a large piece of the cake.”
She would fix her eyes upon me as she narrated the events of her dream, and, as she proceeded, my face would be covered with blushes, and my eyes cast down in confusion; I dared not look at her, and by the time that she had finished, I was down on my knees, with my face buried in her lap. If my offence was great, I had to say my prayers, and implore the Divine forgiveness, and was sent to prison, that is, locked up for a few hours in my bedroom. Catherine, the maid, had been many years with my grandmother, and was, to a certain degree, a privileged person; at all events, she considered herself warranted in giving her opinion, and grumbling as much as she pleased, and such was invariably the case whenever I was locked up. “Toujours en prison, cette pauvre petite. It is too bad, madam; you must let her out.” My grandmother would quietly reply, “Catherine, you are a good woman, but you understand nothing about the education of children.” Sometimes, however, she obtained the key from my grandmother, and I was released sooner than was originally intended.
The fact is, that being put in prison was a very heavy punishment, as it invariably took place in the evenings, after my return from school, so that I lost my play-hours. There were a great many officers with their wives located in the palace, and, of course, no want of playmates. The girls used to go to the bosquet, which adjoined the gardens of the palace, collect flowers, and make a garland, which they hung on a rope stretched across the court-yard of the palace. As the day closed in, the party from each house, or apartments rather, brought out a lantern, and having thus illuminated our ballroom by subscription, the boys and girls danced the “ronde,” and other games, until it was bedtime. As the window of my bedroom looked out upon the court, whenever I was put into prison, I had the mortification of witnessing all these joyous games, without being permitted to join in them.
To prove the effect of my grandmother’s system of dreaming upon me, I will narrate a circumstance which occurred. My grandfather had a landed property about four miles from Luneville. A portion of this land was let to a farmer, and the remainder he farmed on his own account, and the produce was consumed in the house-keeping. From this farm we received milk, butter, cheese, all kinds of fruit, and indeed everything which a farm produces. In that part of France they have a method of melting down and clarifying butter for winter use, instead of salting it. This not only preserves it, but, to most people, makes it more palatable; at all events I can answer for myself, for I was inordinately fond of it. There were eighteen or twenty jars of it in the store-room, which were used up in rotation. I dared not take any out of the jar in use, as I should be certain to be discovered; so I went to the last jar, and by my repeated assaults upon it, it was nearly empty before my grandmother discovered it. As usual, she had a dream. She commenced with counting over the number of jars of butter; and how she opened such a one, and it was full; and then the next, and it was full; but before her dream was half over, and while she was still a long way from the jar which I had despoiled, I was on my knees, telling her the end of the dream, of my own accord, for I could not bear the suspense of having all the jars examined. From that time, I generally made a full confession before the dream was ended.
But when I was about nine years old, I was guilty of a very heavy offence, which I shall narrate, on account of the peculiar punishment which I received, and which might be advantageously pursued by the parents of the present day, who may happen to cast their eyes over these memoirs. It was the custom for the children of the officers who lived in the palace, that is, the girls, to club together occasionally, that they might have a little fête in the garden of the palace. It was a sort of pic-nic, to which every one contributed; some would bring cakes, some fruit; some would bring money (a few sous) to purchase bon-bons, or anything else which might be agreed upon.
On those occasions, my grandmother invariably gave me fruit, a very liberal allowance of apples and pears, from the store-room; for we had plenty from the orchard of the farm. But one day, one of the elder girls told me that they had plenty of fruit, and that I must bring some money. I asked my grandmother, but she refused me; and then this girl proposed that I should steal some from my grandfather. I objected; but she ridiculed my objections, and pressed me until she overcame my scruples, and I consented. But when I left her after she had obtained my promise, I was in a sad state. I knew it was wicked to steal, and the girl had taken care to point out to me how wicked it was to break a promise. I did not know what to do: all that evening I was in such a state of feverish excitement, that my grandmother was quite astonished. The fact was, that I was ashamed to retract my promise, and yet I trembled at the deed that I was about to do. I went into my room and got into bed. I remained awake; and about midnight I got up, and creeping softly into my grandfather’s room, I went to his clothes, which were on a chair, and rifled his pockets of—two sous!
Having effected my purpose, I retired stealthily, and gained my own room. What my feelings were when I was again in bed I cannot well describe—they were horrible—I could not shut my eyes for the remainder of the night and the next morning I made my appearance, haggard, pale, and trembling. It proved, however, that my grandfather who was awake, had witnessed the theft in silence, and informed my grandmother of it. Before I went to school, my grandmother called me in to her, for I had avoided her.
“Come here, Valerie,” said she, “I have had a dream—a most dreadful dream—it was about a little girl, who, in the middle of the night, crept into her grandfather’s room—”
I could bear no more. I threw myself on the floor, and, in agony, screamed out—
“Yes, grandmamma, and stole two sous.”
A paroxysm of tears followed the confession, and for more than an hour I remained on the floor, hiding my face and sobbing. My grandmother allowed me to remain there—she was very much annoyed—I had committed a crime of the first magnitude—my punishment was severe. I was locked up in my room for ten days: but this was the smallest portion of the punishment: every visitor that came in, I was sent for, and on my making my appearance, my grandmother would take me by the hand, and leading me up, would formally present me to the visitors.
“Permettez, madame (ou monsieur), que je vous présente Mademoiselle Valerie, qui est enfermée dans sa chambre, pour avoir vole deux sous de son grand-père.”
Oh! the shame, the mortification that I felt. This would take place at least ten times a day; and each succeeding presentation was followed by a burst of tears, as I was again led back to my chamber. Severe as this punishment was, the effect of it was excellent. I would have endured martyrdom, after what I had gone through, before I would have taken what was not my own. It was a painful, but a judicious, and most radical cure.
For five years I remained under the care of this most estimable woman, and, under her guidance, had become a truthful and religious girl; and I may conscientiously add, that I was as innocent as a lamb—but a change was at hand. The Emperor had been hurled from his throne, and was shut up on a barren rock, and soon great alterations were made in the French army. My father’s regiment of huzzars had been disbanded, and he was now appointed to a dragoon regiment, which was ordered to Luneville. He arrived with my mother and a numerous family, she having presented him with seven more children; so that, with Auguste and me, he had now nine children. I may as well here observe that my mother continued to add yearly to the family, till she had fourteen in all, and out of these there were seven boys; so that, had the Emperor remained on the throne of France, my father would certainly have secured the pension.
The arrival of my family was a source both of pleasure and pain to me. I was most anxious to see all my brothers and sisters, and my heart yearned towards my father and mother, although I had no recollection of them; but I was fearful that I should be removed from my grandmother’s care, and she was equally alarmed at the chance of our separation. Unfortunately for me, it turned out as we had anticipated. My mother was anything but gracious to my grandmother, notwithstanding the obligations she was under to her, and very soon took an opportunity of quarrelling with her. The cause of the quarrel was very absurd, and proved that it was predetermined on the part of my mother. My grandmother had some curious old carved furniture, which my mother coveted, and requested my grandmother to let her have it. This my grandmother would not consent to, and my mother took offence at her refusal. I and my brother were immediately ordered home, my mother asserting that we had been both very badly brought up; and this was all the thanks that my grandmother received for her kindness to us, and defraying all our expenses for five years. I had not been at home more than a week, when my father’s regiment was ordered to Nance; but, during this short period, I had sufficient to convince me that I should be very miserable. My mother’s dislike to me, which I have referred to before, now assumed the character of positive hatred, and I was very ill-treated. I was employed as a servant, and as nurse to the younger children; and hardly a day passed without my feeling the weight of her hand. We set off for Nance, and I thought my heart would break as I quitted the arms of my grandmother, who wept over me. My father was very willing to leave me with my grandmother, who promised to leave her property to me; but this offer in my favour enraged my mother still more; she declared that I should not remain; and my father had long succumbed to her termagant disposition, and yielded implicit obedience to her authority. It was lamentable to see such a fine soldierlike man afraid even to speak before this woman; but he was completely under her thraldom, and never dared to contradict.
As soon as we were settled in the barracks at Nance, my mother commenced her system of persecution in downright earnest. I had to make all the beds, wash the children, carry out the baby, and do every menial office for my brothers and sisters, who were encouraged to order me about. I had very good clothes, which had been provided me by my grandmother; they were all taken away, and altered for my younger sisters; but what was still more mortifying, all my sisters had lessons in music, dancing, and other accomplishments, from various masters, whose instructions I was not permitted to take advantage of, although there would have been no addition to the expense.
“Oh! my father,” cried I, “why is this?—what have I done?—am not I your daughter—your eldest daughter?”
“I will speak to your mother,” replied he.
And he did venture to do so; but by so doing, he raised up such a tempest, that he was glad to drop the subject, and apologise for an act of justice. Poor man! he could do no more than pity me.
I well remember my feelings at that time. I felt that I could love my mother, love her dearly, if she would have allowed me so to do. I had tried to obtain her good-will, but I received nothing in return but blows, and at last I became so alarmed when in her presence that I almost lost my reason. My ears were boxed till I could not recollect where I was, and I became stupefied with fear. All I thought of, all my anxiety, at last, was to get out of the room where my mother was. My terror was so great that her voice made me tremble, and at the sight of her I caught my breath and gasped from alarm. My brother Auguste was very nearly as much an object of dislike to my mother as I was, chiefly because he had been brought up by my grandmother, and moreover because he would take my part.
The great favourite of my mother was my second brother Nicolas; he was a wonderful musician, could play upon any instrument and the most difficult music at sight. This talent endeared him to my mother, who was herself a first-rate musician. He was permitted to order me about just as he pleased, and if I did not please him, to beat me without mercy, and very often my mother would fly at me and assist him. But Auguste took my part, and Nicolas received very severe chastisement from him, but this did not help me; on the contrary, if Auguste interfered in my behalf, my mother would pounce upon me, and I may say that I was stunned with her blows. Auguste appealed to his father, but he dared not interfere. He was coward enough to sit by and see his daughter treated in this way without remonstrance; and, in a short time, I was fast approaching to what my mother declared me to be—a perfect idiot.
I trust that my own sex will not think me a renegade when I say, that, if ever there was a proof that woman was intended by the Creator to be subject to man, it is, that once place power in the hands of woman, and there is not one out of a hundred who will not abuse it. We hear much of the rights of woman, and their wrongs; but this is certain, that in a family, as in a State, there can be no divided rule—no equality. One must be master, and no family is so badly managed, or so badly brought up, as where the law of nature is reversed, and we contemplate that most despicable of all lusi naturae—a hen-pecked husband. To proceed, the consequence of my mother’s treatment, was to undermine in me all the precepts of my worthy grandmother. I was a slave; and a slave under the continual influence of fear cannot be honest. The fear of punishment produced deceit to avoid it. Even my brother Auguste, from his regard and pity for me, would fall into the same error. “Valerie,” he would say, running out to me as I was coming home with my little brother in my arms, “your mother will beat you on your return. You must say so and so.” This so and so was, of course, an untruth; and, in consequence, my fibs were so awkward, and accompanied by so much hesitation and blushing, that I was invariably found out, and then punished for what I did not deserve to be; and when my mother obtained such triumphant proof against me, she did not fail to make the most of it with my father, who, by degrees, began to consider that my treatment was merited, and that I was a bad and deceitful child.
My only happiness was to be out in the open air, away from my mother’s presence, and this was only to be obtained when I was ordered out with my little brother Pierre, whom I had to carry as soon as I had done the household work. If Pierre was fractious, my mother would order me out of the house with him immediately. This I knew, and I used to pinch the poor child to make him cry, that I might gain my object, and be sent away; so that to duplicity I added cruelty. Six months before this, had any one told me that I ever would be guilty of such a thing, with what indignation I should have denied it!
Although my mother flattered herself that it was only in her own domestic circle that her unnatural conduct towards me was known, such was not the case, and the treatment which I received from her was the occasion of much sympathy on the part of the officers and their wives, who were quartered in the barracks. Some of them ventured to remonstrate with my father for his consenting to it; but although he was cowed by a woman, he had no fear of men, and as he told them candidly that any future interference in his domestic concerns must be answered by the sword, no more was said to him on the subject. Strange, that a man should risk his life with such indifference, rather than remedy an evil, and yet be under such thraldom to a woman!—that one who was always distinguished in action as the most forward and the most brave, should be a trembling coward before an imperious wife! But this is a world of sad contradictions.