Meredith’s marriage in 1849 was unhappy and resulted in a separation. Three years after his wife’s death, which occurred in 1861, he married a congenial helpmate and went to live in Flint Cottage, near Burford Bridge, Surrey, where most of his remaining years were spent.
Not until late in life were the returns from his writings sufficient to relieve him from unceasing daily toil at his desk. He was widely hailed as a literary master and recognized as a force in fiction before he attained financial independence. After the death of Tennyson, Meredith was elected president of the Society of British Authors. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, his reply to the Who’s Who query about his recreations was, “a great reader, especially of French literature; has in his time been a great walker.” During his last sixteen years of life, he suffered from partial paralysis and was compelled to abandon these long walks, which had been a source both of recreation and of health.
He died in 1909 at the age of eighty-one and was laid beside his wife in the Dorking cemetery. The following words from his novel, Vittoria, are on his tombstone: “Life is but a little holding, lent to do a mighty labor.”
Poetry.—During his long career, Meredith wrote much verse, which was collected in 1912 in a volume of 578 pages.
The quality of his poetry is very uneven. In such exquisite poems as Love in the Valley, The Lark Ascending, and Melanthus, the fancy and melody are artistically intertwined. Many have admired the felicity of the description and the romance of the sentiment in this stanza from Love in the Valley:—
“Shy as the squirrel and wayward
as the swallow,
Swift as the swallow along the river’s light
Circleting the surface to meet his mirrored winglets,
Fleeter she seems in her stay than in her flight.
Shy as the squirrel that leaps among the pine-tops,
Wayward as the swallow overhead at set of sun,
She whom I love is hard to catch and conquer,
Hard, but O the glory of the winning were she won!”
Some of his songs are pure music, and an occasional descriptive passage in his verse shows the deftness of touch of a skilled lyrical poet. Such poems as Jump-to-Glory Jane, Juggling Jerry, The Beggar’s Soliloquy, and The Old Chartist, are character sketches of humble folk and show genuine pathos and humor. In his poetry, Meredith is, however, more often the moralist and philosopher than the singer and simple narrator. He treats of love, life, and death as metaphysical problems. He ponders over the duties of mankind and the greatest sources of human strength and courage. He roams through a region that seems timeless and spaceless. He “neighbors the invisible.” The obscurities in many of these poems are due to the abstract nature of the subject matter, to excessive condensation of thought, to frequent omission of connecting words, and to an abundance of figurative language.