At the time Meredith was writing the poems in his second volume of poetry, Modern Love and Poems of the English Roadside, with Poems and Ballads (1862), where this was published after his better-known sonnet sequence. He was then living in Copsham Cottage in Esher, with heathland and woods all around. Copsham Common in particular seems to have attracted him. "This was a great resort for gipsies and tinkers, with whom he enjoyed conversing, thereby acquiring much first-hand knowledge of which he was to make good use" (Sassoon 43). "The Old Chartist" was one of the poems that drew on this knowledge, and his own feelings about and hopes for the brotherhood of man. Keith Hanley writes, "The subject of this poem appreciates the changed conditions of relative prosperity in mid-Victorian Britain ... but he still insists on the relevance of his basic old convictions" (111n.).
Meredith moved in artistic circles during these Esher years: in the summer of 1862 he even entered into a short-lived agreement with Dante Gabriel Rossetti to become a sub-tenant of his house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, along with Swinburne and William Rossetti, for the days he had to spend in London. Sandys was a good friend, who would later make a delicate pencil and watercolour portrait of Meredith's second wife, Marie — very different from this illustration with it bold lines, and of course much more suitable to its subject and for its purpose.
Image download and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one. [Click on the image for a larger picture.]
Hanley, Keith, ed. George Meredith: Selected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, 1988 (last copyright on Introduction, Selection and Notes, 2001).
Meredith, George. Poems, Vol. I. Memorial Edition, Vol. XXiV. New York: Scribner's, 1910. Internet Archive. Web. 5 May 2013.
Sassoon, Siegfried.Meredith. London: Arrow, 1959. Print.
Last modified 5 May 2013