"I should like to have back my letters" by S. Luke Fildes; engraver, Swain. Fifteenth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Lord Kilgobbin, 10.2 cm high by 15.7 cm wide (4 by 6 ¼ inches), framed, full-page wood-engraving for Chapter LX, "A Defeat," facing p. 337. Reprinted from the Cornhill Magazine, Part 15 (December 1871), Vol. XXIV, facing p. 738. [Click on the illustration to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: An Embarrassing Scene in the Garden

Right: The initial page for the fifteenth instalment in Volume XXIV of the Cornhill Magazine (December, 1871), 738.

"Oh, drop this cold and bantering tone, dearest Maude. Remember the question is now of my very life itself. If you cannot be affectionate, at least be reasonable!"

"I shall try," said she calmly.

Stung to the quick by a composure which he could not imitate, he was able, however, to repress every show of anger, and with a manner cold and measured as her own, he went on: "My lord advises that I should go back to diplomacy, and has asked the Ministers to give me Guatemala. It is nothing very splendid. It is far away in a remote part of the world; not over-well paid, but at least I shall be Chargé-d’Affaires, and by three years — four at most, of this banishment — I shall have a claim for something better.

"I hope you may, I’m sure," said she, as he seemed to expect something like a remark.

"That is not enough, Maude, if the hope be not a wish — and a wish that includes self-interest."

"I am so dull, Cecil: tell me what you mean."

"Simply this, then: does your heart tell you that you could share this fortune, and brave these hardships; in one word, will you say what will make me regard this fate as the happiest of my existence? will you give me this dear hand as my own — my own?" and he pressed his lips upon it rapturously as he spoke.

She made no effort to release her hand; nor for a second or two did she say one word. At last, in a very measured tone, she said, "I should like to have back my letters."

"Your letters? Do you mean, Maude, that — that you would break with me?"

"I mean certainly that I should not go to this horrid place —"

"Then I shall refuse it," broke he in impetuously. [Chapter LX, "A Defeat," pp. 336-337 in volume, 740 in serial]

Commentary: The full-page illustration anticipates Maude's rejection of Walpole

In this instalment, Cecil Walpole asks Maude to marry him, and accompany him to his new diplomatic post as Chargé-d’Affaires at the British embassy in Guatemala, which Danesbury arranged with Tycross at the Foreign Office via telegram in Chapter LIX, "A Letter-Bag." Even before we read her haughty reaction, Fildes' illustration in both the serial and the volume edition anticipates her utter rejection of his proposal. By the time that they encounter the garden scene in the letterpress, readers are aware that Danesbury blames Walpole's ineptitude for his having to resign as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and to return to Constantinople to resolve the problems created by his successor and uncovered by Joe Atlee. Punch has even featured an editorial cartoon with a caricature of Walpole assisting the Viceroy in administering "Danesbury drops, to cure loyalty" (331). The private secretary exclaims to Danesbury that the Guatemala position amounts to "banishment and barbarism together" (332); and, indeed, his former mentor concedes that it is no place for a woman. This garden scene, in turn, sets up Nina's agreeing to marry Cecil, and to accompany him abroad into a "bush life" of "rancheros and rattlesnakes" (333).

Walpole had hoped that Maude would accept his proposal, and that, exercising her political influence and, objecting by letters to the infelicitous climate, she would, he has reasoned to himself, be instrumental in obtaining a much more salubrious posting by soliciting the wives and daughters of the well-connected to besiege Downing Street on her behalf — and her husband's. He has, apparently, not seen Maude since returning to Wales, and his illness has isolated him. He is convinced that Atlee is behind Maude's aloofness, for he has deliberately made Maude jealous of Nina, "the Titian girl" (335). Fildes gives Maude a cool, enigmatic expression, and has rendered her form severe, black-clad, and pillar-like. Walpole has pressed her cold fingers to his lips "rapturously," promising that the post will be of short duration, but she remains unmoved as he clutches her hand in entreaty. The wild garden setting for this frank exchange, although highly appropriate, is not described in the text; rather, it is entirely Fildes' invention. But one detail stands out as Lever's: the flower-basket which she listlessly holds contains all of Walpole's correspondence with her.

Scanned images and commentary by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose, as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned them, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Lever, Charles. Lord Kilgobbin. The Cornhill Magazine. With 18 full-page illustrations and 18 initial-letter vignettes by S. Luke Fildes. Volumes XXII-XXV. October 1870-March 1872.

Lever, Charles. Lord Kilgobbin: A Tale of Ireland in Our Own Time. Illustrated by Sir Luke Fildes, R. A. London: Smith, Elder, 1872, 3 vols.; rpt., Chapman and Hall, 1873.

Lever, Charles. Lord Kilgobbin. Illustrated by Sir Luke Fildes. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Vols. I-III. London: Smith, Elder, 1872, Rpt. London: Chapman & Hall, 1873, in a single volume. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 19 August 2010.

Stevenson, Lionel. Chapter XVI, "Exile on the Adriatic, 1867-1872." Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. New York: Russell and Russell, 1939; rpt. 1969. Pp. 277-296.

Sutherland, John A. "Lord Kilgobbin." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U. P., 1989, rpt. 1990, 382.

Created 9 May 2005

Last modified 25 June 2023