The plundering of the papers of Mr Wickham have yielded a most illuminating correspondence with his old friend and brother-in-law, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Imagine our delight to discover that it extended to include correspondence from Mr Wickham’s grandson, Harry*, too.
-Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
*The drawing included here is believed to show Harry at approximately 10 year of age, five years before these letters were written. At around this time, GW described Harry as, “a Wickham in every way, one need only look into his eyes to see it”.
Dear, sensible old Fitz,
Well, it is not every day that a gent receives a saddle! Do I spy just a flicker, a glimmer, a soupçon of humour peeping through that stern veneer? I believe I might! Thank you from the collective family Wickham and from Master Harry in particular. The cheeky young shaver begged that I enclosed his a note of thanks, and how can I deny the lad such a thing? He reminds me more and more of myself in my formative years; let us hope he enjoys the same good fortune, eh?
And thank you too, you sly dog, for letting me in on the gossip regarding Judge Talbert’s son. “A great deal like his father”, indeed. Dear Lydia and I enjoyed great merriment exchanging tales of the late judge and his offspring (or those offspring that we know of, but you will have heard those whispers too, I am sure). Milk-toast, is it? Anyone that says such things has certainly not received letters from you such as I have, containing scandals of mazes, judges and their recalcitrant sons!
Sir, you are once more burned by the sun, I think. What need have you of defending the erstwhile Mr Bingley, of whom I spoke no ill? I made no accusations of dullness, but merely reflected the contents of your own letter, which perhaps was written in haste. No harm is done, and we are both agreed that Bingley is a fine and solid sort of fellow; an oak in the garden, one might say? I shall not ever tell him that you find him ingratiating let alone simple, of course, for it is a word often misconstrued as many a schoolmaster has found. Now, Darcy, take no offence, there is but mischief in my words – Pan has come to Highgate today!
This letter is short, I am afraid, for Mrs Wickham and I are too undertake one of our voyages tonight, of which you wished to hear no more. Suffice to say that we intend to sample the delights of the east. Beyond that, no more shall be said for I remain, as I ever was, a gentleman.
I believe we are soon to come to Pemberley and might once again renew old acquaintances – huzzah to that, the day cannot be soon enough for the House of Wickham!
Adieu, old stick,
Merci, danke and thank you for your kind gift of that notorious saddle on which I, Harry Wickham, made such a permanent impact. Next time, I shall be sure to cause catastrophe to the most valuable Chinese vase in your possession, in the hope that you might make me a kind gift of it – how else can a boy of my tender years hope to start his own racing stable without capital, after all!
Please pass my gratitude to Mrs Darcy, and my promise that I shall be a most gentle hack partner upon my return. As grandpa has taught me, youth must have its folly, but no man should folly in another man’s stable.
In seriousness, sir, I thank you and Mrs Darcy for your welcome and for this gift. I apologise for my youthful indiscretion – no harm done and lots of stories to tell my chums!
My congratulations to you, sir. Your young Harry reminds me more of your youthful self with each interaction. I imagine you must be proud.
Mr and Mrs Collins’ proposed visit is now a certainty, and fixed for three weeks hence. Mrs Darcy is anticipating her dear friend’s visit with the greatest joy. I am afraid the spring planting and trimming of the orchards shall see me occupied during much of their stay, but I trust that Mr Collins will find himself well entertained in the library. Happily for us all, Mr Chisholm has recovered from his ailment of last winter and may again perform his duties at the parsonage, so Mr Collins will not feel imposed upon to render his assistance when he ought instead to be relishing his holidays.
I read some days ago that your colt won at the spring trials at Epsom. He sounds a fine prospect. Mr Bingley, that “simple, ingratiating” fellow, tells me that your colt shall meet his own son of Navigator (out of one of my own mares) in his next outing. I shall remain happily here with my mares and foals while others battle for glory, and I say may the best steed carry the day.
My wife received word from her sister that when you come next month, you had intended also to foray somewhat farther north during your travels. Mrs Wickham made some mention of an acquaintance of hers in Milton, and my wife is all anticipation to hear more of the young lady. I am surprised at you, sir, for carrying on a correspondence with a lady young enough to be your granddaughter, and even more surprised that it troubles not her husband. A curiously modern fellow, he must be.
I enclose a short reply to young Harry. The lad may care little for the words of a “frowning old statue,” as I believe he once called me, but the choice to heed or reject the exhortations of his elders shall be his own. I find him a likeable enough lad, worthy of regard; if somewhat mischievous, I think there is no harm in him. Time was when it was we who bent our ways under the guidance of our fathers, and I can scarce believe that we now have the duty and pleasure of shepherding our grandchildren!
I close early now, for my wife has been waiting for me above stairs this half hour. I believe she wishes to ask my opinion of a certain item recently arrived from Paris. I ought to have gone up directly, but my lady’s impatience often seeks relief in the most delightful of means. I shall tease her no longer, however, and close with my regards.
Dear Master Harry,
You are most welcome for the saddle. As you may have noted already, it is of the finest make available, and it is my hope that it shall serve you well for years to come. My stableman tells me that you have some natural skill with the horses, but that you want for instruction. I suspect rather that you want for patience, a natural liability of youth, for the science of horsemanship has never been lacking in the Wickham family.
Though you may think me well into my dotage, I assure you that my own youth was not so distant as it may seem. I was fortunate enough to profit from the guidance and advice of others more experienced than myself, and I now find, much to my own bewilderment, that the situation has reversed. Many a sound word delivered with benevolence has illuminated my own path, helping me to avoid the misfortunes I might have incurred under the guidance of my own judgement. With hopes that I might similarly be of service to you, I offer this illustration from my own experiences. May you find it somehow helpful in your future endeavours.
I once knew a young man who believed himself firmly in possession of all he could desire. He looked well to his duties and his family, he was blessed in every material way, and held the esteem of his peers. It was with utter confidence one fateful day that he approached a young lady, believing she could satisfy all that remained lacking in his life. She did, but not in quite the way he had hoped.
My young friend was humiliated that day. Forced to examine all his actions and motivations, he finally came to acknowledge that a gentler approach, one tempered by consideration and selflessness, would have answered for all his shortcomings and would have spared him unspeakable torment. Happily for my friend, he learned the lesson well, and did find another opportunity to prove his devotion to that young lady.
I realise that such notions may be yet meaningless for a youth of your interests, but allow me to assure you that mares and young ladies have one thing in common. They both like a bit of flattery, a gentle hand on the reins, and a constant flow of communication. Laugh if you wish, but I warrant the mare told you plainly that she was about to deposit you on the ground several seconds before she did so. Just as I fear you may have done, my friend failed to heed all warnings to the contrary, and his landing was painful indeed. However, he learned humility and tried again, with better results. I hope you may do the same. Be certain to bring the saddle when you return to Pemberley, and we shall have that mare you fancied groomed and waiting for you.
My dear Darcy,
As the fragrant Mrs Wickham conveys your missive to my grandson, let me take a moment to say that you are quite correct in your summation, I am indeed inordinately proud of the young lad and, in fact, in all of those who have flowered on this most fortunate family tree. We are no strangers to mischief, nor to scandal, but it is all part of this rich tapestry of ours, is it not?
We have had quite an unexpected development here in Highgate of late, courtesy of a coincidental meeting with a most regal young man out on the gallops. Now, of course, it would not be modest were one to name the fellow in question but he watched with no small measure of envy clear upon his face as young Harry exercised that fine colt of mine. They rode faster than the north wind, thundering like the heavens themselves, Master Wickham quite the horseman as he put Mazeppa through his paces.
Now, upon seeing this sight, the young regal gentleman declared that he must have Mazeppa, knowing the finest of colts when he saw it. No doubt he saw too the humour in my aspect when he swore that no figure would be too high to secure stewardship of the mount. I have always had an eye for business, as you yourself can attest, and I asked the young fellow to name his price. This he did and I, laughing heartily at the fanciful figure – for what young man can command such finances – took my polite leave.
Imagine my surprise then when an equerry bearing a certain livery (that I shall not describe for modesty forbids), came a-calling with that same purse and it was a purse that would buy a fair few fine thoroughbreds. The young fellow had set his heart on the steed and so, as any wise owner would, let that animal go to his new home. Adieu, Mazeppa, long may you reign!
Harry and I now venture forth on a new adventure – the training of our newest blood. I fear Master Harry must endure a fair few bumps and tumbles before he realises that he is not yet the horseman he believes himself to be. He will not have the free rein he is hoping for until he has shown me that he will not break his neck in the pursuit of success.
The arrogance of youth, my friend!
Do pass my salutations to Mr Collins and his delightful wife. I must admit that I spend little time planting and trimming, though my youngest daughter has a flare for such things. It keeps her from her politics, so may the orchards flourish from now to eternity and spare us all the sound of that beating drum!
I am surprised at you, sir, in turn, for being surprised at my own correspondence with the young empress of Milton. How surprised we all are at this surprising development – why, I would so far as to declare myself surprised simply to hear of the surprise of my surprising old friend! Now, we wonder, is her husband curiously modern, or is a certain other fellow curiously old fashioned in his ways? The world is changing, Darcy, and it is my pleasure to change along with it. What could be more stultifying than being stuck in one’s old ways?
With regard to more intimate matters, if your wife enjoys all things French, I believe that she (and you, old man) might find much to enjoy in delving deeper into the mysteries of Egypt. I shall say no more on this subject, for it is better one for the ladies to discuss, don’t you think?
Au revoir, monsieur, may your charming wife applaud your surprising Arc de Triomphe!
Dear Mister Darcy,
This is my second letter to you today; alas, my grandfather thought my first rather too free with its descriptions of a certain transaction that took place between the Wickhams and another notable family, and had me take to my desk and write a note more suitable for a fellow of my years.
You need not fear for me when confronted with young ladies, for young ladies hold no interest for me despite what my occasional jests may have given you cause to believe. It is horseflesh for me, sir; business first, ladies later. The mare deposited me due to my own heavy-footed clodding in the stirrup and I have been riding bareback daily since my return, the better to master my seat. I intend to ride at Epsom one day, and make my grandfather the proudest man there.
With Mazeppa enjoying the best of everything in his new home, it is for grandpa G and I to train the horse that will be my mount. A challenge, and one I have begged for since the day I learned to speak. My mother has written in an agony of worry that I will split my skull but I will not, for grandfather would not allow it!
I look forward to seeing that mare of yours again and putting her through her paces – I shall show you what I have learned since that fall, and how well I have been taught. No ladies for me, sir, my eyes see only Epsom for now at least.