[The undated papers that appear to open the official GW memoirs read in a considerably confused manner. Indeed, there is some considerable doubt over whether the following was intended for public consumption or for the attention of GW’s 19th century editor; a book proposal, if you like. Stained with claret and written in a somewhat free hand, we might assume that GW had embarked on his recollections during a night of indulgence! As always, the project page can be found on Facebook. Previous chapters can be found here.]
I had always known that I would see Pemberley1 again, yet whether as gentleman or pauper, I could hardly dare to guess. There I had been happy, had danced until dawn and run free through the blossoms and meadows; there I had scraped my knees and dipped for tadpoles, ridden my mount to dropping and roamed as though the whole world was my empire. There, at Pemberley, I grew from a babe to a boy and learned what it means to leave childhood behind.
Within those hallowed halls I had known such sadness and such raptures that a lifetime of tales could scarcely contain them all. There, at Pemberley, even a man such as I might fall in love.
Or at least, he might believe he had.
And yet, once again, I find myself dashing off ahead, leaving those who follow lost and bewildered, and in the first pages of my manuscript. It is a sorry start! Perhaps though, I am falling behind or- confound it, is the way for all authors?2
Pemberley… that place the sainted biographers of our land have made second only to paradise itself, that rural idyll, that house of propriety, pomp and priggishness.
Not the kind of place one would expect to find a chap like me.
Let me tell you a little of how this old soldier writes, so that you might be properly forewarned because forewarned is, as they rightly say, forearmed.
It is, frankly, chaos.
My plan, such as one ever had a plan, was a simple enough scheme at first when, fuelled by brandy, I decided to set down the facts of it all. The facts in the case against me, as it were.
The African tiger, Miss Darcy, Waterloo, Meryton, Italy, that duchess, the misses Bennet, Brighton, prinny’s breeches, the tale of the ribbons3… all of it. Set it down in some sort of order and write a book, which can hardly be a difficult endeavour, after all. I have known many gentlemen of letters, scholars and scribes, and not one of them ever gave me the impression that the life of an author could be regarded as anything other than an utter pleasure.
Well, allow me to assure you that it can, especially when one has one’s other engagements to keep up, and I have always had lots of engagements.
My life has been eventful, full, one might say, and now, as the seasons pass, it is time to look back over the many, many decades. I am a feckless youth no longer but for the sake of my vanity, let us not concentrate on the matter of years and numbers. Suffice to say that I have celebrated many birthdays, raised my glass at innumerable new years and danced at a fair few summer balls.4
It never fails to raise a wry smile when I realise that, as my notoriety increased, so too did the number of young ladies who lined up to be my dance partner. My hair is a little more threaded with silver now, my chest a little more adorned with medals and my coffers a little more healthy, but I remain the same George Wickham. Not plain mister anymore, of course, but laurels and honours have yet to find me so early in our tale.
And it occurs to me that I am not yet even born in these pages. I am assuming that you know me, that you have read some of the more fanciful tales of my adventures already. Of course, there is every chance that you have never even heard my name before in your life.
So back to the beginning we go, but never fear, there is to be no family tree, no dramatis personae.
This is not fiction, after all.
And you must meet my parents. (That sounds like a terrible precursor to an unwanted proposal, doesn’t it?)
You must meet my parents.
But first, we must travel to Italy, and a babe with no name.
The illustration that accompanies this post shows the north front of Pemberley. It was first published in Jones’ Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen (1819).
1: The estate of the aforementioned Darcy family.
2: GW’s note here is presumably intended for his editor. Splashed liberally with what appears to be claret, it appears that GW was not finding the life of a writer a particularly easy one at first.
3: These stories will be covered throughout the papers. Intriguingly, GW’s memory appears to have failed him, as he has certainly neglected to list some of his more famed and shocking exploits here. Intriguingly, he has concentrated on certain elements of the year in which he met his wife, clearly one that had made quite an impact on him.
4: Sadly, since this paper is undated, we can only guess at GW’s age when he prepared it. His words suggest he was in at least middle age, however.