Ladies of Llangollen free ebook

Ten years ago on the 13th March 2007 Project Gutenberg released one of their free ebooks:

as sketched by many hands;
with notices of

The book had first been written in 1847 by John Hicklin who was known for writing local history books about Chester and Llandudno. Not much is known about John but there is a short obituary in the Wrexham Guardian January 20, 1877:

“The Courant announces the death of Mr John Hicklin, which occurred at Torquay, on Saturday last. The deceased was in early life the proprietor and editor of the Nottingham Journal, one of the oldest newspapers in that county, and in which high Tory principles were advocated with fervour and eloquence. He afterwards became editor of the Chester Courant, a position which he held for many years, and subsequently editor of the Notts. Guardian, and the Carlisle Patriot. After assisting in an unavailing attempt to establish at Plymouth a daily Conservative journal for Devon and Cornwall, he settled at Torquay, where he became the organizing secretary of the Devonshire Church Defence Institution. Mr Hicklin was an earnest and devoted Churchman, and an eloquent and energetic advocate of Church principles on the platform. He was author of an admirable compilation of historic facts, ancient and modern, entitled, “Church and State,” “Leisure Hours,” “Guide to Chester and North Wales,” and other works. His geniality of disposition and urbanity of manners endeared him to a large circle of friends.”

The “Ladies of Llangollen” is dedicated to “Miss Lolly and Miss Andrews” who bought Plas Newydd, the Ladies house, after their demise. Two maiden women who were said to “emulate the Ladies.”

The free Project Gutenberg ebook, in a variety of formats, can be downloaded at:

The “Ladies of Llangollen” by John Hicklin

The Female Husband

On This Day – from a Welsh newspaper 23 January, 1829

“The following particulars have been collected relative to the female who styled herself James Allen, and upon whose body an inquest was held a few days since. The woman who had been married to the deceased has produced the certificate, by which it appeared that it was solemnised at Camberwell church, on the 13th day of December, 1808. Previous to its having taken place, the deceased lived as a groom in the service of a Mr. Wood, No. 6, Camberwell-terrace.

Our informant, Mary Allen, was also housemaid in the same gentleman’s family, and it was while living there she first became acquainted with the deceased, who was at that time considered a smart and handsome young man, and an excellent groom, doing all the work belonging to the situation quite to the satisfaction of the gentleman with whom he acted in that capacity. Mary Allen remained a housemaid with Mr. Wood for three years, and it was at the latter part of this period the deceased began to be extremely attentive to her, and was viewed in the light of a lover by Mary: who at length consented, at the earnest entreaties of the deceased, to be married.

The matrimonial alliance took place between the parties at the time above specified, and from the church they retired together to a house called the Bull, in Gray’s Inn Lane, where they slept; very soon after they had retired to bed the bridegroom was taken ill, and continued or pretended to be so the remainder of the night. Previous to the marriage the deceased had lived in the service of Alderman Atkins as groom, and with other gentlemen in the same capacity. Subsequently to the marriage Mary Allen went back to service, and the deceased was hired into the service of Mr. Lonsdale, of Maze-hill, Blackheath, and stayed there some time, during which period the new-married couple seldom saw each other, but carried on an epistolary correspondence, in which the deceased always wrote most affectionately to the bride, addressing her in all the endearing terms of a wife, and concluding his letters by subscribing himself the bride’s most loving and affectionate husband until death.

They were absent from each other eight months and, at the expiration of that period, the deceased prevailed on the bride, Mary Allen, to throw up her situation, and both live together as man and wife. Mary consented and at this period the deceased, having accumulated some money, became landlord of a public house called the Sun, at Baldock, in Hertfordshire, and was getting on most prosperously in business until their house was broken into one night, and robbed of all the money they possessed.

After this misfortune it appears the deceased gave up the business and came to London with his wife, and took lodgings in the neighbourhood of Dock-head. Here the deceased determined to work as a labourer, and obtained employment in a shipwright’s yard, as a pitch-boiler. During the time the deceased was in this situation her sex was never discovered by any of the men with whom she laboured, and with whom she was in the constant practice of associating. When she left the above situation she got employment in the yards of other shipwrights, and was always considered a sober, steady, strong, and active man; there was rather a peculiarity in the tone of her voice which subjected her to the raillery of the men with whom she worked, but they never for a moment thought that she was of any other than the male sex. The deceased also worked in a vitriol manufactory previous her having entered the service of Mr. Crisp, at Dockhead, in whose employ she had worked for a considerable time preceding the accident which deprived her of life. The woman to whom the deceased was married, on being questioned as to whether she knew her sex, declared most positively that she never did.

The deceased was described as of rather an ill temper, and expressed strong resentment against the poor woman to whom she was married whenever the latter noticed a man particularly. Upon those occasions the deceased never failed to act the part of the jealous husband and has often inflicted corporeal chastisement on the wife when she considered that she was not conducting herself as she ought to do. The deceased person, Mary Allen, as she had been called ever since the solemnization of marriage, assigns for not disclosing her suspicions relative to the sex of the deceased to her friends, that it was in consideration of her generally kind and affectionate behaviour towards her for the deceased worked early and late for their subsistence, and the labour she was employed at could not be performed, except by a person of uncommon strength of body, which the deceased possessed to an extraordinary degree.

The deceased generally dressed in sailors’ clothes, like hipwrights, and always wore thick flannel waistcoats, which extended from the neck down to the hips. She also wrapped a bandage of linen over her chest, for the sham purpose of protecting her from the cold, as she was in the habit of being much exposed to cold and wet, after working over her knees in water, when engaged in clearing out the ways – that is, clearing a part of a shipwright’s yard of the mud collected on the receding of the tide.

The deceased was of a most ingenious turn, and was a very expert carpenter, in addition to her other qualifications: in fact, as Mary Allen describes, she could turn her hand to anything. During the whole period they lived together, Mary Allen never heard of any relatives belonging to the deceased, who at one time stated that she was born at Yarmouth, but as to whether this was true or not there was no evidence, no person coming forward who knew the deceased previous to the time she had adopted the garb of man, and laboured in that character. Subsequently to the examination, the body of the deceased was placed in a coffin, and conveyed to the lodgings of Mary Allen, who appeared greatly affected at the death of her “lord.” The former seems to be in very indignant circumstances, and can scarcely scrape up money enough to pay the undertaker for the expenses of interment. It appears that the deceased was a member of a benefit club for many years, and regularly paid up her arrears to the society. Since her decease, however, some demur has been made to the benefits arising from the society, on the ground that the deceased had been all along imposing on it, by representing herself as a man, and always appearing in the character of one when she attended their meetings.

Since the publication of the inquest on the body of the deceased, no person has come forward who knew her previously to her having adopted the garb of a man, and the circumstances which caused her to endeavour to conceal her sex will never be discovered.

The deceased appears to have been an interesting looking girl; her limbs were well proportioned; and the only thing of a masculine character that we observed about her was her hands, which were large, and the flesh extremely hard, owing to the work which she performed for so many years.”


(Image: Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. “Portrait of Abigail Allen. Portrait of the female husband!” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The Disappointed Bridegroom

On This Day – 17 January 1818

“The following curious development forms a topic of general conversation in the town of Frome. It appears that some years since a weaver of that place had a female apprentice bound to him, from a neighbouring parish – she served her prescribed time with credit and fidelity, and has since conducted herself with great propriety. Being arrived at a marriageable age, and possessing an agreeable person, she naturally enough engaged the affections of a young man of that place – the whole happy course of wooing had gone through in the usual manner – the fair weaver sympathetically returning glance for glance, vow for vow, and sigh for sigh – when oh! dire mishap – some doubts were excited respecting the sex of the amiable bride elect – a convocation of grave matrons was held—and after a mature investigation, they decided—that she was a MAN!”

Once a Girl, Now a Boy

On This Day – 14 January 1888


“There resides in a fashionable part of Kathmines, Dublin, a family consisting of a mother, who is a widow, two or three sons, and three young ladies’ sisters — at all events they were supposed to be so. The family were held in the highest respect, and until an incident we are about to relate occurred their household was undisturbed by any out-of-the-way occurrence. Two of the young ladies were prepossessing in appearance, and gifted with many accomplishments. The third — the eldest, we believe — was not devoid of good looks either, and possessed a certain amount of musical culture, which was displayed effectively at numerous reunions, parties, and evening assemblies about the neighbourhood. She also developed a remarkable talent for drawing. She was frequently met with at social assemblies and places of entertainment, and was admired everywhere for her good looks and accomplishments. She was an admirable tennis player, and was altogether an agreeable figure in the set in which she moved. About a couple of months ago it was announced that she was about to proceed to London to complete her studies in the South Kensington School of Art, and naturally the news caused some interest among her acquaintances. She came back at Christmas, and many ladies who were acquainted with the family called at their house to see her. What was the astonishment of the visitors when the mother calmly announced that her “daughter” was a boy, and then the quondam Miss —— entered the room dressed in masculine attire, having completely abandoned the character which she or he (as we must now call him) had been so long assuming of a girl. The incident gave rise to great perturbation among the acquaintances of the family, and, as a result, no little unpleasantness has occurred. Those who knew the young gentleman as Miss are extremely astonished at the turn affairs have taken. They find it hard to believe that such a deception could have gone on for years without any suspicion of the real circumstances being entertained. The young man has been regarded as a girl from his infancy. He went to school as a girl, entered society as a girl, dressed as a girl, and behaved as a girl so that the sudden announcement of his true position in society has naturally caused some commotion among the acquaintances of the young man.”

The Conquest, or a Mail Companion Review

SPOILER ALERT – This review includes information which may spoil your reading of the original story. To read The Conquest first – click here.

In January 1837 the Welsh newspaper the Monmouthshire Merlin published a short story by a writer who is only identified by the initials I.H. Although the Merlin features a number of short stories by writers using initials alone only one other story by I.H. can be found. Mistress Annabelle Herbert Struth Pelham appeared in December 1836. The story concerns a woman who falls in love, discovers her beau is married and so remains single. In later life she hears that his wife has died but declines to revive the love affair and continues to live alone. A story which fall outside of societal norms in that at this time most women would have been expected to get married.

The Conquest, or a Mail Companion appeared a month later. It is set in 1818 but published in 1837. As we do not know who the writer is we cannot know when it was written. This story concerns ‘a weeping female, in flimsy, spoilable array’ called Ethelinda travelling via mail coach to take up a new position. There is only one other passenger in the coach and the story revolves around the conversation they have during the journey.  What is interesting about this short story is that from a queer theory perspective it raises a number of points.

From the very outset the author establishes in the reader’s mind that the subject of the story is male. The first words are “The hero of the following sketch…” and within a few paragraphs we hear the elderly man who hands Ethelinda into the coach referring to the other occupant as ‘sir.’ When Ethelinda settles herself she examines her travelling companion who is, “still young, not too tall, with a dark and bright complexion, prominent profile, black curls, and short whiskers, deep set, swarthy eyes.” Once again there is the reminder of masculinity with the reference to ‘short whiskers.’ This concept is constantly reinforced throughout the narrative. The character is unnamed and so for convenience sake will be referred to as ‘Hero’ in this article. Hero is constantly referred to as ‘he’ including at one point ‘Monsieur’ and Ethelinda repeatedly calls him ‘sir.’

Hero himself enforces the perception when he brags that he is “a capital sailor” and is later referred to as a “hardy tar.” He takes a pinch of snuff and when the coach stops briefly Hero holds out a hand to stroke some dogs with “a manly, yet neither a large nor a coarse hand, decked with many a ring.”

However there are hints that not all is as it seems. When Ethelinda says, “I should not be ashamed of owning anything that was true to a perfect gentleman like yourself.” Hero teases “I fear I shall disappoint you before we part, or on better acquaintance.”

Despite all descriptions of Hero there is no intent to imply cross-dressing. The blanket that Hero spreads over Ethelinda’s legs covers them both and “so concealed the figure of their wearer, that not even the tip of a boot could be seen.” The history of cross-dressing is an old one and from the early 19th century stories featured in the media rose steadily. In the Welsh press alone from 1800 to 1829 there were 21 stories. By the 1830s there were 21 for the whole decade and the number continued to rise until the 1890s when 160 instances occurred. One of the reasons that women cross-dressed as men was for protection and travelling in a coach at night would be a good reason to do so. Hero at one point states, “many gentlewomen now go about alone, by stage.” However we learn later that Hero knows the coachman and would therefore not need protecting.

Throughout the story the author uses a number of devices to imply distance from normality. The departure point is “a stage out of London, in a dull little town, whose name I spare” and “nor shall I say whither the vehicle was bound.” Hero asks of Ethelinda “Do you go all the way to __?” leaving the name blank. We cannot know then if the final point is in Wales but what is made clear is that the destination is rural.

The time of the journey is at night in December a journey that was to “last from nine till twelve, three dark and drowsy hours.” Ethelinda is alone, almost an orphan the “elderly man” who handed her into the coach is unnamed as is her father. Indeed the elderly man may have been her father. She confides that he only calls “me Ethelinda, to quiz my liking for novels.” So this is not even her real name. We know she is late taking up her job as Hero points out that the assistant was “to have been on her post two days since” but the delay is not explained. The ‘assistant’ is, according to Hero, “thirty, is very plain, the daughter of an (sic) humble tobacconist, and leaves a home which is anything but comfortable.” It was the humble tobacconist who acquired the job with a Mrs M__, whose name again appears as a blank, as “he was known to the husband,” and “long had her husband’s acquaintance.”

Throughout the journey Ethelinda never enquires of Hero’s name or other personal details. She does however have an attraction to Hero. No sooner has the coach left than “over her tear-wiping kerchief, strove to ascertain whether her fellow passenger was likely to afford her one of those stagified romances of which she had read and dreamt, long and often.” Having assumed Hero was a married man the reply was “not I” and so Ethelinda took him for a bachelor.

Ethelinda describes her circumstances saying her father, “Poor man because he saved and spared to give me a boarding-school education, he insists on my accepting this offer, and has vouched that I am fit for it; but, oh sir! it is a sad pilgrimage for me; no friend to read my heart, to rescue me at the precipice’s edge; I go a victim to the sacrifice, a bear to the stake —a beast to the slaughterer!” To which Hero replies, “but don’t cry so I’ll rescue you.” Earlier Ethelinda had described herself, on meeting the stranger in the coach, as “a young, a single lady …” A description Hero plays along with when, despite knowing Esther to be thirty flatters Ethelinda by suggesting she is only 16.  Ethelinda continues “— to be thrown — unprotected — with an unknown —” Hero interrupts with the assurance that the “…unknown is bound to protect her. If, during our trip, any intruders arrive to mar the, tête á-tête, they shall not obtrude their flatteries on you while I am by…” To which Ethelinda felt faint and Hero offers her Eau de Cologne adding drops to the girl’s handkerchief. ““You are very good,” faltered Ethelinda, between love and fear.” At another point Hero implies he knows who Ethelinda really is: “your account to me of yourself, marks the strongest possible contrast between my fair Ethelinda and Esther Humphries.” ‘Fair Ethelinda’ belongs to Hero, Esther Humphries is someone else. Indeed both the story and the coach are called The Conquest with a play on the subtitle of ‘a mail companion.’

Eventually the coach reaches its destination and Hero leans out of the carriage and calls for the coachman to stop. Ethelinda peers out to see “a servant, lantern in hand, came from the garden of a cottage ornée.” The use of the term cottage ornée is an interesting one. This was a decorated or stylised ‘cottage’ popular from the late 18th to early 19th century. It was inspired by the Romantic Movement in a move away from a formal heavy architecture to a more ‘natural’ way of living. They were built mainly by the wealthy, and even royalty, as retreats or additions to their estates. The term was coined to distinguish structures that turned a labourer’s cottage into aesthetic artefact. The cottage ornée was seen as pure, rural, back to nature type of living where children could be brought up in a heterosexual and wholesome environment. This is emphasised in the story when Hero refers to the name of the cottage as ‘The Nest.’

However by the early 19th century the cottage ornée was also being utilised by women for their sole use. Designs began to reflect this and they were being deliberately marketed as appropriate dwellings for women without families. The Ladies of Llangollen’s famous house Plas Newydd was described as a cottage ornée and this emphasis on female only occupation began to undermine the heterosexual ‘pure’ concept. As more women moved into them the term began to fall out of favour.

As the coach stops and Hero leans out Ethelinda begins to wonder who this person is when she catches sight of a “petticoat of a dark cloth habit.” “So,” says the narrator, “vanished Ethelinda’s fairy dream.”

The story quickly moves to unravel the ‘dream’ and establish Hero as a woman, that Ethelinda’s “conquest had been achieved by the equestrian Mrs. M., who had gone to town on business for her husband, as he had recently lamed himself in a hunting leap. Though she had no desire to be taken for a man, or her side curls for whiskers, she, would not undeceive the blunderers; especially as she suspected, from the locale at which the young lady joined her, that this might be the very female whose disposition, for her children’s sakes, she thought it her duty to ascertain.”

As Hero’s identity is revealed the story moves into more ‘normal’ aspects. Although it would have been dark in the carriage it is not until the servant appears with the lantern that the first mention of light is made. Mrs M.’s husband is quickly identified as Frank and the servant as Matthew. At the start of the story the narrator had reassured readers that the hero is “now too wealthy to incur adventures,” so normality is restored as Mrs M never tries this again. Furthermore the narrator states that those who know the hero know she is so unchanged that they would have readily guessed her identity “even if they have not previously heard the tale from the original’s own lips” – the last implying that it had become a favourite story of Mrs M.’s.

The final paragraph abandons Ethelinda and her real name is substituted. “Esther, though no longer lady’s maid, yet lives with Mrs. (now Lady) M., her own woman, to Sir Frank’s French cook.” So although she is married she remains with Mrs M but no longer a servant. She is “though devoted to her mental, exemplary, and kind-hearted mistress, calls horse-riding, and its masculine costume, “dangerous and unmerciful for fine women.” The narrator ambiguously agrees, “I am, though not in her sense of the words, inclined to say so too.”

And so normality is restored.

What then is the point of the story? It’s hardly a warning against cross-dressing which was a great taboo at this period. The last paragraph confirms that Mrs M. continues to wear masculine costume when horse riding. And the portrayal of Hero is not a condemnatory one. Can we go so far as to call it a lesbian story? Ethelinda was under the impression she was talking to a man but Mrs M indulges in what can only be described as flirtatious behaviour. From the moment they met Mrs M encourages the girl to see her as an adventurer – someone who can and will ‘rescue’ her. Can anything even be read into the use of Ethelinda as a name? It was a medieval one but enjoyed a revival in the early 19th century and means ‘noble snake.’ Can we draw any parallels with the temptress Eve?

What is certain is that this story can be cited as an example of both gender and sexual blending and as such deserves a place in queer literature.


(With thanks to Kirsti Bohata for correcting some earlier mistakes)

The Conquest, or a Mail Companion

The hero of the following sketch, though now too wealthy to incur adventures such as the one I am about to tell, is, in other respects, so unchanged, that our fair Amalekites will readily guess who sat for this portrait, even if they have not previously heard the tale from the original’s own lips:-

Beneath the starlight, uneclipsed by gas (December, 1818) the Conquest night coach stopped to change horses, at its first stage out of London, in a dull little town, whose name I spare; nor shall I say whither the vehicle was bound; enough that its journey was to last from nine till twelve, three dark and drowsy hours.

“Ve takes up ‘tother hinside here,” said coachee, come, marm,”

An elderly man led to the steps of this equipage a weeping female, in flimsy, spoilable array. While her luggage was hoisted he placed a large heavy flail basket on the seat, saying, “Well, Ethelinda, you won’t be quite alone. Sir, any attentions you”-

“I’ll take every care of the lady!” replied a free voice, as the capped, cloaked, and comfortered personage, who sat with back to the horses, held out a thickly-gloved hand, to help and hasten Ethelinda’s entrance. She sobbed “good by,” and was driven off; but soon, over her tear-wiping kerchief, strove to ascertain whether her fellow passenger was likely to afford her one of those stagified romances of which she had read and dreamt, long and often. Brief, fleeting, “few and far between,” as were the glimmerings that aided her feminine scrutiny, they, by degrees, informed her that her opposite neighbour was still young, not too tall, with a dark and bright complexion, prominent profile, black curls, and short whiskers, deep set, swarthy eyes, that seemed to light up the obscure, as would those of a dog or cat, yet very steadfast withal.

“As an old traveller,” said, at length, the proprietor of these noticeable orbs, “I always take this side, because women usually prefer the other; but now with your leave, I’ll cross, that my cloak may have the honour of falling at your feet; no matter how we look, on these occasions, so we are but warm enough.”

The interminable, fur-lined folds, so concealed the figure of their wearer, that not even the tip of a boot could be seen. They were now officiously adjusted round the knees of Ethelinda, and a large shawl wrapped over her shoulder, by this beau galant.

“Apparently,” he resumed, “ma’amselle is unused to the road.”

“Quite, Sir, I assure you,” sighed Ethelinda, to public conveyances. Next to one’s own carriage, which can’t always be spared, a postchaise is best; but to travel all night by the mail –”

“Our leathern convenience has not even that dignity,” said the stranger, fixing his peculiar eyes upon her; “yet many gentlewomen now go about alone, by stage; ‘tis economical, and avoids fuss.”

“True,” coincided the damsel errant, “but — really — for a young, a single lady — to be thrown — unprotected — with an unknown —”

“Nay,” laughed her hearer, “that unknown is bound to protect her. If, during our trip, any intruders arrive to mar the, tête á-tête, they shall not obtrude their flatteries on you while I am by, even if so inclined, which ‘tis just possible they might not prove.”

Ethelinda felt she knew not how; and called herself “faint.”

“What d’ye mean?” asked her new friend, “on this side? Why — hah! you heroines are always unpoetical. Let me drop some Eau de Cologne on your handkerchief, the only thing to use and, here, take a cayenne lozenge, my dear!”

“You are very good,” faltered Ethelinda, between love and fear.

“I,” continued the other, “can’t, even at sea, forgive the ‘inglorious slaves,’ as Byron calls them — who that could sketch or scribble but would be well to gaze, listen, breathe, sing, dance, on deck? I’m a capital sailor, and shipboard always gives me an appetite, even for the homeliest fare!”

‘‘Indeed? Perhaps then —even”— hesitated Ethelinda, half turning towards her panier, but the hardy tar rattled on.

“Now one has nothing to put up with on land in that regard. Inns would lose — what now they have a right to expect – our custom, if they did not furnish good refreshments; though they charge highly for the accommodation but persons of our caste, my love, could not, of course, be either so stingy, or so vulgar as to burden ourselves with substantial cates, such as nobody can require during the hours usually devoted to rest; one might as well lie with sandwiches and Maderia, cake and Cognac, under one’s pillow.” He adjusted his stock, and drew up his collar in spite.

Poor Ethelinda actually feared that awful eye through dunnest night (wicker-work and brown paper) had seen — or that Roman nose smelt — the hoard of cold pork, gingerbread, and “ardent spirits diluted,” which now she dared not offer to Monsieur, nor taste herself, nor even own.

“Still,” pursued the provoking one, “that I may not lose your conversation by a doze, I must resort to ma tabatiere, if you please. I promise not to smoke.”

He explained the mystic phrase by taking a pinch of snuff from a small silver box, as the lady tittered forth.

“No, pray don’t smoke, sir; for though pa sometimes indulges in a cigar, ma and I never let him bring it into the drawing-room.”

“Well,” rejoined the incognito, “to-morrow I shall be in the atmosphere of home, with which tobacco’s fumes may blend, and no lady’s leave asked.”

“Bless me,” exclaimed Ethelinda (we may guess how sincerely) “I hoped you were — at least — a married man.”

“Not I, though, perhaps, every man should marry at my age.”

“La! sir, you make me curious — to know the age when a gentleman ought to take a wife.”

“Oh, if you want to know my years, child, I am nearly six and twenty, which, I presume, is full ten years older than am at liberty to call you, eh? Come, ladies are invariably candid on this subject.” He brushed up his curls maliciously.

“I will be so at any rate, sir; I am just of age, so all I have is at my own disposal.”

“Ha! then beware of fortune hunters! Talking of hunters, oh that I were exercising my limbs on the back of mine instead of being cramped in here! Do you ride?”

“Donkeys, by the sea-side, sometimes.”

“Ay, at Margate your very fine folks quiz that place unjustly. I’ve had many a capital swim there, and such walks! I’m a desperate peripatetic; are you?”

“Sir, I —” Ethelinda did not know.

“Nay, don’t be ashamed! Remember Queen Caroline was a pedestrian, as well a Davie Deans’ bairn.”

Whether she was that unintelligible something, or which Queen Caroline was meant, the half-frightened, half-affronted maiden could not tell; but, resolving to tax her taxer’s generosity, said,

“I should not be ashamed of owning anything that was true to a perfect gentleman like yourself.”

“You are too civil,” he laughed, “I fear I shall disappoint you before we part, or on better acquaintance.”

“Sir,” faintly articulated Ethelinda but the gentleman seeing, at the inn door where now they stopped, a couple of fine spaniels was whistling to them instead of heeding the lady.

“They remind me of my own dogs,” he cried; “have you so much as a bit of biscuit with which to coax ‘em near us?”

Ethelinda reluctantly produced a slice of pig-impregnated bread from her store, with which the merry wayfarer fed the animals from a manly, yet neither a large nor a coarse hand, decked with many a ring. Again they started, and he now enquired,

“Do you go all the way to ——?”

“Not quite. I am about to stay some time with a friend of pa’s. But — you will excuse me —how very well you whistle! I am so fond of music; are not you?”

This was saying anything to blink the question.

“When ‘tis music indeed,” replied he of the forage caps “I love, though I but imperfectly understand it; yet hate to have my ears bored by Misses who attempt French and Italian songs knowing as little of the sound as the sense, in every way. From the very parlours behind shops issue the discords of these would-be cantatrice’s.  If tradesmen’s daughters are to gain their bread by teaching, let them be thoroughly taught first. But tell me — I know most families on this road — the friend you visit the rich Mrs. D__, the fashionable Lady Y__, that charitable spinster Miss F__, or the so-called CLEVER Mrs. M__?”

“So-called!” repeated Ethelinda, unguardedly. “Is she not clever, then? I heard that she was very severe.”

“Umph! if it be she to whom you go, I am surprised at your asking her character of me,” equivocated the stranger.

“Oh, sir, papa has long had her husband’s acquaintance, but I never yet saw her. Is she not extremely proud, satirical, strict, and —”

“She is a sworn foe to vanity, affectation, and deceit; so she ought to be, as she educates her own children — though, as the eldest of the four is now seven years old, she has just engaged an assistant, who was to have been on her post two days since.”

“Think, dear sir!” nearly wept Ethelinda, “how humiliating must such a situation be to a girl of any appearance and feeling, accustomed to all the comforts of home.”

“May be so, ma chère; but this person owns to thirty, is very plain, the daughter of an humble tobacconist, and leaves a home which is anything but comfortable. Waste not your sympathy in judging her feelings by your own. The character her father gave his customers to procure this place, and your account to me of yourself, marks the strongest possible contrast between my fair Ethelinda and Esther Humphries.”

The poor maiden burst into tears, sobbing out,

“Oh, sir, though I couldn’t resist the temptation of your politeness to make the most of the first and last such interview that I can ever hope to enjoy, yet, as soon as I found you were a friend of that lady’s, I resolved to trust.”

“Or rather, you knew that I must soon learn the fact. Well?”

“Well, sir, father only calls me Ethelinda, to quiz my liking for novels. Poor man because he saved and spared to give me a boarding-school education, he insists on my accepting this offer, and has vouched that I am fit for it; but, oh sir! it is a sad pilgrimage for me; no friend to read my heart, to rescue me at the precipice’s edge; I go a victim to the sacrifice, a bear to the stake —a beast to the slaughterer!”

“Ay, that’s something like,” commented her hearer; “but don’t cry so I’ll rescue you; you need not fear — you shall never be a governess!”

“Sir,” ejaculated Miss Humphries — visions of rank and matrimony still floating in her brain —  “How’ sir?”

“Quite honourably; you shall find a matron in my house, though it lacks one just now; but till you become a bride — tell me honestly — is it teaching or service you shrink from? What can you do to merit such a sanction?”

“Any thing — every thing! make gowns, caps, bonnets, wash lace, dress hair, keep accounts; — who would not rather be a lady’s maid than a governess?”

“Very few waning flirts, I should hope — but — hollo! coachman! remember where you put me down. Mr. M.’s__ the Nest — you know,” he craned from the window.

“I does, bless your voice,” shouted back the driver.

What! was this Mr. M. himself? — but no, he had said he was a bachelor. Ethelinda dared not speak; she peered over her companion’s shoulder, and listened to his panting breath, as a light flashed across the road. The carriage drew up, its door was opened, the steps fell; a servant, lantern in hand, came from the garden of a cottage ornée, followed by a gentleman, leaning on a stick. The gathered up cloak now betrayed the petticoat of a dark cloth habit, and the supposed hero leaped out, clamouring,

“Dear Frank! the ankle better? how are the youngsters? Bring in Humphries; boxes too, Matthew. Alight, my girl, and make yourself at home!”

So vanished Ethelinda’s fairy dream. Her conquest had been achieved by the equestrian Mrs. M., who had gone to town on business for her husband, as he had recently lamed himself in a hunting leap. Though she had no desire to be taken for a man, or her side curls for whiskers, she, would not undeceive the blunderers; especially as she suspected, from the locale at which the young lady joined her, that this might be the very female whose disposition, for her children’s sakes, she thought it her duty to ascertain.

Esther, though no longer lady’s maid, yet lives with Mrs. (now Lady) M., her own woman, to Sir Frank’s French cook, who yearly imports foreign snuff for his father-in-law, and Paris romances for the too susceptible Ethelinda. She still, though devoted to her mental, exemplary, and kind- hearted mistress, calls horse-riding, and its masculine costume, “dangerous and unmerciful for fine women.” I am, though not in her sense of the words, inclined to say so too.

I. H.

Stuart, the Male Patti

To celebrate Swansea Sparkle this weekend I thought I’d share an article which appeared in the Welsh press one hundred and sixteen years ago. In 1900 the South Wales Daily Post had a chat with a ‘famous artiste’ – Stuart, the Male Patti who was appearing at the Swansea Empire.

“Born 27 years ago, of Italian parents at Dallas, Texas,” said the Daily Post Stuart “is an artiste to his finger tips. The warmth of applause accorded him at the Swansea Empire this week testifies to his skill, but he has been equally lionised in London and many Continental cities.

“What do I think of English and Welsh audiences?” he said in answer to a “Post” reporter. “I think they are very kind indeed. When I came over to England last January I was engaged to appear for one week at the Palace, London, but was compelled to stay for seventeen weeks. The audiences were always very appreciative, and I have the same to say of the folk of Cardiff and Swansea.

“My voice? Well, really, I think it came to me from my mother, who was a singer of note, but, strange to say, she lost her vocal powers at my birth, whilst I grew up – I believe I may say it without egotism – the possessor of the wonderful voice you have heard. It is certainly extraordinary to find a soprano voice of such compass in a man. I can reach from B below to E in alt. The notes, too, are quite legitimately produced there is no straining or effort.”

“Was your rise to the front rank a rapid one?”

“Yes, wonderfully quick. I only made my first appearance on the stage eight years ago. My real name? Ah, that, I cannot tell you. My parents were strongly opposed to my going on the stage, and only assented on my promising to hide my identity. That is why I am and shall continue to be, known simply as ‘Stuart’”.

In Paris, Berlin, and other Continental cities the artiste tried an interesting experiment. Assuming that the audiences would believe him to be an Englishman, he decided to sing in English, although he understands French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and see whether art, purely and simply, would carry him through. It did with wonderful success. In. Berlin, especially, the, musically-cultured Germans were delighted with him. They compared him with some of the prima donnas.

“Do you know,” he observed, “I think you English are greatly in error in believing that the whole world is opposed to you. I found little or no evidence of that feeling on the Continent, and as for America, although there must always be diplomatic differences, I think the two nations would come together immediately either was in serious trouble.”

We have said that Stuart, is an artiste to his finger tips. He is so much so that having so long performed as a female impersonator, his mannerisms have become quite effeminate. He wears his female attire with admirable grace, and even after talking to him for an hour you find it difficult to persuade yourself that he is a mere man. A gentleman of artistic instincts, he goes into raptures over the historic remains in the Old World, and it is interesting to note that he considers Cardiff Castle equal to anything in Europe.”

Despite his reticence in not giving his name Stuart was actually one of America’s most noted female impersonators.  His real name was Everett Stuart a former postal worker in Wichita, Kansas. He joined the McIntyre & Heath minstrel show in 1887 and became known by his stage name “Stuart, the Male Patti” – in reference to Adelina Patti a famous coloratura soprano (who made her home in Wales at Craig-y-Nos in the Brecon Beacons). His first big number was, ironically, a song entitled ‘The Letter That Never Came’ – and wags quickly nicknamed him the ‘Mail Patti.’

stuart-the-male-pattyIn 1898 Stuart gained fame when he appeared in the New 1492 a sort of comic re-enactment of the discovery of America in which he played Queen Isabella. Reviewers however were anxious to reassure their readers that Stuart was “inoffensively articulate in his female impersonation.”[i] A theme followed by other media coverage. The South Wales Daily Post reassured their readers that:

 “attired as a lady – his robes are very elaborate, by the way – he sings a trio of songs in a rich contralto voice that would deceive anyone were his sex not stated on the programme. Stuart is certainly a wonder, a freak perhaps; he is yet a deservedly successful music-hall artiste, and is worth going a long way to see and hear.”

The Western Mail noted:

“He (or she) has been described as the “male Patti,” and his soprano singing on  Monday certainly left one in doubt as to which sex he (or still she) rightly  belonged … but in the third section he removed all doubt by ejaculating “What, ho! Bill,” with a loud genuineness that no mere lady could touch with a fishing-rod. He won the applause of pit and gallery.”

Two years later when Stuart appeared in Cardiff the Evening Express also reassured its readers that although his “soprano singing is almost too realistic … he takes care to prove his identity.”

Stuart toured Europe between 1899 and 1908. It’s unclear what happened to him after that.

[i] Atkins, Gary 2003 ‘Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging’

Images from Library of Congress

A ‘gay’ story from 1901

In June of 1901 the Welsh newspaper the Evening Express published a short story by an unnamed writer. At this time gay literature was starting to appear more regularly in mainstream literature and art but this does appear to be one of the first ‘gay’ stories from Wales.



Arthur Pagewood and Henry Varcoe had become close friends and intimates, although their acquaintance was by no means one of long standing. In fact, it had commenced about twelve months before the period at which our story opens in the smoking room of a Westminster club of which they were both members.

They were Varsity men – Pagewood hailing from Exeter College, Oxford, and Varcoe from Gonville and Caius, Cambridge – and moreover litterateurs in a small way. Some startling and unconventional short stories, of the decadent type, from the pen of Pagewood which had appeared in a certain eccentric magazine whose life had been a short and merry one, had caused a considerable flutter in the devocotes of Philistia; and Varcoe had contributed to the still surviving “Tyburnia” six or eight fugitive sketches of London life, admirable in style and technique, but lacking in power of “vision” and imagination.

Extremes meet, they say; and Arthur Page wood and Henry Varcoe, contrasting strongly in physique and line of thought, separated by nature to all outward appearance as widely as the poles, had not been long in each other’s society before they became conscious of a subtle and mysterious aura of mutual attraction, when the world would have looked for a wave of mutual repulsion. Each man was, as it were, the complement of the other.

The romantic friendship which resulted presently led to a literary partnership.

The collaborators scored many successes, but they were, after all only minor ones. Each had a soul above the short story – which is often regarded as the most effectual test of literary ability – and each aspired to produce a work which should make Stanley Weyman and Conan Doyle tremble for their laurels.

One breathless evening in late August, when the Parks were deserted and Pall Mall and Piccadilly disconsolate, Arthur Pagewood, in his usual casual way lounged into his friend’s Bayswater chambers, and, flinging the soft felt American hat which he always affected upon the table, while he jerked the butt-end of a cigar out of the open window, threw himself listlessly into an easy chair.

“Varcoe,” he said, fixing his bright eyes eagerly upon that gentleman’s face, “I have been haunted by it in the visions of the night. It will make the world grow pale – readers with delirious horror, rivals with delirious envy.”

“You mean the plot of our projected historical novel, no doubt,” said Varcoe with his accustomed phlegm.

“Why what else would rouse my enthusiasm in this weather? I have the ‘root of the matter.’ But to attempt to develop it here – in London – in this stifling, pestiferous atmosphere, with the thermometer at 80 deg. in the shade – would lead to ruin, disaster, idiocy, and asphyxia.”

“What do you propose to do, then?” inquired his coadjutor rather ruefully, for he by no means relished the abandonment of his cherished idea.

“Briefly this: to ‘fly these cruel lands, this avaricious shore’ – pray excuse mixed reminiscences of Virgil and Savonarola – and seek larger ether,’ larger inspiration, and local colouring.”

“A brilliant project, indeed!” cried Varcoe, affected by the other’s enthusiasm. “But can’t you tell me something more about the plot?”

“Not here – not here, my friend. The city dust would besmirch, the brazen glare of the city streets would scorch the radiant butterfly wings of the Iris of my fancy. As I have said, William de la Marck is the hero. For the rest, let it suffice that the leit-motiv is the old, yet ever new one of a ‘woman weeping for her demon lover.’ Once more I adjure you not to be alarmed, for I pledge you my honour as a literary Bohemian that there is not a souneon of Moore’s ‘Love of the Angels’ nor a trace of Maturin’s ‘Melinott the Wanderer’ in my highly original plot.”

“Have with you, then, Pagewood. I place myself unreservedly in your hands. You have a right, I suppose to play the autocrat, for you supply the literary ‘hegemonic spark.’ Let us see. This is Monday. Well, I shall be ready to accompany you in your quest of the ‘larger ether’ and the ‘local colouring’ on Wednesday.”


From place to place in the picturesque woodland Ardennes district did the friends wander through the shortening days of the golden autumn. Adhering to their programme, they made a pilgrimage to Liege, followed the windings of the Meuse, visited grey old Namus perched above the river, stayed for some days at the Tete d’Or in lovely Dinant, and explored the grottoes of Hun. But their steps always gravitated towards the forest, and when its greenery had given place to russet they settled down at a sleepy little hotel in St. Hubert, which, as every Belgian traveller knows, lies in the very heart of the Ardennes.

Now, Pagewood was eccentric – eccentricity, we know, is the hall-mark of genius – and cherished some peculiar fads, which he had been known to sacrifice on the altar of friendship, or even on that of love. The most aggravating of these fads was a literary one, as Varcoe had learnt to his cost. You might urge him with the most frenzied entreaties, you might demonstrate the utter futility of his line of action, but you could never induce him to disclose the denouement or peripety of a story until its conclusion was virtually reached. “I must keep the bonne bouche for the last’’ was his invariable reply to the remonstrance of Varcoe on the subject. Men may and do laugh at fads, but they often lead up to strange and unpleasant consequences – a truism destined to receive a specially melancholy exemplification in the present case. Arthur Pagewood was by no means a strong man; the fiery and ceaseless workings of his soul had already well-nigh frittered out the frail constitution which he had inherited from consumptive parents. To make matters worse, he was one of those Quixotic individuals who scorn to adapt their clothing to the weather. Cold blasts were not unknown in the Ardennes in October, but Pagewood rejected an overcoat as effeminate. The consequence was that during a walk one day, when the wind blew from the east, he contracted a severe chill. Pneumonia set in, and in less than a week Henry Varcoe stood weeping bitterly, for all his Anglo-Saxon phlegm, over the corpse of a friend whom he loved as few brothers are loved.

This, then, was the end of all their pleasant intercourse. Thus had their partnership terminated. The bright star or fancy was extinguished, the sparkling foam of imagination choked up for ever. Those eyes, eternally closed, would never again thrill him with the impassioned fervour of their gaze; that white cold, delicate hand would never again hold his own in the grasp of friendship. And what of the dream of literary distinction, than which none other is more fascinating? Death, grim harlequin of life’s pantomime, had smitten the illusory fabric with his icy wand, and the glistening rainbow battlements, the golden towers, the fairy cupulas, had trembled, tottered, fallen in ruin, like so many stage properties beneath his resistless hand. Neither man nor angel could rear again the palace of delight in which the vanished spirit had so revelled.

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,

And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough.


Henry Varcoe was stricken to the heart by the death of his friend, and yet he could not tear himself away from the scene of his loss. Some spirits are so constituted, and they suffer most acutely of all.

Alone he roamed the dreary and sodden woodlands, now thickly carpeted with fallen leaves, missing his dear companion at every step; alone at night in his solitary chamber wherever his eye rested he was reminded of Pagewood. On the mantel lay his favourite meerschaum; the few volumes which had accompanied his wanderings – Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, AEchylus, Schopenhauer’s “Parerga” – were ranged on a shelf hard by; and on a small in a corner of the room was deposited the treasured MS. whose progress had been interrupted by his death.

That chief d’oeuvre, Varcoe feared, would never see the light. His mental powers were in abeyance – under eclipse. More than once, when the burden of his lonely sorrow had seemed utterly insupportable, he had sat down and tried to write; if for no other purpose, at least to distract his thoughts; but his brain was torpid and barren, no ideas would come to him and the useless pen was quickly laid aside in despair.

The master hand which had so jealously retained the clue that led through the labyrinthine maze of the plot right to its heart lay stiff and cold in the grave. Varcoe might have been hypercritical, too distrustful of his own powers, but no solution – only a few, indeed, occurred to him – of the mystery hanging around the fate of the hapless heroine who had surrendered herself, body and soul, to the embodied demon. William de la Marck, commended itself to him as satisfactory, or even remotely probable. And then he caught himself wondering whether there was out in the vast unknown universe a mystic treasure-house wherein were deposited those thoughts of the mighty thinkers of the earth which seemed to perish on their decease, and wishing that, if such there were, he knew the open sesame that would compel it to disclose its secrets. Musing thus, he bethought him of Lytton’s “Pausanias,” of Dickens’s “Edwin Drood,” of Louis Stevenson’s “St. Ives,” and then, looking back through the centuries, of

Him who left half-told

The story of Cambuscan bold.

All these inspired ones, like that Pagewood whom he mourned, had wended their way to the “bourne from which no traveller returns,” and others had endeavoured, with scant success to place a coping-stone shaped by alien hands upon the fabric which the mighty dead had left unfinished, and which they alone could have adequately completed.

One night – it was November, and the rain, driven by violent, intermittent squalls, beat furiously against the casement – Henry Varcoe, as if in protest against the wild weather, his own gloomy thoughts, and no less gloomy surroundings, braced himself up for a supreme effort. He read and read again the latter part of the MS.; he tried to think whether the dead man had ever dropped a casual hint which might lead him to the discovery of the intended denouement; he marshalled for the hundredth time before his menial vision the various possibilities of the case. All was in vain; his brain whirled like a lonely sphere of fire, desolate, unproductive, tormented.

He buried his face in his hands, and moaned aloud, “Oh, Pagewood! Pagewood! friend of my heart. I have lost you, and with you, I have lost all – hope, energy, intellect. I am not man enough to complete the monument of your genius, which owes so little to my poor efforts. And yet how gladly would I give my life, my soul, to place before the world – not, Heaven knows, for my own sake, but yours – in a manner worthy of you, our last labours.”

The bells of the Abbey Church of St. Hubert, which was within a stone’s cast of the hotel, at this moment, in tones muffled by the battling wind and rain, slowly chimed the midnight hour.

The last stroke was still vibrating through the troubled air, when the door of the chamber was noiselessly opened, and a tall, cloaked figure as noiselessly glided in and took the seat at the table before the open manuscript which Varcoe had been perusing. The visitor next, with a well-remembered gesture, flung off his broad-brimmed felt hat and seized the pen which had so lately fallen from the watcher’s nerveless grasp.

From his post beside the stove Varcoe gazed in much terror upon the features of the newcomer, which were fully revealed by the removal of his headgear. The face he beheld was, and yet was not, the face of Pagewood. It was a livid and horrible mask, which simply reproduced and travestied, as a wax replica might have done, the cast of his features as his friend remembered them in life, but left them utterly devoid of expression. Sorrow and joy were equally banished from the passionless lineaments of the dead; and in those fixed and glassy eyes there was neither speculation nor recognition.

Varcoe, naturally a strong man, and by no means given to sentimentality and imaginative crazes, was now an altered being. He was unnerved by the constant presence and tensions of his grief, his prolonged vigils, his utter loneliness in a foreign land, and the gnawing haunting sense of a complete paralyses of his literary powers, and, consequently of his literary ambition. The sight of the melancholy apparition, which seemed unaware of his presence and yet bent upon the performance of some important task, so wrought upon him that his consciousness forsook him, and he slipped helplessly from his chair to the ground in a deep swoon.

When Varcoe come to himself the weird eidolon of what had once been Pagewood had vanished. Time had not stood still, although he had been unconscious of its progress, for the candles on the table burned low in their sockets.

Feebly he arose, and fearfully he drew near the open manuscript. He remembered that the instant before he fainted he had seen the shade take up a pen and bend eagerly over it. Judge of his amaze when he beheld page after page, from the point where the narrative had broken off, filled with the handwriting of his dead friend! Was he waking or dreaming? That night, at all events, he would not – he could not – sleep.

He replenished the stove, procured fresh candles, and addressed himself to the perusal of the concluding portion of the MS.

The story was finished! Yes, finished by the hand of the dead, which had dispensed with his feeble help.

The plot culminated in scenes suggestive of the lurid splendours of the Hindu Padalon when the doomed Kehama made his descent thither. The mystic and terrible things of the spiritual world were, for once in the history of literature, described by a spirit. The frantic efforts of the wretched Yolande, the heroine to rescue the demon soul of the outlawed William de la Marck, whom she loves in spite of all the threats and judgments of the angry heavens; the supreme sacrifice which her luckless passion claims and receives; the ghastly horrors of that night when the nameless tragedy is consummated and the silver planet of love is quenched, as it were, in a lake of blood and fire; all these things were portrayed in words and imagery that lived, that breathed, that stood out as grim, objective realities from the pages, like the ghostly pylons of Karnac silhouetted against the pure indigo of the midnight Egyptian skies – the words and imagery of a spirit, redolent of that higher sphere wherein spirits exist.

When Henry Varcoe had ceased reading, the hair on his head stood up, he was bathed, despite the warmth of the apartment, in a cold sweat, and his countenance was as livid as had been that of his phantom visitant.

Some lines traced on the last page of the MS. now arrested his attention. They ran thus:-

“Our collaboration, the action and reaction of our spirits each upon the other, seemed to, but, did not cease upon my death. The agony of your heart, the cry of your sorrow, the bitterness of your disappointment – these are influences that reach from earth to other worlds, and they have brought me to your side to-night.

“The story, which was begun so gaily and hopefully has, alas! been finished by the hand of the dead. You can use it or destroy it as you please. To me it matters not; for to me earthly triumphs are indifferent. But remember that conditions are annexed to your choice, whichever that may be. If you destroy it your life will be as that of others – the normal threescore years and ten; if you use it, unparalleled success – which your collaborator is not destined to share and enjoy – awaits the book and its author. But then you must die, in the zenith of your fame, a year after its publication.

“Ponder and choose. In either event, beloved friend,

“Be thou assured I shall not fail

To meet thee in that hollow vale.”

That night Henry Varcoe made his choice.


The grand sensation of the Christmas literary season that year was “A Romance of the Ardennes.” written in collaboration by Arthur Pagewod and Henry Varcoe. Edition after edition was called for and exhausted. The glories of the popular Corelli waxed pale and were eclipsed by the splendour of its success. It took the hearts and souls of men captive, and yet it was more “triste et terrible,” more awful in its diablery, than the weird masterpiece of the uniue Maturin. It was a wail from the regions. Of eternal dolour – a wail in which was heard the death-shriek of a woman’s love, which had vainly essayed to plumb those sunless depths.

The world, of course, knew that Arthur Pagewood was dead; but it looked for other work from the pen of his brilliant confrere. The world was disappointed. Long ere it had ceased clamouring for fresh editions of “A Romance of the Ardennes,” Henry Varcoe had re-joined that friend to immortalise whose name he had cheerfully laid down his own life. Those who had bent over the pillow of the dying man to catch his last words had seen a smile light up his face as he faintly whispered-

“Be thou assured I shall not fail

To meet thee in that hollow vale.”