Cavalry Life by John Strange Winter
(MRS. ARTHUR STANNARD)
MY first book 'as ever was' was written, or, to speak quite
correctly, was printed, on the nursery floor some thirty
odd years ago. I remember the making of the book very well;
the leaves were made from an old copybook, and the back was
THREE SOLDIERS AND
a piece of stiff paper, sewed in place and
carefully cut down to
the right size. So far
as I remember, it was
about three soldiers and
a pig. I don't
how the pig came in, but that is a mere detail. I have no
data to go upon (as I did not dream thirty years ago that I
should ever be so known to fame as to be asked to write the
true history of my first book), but I have a wonderful memory,
and to the best of my recollection it was, as I say, about
three soldiers and a pig.
It never saw the light, and there are times when I feel
thankful to a gracious Providence that I have been spared the
power of gratifying the temptation to give birth to those early
efforts, after the manner of Sir Edwin Landseer and that
pathetic little childish drawing of two sheep, which is to be
seen at provincial exhibitions of pictures, for the encouragement
and example of the rising generation.
So far as I can recall, I made no efforts for some years to
woo fickle fortune after the attempt to recount the story of the
three soldiers and a pig; but when I was about fourteen my
heart was fired by the example of a schoolfellow, one Josephine
H——, who spent a large portion of her time writing stories,
or, as our schoolmistress put it, wasting time and spoiling
paper. All the same, Josephine H—— 's stories were very
good, and I have often wondered since those days whether
she, in after life, went on with her favourite pursuits. I have
never heard of her again except once, and then somebody told
me that she had married a clergyman, and lived at West
Hartlepool. Yes, all this has something to do, and very
materially, with the story of my first book. For in emulating
Josephine H——, whom I was very fond of, and whom I
admired immensely, I discovered that I could write myself, or
at least that I wanted to write, and that I had ideas that I
wanted to see on paper. Without that gentle stimulant,
however, I might never have found out that I might one day
be able to do something in the same way myself.
My next try was at a joint story—a story written by three
girls, myself and two friends. That was in the same year.
We really made considerable headway with that story; and
had visions of completely finishing it and getting no less a
sum than thirty pounds for it. I have a sort of an idea that
I supplied most of the framework for the story, and that the
elder of my collaborators filled in the millinery and the
But—alas for the futility of human hopes and
desires!—that book was destined never to be finished, for I had
a violent quarrel with my collaborators, and we have never
spoken to each other from that day to this.
So came to an untimely end my second serious attempt at
writing a book; for the stories that I had written in emulation
of Josephine H—— were only short ones, and were mostly
I wasted a terrible deal of paper between my second try
and my seventeenth birthday, and I believe that I was, at that
time, one of the most hopeless trials of my father's life. He
many times offered to provide me with as much cheap paper
as I liked to have; but cheap paper did not satisfy my artistic
soul, for I always liked the best of everything. Good paper
was my weakness—as it was his—and I used it, or wasted it,
which you will, with just the same lavish hand as I had done
When I was seventeen, I did a skit on a little book called
'How to Live on Sixpence a Day.' It was my first soldier
story—excepting the original three soldiers and a pig—and
introduced the 'sixpence a day' pamphlet into a smart cavalry
regiment, whose officers were in various degrees of debt and
difficulty, and every man was a barefaced portrait, without the
smallest attempt at concealment of his identity. Eventually
this sketch was printed in a York paper, and the honour of
seeing myself in print was considered enough reward for me.
I, on the contrary, had no such pure love of fame. I had done
what I considered a very smart sketch, and I thought it well
worth payment of some kind, which it certainly was.
After this, I spent a year abroad, improving my mind—and
I think, on the whole, it will be best to draw a veil over
that portion of my literary history, for I went out to dinner
on every possible occasion, and had a good time generally.
Stay—did I not say my literary history? Well, that year
had a good deal to do with my literary history, for I wrote
stories most of the time, during a large part of my working
hours and during the whole of my spare time, when I did not
happen to be going out to dinner. And when I came home,
I worked on just the same until, towards the end of '75, I drew
blood for the first time. Oh, the joy of that first bit of money—my
first earnings! And it was but a bit, a mere scrap. To
be explicit, it amounted to ten shillings. I went and bought
a watch on the strength of it—not a very costly affair; a
MR. ARTHUR STANNARD
(From a photograph by Frances Browne,
135 Regent Street, W.)
matter of two pounds ten
and an old silver turnip that
I had by me. It was wonderful
how that one half-sovereign
opened up my
ideas. I looked into the
future as far as eye could
see, and I saw myself earning
an income—for at that time
of day I had acquired no
artistic feelings at all, and I
genuinely wanted to make
name and fame and money—I
saw myself a young
woman who could make a
couple of hundred pounds
from one novel, and I gloried
in the prospect.
I disposed of a good
many stories in the same quarter at starvation prices, ranging
from the original ten shillings to thirty-five. Then, after a
patient year of this not very luxurious work, I made a
step forward and got a story accepted by the dear old
Family Herald. Oh, yes, this is really all relevant to
my first book; very much so, indeed, for it was through
Mr. William Stevens, one of the proprietors of the Family
Herald, that I learned to know the meaning of the word
'caution'—a word absolutely indispensable to any young
At this time I wrote a great deal for the Family Herald,
and also for various magazines, including London Society. In
the latter, my first 'Winter' work appeared—a story called
'A Regimental Martyr.'
I was very oddly placed at this point of my career, for I
liked most doing the 'Winter' work, but the ordinary young-lady-like
fiction paid me so much the best, that I could not
afford to give it up. I was, like all young magazine writers,
passionately desirous of appearing in book form. I knew not
a single soul in the way connected with literary matters, had
absolutely no help or interest of any kind to aid me over the
rough places, or even of whom to ask advice in times of doubt
and difficulty. Mr. William Stevens was the only editor that
I knew to whom I could go and say, 'Is this right?' or 'Is
that wrong?' And I think it may be interesting to say here
that I have never asked for, or indeed used, a letter of introduction
in my life—that is, in connection with any literary
Well, when I had been hard at work for several years, I
wrote a very long book—upon my word, in spite of my good
memory, I forget what it was called. The story, however,
lives in my mind well enough; it was the story of a very
large family—about ten girls and boys, who all made brilliant
marriages and lived a sort of shabby, idyllic, happy life, somewhat
on the plan of 'God for us all and the devil take the
hindermost.' Need I say that it was told in the first person
and in the present tense, and that the heroine was anything
I was very young then, and thought a great deal of my
pretty bits of writing and those seductive scraps of moralising,
against which Mr. Stevens was always warning me. Well,
this very long, not to say spun-out, account of this very large
family of boys and girls, did not happen to please the 'readers'
for the Family Herald—then my stay-by—so I thought I
would have a try round the various publishers and see if I
could not get it brought out in three volumes. Of course, I
tried all the best people first, and very often, when I receive
from struggling young authors (who know a great deal more
about my past history than I do myself, and who frequently
write to ask me the best and easiest way to get on at novel-writing,
without either hard work, or waiting, or disappointment,
because, if you please, my own beginnings were so
singularly successful and delightful) the information that I
have never known of any of their troubles, it seems to me
that my past and my present cannot be the past and present
of the same woman. Yet they are. I went through it all;
the same sickening disappointments, the same hopes and fears;
I trod the self-same path that every beginner must assuredly
tread, as we must all in time tread that other path to the grave.
I went through it all, and with that exceedingly long and
detailed account of that large and shabby family, I trod the
thorny path of publishing almost to the bitter end—ay, even
to the goal where we find the full-blown swindler waiting for
us, with bland looks and honeyed words of sweetest flattery.
Dear, dear! many who read this will know the process. It
seldom varies. First, I sent my carefully written MS., whose
very handwriting betrayed my youth, to a certain firm which
had offices off the Strand, to be considered for publication. The
firm very kindly did consider it, and their consideration was
such that they made me an offer of publication—on certain
Their polite note informed me that their readers had read
the work and thought very highly of it, that they were inclined—just
by the way of completing their list for the approaching
September, the best month in the year for bringing out novels—to
bring it out, although I was, as yet, unknown to fame.
Then came the first hint of 'the consideration,' which took the
form of a hundred pounds, to be paid down in three sums, all to
fall due before the day of publication. I worked out the profits
which could accrue if the entire edition sold out I found that,
in that case, I should have a nice little sum for myself of 180l.
Now, no struggling young author in his or her senses is silly
enough to throw away the chance of making 180l. in one lump.
I thought, and I thought the whole scheme out, and I must
confess that the more I
thought about it, the
more utterly tempting
did the offer seem. To
to make 180l.!
Why, it was a
positive sin to lose
such a chance.
scraped a hundred pounds together, and, with my mother, set
off for London, feeling that, at last, I was going to conquer
the world. We did a theatre on the strength of my coming
good fortune, and the morning after our arrival in town set off—in
my case, at all events—with swelling hearts, to keep the
appointment with the kindly publisher who was going to put
me in the way of making fame and fortune.
I opened the door and went in. 'Is Mr.—— at home?' I
asked. I was forthwith conducted to an inner sanctum, where
I was received by the head of the firm himself. Then I
experienced my first shock—he squinted! Now, I never could
endure a man with a squint, and I distrusted this man instantly.
You know, there are squints and squints! There is
the soft uncertain squint feminine, which is really charming.
And there is a particular obliquity of vision which, in a man,
rather gives a larky expression, and so makes you feel that
there is nothing prim and formal about him, and seems to put
you on good terms at once.
And there is a cold-blooded squint, which makes your
flesh creep, and which, when taken in connection with business,
brings little stories to your mind—'Is anyone coming,
sister Anne?' and that sort of thing.
Mr.—— asked me to excuse him a moment while he
gave some instructions, and, without waiting for my permission,
looked through a few letters, shouted a message down a
speaking-tube, and then, after having arranged the fate of
about half-a-dozen novels by the means of the same instrument,
he sent a final message down the tube asking for my
MS., only to be told that he would find it in the top right-hand
drawer of his desk.
As a matter of fact, all this delay, intended to impress
(From a photograph by H. S. Mendelssohn)
me and make me understand what
a great thing had happened to me
in having won attention from so
busy a man, simply did for Mr.——
so far as I was concerned. Instead
of impressing me, it gave me time
to get used to the place, it gave
me time to look at Mr.—— when
he was not looking at me.
Then, having found the MS., he
looked at me and prepared to give
me his undivided attention.
'Well,' he said, with a long
breath, as if it was quite a relief to
see a new face, 'I am very glad you
have decided to close with our offer.
We confidently expect a great success with your book. We
shall have to change the title though. There's a good deal
in a title.'
I replied modestly that there was a good deal in a title.
'But,' I added, 'I have not closed with your offer—on the
contrary, I—— '
He looked up sharply, and he squinted worse than ever.
'Oh, I quite thought that you had definitely—— '
'Not at all,' I replied; then added a piece of information,
which could not by any chance have been new to
him. 'A hundred pounds is a lot of money, you know,'
Mr.—— looked at me in a meditative fashion. 'Well, if
you have not got the money,' he said rather contemptuously,
'we might make a slight reduction—say, if we brought it
down to 75l., solely because our readers have spoken so
highly of the story. Now look here, I will show you what
our reader says—which is a favour that we don't extend to
everyone, that I can tell you. Here it is!'
'THE TWINS'—BOOTLES AND BETTY
(From photographs by H. S. Mendelssohn)
Probably in the whole of his somewhat chequered career
as a publisher, Mr.—— never committed such a fatal mistake
as by handing me the report on my history (in detail) of that
very large family of boys and girls. 'Bright, crisp, racy,' it
ran. 'Very unequal in parts, wants a good deal of revision,
and should be entirely re-written. Would be better if the
story was brought to a conclusion when the heroine first
meets with the hero after the parting, as all the rest forms an
anti-climax. This might be worked up into a really popular
novel, especially as it is written very much in Miss—— 's
style' (naming a then popular authoress whose sole merit
consisted in being the most faithful imitator of the gifted
founder of a very pernicious school).
I put the sheet of paper down, feeling very sick and ill.
And the worst of it was, I knew that every word of it was
true. I was young and inexperienced then, and had not
nous enough to say plump out that my eyes had been opened,
and that I could see that I should be neither more nor less
than a fool if I wasted a single farthing over a story that must
be utterly worthless. So I prevaricated mildly, and said that
I certainly did not feel inclined to throw a hundred or even
seventy-five pounds away over a story without some certainty
of success. 'I'll think it over during the day,' I said,
rising from my chair.
'Oh, we must know within an hour, at the outside,' Mr.—— said very curtly. 'Our arrangements will not wait, and
the time is very short now for us to decide on our books for
September. Of course, if you have not got the money, we
might reduce a little more. We are always glad, if possible,
to meet our clients.'
'It's not that,' I replied, looking at him straight. 'I have
the money in my pocket; but a Yorkshire woman does not
put down a hundred pounds without some idea what is going
to be done with it.'
'You must let me have your answer within an hour,' Mr.—— remarked briefly.
'I will,' said I, in my most polite manner; 'but I really
must think out the fact that you are willing to knock off
twenty-five pounds at one blow. It seems to me if you
could afford to take that much off, and perhaps a little more,
there must have been something very odd about your original
'My time is precious,' said Mr.—— in a grumpy voice.
'Then, good morning,' said I cheerfully.
My hopes were all dashed to the ground again, but I felt
very cheerful, nevertheless. I trotted round to my friend,
Mr. Stevens, who gave a whistle of astonishment at my story.
'I'll send my head clerk round for your MS. at once,' he said,
'else you'll probably never see it again.'
And so he did, and so ended my next attempt to bring
out my first book.
After this I felt very keenly the real truth of the old
saying, 'Virtue is its
own reward.' For, not
long after my episode
with Mr.——, the then
editor of London Society
wrote to me, saying
that he thought
that as I had already
had several stories published
in the magazine,
it might make a very
attractive volume if I
could add a few more
and bring them out as
a collection of soldier
I did not hesitate
very long over this
offer, but set to work
with all the enthusiasm
of youth—and youth does have the advantage of being full
of the fire of enthusiasm, if of nothing else—and I turned out
enough new stories to make a very respectable volume.
Then followed the period of waiting to which all literary
folk must accustom themselves.
I was, however, always of a tolerably long-suffering disposition,
and possessed my soul in patience as well as I
could. The next thing I heard was that the book had very
good prospects, but that it would have its chances greatly
improved if it were in two volumes instead of being in only
Well, youth is generous, and I did not see the wisdom of
spoiling the ship for the traditional ha'porth of tar, so I
cheerfully set to work and evolved another volume of stories,
all of smart, long-legged soldiers, and with—as Heaven
knows—no more idea of setting myself up as possessing all
knowledge about soldiers and the Service than I had of
aspiring to the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Ireland. But, even then, I had need of a vast
amount of patience, for time went on, and really my book
seemed as far from publication as ever. Every now and
then I had a letter telling me that the arrangements were
nearly completed, and that it would probably be brought
out by Messrs. So-and-so. But days wore into weeks,
and weeks into months, until I really began to feel as if
my first literary babe was doomed to die before it was
Then arose a long haggle over terms, which I had thought
were settled, and to be on the same terms as the magazine
rates—no such wonderful scale after all. However, my
literary guide, philosopher, and friend thought, as he was
doing me the inestimable service of bringing me out, that 20l.
was an ample honorarium for myself; but I, being young and
poor, did not see things in the same light at all. Try as I
would—and I cannot lay claim to trying very hard—I could
not see why a man, who had never seen me, should have put
himself to so much trouble out of a spirit of pure philanthropy,
and a desire to help a struggling young author forward. So
I obstinately kept to my point, and said if I did not have 30l.,
I would rather have all of the stories back again. I think
nobody would credit to-day what that special bit of firmness
cost me. Still, I would cheerfully have died before I would
have given in, having once conceived my claim to be a just
one. A bad habit on the whole, and one that has since cost
me dear more than once.
Eventually, my guide and I came to terms for the sum
for which I had held out, namely, 30l., which was the price I
received for my very first book, in addition to about 8l. that
I had already had from
the magazine for serial
use of a few of the stories.
So, in due course,
my book, under the title
of 'Cavalry Life,' was
brought out in two great
cumbersome volumes by
Messrs. Chatto & Windus, and I was launched upon the world
as a full-blown author under the name of 'Winter.'
So many people have asked me why I took that name,
and how I came to think of it, that it will not, perhaps, be
amiss if I give the reason in this paper. It happened like
this. During our negotiations, my guide suggested that I
had better take some nom de guerre, as it would never do to
bring out such a book under a woman's name. 'Make it as
real-sounding and non-committing as you can,' he wrote, and
so, after much cogitation and cudgelling of my brains, I chose
the name of the hero of the only story of the series which was
written in the first person, and called myself J. S. Winter. I
believe that 'Cavalry Life' was published on the last day
Then followed the most trying time of all—that of waiting
to see what the Press would say of this, my first child, which
had been so long in coming to life, and had been chopped
and changed, bundled from pillar to post, until my heart was
almost worn out before ever it saw the light. Then, on
January 14, 1882, I went into the Subscription Library at
York, where I was living, and began to search the new
journals through, in but faint hopes, however, of seeing a
review of my book so soon as that; for I was quite alone in
the world, so far as literary matters went. Indeed, not one
friend did I possess who could in any way influence my
career, or obtain the slightest favour for me.
I remember that morning so well; it is, I think, printed
on my memory as the word 'Calais' was on the heart of Queen
Mary. It was a fine, cold morning, and there was a blazing
fire in the inner room, where the reviews were kept. I sat
down at the table, and took up the Saturday Review, never
dreaming for a moment that I should be honoured by so much
as a mention in a journal which I held in such awe and respect.
And as I turned over the leaves, my eyes fell on a row of
foot-notes at the bottom of the page, giving the names of the
books which were noticed above, and among them I saw—'Cavalry
Life, by J. S. Winter.'
For full ten minutes I sat there, feeling sick and more fit
to die than anything else. I was perfectly incapable of looking
at the notice above. But, at last, I plucked up courage to
meet my fate, very much as one summons up courage to have
a tooth out and get the horrid wrench over. Judge of my
surprise and joy when, on reading the notice, I found that the
Saturday had given me a rattling good notice, praising the
new author heartily and without stint. I shall never, as long
as I live, forget the effect of that, my first review, upon me.
For quite half an hour I sat without moving, only feeling,
'I shall never be able to keep it up. I shall never be able
to follow it up by another.' I felt paralysed, faint, crushed,
anything but elated and jubilant. And, at last, through some
instinct, I put my hand up to my head to find that it was
cold and wet, as if it had been dipped in the river. Thank
Heaven, from that day to this I have never known what a
cold sweat was. It was my first experience of such a thing,
and sincerely I hope it will be my last.
I TOOK UP THE 'SATURDAY REVIEW'