Here are three bonus chapters which chart the backstory of
Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton and which were too big to go into the book.
Lord Arthur’s story is every bit as interesting as those of Fanny and Stella’s, the scion of a noble and political family, tainted by madness and nymphomania! Read on…
Chapter One: My Sailor Son
Noble heart! upon the deep, no matter storm or fair,
My sailor-boy, all taut and trim, you’ll find at duty there;
If but to show that English hearts, no matter where they roam,
Can’t part with Duty, though sometimes they let Love wander home.
When comes the day, his latest word, I know, will be but one—
If he tumbles in the shotted-shroud, or falls before the gun !—
An all-enfolding, prayerful word, I know what it will be—
“Oh! give my love to England!” from the boy that went to sea.
‘Give my love to England’ by Frederick Enoch, The New Monthly Magazine, 1862
O sailor-boy, woe to thy dream of delight!
In darkness dissolves the gay frost-work of bliss.
Where now is the picture that Fancy touched bright, –
Thy parents’ fond pressure, and love’s honeyed kiss?
‘The Mariner’s Dream’ by William Dimond
10th May 1857: Mutiny in India. Murders, massacres and atrocities. Britannia is taken by surprise. Britannia is shocked and stunned. Britannia is slow to react. But better to be slow and to be sure. Britannia’s justice is assured.
Thursday, 6th August 1857: Calcutta. HMS Shannon drops anchor. She is a fine sight with a noble name and a noble lineage. At less than two years old she is the newest of the new. A sleek, strong, fast steam frigate, the largest steam frigate afloat. She is the future. She is a gunboat with 54 powerful cannon ready to exact a swift and terrible revenge on those who dare to challenge the might of Britannia.
Tuesday, 18th August 1857: Calcutta. HMS Shannon’s naval brigade led by the gallant Captain Sir William Peel prepares to march upon the mutineers. 430 men, 50 marines, 19 officers and one surgeon. The officers include Midshipman Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, aged 18. Midshipman Clinton has had an undistinguished and unremarkable naval career to date. He is a sailor neither by inclination nor by choice.
The mood on board is solemn. ‘We all know we shall be very lucky if we ever see the ship again,’ Midshipman Edmund Spencer Watson writes in his newly begun journal.
Confusion. The brigade embarks on the decrepit river steamer Chunar. Destination: the fort at Allahabad. The Chunar cannot depart because her engines have seized up. A day’s delay. Engines unseized by British naval stokers and the Chunar sets off up river. Officers sleep on deck. The Chunar runs aground in the mud. Brigade disembarks. Brigade re-embarks on the steamer River Bird. Much more modern. Much more comfortable. Officers sleep on sofas lining the perimeter of the glittering saloon.
17th September 1857: Lord Arthur Clinton is ill, again. ‘Clinton is regularly laid up,’ Midshipman Watson writes home to his Mamma. ‘But I hope he will soon be all right again.’
Man overboard; feared dead; but later found clinging to a sandbank. Much rejoicing. Man dies of fever. Another man dies of cholera. Four or five men with cholera hospitalised. More deaths from cholera and one death from dysentery.
‘The mosquitoes are something fearful,’ Midshipman Watson records, ‘and we are hardly able to get a wink of sleep all night.’ A dozen men with cholera. More deaths. More burials.
Confusion. Brigade disembarks. Brigade re-embarks. Brigade goes down river. Brigade returns upriver. Midshipman Clinton is in trouble over a botched message. ‘The Captain was in a great way with Clinton about this, but they made it up all right soon afterwards.’ Brigade embarking and disembarking, sailing up and sailing down river. No one has any idea of what is going on.
Men on parade. The National Anthem is played every morning. Divine Service on Sundays. ‘Tiffin’. Mess dinners. An unexpected and surprisingly good plum pudding. A refreshing swimming bath. General Sir Colin Campbell and great excitement. As yet, no actual enemy sightings.
22nd October 1857: Thursday. Ghazepoor. ‘Today Lieutenant Vaughan, and four officers (Lieutenant Sabraon, Daniels, Kerr and Clinton – the latter three midshipmen) left barracks and encamped outside the fort, close to the railway station, and tomorrow they are to start for Cawnpore with some of the 93rd Highlanders.’ They have to push, pull and drag four huge 24-pounders with them with which to bombard the mutineers.
Orders at last. A directing mind. A noose tightening. Britannia’s justice. Slowly but surely.
Confusion. Camps pitched and camps struck. Tents and supplies missing or mislaid. Too early or too late. Men sitting around in the sweltering sun with no tents. Not enough water to drink. ‘But with the application of a little bamboo on the backs of the niggers driving the elephants, upon which were our tents, we soon get them up to the camp.’
Action at last. Alarums and excursions. Ambushes and skirmishes. Woundings. Killings. Blood. Screams and screeches. Panic. Spies caught in camp. Shootings. A rebel Rajah hanged. His palace blown up by sappers. Lootings.
1st November 1857: A great victory at Kudjwa. Enemy force of 4000 routed. Many dead.
Marching. Marching. Marching. The gallant Captain Peel writes: ‘Since that battle was fought, with the exception of one day’s rest for the footsore men who had marched seventy-two miles in three days, besides fighting a severe engagement, we have made daily marches.’
The Great Plain of India: Dust and heat. ‘Dull, sultry heat.’ Mosquitoes. Plagues of white ants and ‘parrier dogs’. More marching. Endless marching. The Great Plain, everywhere crawling with soldiers like so many plagues of ants.
Cawnpore: ‘Remember Cawnpore! Remember Cawnpore!’ the officers shout. The cry is taken up by the men. ‘Remember Cawnpore!’ How could they forget? How could they be allowed to ever forget? Two hundred and six women and children – British women and children – butchered, literally, with knives and hatchets, and thrown down a well, dead or dying. It is rumoured that before the rebel sepoys are hung the British make them lick the blood stains off the walls and floors of the room in the Bibigarh where the massacre took place. ‘Remember Cawnpore!’
Christmas Eve, 1857: ‘This morning at six o’clock, we struck tents and set off again on the Great Trunk Road. The noise going on when you are woke up on the morning of a march is most confusing. What with tent pegs being knocked out, camels grunting out their most wretched dismal sounds, something between a rattle, a moan, and a grunt, elephants trumpeting, cavalry turning out and saddling, horses galloping about, bullocks being harnessed in the guns, and the shouts and yells of their drivers.’
March 1857: Lucknow. Clouds of dust and clouds of smoke from great guns. Dull boom of cannon from every direction. Glints of brass and silver in the sun. Dusty and dirty red and blue uniforms. Endless days and endless nights of fighting. ‘Clinton and I slept under a captured gun.’
Many British wounded. The gallant Captain Peel wounded. In great pain. Fever. Recovers. Many more mutineers wounded and dead. Many hangings and mass executions. Britannia takes no prisoners.
Midshipman Clinton lies broken and bleeding before the walls of the last redoubt of Lucknow. He is wounded – badly – while performing an act of conspicuous bravery. His life is hanging by a silken thread.
Britannia’s justice is assured.
Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton could not be described, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, as a man’s man. Hunting, shooting and fishing left him cold, as did games like cricket and rugby football, in which he had been forced to participate when he was a boy on the playing fields of Eton.
Lord Arthur – or Arty as he was called in the family – had been removed from Eton at the tender age of 14 and enrolled in Her Majesty’s Navy. Hundreds of boys entered the Navy as midshipmen every year. As the lowest rung of the ladder of rank, it was the recognised route for boys from the professional classes, from the landed gentry, and for a fortunate few from the lower classes to a career as an officer in the Navy. But it was a somewhat surprising choice for the third son of the powerful Duke of Newcastle. Younger sons from aristocratic families were usually enrolled in the relative comfort of the Royal Naval College in Plymouth for three years before setting foot on board a ship, where they were quickly promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
But Arty had no choice in the matter. It was his father’s wish and his father’s command. There was political manoeuvring behind the Duke’s decision to place Arty in the front line of the armed services. As Secretary of State of War and as a potential Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle was determined that his family should be seen to bear part of the military brunt of the Crimean War.
But that was not all. Privately, the Duke was anxious that his children might inherit the ‘madness’ – that was all he would call it (though others were not so reticent) – of their mother, Lady Susan Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Hamilton, and grand-daughter to that strange votary of luxury, vice and dissipation, William Beckford.
At the time of the marriage of Lord Lincoln (as he was then styled, before he inherited the ducal coronet from his iron-willed father) and Lady Susan Hamilton, his friend and fellow politician, William Ewart Gladstone, had called Susan – or Suzie – ‘a creature of ethereal grace and of a thousand gifts’. But it did not take long before other, less complimentary, opinions started to be bandied around. Suzie was ‘pretty, giddy, coquettish and greedy of admiration,’ Lord Lincoln’s father declared. After less than two years, it was clear that the marriage was in serious trouble. Suzie was referred to as ‘this bad woman of bad blood’, as ‘vicious, deceitful and heartless’.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Lady Susan could not keep her legs together. She was an ardent and enthusiastic erotomane, a species of nymphomaniac who seemed incapable of abstaining from illicit sexual liaisons with men. Of the affairs Lord Lincoln knew about, she had, thank God, kept to her own class, though that was a dubious consolation, given that one of Lady Susan’s intrigues was with Lord Lincoln’s own brother, Lord William Pelham-Clinton.
For her part, Suzie complained constantly and bitterly to her mother and father that she had an absolute revulsion for her husband, and for the incessant sexual demands he placed upon her. Suzie became ill with a form of mania. At her best, she was in an ‘excited state’, craving attention, activity, diversion, entertainment. At her worst, she suffered from ‘spasms, faintings and fits’ and was prone to bouts of hysteria and prolonged periods of physical and mental paralysis, even blindness. ‘She subsists,’ Lord Lincoln’s father confided to his diary in 1841, the year after Arty’s birth, ‘on laudanum & other stimulants & sedatives.’
In 1848, when Arty was eight, Suzie eloped to Italy with Lord Horatio Walpole, a notorious wife-beater and rake. It was not long before news leaked back to London: Suzie was pregnant with Walpole’s child. Lincoln was distraught, and Gladstone offered to go to Italy to try and persuade Suzie to separate from Lord Walpole and return to London.
That the marriage was over was clear to all. Though Lincoln had forgiven Suzie’s indiscretions in the past, he could not, would not accept her back carrying another man’s child. But it was essential that scandal be avoided at all costs. If Gladstone could persuade Suzie to return to England and consent to live in quiet and respectable retirement, then a separation might be effected and a scandal ruinous to Lincoln’s political aspirations avoided. But if Suzie refused, if she was unpersuadable, then Gladstone would, in any event, have gathered damning first-hand evidence of Suzie’s flagrant infidelity. If it came to divorce, then at least Lincoln would emerge as the innocent, injured party.
It was no wonder, then, that Lord Lincoln, by now the fifth Duke of Newcastle – ‘the Unfortunate Duke’, Gladstone called him – was at some pains to root out any and all signs of the vicious Beckford inheritance in his five children. Whatever it was that had so infected Suzie, whatever madness or fever or plague or contagion she had contracted must not be allowed to taint their lives. Whatever it was had to be got rid of: beaten out of them; blown away by freezing winds and drowned dead by icy baths; by discipline, by duty, by obedience. Their bodies no less than their minds must be tempered, harrowed and hardened.
Arty was of particular concern. He was a favourite of his mother’s: a weak, sickly child, and he had already begun to exhibit – or so it seemed to his father – some worrying and dangerous traits. There was rather too much of his mother in him: he was highly-strung, artistic, and not at all interested in the standard pursuits and pastimes of boys. Underpinning this anxiety, underlying this uneasiness, was the unspoken fear that Arty was effeminate, that he might in some measure have inherited the whispered sodomitic traits of his great-grandfather, William Beckford, who had been forced to flee abroad after a visitor to Powderham Castle in 1784 had heard some ‘strange goings on’ and walked in to discover Beckford in bed with sixteen-year-old William ‘Kitty’ Courtenay, later the Earl of Devon.
Eton was the answer. Eton was the cure. The Duke had been an Eton scholar himself. Indeed, it was where he had formed the great and enduring friendship of his life with William Ewart Gladstone. In the lesson rooms of Eton, no less than on its playing fields, in the atmosphere of manly camaraderie and of discipline regulated and enforced by floggings, Arty would be removed from Suzie’s pernicious influence and become strong and healthy, a true boy and a true son.
Eton appeared to have the desired effect, at least to begin with. Arty was ‘greatly improved’, Sidney Herbert, a friend of the Duke’s, observed after the boy had spent the Christmas holidays with the Herberts in 1850:
Arty has become quite manly from his schooling and the rubbing up with the boys has done him all the good in the world. He is a most affectionate little fellow.
But Eton was not enough, nowhere near enough. The Duke was still uneasy, an uneasiness perhaps exacerbated by the presence at Eton of William Johnson, a brilliant scholar, an inspiring teacher and a dedicated pederast. In any case, the Duke could hardly be unaware of the unsavoury reputation that Eton and the other great public schools possessed for ‘immorality’, as it was invariably referred to, between boys. He had been a boy at Eton and must have seen for himself what went on.
Perhaps Arty had not become ‘quite manly’ enough at Eton. Perhaps his ‘rubbing up with the boys’ was not quite right, not quite proper, not quite the thing. Perhaps, in the years that had intervened since Sidney Herbert described him as ‘a most affectionate little fellow’, Arty had developed and broadened his affections. Perhaps now, at the age of 13, Arty had become too ‘affectionate’ towards the other boys.
John Addington Symonds – ‘Mr John Soddington Symonds’, as Swinburne called him – who was born in the same year as Arty and who went to Harrow described how he was ‘filled with disgust and loathing’ at the appalling ‘moral state’ of his school:
Every boy of good looks had a female name, and was recognised either as a public prostitute or as some bigger fellow’s ‘bitch’. Bitch was the word in common usage to indicate a boy who yielded his person to a lover. The talk in the dormitories and studies was incredibly obscene. Here and there one could not avoid seeing acts of onanism, mutual masturbation, the sports of naked boys in bed together. There was no refinement, no sentiment, no passion; nothing but lust in these occurrences.
Symonds recalled two boys in particular whose behaviour he found disgusting:
Barber annoyed me and amused me. He was like a good-natured longimanous ape, gibbering on his perch and playing ostentatiously with a prodigiously developed phallus … Cookson was a red-faced strumpet, with flabby cheeks and sensual mouth – the notissima fossa, the most infamous trench, of our house.
A similar situation prevailed at Winchester. Sex between boys there was rife. The school was ‘a sink of iniquity’, Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover recalled. ‘I remember thinking that my parents must be quite mad to send me to such an awful place.’ Boys who did not have sex with other boys were the exception rather than the rule. Douglas estimated that ‘at least ninety per cent’ of his contemporaries at Winchester had had sex with other boys:
The practice of Greek love is so general that that it is only those who are physically unattractive that are reduced to living without love.
Trelawny Backhouse, a near contemporary of Bosie Douglas’s at Winchester, was even franker:
Six years at Winchester College were little other than a carnival of unbridled lust … I do not vouch for the statistics but fancy that between 1886 and 1892 I enjoyed carnal intimacy with at least thirty (perhaps more) boys.
In his Recollections of a Mary-Ann, the notorious male prostitute or ‘Mary-Ann’, Jack Saul had recounted how he had been multiply sodomised on his first night at the boarding school he had been sent to. And he included the testimony of his friend and fellow Mary-Ann, one Fred Jones, formerly a soldier in the Foot Guards. ‘Young fellows are quite as much after us as older men,’ Fred had told him. ‘I have often been fucked by young gentlemen of sixteen or seventeen, and at Windsor lots of the Eton boys were after us.’
Like many of his contemporaries, the Duke of Newcastle may have considered immorality between boys at the great public schools as a necessary evil; as something more akin to a rite of passage than a sin; part of an unbroken, unspoken tradition stretching back centuries; a Spartan bonding between boys of the ruling class, the future builders and warriors of empire. If it inflicted no visible harm, if it did no discernable damage, then it was perhaps best overlooked, best passed over in silence, buried among the hallowed traditions of the great schools.
Much depended on the type, and the extent, of the immorality practised between boys. Mutual masturbation, if detected, was a misdemeanour and was usually punished by a beating. But sodomy, or any attempt at sodomy, was usually a matter for expulsion.
For many, the strange convolutions of Victorian logic dictated that it was not so much the act of immorality between boys, but rather the intentions and origins that lay behind such an act, that were the real cause for concern. Boys would always be boys and in the intense, crowded and sequestered dormitories of boarding schools they would need to find outlet, discharge, for their precocious sexual energies. Immorality between boys when it was for the purposes of evacuation was regrettable, reprehensible even, but only, perhaps, to be expected. But immorality between boys that was an expression of affection, or worse, of love, was clearly wrong, clearly perverted. And even worse, almost unthinkable, was immorality between boys where a boy in some way became a girl; where a boy became effeminate; where he took on the manners and the mindset of a girl, and where, most terribly, he took the sexual role of a girl. That was unnatural. That was anathema.
A boy might be, in John Addington Symonds’s words, ‘some bigger fellow’s “bitch”’, and yet still remain a boy, still retain and enjoy all the privileges and immunities of his peers. But let that boy for a moment deviate from his boyishness, let him assume or exhibit or otherwise manifest the least hint or trace of effeminacy, of the pathic, or passive sodomite, then may God help him.
The Duke’s deep disquiet over Arty’s effeminacy may have made him pause for thought, may have made him think that Arty’s manliness needed to be annealed in an even more robust male arena. Arty would be enrolled in the Navy and in the harshness and the rigours of a life at sea would find his manhood. Just as Mr Midshipman Easy, in Captain Marryat’s famous novel of the same name, finds his true, his noble and his real self in the common weal of the Royal Navy, so Arty’s sickly masculinity would be strengthened, healed, and made whole.
Out of the frying pan into the fire. The Duke of Newcastle little realised, perhaps, that quite apart from the very considerable risks of tempest, storm and shipwreck, of battles at sea and on land, of accident, injury and woundings, life as a young midshipman carried a series of erotic risks which, had he been aware of them, might have given His Grace pause for very considerable thought.
Sodomy stalked the high seas, and the annals of the Royal Navy are littered with records of courts martial, floggings and other punishments for sodomy and the lesser crime of ‘uncleanness’, which meant any sexual contact between men falling short of sodomy. Though much of the sex between men, between men and boys, and between boys and boys was consensual and clandestine, passing unnoticed in the dimly-lit, cramped and fetid living quarters below deck, much of it was far from consensual, and involved rape, seduction, coercion and the weight of rank. Boys were especially vulnerable. Boys were everywhere on board ship: as cabin boys and servants; as apprentice Jack Tars ‘learning the ropes’; as powder monkeys and dogsbodies; and as midshipmen. With 300 ships, and sixty thousand sailors, there were some 10,000 boys serving in the Navy, most of them at the mercy of older sailors and marines, or officers who had the power to inflict almost unimaginable punishments if they refused to comply.
Young midshipmen were often caught in compromising positions with their fellows. In 1822, Private Marine William Osborne was accused of seducing William Webber, aged 14, on board HMS Shamrock. The pair were discovered in an empty cabin in the morning ‘in a very indecent and unclean attitude’, though there was no evidence of sodomy. The Court Martial sentenced ‘the said William Osborne to receive fifty Lashes on his bare back with a cat o’nine tails and the said William Webber to receive thirty six Lashes in the usual way of punishing boys’.
Some ships of the Royal Navy held dubious reputations for sodomy. HMS Africaine was widely considered to be ‘a man-fucking ship’, a reputation which the ship lived up to spectacularly in 1815 when no fewer than 23 of the ship’s complement were accused of buggery. Midshipman Christopher Beauchamp and Midshipman James Bruce were court-martialled on the evidence of Emmanuel Cross, a sailor from the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo, and Frank Jean, the ship’s cook. Emmanuel Cross deposed that he had seen Beauchamp and Bruce entering the roundhouse together and then watched Bruce ‘come out buttoning his trousers’. Frank Jean testified that he saw the two men in the act of sodomy but could not swear that he had witnessed penetration.
Emmanuel Cross was also the main witness against another officer, William Crutchly, who was charged with buggery and uncleanness with a boy, George Parsons. ‘I saw the prisoner Crutchly put his yard into the orifice of the boy Parsons,’ Cross said. ‘I saw the boy’s hand go up and down on Crutchly’s yard, doing what is called frigging, until an emission took place.’ Beauchamp and Bruce were cleared of buggery but found guilty of ‘uncleanness’, as was Crutchly, and all three were stripped of their uniforms and sentenced to two years’ solitary confinement in prison.
On the last day of December 1837, Midshipman Frederick Rose and four other young midshipmen aboard HMS Pembroke agreed on a desperate course of action to try to put a stop to sexual harrassment by senior officers. Four of them signed a short letter addressed to Commander John Aldrich:
Mr Robert D’Arcy having mentioned yesterday that some of the gentlemen were in the habit of taking indecent liberties with him, we deem it our duty to inform you of it.
Robert D’Arcy was a midshipman. Examined by the Pembroke’s captain, D’Arcy said that ‘several’ of the ship’s gentlemen – by which he meant officers – had taken indecent liberties with him but he was only prepared to put forward one name: that of Lieutenant Richard Morgan. Though he later withdrew his accusation, the damage was done and after much huffing and puffing, Morgan eventually appeared before a court martial.
If D’Arcy was the victim of ‘indecent liberties’, then the five other midshipmen aboard the Pembroke were almost certainly fellow victims. D’Arcy had claimed that ‘several’ gentlemen had taken indecent liberties with him and, by a clear chain of implication, with the other five midshipmen on board the Pembroke. Like the Africaine, the Pembroke was clearly ‘a man-fucking ship’ where sexual assaults on ship’s boys and middies were part and parcel of life onboard. It was D’Arcy who had drawn the short straw; D’Arcy who had named one officer and implicated several others; D’Arcy who had risked his reputation and career to try and bring an end to the culture of sexual abuse on the Pembroke.
Indecency and uncleanness between boys was so common in the Navy that ships’ captains were more often than not forced to take a pragmatic approach. If there was no abuse of rank, no coercion or no seduction, and no evidence of sodomy, then the offending boys would be let off with a flogging. On HMS Ajax, in 1854, the year that Arty joined the Royal Navy, eight boys were flogged, a total of 216 lashes, for ‘theft or indecency’. The same pattern was repeated across the Navy’s considerable fleet. Many, if not most ships punished boys with floggings for indecency or for ‘being dirty’.
Ships’ boys and middies seemed to have excited a degree of sexual excitement in their own right. Jack Saul claims that he was dressed up as a midshipman by Lord Arthur Clinton and taken to a garden party given in honour of the Prince of Wales, where he attracted a great deal of attention because of his uniform. In a raid on brothels and bawdy houses in Devonport in 1868, Inspector Silas Anniss of the Metropolitan Police found ‘seven or eight notorious houses, specially the resort of boys and girls, 12 to 17 devoted to the provision of boys and girls’, one of which specialised in ‘sailor boys’.
In the saucy story, ‘How He Lost His Whiskers’, published in the Pearl in 1880, the hero Steve Broad is travelling in a first-class railway carriage and is in a state of strong sexual arousal:
He got in a most furious state not knowing how to ease his torment, only wishing that he had a companion on the journey, whether male or female he would have heeded not.
The train stops and a young woman – Kate – gets into the carriage. As the journey continues, Kate takes Steve into her confidence. She is running away from home, she tells him, because her family are trying to force her to marry an ‘odious old lawyer’. Terrified of pursuit and capture, Kate has a plan:
‘I have brought a disguise, and now, help me on with it, quick,’ she instructs Steve. ‘You shall be my lady’s maid.’
‘Stooping as she spoke she undid the bundle at her feet and quick as her nimble fingers could move and with Steve’s assistance, she was soon dressed as a middy. Her light hair was tucked cleverly up, a short crisp wig assumed. Her cap stuck jauntily on her head. She looked as smart and trim a middy as ever saluted the quarter-deck.’
‘This is quite an adventure,’ Steve exclaims, ‘and I tell you, it is a long way to the next station, and as it has been one of the great ambitions of my life to fuck a midshipman this is too good an opportunity to let it pass.’
‘Kate offered no resistance and as the train sped on they abandoned themselves to all that their impassioned natures could suggest.’
The War Office, Pall Mall, London, 25th May 1858: The Duke of Newcastle experiences an almost overwhelming mixture of pride and relief as he reads the citation in the London Gazette. ‘Lord Arthur Clinton for having behaved admirably at the capture of Lucknow and recommended by Captain Sir William Peel as being a very promising young officer.’
Arty. ‘A very promising young officer.’ The Duke savours the words. He could not have asked for more. He knows now that he was right to do what he had done. Any qualms, any scruples he might have fleetingly felt are swept away by an overwhelming sense of pride in Arty’s achievement as a soldier and as a man. Blood and guts. Arty had both. Bloodied but not bowed in battle. Mentioned in despatches, and awarded not one, but two gold clasps in recognition of his courage. ‘My sailor son,’ the Duke proudly calls him now. ‘My sailor son.’
Of course, as a father, he is mightily worried, despairing even, when the news reaches him, weeks after the event, that Arty had been badly wounded. Even the Secretary of State of War cannot speed the excruciatingly slow mail between London and Calcutta. ‘I only heard an abridged sketch of poor Arthur’s state from you,’ Mrs Caroline Norton, the Duke’s confidante (some say his mistress), writes in early May 1858. ‘Since then I have talked to Ferdinand Seymour who is returned from India and spoke most warmly in praise of him. I trust this mail has brought comfortable news of the fair boy who is serving his country so well and that you feel easier about him.’
The Duke does indeed feel easier about his fair boy. He is in the best of hands, staying with Charles Canning, the Governor-General of India. ‘My dear Newcastle,’ Canning writes from Allahabad on May Day:
I can give you conscientiously the best report of Arthur. He arrived very weak and thin, but the improvement, especially in strength, has been visible day by day; and although he has still little enough flesh upon him, there is no appearance whatever of lassitude, and Dr Leckie pronounces him quite fit to move down to Calcutta in time for the steamer which will leave about the 18th of May. It has been a great pleasure to me to have him here, especially as his progress in health and strength was so entirely what I wished to be able to report to you.
Arty was well. Arty was coming home to England, to Clumber. Arty was coming home a hero. Arty had been tested and tried and tempered. And when the time came, Arty had not been found wanting in the manly or warrior virtues. He had been ready to pay the ultimate price, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country and for honour and for duty. But a merciful God had spared him.
The Duke knew that as a father he, too, had been tried and tested. And he hoped that he, too, had not been found wanting. He had been prepared to pay the ultimate price, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save his beloved son – his truly beloved son – from a shameful fate worse than a thousand deaths, from the terrible sin of sodomy.
Chapter Two: Heirs and Graces
Arty had begun to worry the Duke. He seemed to be losing interest in the Navy, spending more time on shore leave than he did on board ship. Of course, he had almost died from the wounds he had received at Lucknow and was prone to bouts of fever and weakness. His strength had been sapped, and after every bout of fever, he needed weeks, and sometimes months, to recuperate. Against the Duke’s wishes and advice, Arty had taken himself off to Paris in 1861 for the wedding of his older brother, Lord Lincoln – or Linky as he was called – to the heiress, Henrietta Hope.
After the rigours of a life at sea and the almost unimaginable horrors of the long campaign to quell the Indian Rebellion, Paris was the most congenial place on earth to Arty. It was agreeable. It was easy. Besides, the people he loved most in the world were all in Paris. His beloved Mamma, Suzie (now just plain Mrs Opdebeck) was there; Linky and his new bride were there; and his sister, Lady Susan, was there together with her drunken and insane – but generally charming – husband, Lord Adolphus Vane-Tempest, universally known as Dolly.
As an English milord, Lord Arthur Clinton was welcomed like a prodigal son into the first ranks of Parisian society, which glittered and shone around the court of Napoleon and Eugénie. Everything here seemed so much livelier, so much more joyous than the stuffy levees and stiff, grim balls he had attended in London filled with red-faced gentlemen and over-stuffed and over-bejewelled lard-faced ladies, or the suffocatingly dreary family parties he had endured at Clumber and elsewhere. In Paris, he was invited everywhere. Indeed, there was hardly an evening that he could call his own.
Paris was more congenial in others ways too. ‘There are such facilities for every kind of excess,’ was the verdict of his uncle, Lord Charles Pelham-Clinton, on Paris. Arty had to agree. With Dolly as his experienced guide, he was discovering the myriad delights of Paris by day and by night. Dolly had taken him in hand, as it were, and within a very short space of time, there was very little that Arty did not know about the fabled City of Light and its darker, secret recesses.
Paris was a revelation. Whatever Arty had known or not known about forbidden love; whatever fumbling attempts at sex he had made or thought about making; whatever yearnings, infatuations, obsessions he had had; whatever overwhelming feelings of lust and love he had experienced for sticky-bottomed schoolboys, for his fellow midshipmen, for soldiers or for sailors and for the endless, swirling parade of men and boys, Paris was a revelation, Paris was an education. A sentimental and a sensual education.
Paris was the erotic heart of Europe: bigger, bolder, richer, more brilliant and more sexually intense than any other city on earth. Ever since Napoleon had repealed the repressive laws against sodomy in 1810, sex between men had thrived. Though male prostitution was still illegal, and there was a battery of laws against any and all forms of public indecency, Paris was still a veritable and fabled oasis for men who wanted to have sex with other men. They came from many nations and most especially from Britain. Stella had visited Paris to perform in drag in the late 1868, to much acclaim. Just before her arrest and trial in 1870, she and Louis Hurt had planned a romantic sojourn in the city before undergoing the ordeal of staying with Louis’s formidable and forbidding Mamma in Boulogne.
There were rich pickings to be had by day and by night in Paris. Male prostitutes of all ages and of all types could be met with everywhere. They thronged the Palais-Royal, prompting loud complaints from the local shopkeepers ‘about the pederasts who abound there and drive away the respectable people’. There were dozens of male brothels, from the grand and exclusive establishments of the boulevards, to the lowest of low dives. Some male prostitutes had become rich and famous, almost as rich and famous as the great courtesans like Cora Pearl. ‘André’ was one of Paris’s most successful whores and, according to Edmond de Goncourt, could earn as much as 1,800 francs in the course of a week. (Cora Pearl could earn 5,000 francs a night and a skilled craftsman might reasonably hope to take home three francs a day.)
By day, men could wander through the Bois de Boulogne and find an almost endless supply of boys and men. By night there was the famous Pont de l’Europe where men would loiter and saunter in search of willing partners. And the lavatories – or les tasses as Paris’s pédés, or sodomites, called them – in the market at Les Halles were legendary, a meeting place for men from every quartier of Paris. Hundreds came there every night looking for sexual adventure. By the 1860s, the city authorities felt that things had gone far enough. It was time for the police to crack down on this open sewer of sodomy. Every night, for weeks on end, they watched and waited. Hundreds and hundreds of men were arrested, but still they came. ‘The arrests began every evening at nine o’clock and carried on until midnight. But at midnight, there were still as many pédés in the market as there had been at nine o’clock. It seemed impossible ever to rid the market of this filth. Nothing made the slightest bit of difference. The next day, everyone who hadn’t been arrested the night before came back with new recruits, and the crowd was as big as ever.’
Some of those arrested were angry and defiant, including a young café waiter. He was charged with outraging public decency, but in court he complained vociferously that the police had broken his arm when they dragged him away. His arrest and trial was, he said, ‘an assault on his liberty’ and he angrily refused either to apologise or to plead guilty. He was the victim of ‘injustice’, he said, an ‘honest boy’ forced to run the risk of arrest simply because he preferred to have sex with men.
There were any number of other places – nameless squares, out-of-the-way pissoirs and quais – where men could pick up other men under cover of darkness. There were bathhouses, bars, hotels, and restaurants which were known as the haunts of sodomites, and which were frequently owned and run by sodomites. And there were riotous public and private parties and balls where men dressed as women and women dressed as men.
Inspector Félix Carlier was the man in charge of the Parisian Vice Squad between 1860 and 1870. Inspector Carlier was a man obsessed by the ’anti-physical passions’, as he termed sex between men. Carlier was convinced that sex between men was a form of criminal contagion. It not only provoked an epidemic of blackmail, but it also led to a variety of other criminal complications from swindling and petty theft to robbery and murder. Between 1860 and 1870, Inspector Carlier compiled a list of 6,342 sodomites in Paris who had come to the attention of the police: 2,049 Parisians, 3,709 provincials, and 484 foreigners – among whom Lord Arthur Clinton might conceivably have been numbered. These were the tip of the sodomitic iceberg. Just under half of them – 2,790 to be precise – were prosecuted, the majority for offences against public order and against public decency, though a few were charged with the more serious crimes of blackmail, extortion and, on rare occasions, murder. But just over half – 3,552 men – could not be charged with any crime at all, much to the fury of Inspector Carlier, who spent his retirement writing about the evils of male prostitution in his book Etudes de Pathologie Sociale and campaigning for France to follow Germany and criminalise any and all sexual acts between men.
Beyond the obsessive statistics and the frequent, rabid diatribes against the evils of the ‘anti-physical passions’, a compelling portrait of sodomitical Paris in the 1860s emerges from Carlier’s writings. It was a strange and paradoxical world: a clandestine world that was an open secret: a porous and penetrable world which was nowhere and yet everywhere: a transient, shifting and yet strangely eternal world: a fairy kingdom of glimpses and glances and sudden brilliant illuminations that vanished with the morning mist.
It was a world with its own laws, its own customs and its own traditions, an extraordinary and joyous world – a world of balls, banquets and wedding-parties – if its most prominent and its most visible citizens, the larger-than-life tantes, or queens, were anything to go by. Les tantes were unashamedly effeminate. They walked, they talked and they carried themselves like women. They have ‘a strange and revolting physiognomy’ particular and peculiar to themselves, Professor Ambroise Tardieu declared in 1857, after studying hundreds of tantes arrested by the police. ‘They curl their hair, wear make-up, have tight, nipped-in wasp waists. Their fingers, ears and breast are dripping with jewellery and they reek of strong perfume, to cover-up their revolting lack of cleanliness.’
‘Is this really a man?’ demanded Professor Tardieu rhetorically before launching into a graphic description of one of Paris’s most notorious tantes, La Reine d’Angleterre, the Queen of England:
His hair, piled in the middle of his head, falls in curls onto his chest like those of a young coquettish girl. His neck is covered by a simple cravat a la Colin and the collar of his shirt opened to its widest extent on his shoulder. With his large, lemur eyes and his heart-shaped mouth, he dances about on his hips like a Spanish dancer. When he was arrested he had in his pocket a pot of vermillion. He puts his hands together in a hypocritical fashion and gives simpering looks which would be laughable if they were not so revolting.
Les tantes were one of the great sights of Paris. They were half-whore and half grande dame. Sometimes – quite often in fact – they went all the way and dressed themselves like women, especially at the time of the Carnival. Some of les tantes were famous for their beauty, others for their wit. They thronged the theatres and the music halls. They sauntered along the fashionable boulevards looking for all the world as if they owned them. And woe betide those rude boys, working men and curious maidservants who dared to giggle or to mock as they passed by. Les tantes would retort with a withering volley of abuse and were not averse to fisticuffs if the occasion called for it.
Many, if not most, earned their living from prostitution. A few were rich enough not to have to rely on whoring, and some had made enough money during their gilded youth to buy themselves a comfortable little bar or a café where Paris’s sodomites could meet and mingle.
According to tradition each tante was ‘baptized’ by an extravagantly inventive maiden name. Arthur W–– was a tante born in 1839, the year before Arty’s birth. At a party of assorted tantes, tribades and mignons, he found himself being formally baptized:
As we drank our champagne, La Belle Anglaise lifted her glass, stood up, and announced, ‘On behalf of all these young ladies, as well as our dear sisters, who are assembled here, I, Auguste D––, known as La Belle Anglaise, now baptize Arthur W –– the “Countess”.’ Then she sprinkled me with a few drops of Cliquot.
At first, the newly-ennobled Countess thought it was a joke. But it was in deadly earnest:
Everyone present at this ridiculous ceremony had stood up and watched it with absolute seriousness and a real sense of gravity. For the tribades and mignons who were there this was a well-known and powerful act. As for me, I thought that it was just a joke, but when D ––, taking his seat again, added, ‘My lovely, I’ve dubbed you the Countess, and I swear that this name will remove all traces of your real one’, he was only too accurate.
Apart from the Countess, La Reine d’Angleterre, and La Belle Anglaise, there were tantes who rejoiced in the names of Louise La Misere, La Salope, La Princesse Salomé, La Femme Colosse, Mademoiselle La Fanchonette, La Poudre de Riz, La Champ-plume and L’Homme Battu, so named because her ‘jésus’, or pimp, used to beat her regularly.
Sometimes les tantes went through elaborate wedding ceremonies in drag. La Princess Salomé was middle-aged and extremely rich. She had fallen for the very considerable charms of a much younger – and a much poorer man – known as ‘Y’. La Princess Salomé laid siege to his affections and ‘finally, after a long period of resistance, ‘Y’ succumbed’. Their marriage was the occasion for a brilliant party, as a gossipy letter from one tante to another recounts:
My Chere Bichette,
Everything you say you’ve heard about the party on Saturday is over-exaggerated; the invitation list was very restrained. There were only sixteen of us; all close friends, no strangers. It was more a family party than a soirée dansante – though we did dance until two in the morning, after which we were served with an exquisite supper. But I should have started by telling you the reason for this get-together.
You know that the Princess Salomé has been pursuing ‘Y’ for a long time now without success. But finally, after mature reflection, ‘Y’ has consented. They are together now, and it was about time, as the Princess was going mad! It was to celebrate their marriage that we got together on Saturday.
‘Y’ was wearing a magnificent white dress made of antique moiré silk, decorated with natural camellias. Over his long black hair he wore a long veil with embroidery d’Angleterre, with a crown of orange blossom fixed by a diamond aigrette. Round his neck he had a superb necklace of fine pearls with a diamond clasp; on his left hand, a wedding ring; an enormous solitaire on his right; she looked good enough to eat – and could have woken the dead.
By the end of 1861 Arty was ensconced in Paris and already getting up to mischief. Arty had been ‘very, very foolish’, one of his friends wrote, though scrupulously avoiding going into detail. ‘Beyond all doubt, very, very foolish’. Arty’s friend may have been referring to his exploration of Paris’s sodomitic underworld or to his mounting debts – or both. He was already in debt to the tune of £15,000, though the true extent was probably more, much more, than he cared to admit.
Arty had come to Paris to find sex, perhaps even love. But rather more importantly, he found himself. His true self. He found that his attraction to other men was a matter of the mind, as well as the body. That his emotions were as important as his instincts. That lust and love were in some way linked, part of a continuum that ran through his sexual and emotional self.
Arty found something in Paris that he had never before dreamed existed. An identity. A community. A community, it was true, of whores; of tantes and tribades; of soldiers and sailors and shop boys; aristocrats and artisans; assorted misfits, criminals and lunatics.
Arty had found a way of life. It was a way of life, if was true, that was flawed, dangerous and degenerate, a way of life that risked censure, ridicule and persecution. But it was a way of living that Arty could slip into, seemingly without effort. It was joyous, funny, and theatrical – on and off stage. There were parties and receptions and intimate soirées. He made friends and he fell in and out of love. By day and by night he hunted for men anonymously in Paris’s endless sodomitic jungles. He could breathe more easily in Paris than in his tightly buttoned-up naval uniform, or bottled up in Clumber. He was free. And there was no one to judge him, no one to remind him of the suffocating burden of family, of the weight of duty. Only his Mamma, his dearest and sweetest Mamma, who never breathed so much as a harsh word, who loved him so dearly, who understood his needs so perfectly.
Paris had transformed Arty from a rather shy and unhappy young naval officer into a sophisticated and brilliant social butterfly. Even Linky, who knew him best of all after his Mamma, was dazzled by the transformation. Arty was, he wrote in a heavily-underlined, exclamatory letter to Dolly, living in some splendour in Versailles, writing on ‘mauve-scented paper with his initials in red & a coronet in gold and running up a bill of 130 francs to a coiffeur!!!’
Chapter 3: A Bigger Fish
Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton could not be described as handsome in any conventional sense. He was of the middle height, slightly built, and inclined to stoop. He wore a small, neat moustache and long side whiskers. The top of his head was already as bald as an egg, a fact he cleverly disguised by combing over the hair from one side of his head to the other and plastering it down with plenty of Rowland’s Macassar Oil, a remarkable product guaranteed to ‘nourish and preserve the hair, and make it grow thickly on all bald patches’.
Lord Arthur seemed older and wiser than his years. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and his lips were full and red, making a strange and not unpleasing contrast with the pallor of his complexion. His manners were perfect, and his long years in the Royal Navy mixing with every conceivable class of person meant that he was at ease with most people and could make himself very agreeable when he chose. There was a frailty, a fragility, about him. He exuded a charming languor, tinged with an air of sadness and sensuality, which was peculiarly attractive.
Before the fall, ‘distinguished’ was the word most often applied to Lord Arthur for want of any better, any more precise or any more flattering description. It was true. As a younger son of the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Arthur was distinguished. He had that indefinable aura of aristocratic gentility, a quality to which so many aspired and which so few attained. He was undeniably the genuine article. He was perfectly and expensively born and perfectly and expensively bred, with an impeccable ducal lineage on both sides. He was perfectly and expensively educated, perfectly and expensively suited, shirted and shod by the best tailors, shirtmakers and shoemakers in London and Paris, and he had perfect and expensively acquired manners, honed and polished and refined in the choicest society. To all intents and purposes, Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton was that rarest of rare beasts: a perfect gentleman.
But it took a great deal of money to be a perfect gentleman. Most of the tailors and shirtmakers and shoemakers on both sides of the Channel had begun to despair of ever getting paid for their shirts and suits and shoes, and were beginning to get restless. The Unfortunate Duke had kept all his children on a tight leash when it came to money. Arty’s allowance was meagre, and his Navy pay paid served as little more than pocket money. His Mamma had some money of her own, only just enough to keep herself and her husband, and nothing like enough to keep Arty and all her other children free of debt.
Arty had already been to Messrs Dicker and Yates – moneylenders to indigent aristocrats and a great many others besides – and borrowed significant sums against his expectations. He had put his name to so many bills, deeds, promissory notes and other complicated and convoluted financial sleights of hand that he hardly knew whether he was coming or going. The best that he could say was that he was managing to keep his creditors at bay; the worst was that the day of reckoning was inexorably drawing near. Sooner or later – and he feared sooner – the precarious financial house he had built would come crashing down around his ears.
But Arty was sanguine. Arty was optimistic. In that first year in Paris he had formulated a plan, and he was determined to put it into action. He had been inspired by the coup de théâtre engineered by his older brother, Linky, who had managed to turn debts of £230,000 into assets running, literally, into millions of pounds in cash and in land by the simple expedient of marrying Miss Henrietta Hope, an heiress who had been born out of wedlock and who, though subsequently legitimated by the marriage of her parents seven years later, was still looked down upon, still sneered at, still regarded as beyond the social pale. Though Linky claimed that it was a love-match, others had their doubts. The marriage was ‘much talked of in England, & not pleasantly’, Lady Londonderry observed acidly to her son, Dolly Vane-Tempest, ‘as it is known that illegitimacy & gambling debts made the fond for the barter of Wealth and Rank, & and it is thought the young Lady has been sold for a ducal coronet’.
Why should Arty not do the same? He would do what all – well, most – younger sons in his position did and marry a wealthy girl. He was not sure what price the younger son of a Duke could fetch, but he was certain that it was hefty, hefty enough to set him up comfortably for life. And rather encouragingly there seemed to be no shortage in Paris or in London of wealthy heiresses desperate for a husband and more than happy to pay for the privilege of calling themselves Lady Arthur Clinton.
If push came to shove, there were any number of wealthy widows in fluttering silk and satin weeds cluttering up the drawing rooms of expensive houses in town and country and simply dying for a husband. But Arty shuddered slightly at the thought. Widows were so very black, so very corvine, so very ravening. They had already pecked one or even more husbands to death and could quite as easily peck Arty to death too. On reflection, a widow might perhaps be going too far.
Of course Arty did not want to marry. The prospect of marrying some plain-Jane heiress simply to get his hands on her money appalled him. And the thought of that – well, the less said about that the better, though he vaguely supposed that if he did his husbandly duty and got his bride with child, that would be more or less an end to it – for a while at least. After all, marriage to his sister, Susan, had hardly interfered with Dolly Vane-Tempest’s compulsive whoring. In a good week, Dolly had been known to go to brothels three nights on the trot. No! Arty must face up to grim reality. If marriage was what it took to get a decent income, then marriage it must be.
Arty was certainly not alone in this pragmatic approach to matrimony. It was a dilemma too for John Safford Fiske, the American Consul in Edinburgh and one of Stella’s most ardent swains. Offered a wealthy heiress on a plate, Fiske was tempted. Sorely tempted. So tempted that he wrote to Stella ostensibly to ask for her opinion, but in reality to ask for her permission. ‘Let me ask your advice,’ he began:
A young lady whose family are friends of mine is coming here. She is a charmingly dressed beautiful fool with £30,000 a year – I have reason to believe that if I go in for her that I can marry her. You know I never should care for her, but is the bait tempting enough for me to make this further sacrifice to respectability? Of course after we were married I could do pretty much as I pleased – people don’t mind what one does on £30,000 a year and the Lady wouldn’t much mind as she hasn’t brains enough to trouble herself about much beyond her dresses, her carriage etc. What shall I do?
‘What shall I do?’ It was a rhetorical question. John Safford Fiske knew exactly what he had to do. Had Nemesis in the burly form of the Metropolitan Police not intervened, then he was duty bound to allow himself to be tempted and marry his ‘beautiful fool’ in return for the vast sum of £30,000 a year. He would have been a fool to himself not to marry for such ‘bait’. It was a small fortune. A queen’s ransom.
Apart from the financial security – the ‘freedom from sordid care’, as Oscar Wilde later termed it – that marrying a wealthy heiress brought, marriage had other decided advantages. Though marriage might be, in John Safford Fiske’s words, ‘a sacrifice’, the status, the security, the respectability of the married state could be extremely useful. ‘I could do pretty much as I pleased,’ Fiske had observed to Stella. ‘People don’t mind what one does on £30,000 a year.’ He was quite right. Wealth did confer a certain amount of immunity. Bribery and corruption were rife. Policemen could be bought and sold and even magistrates and judges were not immune to ‘persuasion’.
But wealth conferred immunity in another, wider sense. Wealth and rank, rank and wealth, were the twin Herculean pillars upon which the complex hierarchy of Society rested. They were the desire and pursuit of the whole of society. To possess one or the other – or preferably both – meant that the rules governing the great commonality of society were applied more lightly, or not at all. One rule for the poor. And quite another for the rich. Crimes and misdemeanours became infractions and infringements, vices became foibles. The virtues of character, respectability and reputation were woven from ideas of wealth and rank, and juries were notoriously reluctant to find wealthy, respectable men guilty of sexual crimes with men unless the evidence was overwhelming.
Marriage was a form of camouflage, of disguise. The mere fact of marriage conferred a degree of invisibility. Because of the association in the popular mind of sodomites with effeminacy and vice, seemingly red-blooded married men were above and beyond reproach, above and beyond suspicion. Especially if there were children. Many men escaped conviction for sodomy or lesser sexual crimes with men because they were married with children and juries found it impossible to believe that they had committed the crimes they were accused of.
Arty’s sanguine hopes of a wealthy heiress falling into his lap, so to speak, were, alas, misplaced. It was only in 1863 that that he hooked his first fish in the form of Mademoiselle Haussmann, the second daughter of Baron Haussmann, civil servant extraordinary to Emperor Napoleon III, who had entrusted the Baron with the task of transforming the medieval heart of Paris into a great imperial capital.
Strictly speaking, Baron Haussmann was in reality plain Monsieur Haussmann. But he chose to style himself Baron through an obscure imperial decree of 1857 which allowed Senators to use the courtesy title of Baron. In the course of his career, the Baron had become extremely rich. He was, according to the Gaulois newspaper, ‘fabulously wealthy’. But the origins of the Baron’s wealth were murky. It was said that the Baroness had brought an income of fifty thousand francs a year with her, but even this huge sum could not account for the Baron’s ‘princely’ style of living. It was whispered that Monsieur le Baron had done very well, very well indeed, out of the rebuilding of Paris, which had already cost France hundreds of millions of francs. Some of these millions, it was said, had found their way into the Baron’s capacious pockets. Had the Baron ‘extended and embellished’ his fortune, as the Gaulois bluntly suggested, by ‘crooked ways’?
By 1864, relations between Arty and his father were decidedly sticky, to say the least. Their only communications were conducted through the good offices of Mr Ouvry, the family solicitor. Quite what had brought about this breakdown is not known. But something – several things – had conspired to drive a wedge between the Unfortunate Duke and his once much-lauded, much-favoured ‘sailor son’.
Whenever Arty himself referred to his ‘past miseries and follies’, it was always in the plural. Certainly, Arty was very considerably in debt. But was the mere fact of his being in debt sufficient to bring about an almost complete estrangement with his father? Linky had been dangerously – spectacularly – in debt, so much in debt in fact that if he had not managed to hook Miss Henrietta Hope, then Clumber would have been imperilled. But Linky and his father were now on terms, on comparatively good terms, given the general air of gloom and sombreness with which the Unfortunate Duke conducted his dealings with his children.
Clearly, there was more to it than just debt. Had Arty got caught up in a scandal? Had he been foolish? Had he fallen in love with a boy? Had he been caught in a compromising position? Had he been blackmailed, or even arrested? Was he one of those ‘484 foreigners’ and sodomites who had come to the attention of Inspector Félix Carlier’s Vice Squad?
Whatever had occurred it needed all the skill and emollience of Mr Ouvry and his representative in Paris, Mr Gardiner, to sort it out, to smoothe it over. ‘Let me beg you,’ Arty wrote to Mr Ouvry in early 1864, ‘to accept my best thanks for all your trouble, and kindness in arranging all my affairs arising out of my past sad follies.’
On the face of it, Arty’s putative marriage to Mademoiselle Haussmann was a simple contract. His desire – his ‘earnest desire’ – was, he told Mr Ouvry, the family solicitor, to go to Paris ‘to see Baron Haussmann and his family in order, as I trust, to succeed in obtaining the hand of his second and youngest daughter, who is most beautiful and accomplished, the Baron I am informed intends giving her £2000 a year and she will also receive a wedding present of £4000.’
It was not exactly the fortune that Arty had hoped to land. And compared to Linky’s £50,000 a year and John Safford Fiske’s almost-clutched £30,000 a year, it was a mere pittance. But buggers – no less than beggars – could not be choosers. It was something. Whatever Arty’s ‘past sad follies’ were, perhaps they had curdled any more favourable marriage prospects.
But there was something in Arty’s letter which suggested that there might be more to this marriage with the ‘most beautiful and accomplished’ Mademoiselle Haussmann than met the eye. ‘I feel sure my future happiness depends on it,’ he had confided feelingly to Mr Ouvry. ‘And in being happy, I might forget all my past miseries and follies.’
For many men, like John Addington Symonds, Arty’s exact contemporary, marriage offered the chance of a ‘cure’, a way of diverting the scalding, ‘burning channel’ of their sodomitic desires into calmer, happier waters. Many men felt the same and those, like Symonds, with courage enough to consult their fathers or their family doctors were invariably advised to marry, as soon as possible. Both Symonds’s father and the eminent physician, Sir Spencer Wells, ‘recommended cohabitation with a hired mistress, or, what was better, matrimony’ as the only certain ‘cure’ for sodomy.
For others, sodomy was an affliction and an addiction, incurable and inescapable. There was no palliative, no consolation save the dark deed itself. They were driven and compelled, against their reason and against their will, to seek out men and boys for sex. Waking and sleeping, they were haunted by sodomitic ideas, images and yearnings. And each time their lust was slaked, they would feel disgust and self-loathing in equal or in greater measure. For men goaded and driven mad by their sodomitic compulsions, marriage offered something. Even without hope of a cure, even without the advantages of respectability and disguise, marriage could be a sanctuary, a place of safety, of retreat and of repose. A marriage blanc offered certainty and continuity in the face of chaos, and the consolations of companionship and of pure, unsullied love.
Was Arty’s marriage to Mademoiselle Haussmann the sanctuary he was seeking, the much looked-for, the much longed-for place of safety, where he could ‘forget all my past miseries and follies and be a steady man for the future’? Or were these mere words? Feigned, frank admissions of error and pious protestations and prevarications designed to win over the doubting Duke to the idea that his errant child was a reformed character?
The marriage to Mademoiselle Haussmann, however, was not to be. Negotiations broke down. Perhaps the Baron got wind of Arty’s propensities and forbade his daughter to marry a known sodomite. Both Mr Ouvry and Arty were clearly worried that something damaging to his chances of securing Mademoiselle Haussmann might seep out. ‘As the Paris people might talk, you need not fear,’ Arty wrote to Mr Ouvry in an attempt to allay his fears. ‘I give you my word, I should remain perfectly quiet, and place myself under the charge of Mr Gardiner.’
But once back in Paris, Arty’s good intentions of remaining ‘perfectly quiet’ under Mr Gardiner’s charge may have gone awry. The myriad sodomitic temptations of Paris may have been too much for Arty to resist.
Arty’s pious protestations about leaving his past sad follies and miseries behind him, about becoming a steady man for the future may have been just that: pious nothings cynically spoken.
Certainly, the death of the Unfortunate Duke – of a broken heart, people said – in May 1864 changed everything. The first thing Arty did was to resign his commission in the Navy with immediate effect. He had been but an indifferent sailor, a sailor who had become an accidental hero at the siege of Lucknow. By a miracle, he had survived his wounds and been promoted. But he had always loathed the Navy, always resented being forced into the Navy when he was little more than a boy, always hated life at sea, the dirt, the discomfort, the danger.
And with the Duke barely cold in his coffin, Arty could now live his life on his own terms. No more lectures and admonishments. No more painful conversations. No more appeals to do his duty to his family, to his country, to his station, to his better nature. Linky and the rest really couldn’t care less what he did, and besides, people in glass houses and all that.
Mademoiselle Haussmann and her £2,000 a year may have been an attractive proposition while he was forced to subsist on a spartan allowance from the Duke and the pittance of his naval pay. And there was always the prospect of a handsome pay-off when the Baron finally shuffled off this mortal coil. But that, of course, could be years and years away, and frankly, Messrs Dicker and Yates – and assorted unsavoury persons in the same line of business – had made it clear that their patience was wearing thin, not to say running out.
But the £400 a year he would receive under the terms of the Duke’s will, though less – far less – than he had anticipated, than he had hoped for, and, dare he say it, than he deserved, was still, nevertheless, a competency, just about a competency. Why sell himself short to Mademoiselle Haussmann and the ghastly faux Baron when goodness only knew what other opportunities, what richer pickings, might come his way?
In any case, with or without the beautiful and accomplished Mademoiselle Haussmann he had hatched a new plan. Strictly speaking it had been suggested to him by his godfather, Mr Gladstone. Arty had never considered a career in politics before. He had been too busy trying to survive the nightmare of his naval life. But when his godfather took him aside for one of those interminable fatherly chats, the idea of becoming the Member for Newark had rather appealed to him. Gladstone himself had won the selfsame seat years ago. It had always been something of a rotten borough, and the Pelham-Clinton family influence had secured Gladstone’s victory and still counted for something. In fact, it counted for a great deal. With his family connections, and the support of Gladstone, Arty knew that Newark was his.
Being the Member for Newark appealed to him. It gave him a sense of purpose, of gravitas. He would be busy, useful, important. He was rather proud of his speaking voice and of the debating skills he had developed at Eton. He imagined a packed House held in rapt attention as his rhetoric soared. With Gladstone as his guide and his patron, who knew to what giddy heights of government he might rise? Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer and everyone knew that, as night must follow day, he would become Prime Minister. And the Unfortunate Duke rose to be Secretary of State for War and could easily have become Prime Minister, Gladstone averred, had it not been for the boudoir antics of Lady Susan. Arty could lay legitimate claim to knowledge of the Navy, and the Army too, for that matter. He knew all about India, and he had heard Gladstone drone on about the Irish question so often that he felt himself a fully constituted expert on the subject.
Quite apart from the promise of a glittering career, there were some other, very decided advantages to being the Member for Newark. Mostly pecuniary. Especially pecuniary. Members were renowned equally for their avarice and the ingenuity with which they slaked that avarice. They had endless fingers in rich and juicy financial pies, puddings and speculations. A Member could grow rich, could live off the fat of the land. And the beauty of it was that it was all quite legitimate, quite above board. Messrs Dicker and Yates would hardly dare to bankrupt a Member. Quite the reverse. They would be fawning and obsequious, and quite desperate to advance him more cash should he find himself temporarily embarrassed. He would pay them off, of course, as quickly as he could. It wouldn’t do for a Member to have any more dealings with such people than he could possibly help.
Even better, if he was still in the market for a wealthy heiress, being a Member, a rising Member, as it were, as well as a Lord, was bound to generate a wealthier prospect than Mademoiselle Haussmann. Her dowry of £4,000 would barely touch the sides of his bucket of indebtedness to Messrs Dicker and Yates and the other, rather more unsavoury, specimens of usurers he had encountered.
And with Mademoiselle Haussmann, he would have been saddled with a wife and all the expenses that a wife entailed, he would still have had a mountain of debt and he would have had to manage on a meagre two thousand pounds a year, plus the four hundred pounds from the Unfortunate Duke. Quite how he had ever even entertained the proposal was beyond his comprehension. He would have been selling himself short. Very short indeed. It was a ridiculous idea, born of desperation. Unless he was very much mistaken, Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, duly elected Member for Newark, could hook a bigger fish than Mademoiselle Haussmann. A very much bigger fish.