Letter from Henry Kingsley to William Robinson

Scope and Content

Written from 24 Bernard Street, Russell Square, [London]. Manuscript

Robinson’s book has reached him today; he has left the ‘Daily Review’ after 18 months’ contention with Scotch Parsons and is glad to be in London again; Robinson wrote of Kingsley’s Wargrave garden, but they sold that with the house two years ago to the son-in-law of Leslie the artist, who regarded it as ‘quoad sacra’; it has been bought again by some Cockney friends of theirs who will root up everything including the herb garden which his wife created; she is as mad about gardening as he is, and he wishes Robinson could have seen the herb garden, with nearly 100 yards of rosemary; but this was in the past and he prefers not to think about it; they found recently in Belgium three distinct irises not in their collection; all Robinson’s beautiful irises at Wargrave, including the Crimean which comes up in the snow, would have been lost had they not divided them and sent them to a neighbour who understands flowers; he has been kicked from pillar to post in this war; he went as war correspondent to Sedan and other places; he brought home two plants growing on the trampled earth among the dead, but the young ladies have cribbed them from him; at Sedan the earth was pounded like a turnpike road, ‘the poor French lads were lying about in heaps’, and only two things remained undestroyed – common clover and Colchicum autumnale, which he now calls the dead man’s flower; at St Privat he saw daisies and more Colchicum autumnale, in one case on the breast of a buried yeoman; he dared not touch it as they expected Bazaine [Marshal Bazaine] at any moment; Maclaine of the Carabiniers and Gillie of the Bengal Staff Corps told him they found two men dead by a stream among flowers; from the description they were Impatiens noli me tangere [Impatiens noli-tangere]; at Fond de Givonne he was permitted to raise a dead man’s hand to remove his chassepot [a rifle] when he realised the field was strewn with French onions; the German officer informed him that this field of acceldama [place of slaughter] was an onion field; this struck him as being quaint as the potatoes were hammered into the earth; he will go to the ‘Observer’ office, the only paper with which he is connected now, and see if he can review Robinson’s book; he is ‘on the novel business’ again and regrets having left it; he would ask for a blue primula again, but he cannot keep it alive where he is

Undated [1870 or 1871; the Battle of Sedan took place on 1 Sep 1870; the Franco-Prussian war ended on 10 May 1871]