Meeting between Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Mrs Cust

Scope and Content

An account of a meeting with Mrs Cust in Millicent Garrett Fawcett's hand, three folded sheets. Transcript:

'I am truly and deeply sorry for her too; chiefly because she is married to Mr Cust. At the chief crises of her life it appears to me she had been badly advised 1st in consenting to marry a man who said he hated her and who had proved himself so thoroughly contemptible. 2ndly Mr and Mrs Cust had been wrongly advised by those who had encouraged him to offer himself for a seat. A candidate invites criticism and to come red handed out of all this horrible business, to offer himself for a seat could only lead to what it has led to. The more he brings himself before his public, the more this story is sure to become known and talked about. On Thursday May 24 I called by appointment on Mrs Clifford and showed her the foregoing. She agreed that it was correct. The corrections I made in pencil were made at her suggestion. She expressed a strong wish that I should see Mrs Cust and I said I certainly would not refuse to see her tho' such an interview would be painful to both of us and especially to her and I did not see what good could come of it. I told Mrs Clifford the version of the story that was current in the PM's (?) office to the effect in brief that Mrs Cust was no better than a prostitute who had forced herself on HC that his feeling of loathing for her was therefore natural, as that of a pure minded man towards one who had caused his fall. She of course expressed great indignation at this. On Friday I heard from Mrs Clifford that Mrs Cust would come and see me on Saturday 26. I agreed to this but stipulated that I would not see her alone. Agnes and Mrs Clifford were therefore present. My reason for this was that I could not under all the circumstances consider Mrs Cust incapable of duplicity. She could not have lived as she did for some year or more as HC's mistress without acquiring a considerable power of dissimulation, and probably not without telling a great many lies to conceal the truth. In the event of legal proceedings in the future, I felt I should prefer to have witnesses present. Mrs Clifford sent a letter by special messenger on Sat morning begging me to see Mrs Cust alone but I declined. They came at 12.30 on Saturday May 26. They said no one knew of Mrs Cust coming to see me, especially that Mr Cust did not know it and begged me and Agnes to keep it quite secret. This we promised to do. They again asked us to review this promise before leaving. They were here nearly two hours. Part of the time was occupied by my trying to shew Mrs Cust what my real position was in the matter - my feeling that a constituency ought to know the character of the men it was asked to vote for, also by my contradicting various falsehoods that had been circulated about what I had said and done, and by reading to her the correspondence between Mr Balfour and myself. She dwelt a great deal on Mr Cust being willing and anxious to marry her at once directly she told him what her position was. She also said she had never heard of his ever having expressed any reluctance to marry her. As far as she was concerned all she knew was that he had never swerved from his wish to marry her, never had had the least idea of marrying any one else - the delay she said was only caused by the opposition of Lady Brownlow and Cust's desire to win her over to approve the marriage. When I said 'Why did he go to the Wyndhams?' she said he never had been there, in the interval between Aug and the date of the marriage. Mr Cust spoke of Lady Brownlow's opposition to the marriage as being based on reluctance to receive into his family, anyone who had 'stained the family name'. She did not say anything about the stain on the family name brought about by Mr Cust's conduct. Mrs Cust used the expression repeatedly in reference to her husband, which Mrs Clifford had used to me, that he was 'kind and gentle' to her; tho' she did not naturally admit as Mrs Clifford had done that he was without affection. Replying to Mrs Cust's statement that Cust had never swerved from his wish to marry her, and that he was not forced into the marriage, I asked her how she could reconcile this with Lady Frances's statement to me (p4 of typewritten copy of my letter to Mr Balfour) that Mr Balfour had really made Cust marry Miss Wellby etc. She asked me if I had heard that from Mr Balfour's own lips. I said 'No' but I had written it to him and he had not contradicted it. The same statement had also been in Mr Haldane's hands when he came here and he had not contradicted it - had only said that Cust was at that time practically insane and must not be judged by the standards that some men are judged by. Both of these men, Balfour and Haldane, are honourable men, full of desire to serve Cust and his wife and yet they uttered not one syllable of contradiction to this most damning charge. When I had spoken very strongly to Mr Haldane against a women under any circumstances whatever marrying a man who said he loathed her, and said that in my opinion such a marriage was nothing else but legalised prostitution, he only said that I must remember the overwhelmingly strong feeling on the part of the Welbys for conventional respectability or words to that effect, not a word in support of the allegation made to me by Mrs Cust, that the marriage was one of love and spontaneously entered into on her husband's part. Mrs Cust admitted (it is almost unnecessary to say) the fact of her condition before marriage. She also admitted that Lord Brownlow desired Cust not to stand again for Lincolnshire. She said Lord Brownlow had been most kind to both of them; but she evidently feels most bitterly towards Lady Brownlow. Mrs Cust had been anxious that her husband should bring an action for libel against me, and Lord Brownlow had promised to provide the money. I referred to Mr AJ Balfour having repeatedly used the expression in his own family 'infernal scoundrel' in reference to Cust, and my reference to this in my second letter to Mr AJB and his remark in the P.S. of his reply speaking of it as 'obiter dictum of private life in which we are all too apt to indulge' or some such expression. Agnes and I felt most deeply sorry for Mrs Cust. She looked terribly ill and worn. All along I, and still more Agnes, felt the difficulty of urging upon her the proofs of Cust's resistance to the marriage and his insults to her, because whatever he is, she is now married to him and strange as it may appear, still loves him; her love for him is the only thing that makes her position tolerable, there one can't say and do things that must tear it up by the roots - one would think. At the end of the interview and afterwards on thinking it over, I do not see there is any action I can take in reference to it. I am convinced she is in error - whether wilfully or not I can't say - in her statement that all along Cust was anxious for the marriage. I believe that she is prepared to say anything and do anything and persuade herself of anything that would make things better for him - for this she was willing to go to Manchester and sit on a platform to be stared at by the men who have been discussing her private history; for this she was anxious that Cust shd bring a libel action; for this she endured the unpleasantness of coming to see me. I saw Mrs Clifford again in the afternoon at the last meeting of the Chicago WW Comittee. I was glad to hear her say that Mrs Cust felt that Agnes and I had been kind to her. I think we tried not to be unkind. When on leaving they asked us again to promise not to mention the fact of her having seen us to any one, we at once assented and I asked in return that they also would promise not to mention Lady Frances Balfour's name, to which I had referred as one of my authorities. They both promised to observe my wishes as to this. MG Fawcett, 27 May 1894'

End of transcript.

Note that the opening section of this account from the first paragraph to 'the corrections I made in pencil were made at her suggestion' are identical to the closing paragraphs of item 7MGF/A/2/142, which also describes the visit of Mrs Clifford to MGF on 20 May.

Custodial History

Originally found between items 98 and 99, 21 Apr 1997