Lucile. A narrative poem by Robert, Lord Lytton, published (1860) under the pseudonym of Owen Meredith. The heroine, Lucile, is beloved by two bitter rivals, the English Lord Alfred Hargrave [i.e., Vargrave] and the French Duke of Luvois. She loves Alfred, but misunderstanding keeps them apart. Long years after, Alfred's son and the Duke's niece fall in love, are separated by the old feud but finally reunited through the efforts of Lucile, who has become a nursing nun, under the name of Soeur Seraphine. The book went through more than ninety editions in America.The Reader's Encyclopedia. (New York: Crowell, c1948).

In what time period is Lucile set? In what locales? Lytton is not explicit about dates, but we can reason backwards. The book ends during the Crimean War (October 1853-February 1856), which pitted Russia against an alliance of France, England, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardina. The winters of 1854 and 1855 were notably brutal, and Lytton does not mention or allude to them, so the episodes in Part II are likely set in summer 1854 or 1855. At this time, Sir Alfred Vargrave is a senior officer with the British forces, Count Eugene de Luvois is a highly ranked general in the French Foreign Legion, and Lucile a nursing nun, Soeur Seraphine, who ranks very high in her Order. All are certainly in their forties, perhaps their fifties. Vargrave's son, in his twenties, serves in the British ranks.

Part I ends not long after Vargrave's marriage to Matilda Darcy, which can therefore be reasonably dated to the mid-1830s, which suggests the actions of Part I take place in the early 1830s. To confirm this, Lytton assures us (footnote to Canto IV Verse V) that one late event takes place before telegraphy was available (i.e., before 1832, though the first telegraph connection between London and Paris was 1850). The early pages of Part I recount Vargrave's romance with Lucile some ten years before the events then laid out in Part I -- that is, in the very late teens or early 1820s. At that time Vargrave and Lucile were, one presumes, in their twenties, and hence likely born 1795-1800, plus or minus a year or two.

Lytton was born in 1831 and could not have experienced himself life as he described it in Part I -- though by 1860 he was established in his diplomatic career and had spent most of the preceding years (including those of the Crimean War) on the Continent. Part I follows the main characters from one European spa or resort for the rich and famous to another. The first is Luchon, in the French Pyrenees. A later is Ems, on the River Lahn near the Rhine in Germany, perhaps the most famous place to take "the baths" in summer.

Part II, as mentioned above, is set in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, until recently the eastern-most province of Ukraine. It was annexed by Russia during February-March 2014.


The titlepages of all the early, and most later, editions of Lucile bear an epitaph from Shakespeare's Hamlet (Act Three, Scene Two, Line 270):

"Why, let the stricken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play;
For some must watch,
while some must sleep:
Thus runs the world away."

In this scene of the play, Claudius has watched actors stage a scene which mirrors the one in which he himself had acted as he mrdered his brother, the old King Hamlet, by creeping on him asleep and placing poison in his ear. Claudius leaps from his seat and rushes away, which Hamlet and Horatio read as confirmation that the ghost's story -- that Claudius was the murderer -- told to Hamlet is true. The lines Hamlet then speaks, paraphrased by Spark Notes, are:

HAMLET (reciting as an actor):

Let the deer that's been shot go off and weep,
While the unharmed deer happily plays.
For some must watch while other must sleep,
That's how the world goes.

Couldn't I get work as an actor (if I hit a run of bad luck) in some acting company, and wear flowers on my shoes?

TO HORATIO: Would not this, sir, and a forest of feathers -- if the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me -- with two Provincial roses on my razed shoes, get me a fellowship in a cry of players?


All early editions, and the great majority of later editions, have the following dedication, typically printed on the recto and verso of the leaf following the titlepage:


I dedicate to you a work, which is submitted to the public with a diffidence and hesitation proportioned to the novelty of the effort it represents. For in this poem I have abandoned those forms of verse with which I had most familiarized my thoughts, and have endeavored to follow a path on which I could discover no footprints before me, either to guide or to warn.

There is a moment of profound discouragement which succeeds to prolonged effort; when, the labor which has become a habit having ceased, we miss the sustaining sense of its companionship, and stand, with a feeling of strangeness and embarrassment, before the abrupt and naked result. As regards myself, in the present instance, the force of all such sensations is increased by the circumstances to which I have referred. And in this moment of discouragement and doubt, my heart instinctively turns to you, from whom it has so often sought, from whom it has never failed to receive, support.

I do not inscribe to you this book because it contains anything that is worthy of the beloved and honored name with which I thus seek to associate it; nor yet because I would avail myself of a vulgar pretext to display in public an affection that is best honored by the silence which it renders sacred. Feelings only such as those with which, in days when there existed for me no critic less gentle than yourself, I brought to you my childish manuscripts; feelings only such as those which have, in later years, associated with your heart all that has moved or occupied my own, -- lead me once more to seek assurance from the grasp of that hand which has hitherto been my guide and comfort through the life I owe to you.

And as in childhood, when existence had no toil beyond the day's simple lesson, no ambition beyond the neighboring approval of the night, I brought to you the morning's task for the evening's sanction, so now I bring to you this self-appointed taskwork of maturer years; less confident indeed of your approval, but not less confident of your love; and anxious only to realize your presence between myself and the public, and to mingle with those severer voices to whose final sentence I submit my work the beloved and gracious accents of your own.


In many (but far from all) later American reprint editions, the dedication is replaced with a preface in which Lytton replies to critics who had noted his silent borrowing of plot elements from George Sand's novelette, Lavinia (1834) . The text which follows here is taken from the Longmans, Green, and Co. "New Edition" of 1893. Internal references suggest that Lytton prepared this preface for the 1867 Chapman & Hall edition - the third English edition - but this has not yet been confirmed, and we do not yet know which verses, closely related to de Musset, were "expunged" (but see examples of changes to the second English edition as well as "translations" of Musset).


This book represents the result of an experiment so alien to my present appreciation of the nature and conditions of verse that I could now, on this ground, have wished to withdraw it from print, if my so doing were not liable to be interpreted as an acquiescence in the propriety of certain charges, for reference to which the most fitting occasion is furnished by the reappearance of the book in the present collection of early verse. What I have here to say is rendered necessary by exceptional circumstances, and is explanatory, not of the contents of the book, but of the conduct of its author. Explanations of this kind need no apology, if they are brief. Mine shall be so.

A portion of the narrative material of Lucile is taken from a prose romance,* by Madame George Sand ; a writer, whose works are familiar to the entire novel-reading public of Europe, and whose wide and well-merited celebrity is, I conceive, sufficient to refute, and should have been sufficient to prevent, the imputation of any desire upon my part to conceal an obligation, the legitimacy of which appears to me indisputable. In a preface, which was written for publication with the first edition of Lucile, the full extent of that obligation was minutely stated, in connection with the reasons which had induced the author to borrow as much of his narrative material as could be made compatible with the special purpose of his poem : reasons which I still believe to be sound, and for which, I think, high authority exists. That preface, I regret to say, was suppressed, -- partly in consequence of a belief that the great popularity of the beautiful little prose tale from which some of the incidents in Lucile are borrowed was such as to render uncalled for any prefatory references thereto, and partly, also, in consequence of an apprehension, which I yet entertain, that, as a general rule, explanatory prefaces and notes to poems are out of place. In this case, however, I cannot too greatly deplore an error of judgment which has now placed me under the necessity of saying now what might, with greater propriety, have been said then, and replying, in the present edition of this book, to accusations which a very few words, prefixed to the first edition of it, would, I trust, have sufficed to prevent.

I now desire to assure, first of all, that great writer to whose genius I am a humble but not ungrateful debtor, and, secondly, those critics by whom Lucile has been described as a mere translation, that I exceedingly regret, -- not having borrowed so much -- but having only been able to borrow so little of the narrative material of this poem from "Lavinia." If, compatibly with the purpose of the poem, I could have taken the entire narrative of it, either from "Lavinia," or from any other prose story, I would gladly have done so. That purpose, whether good or bad, is my own, and worked out in my own way. The whole amount of the narrative material adopted from the prose story is confined to the opening portion of a poem consisting of twelve Cantos. Every character in Lucile is fundamentally different from any character in "Lavinia :" and in consequence of this essential difference, it has been necessary to alter materially even those situations and incidents in which the narrative of the poem most closely follows that of the prose romance.

I state this as a matter of fact, not as a matter of principle. The more or less of my obligation to the prose of Madame Sand in no wise affects the legitimacy of it. The immemorial privilege of the poet (or writer in verse) to take his narrative material, in whole or in part, from the work of any prose writer, whether contemporary or antecedent, cannot, I think, be seriously questioned. Chaucer made narrative poems, and Shakespeare plays, out of contemporary novels. Nor did those great writers disdain the utmost fidelity, compatible with the purpose of their own works, in the reproduction of materials borrowed by them from contemporary fiction. It may be said, however, that what was 1awfull to Shakespeare and Chaucer is not lawful to a modern poet ; because the state of literature, as well as of public culture, is now very different front what it was in the days of those poets. I need not discuss this opinion : because, whether it be right or wrong in a general way, it is inapplicable to Lucile. The French novel is now as noticeable and characteristic a feature of the current literature of Europe, as the Italian novel was in the days of Chaucer, and in the days of Shakespeare. The attempt to embody in verse the sentiment and character of these contemporary fictions -- in other words, to poeticise the French novel, is as new now as the attempt to poeticise the Italian novel was new then. What was necessary, and therefore lawful, to the execution of any similar attempt in those days, is equally necessary, and therefore equally lawful, to the execution of any similar attempt in these days. The advisableness, or propriety, of the attempt made in Lucile to poeticise the French novel, and the success of that attempt, are open to question. The legitimacy of the only means available for the attempt is not.

As regards the charge of plagiarism brought against Lucile, I apprehend, therefore, that, neither in the fact of my obligation for narrative material to the prose of Madame Sand, nor in the fidelity with which I have endeavoured to follow so much of the prose story as was compatible with the purpose and character of the poem, any grounds exist for such a charge. I might, indeed, with far greater propriety and justice, have been accused of plagiarising from Alfred de Musset; some of whose best verses were closely though clumsily imitated by some of the worst verses in the first edition of Lucile. Of these thefts, into which I was betrayed by the recollection of some lines recited to me by a French friend at a time when his visits were pleasant interruptions to the solitude of a sick bed, I was not conscious until it was, unfortunately, too late either to acknowledge or suppress them at the first publication of this book; the greater part of which was composed on horseback, in the Pyrenees -- a fact to which it probably owes whatever freshness or fidelity there may be in some of the descriptive parts of it. The verses have been expunged from the present edition.

I regret that the defects of this poem, most apparent to myself, are of a kind which does not admit of correction. The greatest of all is, in my own eyes, -- not that a portion of its narrative is borrowed from any particular prose work, but that the whole subject of it is fitter for prose than for verse ; not that the metre of it is slipshod, and interspersed with colloquialisms (for roughness of form is not necessarily a fault in such a book as Lucile), but that the whole conception of the poem is inconsistent with the permanent conditions of poetic beauty. I am also conscious of another fundamental defect in the book, which has not, so far as I know, been noticed by any of its critics. The characters are described rather than revealed ; and, in the endeavour to enforce a moral purpose, sound in itself, but demanding more limitation and counterpoise than it receives in this poem, the psychical action of the personages, one upon another, as well as the influences of social circumstance, and external incident, upon the development of individual character, have been somewhat exaggerated.

These defects are radical, and cannot, I fear, be removed, except with the whole body of the poem. For this reason, it is with extreme reluctance that I have allowed the poem to reappear in the present edition of collected verse. The paramount consideration whereby that reluctance is overcome has already been explained. I have, however, too much respect for honest criticism, as well as for honest authorship, to regard as a sufficient excuse for the republication of a worthless book, the opportunity for personal explanation which has chiefly induced me to print a third edition of Lucile. Notwithstanding the faults I have mentioned, and many others which are equally apparent to me, I am assured by the previous sale of this book that it has not altogether failed to please many readers whose opinion cannot be impugned by me, without ingratitude. In this fact I hope that there is sufficient justification for the republication of it. And with that hope is mingled, I confess, a memory purely personal to myself ; but as I am on the way of personal explanations, I will not conceal it. The first publication of Lucile was accompanied by at least one record of its author's feelings which he can never wish either to alter or withdraw: and in his own mind the book thus remains associated with the revered name to which it has been unworthily inscribed.


Last revised: 27 November 2019