The Terrible Dénouement
In November 1841 Macnaghten was due to leave Kabul to take up the post as Governor of Bombay. His successor Sir Alexander Burnes was murdered by a mob; there was no retribution and the rebels were not dispersed.The appalling winter weather kept the British force at Kandahar from marching to Kabul. At the beginning of December, with supplies running low, Macnaghten and Elphinstone agreed with the rebel chiefs that they would leave Afghanistan and release Dost Mohammed.
Before the retreat commenced Macnaghten, suspecting the good faith of the groups he’d treated with, opened negotiations with a rival Afghan faction, who betrayed him to Dost Mohammed’s son Akbar Khan and was assassinated on 23rd December.
On the 15th December 1841 Emily wrote to a friend;
‘We go on very quietly with little scraps of news from Peshawur, which is on the frontier, and the last place with which we have any sure communication. Inasmuch as things are not worse they are better, as the snow, which was beginning to fall, would affect the unhoused assailants more than our troops in their lines. To-day General Sale forwarded a short French note from General —, begging for help and ending with 'Nous sommes dans un péril extrême.'[i]Elphinstone refused to seize the citadel and hold out until reinforcements could arrive; nor would he agree to fight through to Jallalabad. The evacuation of Kabul started on 6th January 1842; the weather was bitter and the majority of the stores and guns were left behind. The women and children and some of the officers, including Elphinstone, were given up as hostages and the troops made their last stand in the pass of Jagdallak.
The Return of Dr Brydon
By the 13th January, of the 4,500 troops and 12,000 camp followers, only 120 prisoners, some sepoys and Dr Brydon were left alive, victims of the bitter cold and the insurrectionists. Brydon arrived alone in Jallalabad to bring the news of the worst defeat the British Army had ever suffered.On 29th January Emily wrote home;
‘The accounts from Cabul are more distressing and incomprehensible every day. One of Lady —'s simple good letters have come to hand. She talks with bitter disgust of the cowardice of the whole proceeding, and says the retreat was to begin the next day, and her son-in-law, Lieutenant —, who was wounded the other day, adds a note to the same purpose and says, 'God may help us, for we are not allowed to help ourselves.'[ii]The First Afghan War cost the British much prestige in India and George’s reputation is coloured by the tragedy.
Return to England
George wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan, but it was now down to his replacement, Lord Ellenborough[iii] to decide on the appropriate actions; a relieving force marched through the Khyber Pass to find that the garrison at Jallalabad had defeated its besiegers and that the soldiers at Kandahar were also holding out.George’s tour of duty ended on 28th February 1842 and the Edens left Calcutta on March 12th after a somewhat harried search for a vessel.
‘We went to the Fort Church this morning; and in the evening George and I went on board the 'Bucephalus' to see —'s cabin and —'s. The probability is that we shall go home in one of these country ships, as no Queen's ship seems to be forthcoming; and they are, in fact, nearly as comfortable.’[iv]The unexpected early arrival of Lord Ellenborough went off better than expected,
‘Lord Ellenborough arrived twelve days ago, and we are all living together and are excessively fond of each other……..He startles people so very much by the extraordinary activity of his English notions; the climate will settle a great many of them, and in the meantime he really is so good-natured and hospitable we are quite touched by it.’ [v]
The journey home took four months on a ship that Emily claimed housed 80,000 cockroaches.Home At Last
Upon their return to England Emily, Fanny and George set up home at Eden Lodge, in Kensington Gore, where Emily returned to her task as a political hostess. In 1844 Emily published a portfolio of 24 lithographs entitled Portraits of the Princes and People of India.
Emily was bereft when her beloved George died unexpectedly on 1st January 1849 aged 64; he was in his third posting as First Lord of the Admiralty. The Earldom became extinct and brother Robert took the title that had been his father’s and George’s before him; Baron Auckland.Robert was two years younger than Emily and had been consecrated Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1847[vi]. He was married with eight children and had been chaplain to William IV and Victoria.
Fanny died in April of 1849; Emily stayed at Eden Lodge, entertaining friends, corresponding with friends and writing.The Author
In 1859 the second of Emily’s novels; the Semi-Detached House was published anonymously having been edited by Lady Teresa Lewis, a friend of Emily’s. Lewis negotiated a fee of £300[vii].The Semi-Detached House tells the story of how the spoilt and pregnant Blanche gets on with her new socially inferior neighbours, when forced to live in a semi-detached property while her new husband is away on diplomatic duties in Berlin. Blanche’s travails while awaiting her husband’s return are intertwined with three romances.
The lives of all the local inhabitants are somewhat blighted by news in the local rag;
‘Rumours of all sorts are rife – a foreign court and a villa not one hundred miles from London are the scenes of several piquant anecdotes. Whether the last is tenanted by his Lordship’s wife, or his chére amie we forbear to say.’[viii]which causes much misunderstandings between the various parties; the untangling of which Emily skilfully sorted so that Blanche and her husband and the three romantic couples all end happily.
Five years after Semi was published Anthony Trollope, in his book The Way We Live Now[ix], , echoed one of Emily’s themes. Trollope’s main character a Jewish banker called Augustus Melmotte bears several similarities to Emily’s Baron Sampson; being a Jewish banker, having a daughter who does not fall in love in compliance with her father’s wishes and a fall from grace as the result of dubious financial practises;
‘”And the rascal [Baron Sampson] is actually gone – went off while the dancing was going on….he got into a steamer, and has not been heard of since.”’[x]But Trollope’s main character suffers a more violent end;
‘Drunk as he had been – more drunk as he probably became during the night – still he was able to deliver himself from the indignities and penalties to which the law might have subjected him by a dose of prussic acid.’[xi]Emily was pleased with the success of ‘Semi’;
‘Semi has had more success than I require, and considerably more than I expected.’[xii]Following the success of the Semi-Detached House the Semi-Attached Couple was published in 1860 after some re-writing;
‘When I wrote it. I thought it I thought it a tolerably faithful representation of modern society; but some young friends………..have read it with the indulgence of happy youth, condescendingly that it is amusing, inasmuch as it is a curious picture of old fashioned society.’[xiii]Both books were acclaimed for ‘their lively wit and sharp observation’; the similarity to the novels of Jane Austen being no drawback. Following a period in obscurity the two novels were reprinted in 1927 by Elkin Matthews, with an introduction by Anthony Eden.
Emily’s letters to Mary from India were published in 1867 following the success of the novels. The book was entitled Up The Country. Further letters were published in 1869 three years after Emily’s death. More of Emily’s letters were published by Violet Dickinson[xiv] in 1919 under the title Miss Eden’s Letters.Emily died in 1869, living in Richmond; she was seventy two, having outlived those she loved best by 20 years. She was buried at Beckenham.
BibliographyThe Last Mughal – William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury 2006
The Semi-attached Couple and the Semi-detached House – Emily Eden, Virago 1988Up the Country – Emily Eden, Virago 1983
Heaven’s Command – James Morris[xv], Penguin 1979The Way We Live Now – Anthony Trollope, Folio Society 1992
The Age of Reform – Sir Llewellyn Woodward FBA, Oxford University Press 1997www.wikipedia.en
[iii] Once again there had been a change of ministry and the leader of the Conservative Party Robert Peel was now Prime Minister
[viii] The Semi-detached House – Eden
[ix] First published in 1874
[xi] The Way We Live Now - Trollope
[xii] The Semi-attached Couple and the Semi-detached House – Eden
[xiii] Preface to The Semi-attached Couple - Eden
[xv] This edition predates Jan Morris’s change of gender from James