1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Duff-Gordon, Lucie

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7194521911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — Duff-Gordon, Lucie

DUFF-GORDON, LUCIE (1821–1869), English woman of letters, daughter of John and Sarah Austin (q.v.), was born on the 24th of June 1821. Her chief playfellows as a child were her cousin, Henry Reeve, and John Stuart Mill, who lived next door in Queen Square, London. In 1834 the Austins went to Boulogne, and at table d’hôte Lucie found herself next to Heinrich Heine. The poet and the little girl became fast friends, and years afterwards she contributed to Lord Houghton’s Monographs Personal and Social a touching account of a renewal of their friendship when Heine lay dying in Paris. Her parents went to Malta in 1836, and Lucie Austin was left in England at school, but her unconventional education made the restrictions of a girls’ school exceedingly irksome. She showed her independence of character by joining the English Church, though this step was certain to cause pain to her parents, who were Unitarians, and to many of her friends. She married in 1840 Sir Alexander Duff-Gordon (1811–1872). With her mother’s beauty she had inherited her social gifts, and she gathered round her a brilliant circle of friends. George Meredith has analysed and described her extraordinary success as a hostess, and the process by which she reduced too ardent admirers to “happy crust-munching devotees.” “In England, in her day,” he says, “while health was with her, there was one house where men and women conversed. When that house perforce was closed, a light had gone out in our country.” After her father’s death, she fell into weak health and was obliged to seek sunnier climes. She went in 1860 to the Cape of Good Hope, and later to Egypt, where she died on the 14th of July 1869. She had translated among other works Ancient Grecian Mythology (1839) from the German of Niebuhr; Mary Schweidler; The Amber Witch (1844) from the German of Wilhelm Meinhold; and Stella and Vanessa (1850) from the French of A. F. L. de Wailly. Her Letters from the Cape (1862–1863) appeared in 1865; and in 1865 her Letters from Egypt, edited by her mother, attracted much attention. Last Letters from Egypt (1875) contained a memoir by her daughter, Mrs Janet Ross. Lady Duff-Gordon won the hearts of her Arab dependents and neighbours. She doctored their sick, taught their children, and sympathized with their sorrows.

The Letters from Egypt were not originally published in a complete form. A fuller edition than had before been possible, with an introduction by George Meredith, was edited in 1902 by Mrs Janet Ross. See also Mrs Ross’s Three Generations of Englishwomen (1886).