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The first ten years of George Meredith's life were spent in Portsmouth, where he was born on February 12, 1828. His father had inherited the family business, a prosperous tailoring and naval outfitting shop, but had little success in managing it; his mother died when George was five. He attended boarding schools in Southsea and Portsmouth, and during 1843-4 he studied at a Moravian school near Coblentz on the Rhine, but he attended neither English public school nor university.
When he returned to England he was articled to a London solicitor, through whom he became acquainted with a group of literary men who issued the Monthly Observer, to which he became a contributor.
Meredith gave up the law, and both he and his wife worked hard at writing, occasionally in collaboration. The bulk of his work at this time was poetry, some of which Dickens published in Household Words. His first book, Poems, published in 1851 with a dedication to Peacock, contained little of permanent value except the first version of "Love in the Valley"; among the few favorable reviews were those by W. M. Rossetti and Charles Kingsley. Through the rest of his life Meredith wrote and published several volumes of poetry at the same time that his novels were appearing. His first two novels, youthful pieces, were an Oriental fantasy, The Shaving of Shagpat, 1855, and Farina: a Legend of Cologne, 1857, a burlesque Gothic novel which owed much to Peacock's style. The reviews of Shagpat were favorable, but both novels sold poorly.
A son was born to the Merediths in 1853, but their marriage was unhappy and full of the quarrels of two headstrong people. In 1858 Mrs. Meredith eloped with a painter who later deserted her; she died alone and friendless in 1861. In spite of her requests, Meredith neither visited her in her illness nor attended her funeral. After her death he began the fine series of sixteen-line poems, "Modern Love," published in 1862, which tells the tragic story of a marriage not unlike his own.
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