ham, or Jane catch cold at Broadstairs. Grave misdemeanours on the part of
governesses, cooks, and doctors ("he is guilty of culpable carelessness, profound 
ignorance" Mrs. Cameron would say of the family physician), were detailed 
profusely, and the least departure from family morality was vigilantly pounced 
upon and volubly imparted.

Mrs. Carmeron's letters were formed upon this model; she counselled and 
exhorted and enquired after the health of dearest Emily with the best; but her 
correspondents were often men of exalted genius to whom she could express 
the more romantic side of her nature. To Tennyson she dwelt upon the beauty 
of Mrs. Hambro, "frolicsome and graceful as a kitten and having the form and 
eye of an antelope. . . . Then her complexion (or rather her skin) is fault-
less—it is like the leaf of 'that consummate flower' the Magnolia—a flower 
which is, I think, so mysterious in its beauty as if it were the only thing left 
unsoiled and unspoiled from the garden of Eden. . . . We had a standard 
Magnolia tree in our garden at Sheen, and on a still summer night the moon 
would beam down upon those ripe rich vases, and they used to send forth a 
scent which made the soul faint with a sense of the luxury of the world of flowers." 
From such sentences it is easy to see why Sir Henry Taylor looked forward to 
reading her novel with dread. "Her genius (of which she has a great deal) 
is too profuse and redundant, not distinguishing between felicitous and 
infelicitous," he wrote. "She lives upon superlatives as upon her daily 

But the zenith of Mrs. Cameron's career was at hand. In 1860 the 
Camerons bought two or three rose-covered cottages at Freshwater, ran them 
together, and supplemented them with outhouses to receive the overflow of 
their hospitality. For at Dimbola—the name was taken from Mr. Cameron's
estate in Ceylon—everybody was welcome. "Conventionalities had no place 
in it." Mrs. Cameron would invite a family met on the steamer to lunch with-
out asking their names, would ask a hatless tourist met on the cliff to come in 
and choose himself a hat, would adopt an Irish beggar woman and send her 
child to school with her own children. "What will become of her?" Henry 
Taylor asked, but comforted himself with the reflection that though Julia 
Cameron and her sisters "have more of hope than of reason," still "the
humanities are stronger in them than the sentimentalities," and they generally 
brought their eccentric undertakings to a successful end. In fact the Irish 
beggar child grew up into a beautiful woman, became Mrs. Cameron's parlour-
maid, sat for her portrait, was sought in marriage by a rich man's son, filled the 
position with dignity and competence, and in 1878 enjoyed an income of two 
thousand four hundred pounds a year. Gradually the cottages took colour
and shape under Mrs. Cameron's hands. A little theatre was built where the 
young people acted. On fine nights they trapesed up to the Tennysons and 
danced; if it were stormy, and Mrs. Cameron preferred the storm to the calm, 
she paced the beach and sent for Tennyson to come and pace by her side. The 
colour of the clothes she wore, the glitter and hospitality of the household she 
ruled reminded visitors of the East. But if there was an element of "feudal
familiarity," there was also a sense of "feudal discipline." Mrs. Cameron
was extremely outspoken. She could be highly despotic. "If ever you fall 
into temptation," she said to a cousin, "down on your knees and think of Aunt 
Julia." She was caustic and candid of tongue. She chased Tennyson into his 
tower vociferating "Coward! Coward!" and thus forced him to be vaccinated. 
She had her hates as well as her loves, and alternated in spirits "between the 
seventh heaven and the bottomless pit." There were visitors who found her 
company agitating, so odd and bold were her methods of conversation, while 
the variety and brilliance of the society she collected round her caused a certain 
"poor Miss Stephen" to lament: "Is there nobody commonplace?" as she 
saw Jowett's four young men drinking brandy and water, heard Tennyson
reciting “Maud,” while Mr. Cameron wearing a coned hat, a veil, and several 
coats paced the lawn which his wife in a fit of enthusiasm had created during
the night.

In 1865, when she was fifty, her son's gift of a camera gave her at last an 
outlet for the energies which she had dissipated in poetry and fiction and doing
up houses and concocting curries and entertaining her friends. Now she became 
a photographer. All her sensibility was expressed, and, what was perhaps more
to the purpose, controlled in the new born art. The coal-house was turned into
a dark room; the fowl-house was turned into a glass-house. Boatmen were
turned into King Arthur; village girls into Queen Guenevere. Tennyson was
wrapped in rugs: Sir Henry Taylor was crowned with tinsel. The parlour-
maid sat for her portrait and the guest had to answer the bell. "I worked 
fruitlessly but not hopelessly," Mrs. Cameron wrote of this time. Indeed, she 
was indefatigable. "She used to say that in her photography a hundred 
negatives were destroyed before she achieved one good result; her object being 
to overcome realism by diminishing just in the least degree the precision of 
the focus." Like a tigress where her children were concerned, she was as 
magnificently uncompromising about her art. Brown stains appeared on her 
hands, and the smell of chemicals mixed with the scent of the sweet briar in the
road outside her house. She cared nothing for the miseries of her sitters nor