be wet at Cheltenham, 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 faultless—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 bread."

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 without 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 for their rank. The carpenter and the Crown Prince